One year is too long: free the Yezidis! – OPED

SHAFAQNA - It’s now a year after the Islamic State, or ISIS, kidnapped thousands of Yezidi men, women and children, and most of those abducted still remain in the grip of the extremists.  

Even now, the exact number of the Yezidi men killed in August 2014 still is not known because only a few of the mass graves ISIS buried them in have been found.

A year after the tragedy of August 3, hundreds of thousands of Yezidis who fled their homes in the Shingal region are still internally displaced, living in tents, camps and unfinished buildings in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Even though part of the area that ISIS captured in August 2014 has been retaken by the Kurdish Peshmerga, only some of those who fled have returned.

Many Yezidis are scared of their former Arab neighbours and the inhabitants of Arab villages in the region who worked with ISIS and stayed on during their occupation.

Some Yezidi men have joined the fight against ISIS, with the Peshmerga or with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Others have formed their own militias, with reports of these groups attacking Arab villages in the Shingal region.

Today, a year after, the battle for the city of Shingal continues, demolishing its homes and buildings in the process.

The stories of the Yezidi women have captured the media. How they were separated from the men and sold as slaves, their prices based on age and beauty. How girls as young as 9 years old were forced to become sex slaves.

Lives have been ruined. Women’s lives have been drowned in shame and fear. Those who were able to escape, or were bought back by their families, have been so badly traumatised that some committed suicide.

Families were ripped apart. Many still have no confirmation of the deaths of their loved ones and others are still waiting for their female relatives to be returned to them.
Boys and men were recruited and indoctrinated by ISIS, taught to fight for its self-proclaimed caliphate – and getting killed doing so.

It was a year of awe and sorrow. It was a year that exposed the human capacity to inflict pain by declaring others as disbelievers or apostates in order to mistreat them in any way possible. It’s well known that during wars the enemy is dehumanised and alienated to get fighters to fight and to pull civilians into the conflict. But, somehow, we thought the Medieval ways practised by ISIS were behind us.

One of the few positive effects of the tragedy is that the world is reminded of the existence of a small religious minority. There have been offers of help and support to Yezidis so they can survive this attack on the very core of their existence.

That help should consist of more than housing and feeding the internally displaced. The world could and should be far more involved in freeing the Yezidis from the clutches of ISIS.

Only around 1,500 or so Yezidis have been freed in the past year. Many of those released are a result of the attempts of family members to find them, help them escape, or buy them from their latest owner. For the estimated 3,000 women who remain in ISIS hands, external help is needed.

While the Kurdish security forces reportedly went, with the help of US special forces in to kill Mullah Shwan, the Kurdish cleric who  joined ISIS and was recruiting young Kurds, not even one rescue has been planned to free the kidnapped Yezidis.

An American Delta Force action into Syria proved last month that it is possible to penetrate ISIS territory and get out. Yet Kurdish authorities have declared that such an action to liberate the Yezidis is too complicated.

I often wonder whether any Western nation would have allowed its civilians – and in these numbers – to remain in captivity for a whole year. I am just about sure they would not – knowing that the US has gone into ISIS territory for the sake of just one American national.

We know groups of Yezidi girls and women are still held together, often in ISIS brothels. We know that, until recently, whole families were kept together in walled-in villages.

As much information is available about their locations, it is hard to understand why it is still up to families and volunteers to individually free their girls.

If the Kurdish authorities are not willing to set up a military operation, or the US and their partners do not offer help, then at least set up a major campaign to pay for the freedom of groups of Yezidis.

The Kurdish authorities say they will not deal with ISIS. But perhaps the lives of these innocent civilians make it acceptable to break that vow. A year is too long for anyone to have to wait for help in the terrible situation they are in.

Do not neglect them, do not forget them. Free them – in any way possible.
By Judit Neurink  – The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect that of Shafaqna’s.

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