The 3rd of August this year marks the seventh anniversary of the attack by the Islamic State (ISIS) on the Yazidi towns and villages south of the Sinjar (Shengal) Mountain in northern Iraq when the peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government withdrew, leaving the civilians defenceless against attack. A massacre – which the Yazidis call “the 73rd ferman” (ferman means ‘decree’ in the original Persian, but is now incorporated into the Kurdish language as ‘persecution’ or ‘massacre’), with reference to the many fermans in history targetting the Yazidi people – was committed, leaving thousands of civilians dead, thousands of women and children enslaved and resulting in 500,000 becoming refugees.
Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis fled and tried to take refuge in Mount Sinjar.The first armed unit to come to their protection was a People’s Defence Forces (HPG) squad of 12 guerillas, soon joined by other units from HPG and fighters of the People’s Defence Units (YPG) from Rojava. HPG and YPG units consequently opened a humanitarian corridor to the Sinjar Mountain and formed a line of resistance against ISIS.
The massacre, recognised later as genocide both by the United Nations and countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland and Armenia, drew the attention of the international public to the fate of the Yazidi people maybe for the first time in history. While the status of the Yazidis in the region is still under dispute, an agreement between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government was reached in October 2020, supported by the UN Special Representative for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.
MA interviewed the Yazidi sociologist Azad Barış on the impact of the massacre, its aftermath and the ongoing discussions regarding the status of the Yazidi people.
How was the 73rd ferman different from the previous ones?
For the first time a ferman was perceived on the social level by those who were subjected to it. It was not just recorded in the social memory, but has also been reflected on, worked out. The attempts at self-defence and the growing notion of Ezdikhan [the Yazidi land] which followed are actually indications of this. The process may be far from being sufficient, but it’s important at least in the context of the birth of an identity, reflecting on one’s own existence, a process of reorganisation. In other words, this ferman was also a process of realisation, understanding and conceptualisation. Its consequences weren’t just left to the admission and discretion of heavenly powers; they were analysed, interpreted, and are still questioned… Maybe it was actually the first time the Yazidis started reflecting on themselves. Thus we can say that this ferman was “productive”.
“The practices concerning an autonomous administration which followed the ISIS attacks and were carried out with the objective of self-preservation have evolved to be a potential model for the region, along with similar practices in Rojava.”
How did the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government react to this ferman, and what are the implications of the Sinjar Agreement they signed on 9 October 2020?
We can say that neither the Iraqi government nor the government of Southern Kurdistan did anything to improve the situation of the Yazidis… Both the Baghdad government and the Erbil (Hewler) government dominated by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) expend all their efforts to undermine the political will of the Yazidis. They work both openly and covertly with countries like Turkey to abolish the autonomous status of Sinjar. Sinjar is constantly targetted and is actually bombed from time to time. On the other hand, it is also a place where strategically important shifts have taken place within the last ten years in terms of sociological and military dynamics. Some examples are the emergence of the Yazidi self defence units and the growing notion of an autonomous administration within a context of Kurdish unity. These are obviously developments that unsettle all regional powers who are pro status quo. The practices concerning an autonomous administration which followed the ISIS attacks and were carried out with the objective of self-preservation have evolved to be a potential model for the region, along with similar practices in Rojava. The Sinjar Agreement was signed to abolish that structure in Sinjar and to return it to the status quo prior to the ISIS attacks. Here, one must consider that the present situation in Sinjar is in fact an extension, a part, of the Rojava revolution. Thus the attempt to occupy Sinjar must be analysed in this context.
Is it the autonomous structure of Sinjar that disturbs the Iraqi and Kurdistan regional governments the most?
Yes. Although the KDP is perceived to be based on the legacy of a great resistance, it has subsequently become a part of the agreements and efforts by the powers trying to protect the status quo. From many angles the central government carrying Turkey’s influence over to Sinjar is understandable, but they can’t succeed by disregarding the Yazidi people. Any move excluding Yazidis as the subject of their own problems is doomed to fail.
What is unsettling Turkey so that it bombs Sinjar every chance it gets?
There is a historical continuity in Turkey’s policy concerning South, West and North Kurdistan. It sees the emergence of a political will in Sinjar as a prospective danger and is attempting to eliminate it… Turkey doesn’t even try to conceal this, but announces it publicly. As the consequence of a historical mentality of discrimination, Turkey doesn’t want the Yazidi people to emerge as the representative of a political will in Sinjar any more than it wants the people of Diyarbakır (Amed), Van (Wan) and Afrin (Efrin) to do so in their own places. Besides, Turkey is aware of the relationship between Sinjar and Rojava; it is aware that the former is actually the latter’s gateway to North Kurdistan.
“There is a historical continuity in Turkey’s policy concerning South, West and North Kurdistan. It sees the emergence of a political will in Sinjar as a prospective danger and is attempting to eliminate it.”
Turkey played an important role in the signing of the Sinjar Agreement. What is the KDP, which is in collaboration with Turkey, planning to do in Ezdikhan?
We do see that the 9 October Sinjar Agreement was prepared and signed in coordination [between them] and also that they are trying to continue that coordination now. Let us at least keep in mind the visits of Hulusi Akar [the Turkish defence minister] and Hakan Fidan (director of the Turkish National Intelligence Agency] to Erbil and Baghdad, as well as the visit of Kazemi [Iraqi prime minister] to Ankara. I must point out here that Turkey would have interfered much more in many places including Sinjar if it hadn’t been faced with so many problems including the economic crisis, the pandemic and various regional and broader international conflicts. It’s not possible to say that the process is over, though. It’s going on. Although there is no substantial movement in the field for the present, there is a seriously tense situation, and the civil resistance persists. It’s important to note that the emergence of a strong will for an autonomous administration has played an effective role in shaping things up.
What is the present situation in Sinjar?
The mask of the Barzani dynasty has fallen as a result of many events in Kurdistan and developments in Sinjar. I think pushing both Iraq and Turkey against the Yazidi people is the peak of complete moral corruption on their part. Trying to serve Sinjar on a plate to foreign powers exceeds the limits even of moral corruption. It is absolutely contrary to Kurdish culture and social ethics. This is the manifestation of a complete collapse. On the other hand, we see a Kurdish reality which constructs its values against this and puts up a struggle along those lines. It is thanks to this reality that the Yazidis were able fight off a great catastrophe. It is thanks to this resistance that the catastrophe turned into a “divine” power. That cataclysmic wrath led the Yazidis to the notion of self-defence.