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The Forgotten Genocide of the Yazidi People

During the mid-2010s, the Yazidi women, men, and children were about to face the worst catastrophe their people had faced. After a decade of war initially initiated by the invasionary forces of the US. The country faced increased political instability after US troops retreated for a much longer time.


Even before the US invasion of Iraq. Corrupt politicians, the First Gulf War, the Kurdish genocide, Kurdish riots and protests against violent government officials, and generational economic devastation had plunged the country long before the US-Iraq war.


For the people of Iraq - be it Kurdish Iraqis, Yazidi Iraqis, or any Iraqi in the country. Iraq is a country that has experienced much death and destruction that continues to haunt them to this day. Unfortunately for Iraq, the 2010s period did not fare much better than previous decades. For some, like the Yazidi, who have already suffered enough, another catastrophe would target them.


For this story, we zoom in to the Sinjar Mountains of North-western Iraq in the 2010s. A time when ISIS was increasingly becoming a dangerous threat to Syria and potentially Iraq. Eventually, ISIS forces became so large, fierce, and economically powerful that their area of control spanned the entirety of Syria - which led to the Syrian refugee crisis - and Western Iraq. Along the way, many rural communities were especially hit hard by mass violence, rape, and murder.


One such community lived in the humble town of Sinjar - currently with a population of under 100,000. Their sustenance was not the best, but the people got by, as did many other minority populations in rural Iraq. The predominant demographic of this town is Yazidi, a religion, and culture that has existed for thousands of years in the area.


During the mid-2010s, this all changed. ISIS militants came quick like fire across the Western Iraq-Syrian border. Sinjar fell victim to the crossfire into the territory ISIS was expanding into; the Yazidi people suffered. The resulting genocide resulted in nearly half a million Yazidi refugees.


In this particular community of Sinjar, ISIS had abducted Yazidi, including women, men, and children. The UN estimates that 6,417 Yazidis were kidnapped, and thousands of Yazidi people were killed under ideological and religious motives. Another 5000 Yazidi were killed in "forced conversion camps" set up by ISIS to convert religious minority groups like the Yazidi into Islam. The UN and many other human rights groups have called these heinous actions genocide.


Of these, 6,417 Yazidi were abducted. Three thousand five hundred twenty-four have been rescued or escaped from their abductors (1,197 women, 339 men, 1,038 girls, and 950 boys). The UN estimates that 2,893 remain missing. The search for these Yazidi people is still intense among local Iraqi advocates and associations. However, whether these people are dead or alive remains unknown.


One person I want to shed light on, in particular, is Layla Talu. After her neighbours in Sinjar exposed her location in her town, ISIS operatives captured her and her family. One of many victims of ISIS abductors, her story tells one of many stories of Yazidi women abducted.


Al-Jazeera reports that the women and children captured were threatened, beaten, insulted, and starved. Layla says, "The way they [ISIS] dealt with us was not different from how you deal with sheep and animals; they did not even provide us with adequate food and drink. We slept on the floor and received three daily meals and beatings by ISIL operatives".


Layla spent 40 days in prison with her children before being moved to various ISIL senior members to be beaten and raped. Layla expresses the suffering she experienced with the first man she was victim to; "He was tying me and beating me hard with a whip because I refused to submit to his brutality, so he raped me."


Layla was then sold to another man; she says the following: "He raped me several times, and then he sold me for a profit." She was then sold a third time to another man; she fell pregnant with this man and was forced to have another abortion. Layla recalls that the men would say that "you deserve nothing but death and being treated like slaves."


Layla was then sold to a 4th person, a Saudi man who would beat and whip her. Layla became pregnant again but was forced to undergo another abortion. Layla says that she did not know the whereabouts of her husband or family during this time.


Layla was then passed on to a Lebanese man who would beat and rape her with the help of his Dutch wife. She says that many other men raped her under the captivity of these two.

According to Al-Jazeera, Layla was freed by a Syrian smuggler who paid the Lebanese and Dutch abusers $20,000.


Layla goes on to explain her motivations for telling her story:

"I hope that telling my story will help me convey my suffering and the suffering of all Yazidis, especially women, to the world so that they may know the truth of the oppression, persecution, rape, murder, and displacement that happened to us."


The story of Layla Talu is a story that many other Yazidi women and children have also experienced. To this day, there are still nearly 3,000 Yazidi people missing. The suffering of the Yazidi people is impossible. Unfortunately, there is very little international interest outside of human rights groups to actually find, help, and get the lives of the Yazidi people of Sinjar back together.


To highlight Yazidi women's suffering specifically had suffered, I gathered statistics from a study that interviewed these women in personal camps. The study published by Hawktar Ibrahim et al. documents the various statistics of "trauma and perceived social rejection among Yazidi women and girls who survived enslavement and genocide." Some key statistics help understand the overall horror the Yazidi women experienced, including:

- Nearly 12% of women and girls experienced a forced abortion

- 20% of women and girls were sold between ISIS members as brides

- 21% of women and girls witnessed someone being burned to death

- Nearly 23% of women and girls were raped

- Almost 31% of women and girls had witnessed beheadings

- 43% of women and girls had been sold on "sex-slave markets."

- 51% of women and girls were a slave to someone

- 56% of women and girls had been beaten during captivity

- 62% of women and girls had witnessed torture

- 71% of women and girls were threatened to be killed

- Over 75% of women and girls witnessed someone being beaten

- 81% of women and girls were forced to convert their religion


The study does mention that the number of women, girls, and boys who have been raped and beaten remains an estimate because of the reluctance of some survivors to report due to social ostracization.


The study goes on to state very notably that:

"Of all participants, 99% had experienced at least one traumatic event; 85.1% of participants reported that they had experienced food and water deprivation, 63.7% had direct exposure to armed- and combat-related events and half of the participants were separated from their family members by force."


Note that the interviewees were Yazidi women who successfully escaped captivity. There are still over a thousand Yazidi women missing to this day. From these statistics, one can confidently conclude that Yazidi women have experienced extreme trauma during their abduction.


The solution for helping find these Yazidi women is still lacklustre. Much of the help, recognition, and resources are provided by international organizations like the International Commission of Missing Persons (ICMP) and the UN. An Iraqi government national commission to search for missing persons that operate for Iraqis is non-existent, according to Yazidi activist Mirza Dinnayi.


According to Mirza Dinnayi, only large international organizations like the UN and ICMP and private organizations dedicated to the cause lead the search for missing Yazidi people. Thus, the work to find missing Yazidi people is still an ongoing issue.


As a result, much of the work is thus done by local activists - women and men who were previously victims of the genocide - and human rights groups like the UN and ICMP.


One thing is for sure, though, the Yazidi people are strong. Some of them have taken their harsh experiences and have now dedicated their lives to helping their people.

"I don't want to be considered an ex-slave or just a survivor," says Shree, a 25-year-old Yazidi activist. Shree says that she will not leave Iraq until she finds her father's corpse.


Nadia Murad - a Yazidi Iraqi - wrote an autobiography on her experiences in Iraq during her enslavement and imprisonment. Nadia's book later went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize for her "efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict." Nadia is currently working as an advocate for sustainable development goals in the UN.


Many victims have found the willpower within them to go back to Sinjar to help locals, see the corpses of loved ones, and support the people that were and still are affected by the genocide.

Many victims are going back to rebuild the communities they had once lost.


"Part of the genocide is the displacement and division of families," says Shreen. "The more we are closer, the more we feel alive. 

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