The Shadow of ISIS and Political Differences Hinder the Return of Yazidis

February 4, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Kurdistan Region | August 2014. A Yezidi family fled to Kurdistan Region after ISIS's attack. Photo: AFP

It has been more than a year since Sinjar was retaken from the grip of ISIS, but the Yazidis still do not wish to return back to their homeland. Despite the political differences and the inconvenient circumstances, the Yazidis are also afraid to go through the same experiences as in the past.

Sinjar is home to most Yazidis, but war has ruined the city which once was a secure and peaceful place. Only the headquarters of some political parties and governmental departments have returned to Sinjar. The dark shadow of ISIS has not yet left the city. Despite all the efforts to return the Yazidis to their homes, there still has not been any success in returning life to the city.

33-year-old Qahtan Luqman is a citizen of Sinjar but lives instead in Erbil with 29 family members inside a rented house. He has almost lost all hope of ever returning to Sinjar because even after one year and two months since regaining control of Sinjar, they feel like the safety of their lives is still not guaranteed.

“We have the fear of a repeat of the genocide against us. The delays in the reconstruction of the city are the result of the political conflicts, so we do not want to take the risk of returning back until the preservation of our lives is guaranteed.”

Kirkuk | October 2016. A refugee camp in Kirkuk

There are deep political differences between two major parties in Sinjar since the district has been under the control of ISIS since 2014.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the opponent of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headed by Massoud Barzani, puts the responsibility of the failing of Sinjar under the control of ISIS in 2014 on the KDP. The KDP also believes that the presence of the PKK in Sinjar is the obstacle to the return of Yazidis to their homeland and the reconstruction of their areas.

The district commissioner of Sinjar, Mahma Khalil, accuses the PKK of impeding the process of the reconstruction of the city and the return of its citizens. He told KirkukNow, “The PKK is one of the militant and revolutionary parties, but they are the barrier for the return of the Yazidis.”

Khalil said, “They are not from the region, but they helped us in our time of need and we thank them for that, but we believe that the time has come for them to leave Sinjar and return to their areas.”

The district commissioner of Sinjar, who shares the running of the job with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, denies that their conflicts with the PKK have been the reason for impeding the reconstruction of the city.

The two parties both have their powers with the Yazidi people. Whatever the reasons for these conflicts might be, it only has one meaning for Qahtan Luqman which is, “The Yazidis are the ones who are paying the price of this conflict,” and continued louder by saying “They are only looking after their own interests, while their differences result in negative repercussions for the Yazidis and the Yazidis are being betrayed.”

Olivia Alfateni, a Yazidi activist said that, “The conflict between the two parties is for gaining the control over Sinjar and it has a direct role in the fact that the regional government has not yet started on the reconstruction of the city.”

The Sinjar district administration belongs to the province of Nineveh, some 120 kilometers west of Mosul. It is considered to be one of the disputed areas between the territorial government and the federal government.

Despite regaining control over the district of Sinjar since November of 2015 by the Peshmerga forces with the participation of the PKK and the Yazidi fighters, the Yazidis have not yet returned to their homeland.

The district commissioner told KirkukNow about the service departments not returning to Sinjar, and that “History will not forgive them.”

Mahma Khalil said that the directorates of education, municipality, police, security, and electricity have returned to work, but that the health centers are not in a required level.”

The Yazidis, along with the Christians, Turkmen, and the Kakais have faced many violations and genocides.  An estimated 400 thousand Yazidis were forced to leave their homes and became refugees.

According to a report published by the Alliance of Iraqi Minorities Network interested in the affairs of religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq, 6255 Yazidis have been kidnapped by ISIS, and 59% of them are still in ISIS captivity. From this group 1,940 were women, and they were treated as prisoners of war. Over the past three years, ISIS has traded and sold the Yazidi women of Sinjar, and many of them were treated as slaves.

Olivia Alfateni told KirkukNow that, “80% of the houses in Sinjar are falling apart, and the Kurdistan government should have been working on reconstructing the city.”

30 mass graves of the Yazidis have been found so far of those who were killed by ISIS, including children.

Olivia Altateni works on the Yazidis cases and said, “The Yazidis should not return to a city which still is covered with the shadow of ISIS.”

40-year-old Shekh Haji, who is a journalist from Sinjar told KirkukNow, “There are more than ten villages that are still under the control of ISIS. One of the villages is only 10 kilometers away from Sinjar which means there is still threat on Sinjar.”

Due to the operations of retaking the city and the booby traps left behind by ISIS, 80% of Sinjar has been completely destroyed. Another 20% of the city is still under the control of ISIS.

Along with the desire to reconstruct the city, there are some attempts being made to define the cases of kidnapping and killing the Yazidis as genocide against the Yazidi people.

Concerning the plans for the reconstruction Sinjar, the district commissioner of Sinjar said that Kuwait, the United States and Germany expressed their willingness to participate in the reconstruction of Sinjar as the Iraqi government has been criticized for not allocating a budget for the reconstruction of Sinjar. The reconstruction process is therefore very limited because the KRG is suffering from an economic crisis.



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