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On eve of sixth anniversary of Ezidi genocide, calls for Sinjar to be rebuilt and residents to return at long last

'Every stakeholder is throwing responsibility onto another'
Ezidis flee Sinjar in 2014 (Rodi Said/Reuters)
2020-08-02

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SULAIMANI — Advocacy organization Yazda kicked off a two-day conference on Sunday (August 2) to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Ezidi genocide by hearing from a range of senior officials, humanitarian workers, researchers, and survivors of the attack by Islamic State (ISIS) militants that led to the deaths, forced disappearances, and enslavement of thousands of Ezidis living in Sinjar.

With security tenuous and swathes of the district’s infrastructure and housing still in ruins and riddled with unexploded ordnance, many Ezidis are reluctant to return despite encouragement from Baghdad, Erbil, UN agencies, and local groups.

While most of the keynote presenters spoke in platitudes, other panelists pointed to the harder edge of the situation, expressing frustration about the lack of progress after so many years and sustained international attention.

The theme of the commemoration, which was jointly organized by Yazda and the Zovighian Partnership, was “Bridging the Gap Between Terror and Humanity.”

“Daesh perpetrated the most horrendous crimes against the Ezidi people to deprive them of their religious rituals and they will be brought to justice,” Iraqi President Barham Salih said in his opening remarks, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

“I call on all political forces to overcome their differences,” he added, referring to the political disputes between the federal government, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and the Nineveh provincial government, which several speakers blamed for the lack of progress.

Falah Mustafa, a senior foreign policy advisor to the President of the Kurdistan Region, called for increased international support for Ezidis in Sinjar and for the KRG, which hosts just under 1 million refugees and IDPs, while US Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller announced the allocation of an additional $500,000 in reconstruction funding.

Other speakers focused on the experience and continued suffering of the survivors of the genocide, during which approximately 5,000 Ezidis were murdered and another 6,800 were abducted on and in the days following August 3, 2014.

“As an Ezidi girl, I experienced this genocide in all of its details,” said Yazidi Survivor Network member Farida Abbas Khalaf, before outlining a number of specific steps that should be taken by governments and humanitarian organizations, including prosecuting the perpetrators of the genocide, passing the draft women survivors’ law, increasing funding for psychiatric treatment and infrastructure reconstruction, and ending political disputes to ensure a stable security environment.

Karim Ahmad Khan, who is the Special Adviser and Head of the UN Investigative Team for the Promotion of Accountability for Crimes Committed by Daesh in Iraq (UNITAD), said that no counties “can be spectators” in seeking accountability for those who perpetrated the genocide and that minority communities in Iraq “must have a right to protection and to justice.”

The bluntest remarks of the day were made by Saib Khidir, an Ezidi member of the Council of Representatives, who called out all sides for shirking their obligations.

“Every stakeholder is throwing responsibility onto another stakeholder. Erbil says the problem is with Baghdad. Baghdad says the problem is with Erbil,” he said.

“This is not serving the Ezidi community. This is not showing love to the Ezidi community. If I love the Ezidi community, I should provide them with services,” he added.

Several of the participants said that the lack of empowered Ezidi governance was to blame for security and political problems.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood said that he was shocked to see Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) flags in Sinjar during a visit last year and was similarly saddened to hear about Turkish warplanes targeting alleged Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) units in the district.

He called for locally-recruited police to be in charge of security, “not armed groups from some other location.”

In that vein, Director of the Assyrian Policy Institute Reine Hanna called for a local force to be created along the model of the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU) and criticized the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) for meddling in the district’s affairs.

Nevertheless, Khidir warned that even well-meaning solutions from outside could in fact undermine the very Ezidi governance that most of the panelists argued is necessary for establishing stability in Sinjar.

“It is painful to see the Ezidis being used as tools. We should keep Ezidis away from these political conflicts,” he said.

The commemoration continues on Monday.

(NRT Digital Media)