Fourth Year Ezedi Genocide Follow-Up
by Dr. Amy L. Beam
[Shingal, August 4, 2018] In the last week, three different journalists have asked me, “I want to interview an Ezidi girl who was raped. Can you help me find one?” One man actually said, “I want to interview a slave.”
“They call themselves survivors,” I explained. “Please show some respect.”
These journalists have the most sincere intentions of bringing attention to the plight of what happened to Ezidis four years after the Islamic State (known in Iraq as Daesh) attacked Shingal. More than ten thousand Ezidis were killed or captured on August 3 and 15, 2014. The teenage boys and men were executed. The women were captured, sold and resold and raped for years until their families could pay for their release. Young children were sold to childless Arab. Young boys were brainwashed and used as suicide bombers.
I suggested some alternative story lines, but they rejected them. “My editor says it has to be an interview with an Ezidi girl who was raped.”
I refuse to help with this media obsession with raped women. The story is much bigger. In the last week, I have visited with more than 50 survivors and their families. Many I have known for three or four years. I laughed and cried with them; ate and slept with them. I don’t talk to them about rape.
We talk about immigration. They ask me what I think about returning to Shingal. What should they do? They are afraid and confused.
The entire Ezidi population of 300,000 who were not killed or captured was displaced in one day from Shingal, northern Iraq. They are suffering in extreme heat in camps and unfinished buildings in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. The genocide is on-going and getting worse.
HUMANITARIAN AID WORKERS AND JOURNALISTS BLOCKED
Last week I visited eight Ezidi camps to distribute my book, “The Last Yezidi Genocide” and identify an English translator in each camp.
I talked with camp managers and security directors. Their strict policy is not to let journalists, humanitarian volunteers, or NGOs into the camp without written permission from Duhok Board of Relief and Humanities Affairs (B.R.H.A.) and the Duhok court. This permission could take days or weeks to obtain, and there is a high probability one will not get it. Camp managers insist, “We are just protecting the Ezidis.”
One camp manager told me the Ezidis are free to speak, but there are certain things I was warned not to discuss with them such as politics and military issues. Genocide is all about politics. You can’t talk about genocide without talking about politics and conflict.
Security guards at the entrance gate routinely tell journalists, “No cameras allowed. No journalists allowed,” and make them turn their car around and leave instead of directing them to the manager’s office. The Ezidi voices continue to be silenced.
Many volunteers, aid workers, and journalists have given up trying to enter the camps and simply arrange to meet an Ezidi to interview outside of the camps. This prevents them from showing the world the misery of living in a tent for four years.
However, camp residents are allowed to have their friends visit. I was told, “No visitors on weekends,” but I refuse to be blocked. “Unless you are running a prison camp here, I intend to visit my friend now. Only my friend has the right to decide what he or she will talk about with me. You have no rights to give or deny them permission to talk with me.”
My Ezidi friends had to meet me at the gate. Last week I entered all the camps and met with several hundred people who sought me out when they heard I was in their camp. They want help getting passports.
Ezidis both in and outside of the camps have a deep fear to talk openly about their worsening situation. One man told me he has already been arrested three times for speaking out about the Ezidi situation on his FaceBook page. He was threatened with jail if he posted anything again about Ezidis’ situation in Kurdistan.
VISAS DENIED FOR FOREIGN HUMAN RIGHTS VOLUNTEERS
In 2017, the Kurdistan Asayish (security police) refused to let me pass the checkpoints to enter Shingal or Mosul in the disputed region of Nineveh. This was in spite of being invited by Peshmerga generals, the Governor of Mosul, and many others to visit Mosul and Shingal. I was told that Hashd al Sha’abi Ezidis might kill me or kidnap me and take me to Iran. I laughed.
In 2018, I flew to Baghdad and spent four months getting a one-year, multi-entry visa so that I would be allowed to visit Shingal. My residency (IKAMA) that I had for three years in Kurdistan was not recognized by Baghdad.
The Iraqi Army at the checkpoint to enter Nineveh say 30-day visas issued at Erbil airport are invalid. No foreigner can go to Shingal or anywhere in Iraq without a visa from Baghdad or special permission from PM Abadi’s office. In July 2018, at least two filmmakers were denied permission to go to Shingal from Kurdistan. By covering my arms and legs and wearing a head scarf, I did manage to drive with Ezidis from Kurdistan to Mosul then Shingal without being questioned once at any checkpoint.
In order to get more than a one-month visa from Baghdad, one must work for an NGO registered in Baghdad or have a contract with a private company or approval from the Minister of Interior. In order to register a local NGO in Baghdad, one must be a resident of Iraq. In order to get residency in Iraq, one must have a visa. One cannot register an NGO without residency. One cannot get residency without having an NGO. I got my one-year visa by recommendation of the Minister of Culture, the Minister of Interior, and an NGO in Baghdad. Only Iranians are allowed to enter Iraq without visas.
Few other humanitarian volunteers (if any) have succeeded at getting a one-year visa. This explains why Rasho Ali Nemar in Snoni, whose wife was killed by ISIS with thirty bullets, demanded an explanation for why I was the only American to be helping Ezidis in Shingal. “Why is no one coming to help us?”
IMMIGRATION IS BLOCKED
Both legal immigration and illegal smuggling to Europe has been blocked for Ezidis. Canada and Germany both accepted about 1000 survivors and their children. Those programs are closed. Australia is currently resettling a few thousand survivors who were prisoners of Daesh, but all 300,000 Ezidis wish to leave Iraq. For them, the doors of immigration remain closed. They have lost their hope in humanity. They can’t escape and they can’t return.
NO RECONSTRUCTION HAPPENING IN SHINGAL
There are rumors circulating that in August the camps for Ezidis in Kurdistan will be closed, and the Ezidis will have to return to their villages in Shingal. These rumors are terrorizing the Ezidis, because Shingal remains destroyed and cannot currently sustain a returning population.
Only token international aid has gone to recovery of Shingal. Of 75 million dollars allocated by the US to UNDP, only three million was for Rabia, Snoni, and Sinjar. No money was to be used to repair houses or buildings. The money has gone to rebuilding Mosul and Tal Afar. There is a small project to replace 2500 PVC doors in Sinjar.
SUNNI ARABS CHARGE EZIDIS IN COURT WITH CRIMES
The villages of Rabia in Nineveh province were headquarters to many ISIS members from the Jayish tribe who attacked Shingal on August 3, 2014. Approximately fifty Sunni Arabs from Rabia have brought criminal charges against 50 Ezidis for destroying five Arab villages of Rabia. The cases have been moved to Snoni court. Now these Sunni Arabs have joined Hashd al Shaabi and have check points at eight Arab villages.
Although all of Shingal was damaged by ISIS and then by Coalition bombing to defeat ISIS, not one dollar in compensation has been made to Ezidi victims. Now men accused by Ezidis of being members of ISIS have brought charges against Ezidis who were in Peshmerga fighting to destroy ISIS. The problem of the relations between Ezidis and Sunni Arabs has to be resolved before they can live together, if ever. The guilty Arabs from Rabia who joined with ISIS must be identified and prosecuted before there can be reconciliation with those who are innocent.
The Ezidi men state they do not have the authority to forgive or reconcile. Forgiveness and reconciliation can only be granted by those who were captured by ISIS, particularly the girls and women who were raped.
HASHD AL SHAABI CONTROLLED BY IRAN
The Hashd al Shaabi forces were officially made part of the Ministry of Defense in 2017. There are different units of Ezidi, Shia, and Sunni Hashd al Shaabi in Shingal, Rabia, Baaj, and southern Iraq. They are not taking commands from each other or working together. Many of the Shia Hashd al Shaabi working Shingal are from the Baghdad area. Headquarters of Hashd al Shaabi is in Baghdad and those leaders are Shia and are said to be taking orders from General Qassim Suleymani from Iran. The issue of Ezidis defending their villages in Shingal while theoretically taking orders from Shia in Baghdad under the influence of Iran, presents a difficult problem for Ezidis.
While Shia Hashd al Shaabi were fighting ISIS on the border of Syria and Iraq last month, US-led Coalition airstrikes killed some Hashd al Shaabi. The Shia Hashd al Shaabi want an explanation for why the Coalition killed them.
A shepherd in Tal Qassab, who returned one month ago, stated on August 3, 2018, that he is afraid for the security of his family because of ISIS activity at the nearby border and insufficient protection for Shingal. He believes it is impossible for Ezidis to return. Ten days ago he got electricity to his house from the government.
VILLAGES ON SOUTH SIDE ARE UNINHABITABLE
From May 26-29, 2018, I visited and videoed the Ezidi villages on the south side of Shingal mountain with the help of Ezidi Hashd al Sha’abi forces. I did not see another living soul other than security guards or any reconstruction or demining projects in any villages.
The villages have no electricity or water. The electric cables on the utility poles have been removed for miles near Siba Sheik Khudir, Tal Ezeer, Gur Zerick, and Kocho. The electric plant near Siba Sheik Khudir is destroyed. Inside of Sinjar city and towns on the north side of Shingal Mountain, electricity has been restored, but it goes off every hour. The government electricity is free since there is no mechanism for billing customers. I write this from Sinjar city where the electricity is off more than it is on.
In the villages on the south side of the mountain, there is no electricity. Those few souls living in Tal Qassab or guarding the villages are using generators. According to one shepherd, ten days ago his house got government electricity. In one of the villages of Solagh district, the nine families who returned share electricity from one line they ran from Sinjar city, one kilometer away. They have only a few amps, allowing only one family at a time to watch TV.
Without electricity, people suffer from the 45C to 53C heat. Without air conditioning, internet, and communications, no one can work. All one can do is lay down and wait while one’s life is wasting away.
NO INTERNET COMMUNICATIONS
In the villages the internet signal may sustain messaging, but is too weak for talking, or opening FaceBook or email, or watching videos. The cell phone towers were destroyed and lay on the ground now. Inside of Sinjar city, there is a new internet company providing high speed internet with a router and contract.
NOT ENOUGH FUEL
The government operates a new gas station in Sinjar city, but it often runs out of fuel. If there is no fuel, the drivers cannot fill up and go to Kurdistan. People have to stockpile liters of fuel in their house. If a small population of 10,000 cannot be supported with adequate fuel for cars and generators, how will 300,000 people be able to return?
Families who returned to Sinjar city or Tal Qassab have their own well water. Much of the well water is not drinkable. The government has a water project in Sinjar. Half of the city now gets city water. For homes without city water, they have to buy water. This week, the water truck is broken down. One family in Solagh said they will have to return to live in a tent in Kurdistan if services are not provided soon.
When ISIS left the Ezidi villages, they rigged many houses with explosives. Every month someone dies from a bomb when he opens a door to his house. Last week a shepherd near Skeenia died from a bomb. A few days before, a man died when opening a door in his house in Tal Ezeer. Death from bombs have occurred in 2018 in Tal Banat, Gur Zerick, Tal Ezeer, Skeenia, and Tal Qassab as well as the open fields where shepherds are grazing sheep. Two men were seriously injured when a house exploded in May in Siba Sheik Khudir.
The Iraqi Army has just begun clearing the villages of bombs. On August 2, 2018, a team was clearing bombs by the roadside of Tal Qassab. One could see smoke rising from the bombs. In the afternoon, we saw the thick black smoke of a bomb rising just north of the Arab village of Pisqee Shamal. All the roads and villages are surrounded by dirt berms about six feet high. Unexploded bombs may be in these dirt berms.
The bomb removal team declared this week that Tal Banat has been entirely cleared of bombs. My wonder is how unexploded bombs can be removed from a massive pile of concrete rubble from the hundreds of houses that Daesh exploded? Is it safe to drive an excavator or tractor to remove the concrete rubble? Will people live forever next to demolished buildings?
In village after village I videoed schools that were either exploded by ISIS or bombed by the US-led Coalition. The new two-story school in Tal Banat is totally destroyed by Coalition air strikes.
Since ISIS attacked in 2014, the hospital in Sinjar has not been staffed by doctors except for volunteers. The hospital director, Dr. Kifah, remained in Sinjar for one or two weeks after ISIS took over, then left Sinjar while it was under control of ISIS and moved to Duhok. He was responsible for staffing the hospital. He never visited it since 2014. At last, the hospital director was replaced in June 2018. In the first week in August 2018, the new emergency hospital re-opened in Sinjar city. There are two doctors, two male nurses, and two female nurses on duty on a rotational basis.
DELIVERIES OF DONATIONS BLOCKED
In July, a humanitarian group funded by donations from UK citizens, sent a large truck of donated condoms to Shingal for free distribution. The Sinjar police stopped the delivery and arrested the truck driver who remains in jail accused of smuggling.
DISPLACED PERSONS PROHIBITED FROM BUILDING OR WORKING INSIDE THE CAMPS
In Khanke camp in Kurdistan, many residents have built concrete block walls six feet high inside the walls of their tent. The tent is the ceiling. In most other camps, such as Karbarto and Shariya, residents are prohibited from building walls, even at their own expense. The Kurdistan government is preventing these camps from turning into livable, permanent cities such as Mahmour which initially began as a
UNHCR camp around 1994. The roads remain unpaved and bumpy after four years. An obvious solution to improving living conditions for IDPs in the camps is to allow these camps to develop into permanent cities with row houses two stories high in place of tents. The plan is to stop this from happening and to eventually close the camps. If Ezidis allow themselves to be pushed out, they will lose their source of food and shelter.
JENSEAS AND PASSPORTS DELAYED TWO YEARS
When I visited Qadia camp, near Zakho, Kurdistan, for several days, a steady stream of families came to me to request help in getting their passports. I made more lists. I choked up when a mother showed a photo of three babies killed by ISIS by giving them snake venom to drink. Six member of her family were killed.
The waiting period for applying for an Iraqi passport in Duhok is now two-and-a-half years. It is still nearly impossible to get national identity cards (jenseas) which one needs to get a passport. The Duhok passport office has recently told Ezidis their new jenseas will not be accepted. I continue to fight the corruption for people to obtain their jenseas. I continue to get passports in Duhok without appointments for survivors and their families and those with missing family members.
YEZIDI CHILDREN STILL IN THE HANDS OF ISIS
I sat for an hour one night with Qassim Avdo whose 12-year-old son is still missing with ISIS in Syria. The father himself is a survivor of the mass executions in Kocho. His 8-year-old son returned last year from ISIS speaking only Turkish. He has had no word from his wife who is missing. Many Ezidis keep a photo of a missing family member as the wallpaper photo on their phone. They are mostly photos of children. The cost of returning a Yezidi from ISIS ranges from $7000 to $15,000 for one person. At least 2000 to 3000 Ezidis are still missing. Twice last week, I saw women sitting on the floor sobbing. The pain has deepened, not lessened.
KOCHO MEN STAND VIGIL OVER THE BONES
On August 2, I went to Kocho with Sameh Pissee Taha and Khalid Murad Pissee, who survived the mass execution lines of August 15, 2014. More than a dozen male survivors of Kocho, and some lucky enough not to be there on the day of the massacre, now protect the bones of their family members.
The generator broke, so we had no electricity or air conditioning. We played dominoes. From the roof, they lookout with binoculars for movement in any of the surrounding Arab villages. Kocho will remain an empty village as memorial to the massacre there.
THE PLEA FOR IMMIGRATION TO AUSTRALIA NOW AT A PANIC LEVEL
I spent one night in a caravan surrounded by eight young women who are survivors of ISIS captivity. They were all excited because they have completed three interviews with Australia Immigration interview team to immigrate to Australia. They are promised they can go, but are still worried.
In another caravan, I asked Hayam Murad Pissee when she had returned from ISIS. Her demeanor changed and she turned mute. Finally, she explained, “I cannot remember. I cannot talk about those things.” She is not seeking immigration. She will remain in Kurdistan for now to support her brothers, Khalid, Waleed, and Nawaf Murad Pissee who continue to guard the bones of those killed in Kocho. Nadia Murad is their sister.
I updated my profile photo of me sitting with Muna and her son Hani. We waited two years for them to return from ISIS. Our photo is now two years old. They are hoping for immigration to Germany or Australia. Muna is the sister-in-law of Nadia Murad. Her husband, Khairi Murad Pissee, was killed in Kocho, August 15, 2014.
Every Ezidi in Kurdistan and Shingal is asking me how to apply to immigrate to Australia. They gave up on America (long ago), Canada, and Germany. If they registered their name with Nechirvan Barzani’s office for Yezidi Affairs as a survivor of ISIS captivity, the Australian team in Duhok will call them for an interview. The idea of Australia being homeland for the Ezidi Diaspora has ignited hope in Yezidis. The idea of returning to Shingal sends fear through them.
The family of Hamad Waad Mato from Tal Banat, who was killed by ISIS, was disqualified by UNHCR from going to Canada, Germany, or Australia, because the wife and girls were not
kidnapped or raped. They cry every day from despair. I told 23-year-old Gulbahar I would find a husband for her in another country. I won’t quit looking for a way out for this family.
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
Seventy-nine-year-old survivor from Gohbol, Preskee Ismail Atto, lost five men in her family. Two weeks ago, she immigrated to Australia with about half of her grand-children. In the next few weeks, her one surviving son, Hamo, and the remaining widows and grandchildren will join them in Australia.
Ali Abbas Ismail Loko, who walked eight days with a bullet in his back, went to Canada last month. He lost his entire family.
Waleed Hussein, the father of female survivors of ISIS kidnapping, made it to Germany four months ago. After four years of separation, he is now with his wife and children.
One man told me he is reunited with his girlfriend after she was held captive for three years. They are more deeply in love than ever. I cried when he told me. I have so much respect for the Yezidi men who never stopped loving their girlfriends, even when ISIS kidnapped and raped them for years.
I spent a day with 8-year-old survivor Ayham Azad Alias and his little brother Anis from Tal Banat. Ayham returned speaking English learned from his ISIS captor. Anis came home speaking Turkish. After six months, both of them are now learning Kurdish so they can communicate with their aunts and uncle. Their mother is missing.
I took a copy of my book to the family of Hassan Alias whose house was exploded by ISIS in 2014. They did not qualify to immigrate because no one in their family was kidnapped or killed by ISIS. They now have a glimmer of hope. Canada says they may accept the twenty-year-old daughter-in-law and her two-year-old child, Damoa Falah Hassan, because her husband is dead. Falah committed suicide in their caravan a year ago with his police revolver. From his sacrifice, his family may possibly be offered the opportunity to leave Iraq. First the young widow can leave, then apply for the other family members to join her.
It should not be this hard for Ezidis to be given asylum. Many countries recognized the Ezidi genocide in 2016, but took no action. Under current conditions, there is no other viable solution except immigration.
For those who have returned to Shingal, such as Naim Ali from Tal Banat, they hope for others to return. Their only hope for maintaining an Ezidi homeland is for recognition of a protected, semi-autonomous territory for Ezidis and Christians in Shingal similar to the protected region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq. If this happens, many Ezidis will return. If not, in several years there will be few Ezidis left in Iraq.
Dr. Amy L Beam is author of The Last Yezidi Genocide. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to order the book.