One Year on From the Sinjar Massacre, Yazidis Blast Lack of Action Over Hostages

Yazidi Sinjar massacre anniversary
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate August 11, 2014. Rodi Said/Reuters

A year on from the massacre of Yazidi civilians in their historical homeland of Sinjar at the hands of Islamic State (ISIS) militants, Yazidi advocacy groups have condemned the Iraqi government and international community for their lack of action in helping those captured by the Islamist militants.

This week marks the first anniversary of the start of the Sinjar massacre, in which thousands of people who belong to the non-Muslim Yazidi sect were killed by ISIS in northern Iraq. Thousands more Yazidi women and girls were abducted, many of whom were reportedly later sold as sex slaves or given to jihadists as wives. Despite some managing to escape over the last year, and ISIS releasing a few hundred Yazidi captives, advocacy groups estimate that between 3,000-5,000 remain as hostages. A recent U.N. report acknowledged that ISIS may have committed genocide and war crimes against the Yazidi population, adding that the terrorist group's intent was "to destroy the Yazidi as a group."

Murad Ismael, the co-founder of Yazda, a U.S.-based organization set up after the 2014 massacre to raise awareness of the Yazidi people's plight and support the victims, told Newsweek that a year on, he has little hope that the thousands of Yazidis who remain ISIS hostages will ever be released. "Until March, our advocacy was for a rescue mission, but now we just want recognition of the Yazidi people. In terms of the hostages it's too late - it's cost the lives of these 7,000 people," he says.

While Ismael praises the U.S. and the U.K. for their initial help carrying out airstrikes on ISIS positions and providing food drops when tens of thousands of Yazidis fleeing the violence were trapped on Mount Sinjar by the militants, he is clearly frustrated at the lack of action from the international community over the last year, especially in regards to rescuing those who have been kidnapped by the group.

"We did all the advocacy we could, we provided information, the maps, the coordinates, how many Yazidis were in certain places, how many ISIS fighters. But the rescue never took place," Ismael says, referring to a 40-page document the group put together regarding the movement of the kidnapped Yazidis in the aftermath of the August killings and kidnappings. "We gave it to the U.N., U.S. government, Iraqi government, every single authority we could."

Ismael believes that the Iraqi government were reluctant to intervene in the situation because of the way Yazidis are viewed in the country. The Yazidi people are predominantly ethnically Kurdish and are one of Iraq's oldest minority groups. However, due to their beliefs which include elements of several religions including Christianity and Islam, as well Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion, they are considered heretics by many of Iraq's Muslims and ISIS has branded them as "devil worshippers." "We're treated like third class citizens in Iraq," says Ismael. "The Iraqi government dragged their feet and didn't take responsibility. They failed to respond to the crisis."

Pari Ibrahim, the Director of the Free Yazidi Foundation, mirrors Ismael's condemnation of the Iraqi government. "The Iraqi Government has done almost nothing to help the Yazidi survivors or the Iraqi Christian survivors or any of the internally displace people in the north," she tells Newsweek.

However, Naseer Nouri Mohammed, Media Advisor to the Iraqi Defence Minister, rejected these claims, highlighting the ministry's involvement in both the liberation of Mount Sinjar and their ongoing involvement in operations to rescue the captive Yazidis.

"The Iraqi Government is following up on this issue constantly," Mohammed tells Newsweek. "There are some aspects that are public and some that are kept amongst the government and they are followed closely. The environment of war and the continuous fighting on different fronts in Iraq means this is one of many issues we are following."

Yazidi Sinjar massacre anniversary protest
Displaced female demonstrators from the minority Yazidi sect gather during a protest outside the headquarters of the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) in northern Erbil province, north of Baghdad, August 2, 2015. Kurdish Yazidi citizens demonstrated in the northern province of Erbil on the anniversary of ISIS terrorism against Yazidis in Sinjar. Azad Lashkari/Reuters

Ibrahim also highlights the lack of action over the Yazidis since last August. "The international community reacted once the Yazidis were stranded on Mount Sinjar, but this was far too late. There should have been action sooner."

Among the crimes documented in the U.N. report during the massacre was the rape of girls as young as six, while harrowing tales have emerged from women and children who have managed to escape captivity under ISIS.

Ismael describes how over the last year the situation has worsened for the Yazidis in captivity as they have been split up from each other. "Since January they have been dismembering Yazidi families systematically. They take the girls away and the children aged over 11 go to the training camps to learn how to fight for ISIS."

Having initially been able to keep in contact with up to 50 of the Yazidi captives, Ismael says that in January ISIS confiscated people's mobile phones and the group have now lost contact with almost all of those they had initially had communication with.

More than 80 percent of Iraq's Yazidis are now displaced according to Ismael, who says that while half of Sinjar is still controlled by ISIS the other half is riddled with IEDs and so currently uninhabitable. He now believes that there are only two choices for the Yazidi community: either they remain in Iraq but under the protection of international forces, or they will leave Iraq all together. "2,000 3,000 Yazidis are leaving Iraq every month. Right now, if you want to retain your identity, you need to leave."

For Ibrahim, it's difficult to understand why the ongoing plight of the Yazidis has gone largely unnoticed, failing to make headlines or prompt international protests.

"Since the attacks last year, there has not been outcry at the horrific plight of the thousands of girls suffering unimaginable torture," she says. "Where are the marches in the capitals of the world for our victims? The world has remained quite calm and unmoved by our plight, even today, from my perspective. I can't imagine the reaction if thousands of women and young girls in other parts of the world were abducted and tortured in this way."