The 8th anniversary of the liberation by Kurdish fighters of Sinjar (Shengal) in northern Iraq from the Islamic State (ISIS) on 13 November 2015 saw the Yazidi Women’s Freedom Movement (TAJÊ) commemorating the historic struggle against ISIS, a fight which cost hundreds of Kurdish fighters their lives.
On 3 August 2014, ISIS militants launched a genocidal assault on Sinjar, targeting the Yazidi community with killings, kidnappings and enslavement. Thousands fell victim, and the fate of many remains unknown.
— MedyaNews (@1MedyaNews) November 13, 2023
In the wake of the initial assault, 6,000 Iraqi soldiers and 12,000 Peshmerga soldiers of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) withdrew from Sinjar, leaving the residents exposed to the impending genocide.
Berfin Hezil, a Yazidi journalist and eyewitness to the 2014 events, told Mezopotamya News Agency about the KDP’s failure to shield the Yazidis from jihadist forces and how they obstructed local efforts at self-defence. Supporting Hezil’s claims, an August 2023 article in the Cradle, an online news magazine, detailed Masoud Barzani’s covert support for ISIS. Barzani, then the KDP leader and president of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, is alleged by Yazidi and Arab witnesses to have facilitated the genocide.
After the Iraqi army retreated from Mosul, allowing ISIS to occupy the city, Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), called for the protection of minorities, including the Yazidis. The KDP, in control of Sinjar at the time, did not heed these calls and did not intervene. The Peoples’ Defence Units (YPG) and the Women’s Defence Units (YPJ), attached to the Syrian Defence Forces, stepped in, creating a humanitarian corridor that allowed thousands of Yazidis to escape to North and East Syria.
Hezil also alleged that the KDP made a pact with ISIS, preventing any forces from entering Sinjar to aid the Yazidis. Despite the PKK’s efforts to foster cooperation against ISIS, the KDP’s inaction continued, leaving the Yazidis at the mercy of ISIS, with many succumbing to hunger and thirst during the siege. Furthermore, according to the journalist Behêz Hussein, Barzani has still not kept his promise to launch an investigation into the ruling KDP’s abandonment of the Yazidi people during the 2014 attacks.
The 2014 genocide perpetrated by ISIS against the Yazidis in Sinjar involved executing Yazidi men who refused to convert to Islam, and enslaving thousands of women and girls, some as young as nine. In May 2021, a special UN investigation team found “clear and convincing evidence” of genocide. German lawmakers recognised these massacres as genocide on 1 January 2023. The Belgian and Dutch parliaments also formally acknowledged the Yazidi genocide later in the year.
The formal recognition by the United Kingdom and Australia of the 2014 Yazidi Genocide by the ISIS has also been a significant development in international acknowledgment of these atrocities. The UK’s announcement on 1 August 2023 and the Australian parliament’s recognition on 10 August 2023, just ahead of the ninth anniversary of the initial assault, represent important steps in acknowledging and addressing the grave human rights abuses committed against the Yazidi community by ISIS.
The Yazidi Women’s Freedom Movement expressed gratitude to all Kurdish fighters who sacrificed their lives defending Sinjar, stating that the city’s liberation had been achieved with “the blood and labour of hundreds of martyrs”. They pledged to continue their efforts to build and protect a free Sinjar.