Three survivors of the Islamic State (ISIS) attack on Sinjar, Northern Iraq spoke at the panel discussion entitled Surviving a Genocide: Resistance Stories of Yazidis on Wednesday, as part of the Second International Refugee Film Festival in Turkey’s western Izmir province
There are many Yazidi women still under captivity in Turkey, and the Turkish government remains silent on the matter, the speakers said.
Speaker Nadia Navrauzov, an advocate for genocide prevention, said there were still at least 2,800 Yazidi people who had disappeared.
“Some of them are held chained in basements in Turkey. The Turkish authorities do not offer any assistance,” Navrauzov said. “How can ISIS members walk around freely in Turkey? This is the question you should ask your government. Call on your government to ensure justice for the Yazidi community.”
Meral Danış Beştaş, parliamentary spokeswoman for Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said in a speech in parliament last week that a young Yazidi woman was held captive for years in the Turkish capital Ankara by an ISIS member and suffered abuse. The woman was only discovered recently.
Navrauzov’s family had fled to what is now Georgia to escape a massacre during Ottoman times. She was living in France during the 2014 massacre in Sinjar (Shengal), and had visited Iraq briefly in 2018. Originally planning to return, Navrauzov was deeply impacted with the realisation that no normal life remained for the Yazidis after the massacre.
She moved on to work for a global institution to protect religious and ethnic minorities and genocide prevention, YAZDA, which was founded in 2014 following the ISIS genocide. Her work involves a documentation and record keeping project for ISIS crimes.
Navrauzov said YAZDA was collecting testimonies from genocide survivors, and that some 2,000 testimonies had already been collected. The advocacy group has identified more than 100 sites for ISIS crimes.
“There are mass graves, blown up Yazidi temples, and holding sites for survivors. We managed to get five ISIS members sent back to Germany to be imprisoned,” Navrauzov said.
A German court has recognised ISIS activities in Sinjar as genocide, while Iraq and Turkey do not, she said. In the latter two, ISIS members can face charges of terrorism, “but not of genocide”, she said.
Writer and musician Zülfü Livaneli expressed solidarity with the Yazidi people, mentioning his own exile from Turkey after a military coup in 1971. Livaneli, a popular folk singer, spent 11 years in exile in Sweden.
“People flee inequality and violence. They want to save their lives. This has become the fate of countries such as ours,” Livaneli said.
Livaneli said Yazidis were among peoples who had suffered the highest number of massacres in history. There have been more than 70 mass killings of Yazidi people, starting under the Ottoman Empire.
Yazidis have an ancient civilisation that “predates all monotheistic religions”, Livaneli said. Some faith systems that came after have twisted the meanings of motifs used by Yazidis, he continued, and declared the ancient people evil “for worshipping the Devil”.
“This is an incredible distortion of truth,” Livaneli said.
Speaker Ameena Qasim Khalaf was living in Sinjar with her family before the ISIS occupation, but saw her life turned upside down when the fundamentalist terror group attacked on 3 August 2014.
“ISIS tried to abduct us and kill us,” Khalaf said. “We survived in the mountains, left without food and water. We did not know our future and we were very afraid.”
Khalaf was enslaved and tortured by ISIS. She also suffered sexual assault and rape. “We were constantly trying to escape but we were caught each time. They treated us even worse after each time we were caught,” she said.
Darida Falit Jrdo, the last speaker, said YAZDA had been supporting women in 15 refugee camps in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.
“Conditions in these camps are terrible. Yazidi women still carry traces of their experiences on their bodies.”
Civilian initiatives such as YAZDA cannot get any official assistance from the Iraqi government, Jrdo said. According to the activist, the group had to put out a fire in a camp themselves last year.
“We are freed from ISIS, but we will die here,” a Yazidi woman living in one of the camps told Jrdo.