The increasing threats facing the Sinjar region in Iraqi Kurdistan have been the focus of heated debates and discussions in past months, after a 9 October 2020 Erbil-Baghdad agreement between the federal government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) agreed upon ejecting the local Yazidi security forces from Sinjar and replacing them with a deployment of Iraqi military forces.
Sinjar has been a town that has been historically inhabited by the Yazidi people, who have suffered several ethnic cleansing campaigns because of their religion and their Kurdish identity.
The most recent massacres of Yazidi people in Sinjar had been at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, or Daesh). ISIS besieged the town on 3 August 2014 and forces belonging to the KRG failed to offer meaningful resistance, resulting in Yazidis having to flee in desperate circumstances. Many Yazidis were subsequently targeted by ISIS in the most repressive manner imaginable.
Since ISIS occupied the town, local people began to organise their own self-defence forces and were able – with assistance – to sweep ISIS from Sinjar through their resistance. For the past six years, local people have organised an autonomous administration in Sinjar and have been self-governing their town and area.
The Turkish state, a leading power in the region, has sought to target the autonomous administration in Sinjar. Having also been targeted by the Iraq central government and the Regional Government (KRG) by the agreement, many people in Sinjar have expressed themselves by stating that they are struggling to have a say in determining their own fate.
In this struggle to resist over the years, many Kurdish politicians, cadres and fighters from Sinjar have been killed, including the prominent politician Mam Zeki Şengali.
The 9 October 2020 Erbil-Baghdad agreement has been considered by many people in Sinjar as an “attempt at occupation”. Since the agreement was signed, many people in Sinjar have been actively expressing their resistance to this agreement, holding vigils, protests and marches for the world to hear their voices.
Sinjar Autonomous Administrative Council has been trying to continue talks with Iraqi authorities to arrive at a peaceful solution and it has called for the Yazidi people living in Sinjar to be included in the decision-making processes. People in Sinjar have repeatedly raised their demand that they do not want conflict and that their right to self-governance must be recognised.
Kurdish people, their international friends and people around the world who support the struggles of oppressed peoples have been showing their support for the Sinjar ‘resistance’ through engagement in several demonstrations and events that have been organised since last October.
Through rallies, tent protests and vigils, sit-in’s and demonstrations in front of the Iraqi embassies in different countries, people have sought to protest against the authorities in Iraq regarding their ‘Sinjar’ position.
However, Iraqi authorities have continued to pressurise the people and local security forces in Sinjar. On 10 March, Baghdad demanded that the local Yazidi forces known as the Yazidi Asayish leave Sinjar within 24 hours. After people in Sinjar reacted strongly to this demand, representatives from Iraq met with representatives from the autonomous administration of Sinjar on 11 March.
In a final declaration issued from the Iraqi side on 25 March, it was stated that Sinjar Autonomous Administrative Council has until ‘1 April’ to leave all its institutions to the central government and to make sure that Yazidi defence forces have been evacuated from the town.
The autonomous administration of Sinjar, in response, has stated that it will not obey such an imposition and it will continue with its resistance and defend the Yazidi people’s right to autonomy, which they gained through their own resistance against ISIS.
Tensions in Sinjar have mounted in this context, but people in Sinjar have refused to ‘step down’ from their position of ‘resistance’. Sinjar women have begun to engage in ‘self-defence training’ and many have announced that they will not leave Sinjar. They have stated that they will defend their homes and lands in case of any possible attack. Yazidi peoples’ and Yazidi womens’ defence forces have also continued to remain in position in Sinjar.