Duhok- In the way to Rumailam, the Syrian area adjacent to Iraq, the 14-year-old Layla stood on a hill, with dust covering most of her features to an extent that it was hard to see that she is a girl, with her short-cut hair.
She seemed absent-minded as she looked at the lines of people coming down from the mountain, stirring dust under their feet.
A soldier who was helping the survivors to get in a small transportation vehicle said: “she is there since hours and she refuse to leave before her father comes, we though she is a boy, but the family which came with her told us that her father has cut her hair short when they were in the road so as to escape the eyes of the Islamic State militants.”
The girl said in a shrugging voice: “I lost him in the mountain, he went to bring water and never came back. I don’t know what happened to him. I walked with some families that accompanied us in the last three days, and this is the last point. I don’t want to leave to Syria without him. He is an old man, am afraid I won’t see him again”.
Her mother and brothers had already gone before them to the mountain, they day they left the city, then she followed them with her father. The same thing happened with thousands of families whose members are scattered, and there was no way to communicate with each other.
Hundreds of Others without Families
Layla is not the only one who is waiting, fear-stricken, for a meeting she may never get. There are hundreds of others who are living the same experience, according to Jamal Qadu, a civil activist, who asserts that there are thirty children in Enshki District, to the north of Duhok city, have lost their families and they are now taken care of by a Kurdish volunteer. There are hundreds of others who reside in camps in Zakho, Duhok, Sharia, Khanki, and Derboun under the patronage of humanitarian organizations and Yazidi families.
Among those is FawziaHazim, an eleven year old girl who arrived alone to Duhok after losing eleven members of her family, according to the Independent Commission of Human Rights in the governorate.
At the end of the passage secured by the Kurdish soldiers, at the Syrian borders, Jameel, an elderly in the seventies of his age, was determined and happy for his own survival: “the prepared for our doom, but we made it, we survived, we walked for four days, I was climbing the mountain sometimes on my four limbs, just like children, and sometimes my son carries me on his back, I told him to leave me to die here, but he didn’t.”
Jameel’s family which includes nine members, including four children, spent eleven days in the mountain during which they had one meal of lentil soup and another meal of boiled wheat, and kept grinding grains of barley and wheat, mixing it with unclean water to feed the children for the rest of the days, whereas the adults had gor little pieces of bread which were enough to keep them alive.
But having water and food to survive was not their only concern, the family lost three members: a young man in the thirties whose destiny is not known to any, a sister who was taken by the Islamic State militants, and her husband.
Jameel’s wife, as she lied on the dust of the ground beside her two daughters who had some inflammations on their eyes and cheeks, said: “Our prayers never stopped, just like our tears, since that day. We live death every moment, their cell-phones are switched off, nobody knows anything about them whether alive or death. There are hundreds of missing people, we pray to God that they are dead, not captives at ISIS.”
But the situation with Jameel’s family seemed better in comparison with FarisSulaiyman who lost 30 members of his family: “Nobody is left. . . my daughters, my sons, my brothers, all kidnapped, they were not only ISIS men, there were men from Arabic tribes whom we know well, they surrounded our house and killed everyone who resisted, and took the girls and young men.”
Faisal Hassan, another displaced person who arrived at Rumailan district of Syria to which the refugees of the mountain crossed, seemed more optimistic: “There is God in heavens, I cannot believe I survived starvation and thirst with my children, and from death before, God responded to our prayers, true we lost a new-born baby, but this nation survived death again.”
The desire and will for life Faisal has was not exclusive for him, others who departed the mountain alive also have the same desire and will.
Kareem, who kept pushing a carriage designed for carrying gravel stones after putting a blanket to carry his disabled brother Khidr, said: “It was not possible to go to the mountain and leave him alone at home, I had to save him. . . I pretended to be Muslim. . . I was lucky for those who encountered me in the way believed me, or they were merciful enough to let me go, but many others failed to arrive.”
The big brother kept pushing his younger brother for five days in the rough rocky roads, providing him with food and water to keep him alive. This required sometimes four hours of walking down the valley and climbing once again.
Kareem, whose face is full of scratches, spoke of the hardest moments in his life: “At the entrance of one of the valleys, when Khatoon the old woman throw herself from the mountain because she couldn’t walk and was afraid she is hindering the safety of her family, at that moment I feared that my brother would do the same.”
Kareem continued as he wiped out some tears which glittered in his eyes: “He asked me many times to leave him and run… but I had to find water and food, I was wandering how could I make him trust that I will be back to him, and that he had to wait for me. . . I swore many times to him that we will die together or live together.”
Khatoon, who failed to walk with her family, decided in the evening of the third day to put an end to her life. Kareem said: “Her son kept carrying her for hours, but she was not willing for that, she refused to eat her share of bread, it was clear that she decided to commit suicide… Her son kept crying the entire night asking her forgiveness because he took her out of home without her consent.”
The nest morning, the old woman, whose body was damaged, was buried near a tree in the only area that can be dug in the rocky mountain, “we used the stone edges to dig half a meter deep, then we covered her with stones.”
The journey Khatoon could not accomplish was accomplished by Mayan who spent ten days in Sinjar Mountain with her two sons who carried her on their backs and sometimes on a stretcher, from Tal Azeer village, north of Sinjar to Syria, in an exodus journey during which Mayan’s eyes never stopped crying.
Tariq Elias, who was washing his daughter’s face from dust at the edge of Fishkhaboor bridge which connects Syrian and Iraq, as he came back with thousands of displaced people under whose feet the bridge’ sight disappeared, tried to calm down his daughter who was crying because of different pains of inflammations resulting from the sun burns in her face, said: “We left everything to save our lives. . . we left houses, sheep, cars, even the gold in our safes. . . We do not know what shall become of us.”
Elias added, now in a high tone, shaking his hands, while his wife was calling him to hurry up get in a vehicle full of displaced people: “We waited for a week the Peshmerga troops to come, then we knew that they are very far, and that we are left alone. The PKK men opened a passage from the mountain to Snooni town, then to Rumailan district to save us, the passage was not completely safe but it was the only way out. We walked for nine hours to be safe.”
Elias was worried about his son who remained in the mountain: “He preferred to stay there and fight, he left us to complete the journey alone, I wanted to prevent him, but didn’t listen to me, nor to his mother.”
400.000 Displaced Persons
In August 12, ShawkatBerbari, the manager of Fishkhanoor Borderline Crossing Point, estimated the number of the displaced people who came down Sinjar Mountain to this Point which connects Syria with Iraq as about 75000 persons, whereas the IOM recorded in August 11, the arrival of 80.000 displaced Yazidi persons from Sinjar Mountain to Duhok, and they arrived from different passages, and they expected the numbers to be doubled with the continued flow of displaced people, according to NaifMuhammed, the field director of IOM.
In August 20, the provincial administration of Duhok revealed that they received 700.000 displaced person, most of them Yazidi and Christian people, who escaped from Ninawa plain lands (about 250.000) and from Sinjar and Zammar (400.000) which fell under the control of the Islamic State, let alone the 30.000 displaced persons from Syria, and from Mousil who already resorted to Duhok.
This number, for a province of a population of about 1 million and 200 thousand persons, represents a tremendous pressure on its infrastructure which is described by the governor of the Duhok as being “about to collapse”, asking the federal government to support it soon so as to aid tens of thousands who are currently catered by some charity institutions and NGOs.
According to Yazidi institutions, about 250.000 Yazidi have left their local areas between 5 and 15 of August. Those were distributed to 700 school buildings, in addition to the public and private sector constructions, and temporal camps, and some unfinished buildings and public parks in Duhok and Xakho cities and the nearby towns, in addition to tens of thousands who reached to Erbil and Sulaymania provinces.
Activists in local organizations describe the current status of the displaced people as being “catastrophic”. They expect it to worsen more and more with the decease of the limited resources of charity works presented by local people, which may ensure a daily meal for them. SarbastMuhammed, an activist, says: “Things will get worse with the coming of autumn, and the spread of diseases among the displaced people who are already suffering from bad health conditions, after two weeks of hunger and thirst.”
The Majority with the Immigration
Before their status quo in Kurdistan cities, and the difficulty of securing their native areas which will ever be the frontlines of the struggle between the Islamic State abd Kurdistan Region, and between Arabs and Kurds in the future, most Yazidis call for immigration abroad, and the reject the ideas of return back home, even if the Islamic State forces were forced out of their lands. Some of them are asking to have international forces to protect their lands, due to the lack of confidence in the ability of the Kurdish forces to protect them.
The writer of this reportage made a survey in two areas where many Yazidi displaced people are located, in Xakho and Duhok, in which 120 people participated, it includes three options: Immigration to Europe, protecting their areas by international forces, and chasing ISIS out of their lands and put them under the protection of Peshmerga.
According to the results of the survey, 58% of the Yazidi people surveyed preferred immigration, whereas 37% preferred putting their lands under the international forces’ protection.
Karwan Jalal, a civil activist, says that these results reflect the mood of the Yazidi citizen who “lost confidence” in the Peshmerga’s ability to defend his lands, even if these lands are taken back, “they will be always threaten by the Islamic State’s men.”
Jalal adds: “Whereas the Kurds gained large international support after the massacres of Sinjar, the Yazidis paid a high price.”
Jalal Kalaw, a Yazidi in his forties, lying on the dust of the land beside a road nearby al-Khabooraccess point on the Turkish borderlines, is completely against the idea of getting back, and insists on taking his family out to Turkey, then to Germany.
Kalaw says: “We have victims whom we will never forget. . . we lost our money, our sheep, our belongings which were looted. Nothing remained to us there, even if they forced ISIS out of our land, are they going to let us live in peace while they are on the borders of our cities? How could we compensate for what we have lost and start anew in a mine field. Speech may be easy, but reality is something else.”
The religious and political leadership of Yazidi people is with these demands. Hussein QasimHasoon, a Yazidi figure who met the Prime Minister of Kurdistan region, NigirvanBarzani, with a big Yazidi delegation says: “The Yazidis want Kurdistan region government to open the door to ask for collective asylum to Europe and America, and they want international forces to protect their local areas. . . we said that we cannot live in a region whose government could not protect us, and preserve the honor of our daughters, for whatever reasons.”
Hasson adds: “We want to open the door of immigration for everyone who wants it, and facilitate that, and we want an international security for those who choose to stay in Sinjar.”
No Trust in the Kurdish Forces
After the genocide faced by the Yazidis in Sinjar, after what has been described by Kurdish officials as “an organizedtactic withdrawal”, the promises of Kurdish leaders to restore the Yazidi areas and bring restore security to them did not get the trust of most Yazidi people. Also, the idea of creating a special force to restore Sinjar and protect it did not find welcome among the Yazidi circles as being a pointless step in confronting the tremendous power of the Islamic State.
Although it is not a good solution, the force the region agreed to establish, and make it exclusive for the people of Sinjar from Yazidis and Muslims, attracted within few days hundreds of youths. The idea got approval from the Yazidi Spiritual Council which asserted, through its spokesperson Kareem Salman, opening three recruiting centers in Sumail, Shihkhan and Duhok, expecting to reach 2000 volunteers as a first stage.
But there is another force, established by the PKK which is being trained to enter Sinjar and liberate it. Also, there is a third force represented by the Yazidimilitants who are spread around Sijnar Mountain, and those criticized the withdrawal of Peshmerga from Sinjar, and considered what happened as a treason on the part of military leaders, and it cannot be forgiven.
“This fragmentation of forces creates a feeling among the Yazidis that they may fall again as victims to some partisan conflicts and interests which can be utilized by ISIS militants” say Salar Kareem.
University professor KhlatSallo believes that the demands of the followers of his religion for immigration are justified: “Our situation differs from that of others, we are threatened with death and have no other option but immigration. The Christians were allowed to leave or to stay and pay the taxes of jizia and some European countries welcomed them, and the Shiite Turkmanis have more than one option, and they were relocated in the South, but what about us?”
BurhanAbdi, a Yazidi clergyman, described what happened to his people as “a racial genocide, which happened when the Peshmerga troops just left their duty, and some Arabic tribes betrayed the vows and pacts of co-existence”, explaining that what happened is a societal breach that cannot be bridged soon, and its ghosts will always follow the Yazidis.
UroobaBayazeed, a well-known figure, believes that the “genocide happened with a blessing from the Muslim neighbors. . . Alas, those who were entrusted to protect Sinjar flew and gave the land to the Islamic State as a piece of gold. The Arabs, betrayed us when they welcomed the militants of Islamic State, and helped them to charge on us and loot our properties.”
Urooba asserted that the existence of her people in Sinjar, the first and last home, has been threatened with the continuous genocide over there.
According to statistics registered by local organizations, and Iraqi ministries and institutions, more than 900 young Yazidi men, youth and children were killed between 3 and 18 August, 500 of them were buried in mass graves, along with kidnapping more than 1000 women who were taken as slaves.
DalalShammu, a history teacher, said: “we cannot compare what is happening to us today with any previous woes that we lived in the pass. Our tragedy is duel, we are killed for being Yazidi and for being Kurds. Our minds cannot comprehend this cruelty. They did not leave any choices for us as they did with the Christians, or the Shiites, there is nothing we can do. We will keep crying all our lives for what happened to our daughters.
SaleemKamil, a municipality clerk who lost his daughter said: “The Yazidis encountered 72 massacres in the past, but this one is the worst. Never in the past did they take our women as slaves, they used to kill them with our men, but today they are kidnapped them before all the world. . . Every night I see the face of my daughter calling me, I repeat her name all the time, I hope we have never been born, I hope we never lived to see this day.”
This fear of termination and the feeling of the end of peaceful coexistence is not felt by a Muslim Kurd, nor by a Christian, and it is logical and justifiable, for a number of Islamic State princes, with whom the writer of this report spoke, admitted killing hundreds of Yazidis who refused to convert to Islam, and taking their women as salves “unless they declare their conversion to Islam.”
The princes of Mousil State considered the killing of Yazidis religiously legal because “they are infidels who refuse to convert to Islam, and Sinjar is today part of the Islamic State of Caliphate in which there is no room for non-Muslims except for those who pay jizia (taxes) from the Christians.”
Prince Abu Qudama asserts that “there are no specific borders to the State of Calphate.” This puts all Yazidis under permanent danger of murder and displacement as long as this State is existing on the borders of their areas which represent the surrounding strip of Kurdistan region.”
BeirShammu, a Yazidi clergyman says that they are now threatened more than any time before: “Our existence in our main land is endangered for the first time since centuries, if we lose Sinjar, our entire existence will be at risk. We were concerned about immigration before, but now it represents salvation for many.”
Before the hope of tens of thousands of Yazidi people in immigration or having international protection comes true, and both are very difficult to achieve, most of them will have to live in temporal camps lacking in most of the basics of life, and they will have to work for several months, to gather hundreds of scattered families, and discover the destiny of hundreds of missing people, and look for some solutions that might be impossible to bring back more than one thousand kidnapped women.
Regardless of what might become of the course of events, there are thousands of people who are distressed and injured by the loss of their sons and daughters in the conquests of the Islamic State of Caliphate in Sinjar City, who are waiting for a winter which might be the last one for them over this land.
A winter which might be the hardest in the life of DakheelSalih, the teacher who lost all his family, except his little daughter Nisreen. Salih , who is lying on the ground, embracing his daughter, few hundreds of meters far from the Turkish borderlines, hoping to manage to cross the Turkish territories towards Germany, says: “Our existence here is over. . . I will never be back to a land that took from me everyone I love.”
This report was conducted with the support of the Iraqi Investigative Press Network (NIRIJ).