On Monday, Yazidis commemorate the sixth anniversary of the genocide committed by the so-called Islamic State or ISIS, which took place in Sinjar in northern Iraq.
Yazidis will not have the chance to consider how to protect themselves from a future genocide. Instead, they will be haunted and reminded by the genocide they still endure. And they should not be the only ones commemorating their tragedy — we all must.
This genocide is not over. More than 2,800 Yazidi women, girls, and children remain missing. Fewer than a third of the 400,000 Yazidis have returned, and their homeland of Sinjar is in shambles. They do not feel safe.
It was in the early hours of Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, when ISIS started its systematic campaign to kill thousands of Yazidi men and nearly 100 women. Except for several mass graves in Kocho exhumed by Iraqi authorities and the U.N. Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIS, most of their remains lay unexhumed on the bare land where the sun of the summers and winds and rain of winters have been washing them away.
While the killing of men and elderly women was horrific, it was the mass enslavement of more than 6,800 Yazidi women, girls, and children that broke the community and brought it down to its knees. What happened to Yazidis is a tragedy for humanity as a whole and will not be healed within six centuries, let alone six years.
In Sinjar, Yazidi women and girls have long sought a life with dignity, to marry and have families. They were also recently finding how to play a larger role in their conservative community. Whereas there had been almost no girls in school in the 1970s and 1980s, tens of thousands of Yazidis girls began to receive an equal education in the 1990s. Additionally, after decades of negligence and injustice toward this religious minority, it was only in 2003 that the community started a path to economic prosperity. For the first time, thousands of homes were turned from clay to concrete, small factories were built, and towns and villages received electricity and better services.
This all changed when the ISIS massacre devastated the Yazidi community as the world watched in 2014. After initial denial, this genocide was recognized by the United States, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Armenia. UN Security Council created UNITAD to collect evidence for legal recognition for the genocide. With over 20,000 ISIS members remaining in prison, there has been no judicial process leading to accountability. Only a handful of the tens of thousands of Yazidi victims and their families have had the opportunity to participate in trial proceedings, as Germany has been the only country to prosecute ISIS capital crimes.
Justice for the Yazidi community does not stop at accountability. The community deserves the right to the protection of its homeland as well. It is troubling that the Yazidi areas remain disputed between the governments of Baghdad and Erbil, which the U.S. and subsequent Iraqi governments have failed to address. It is without a local administration, under the threat of Turkish airstrikes, and is continually torn apart by the interests of various militia groups.
Justice should also have meant a return of over 200,000 internally displaced Yazidis who continue to endure a challenging life in more than 15 camps in the Kurdistan Region. The progress once made in local education, infrastructure, and the economy illustrates what the Yazidi community in Sinjar is capable of achieving. Before this, however, there must be stability, which means a resolution to local disputes, an end to the era of militias, an immediate cease to Turkish airstrikes, and an economic and humanitarian plan.
The Iraqi government, with the support of the U.S. and the international community, must address issues that still remain in both Sinjar as well as the entire Nineveh Plains, home to Christians, Yazidis, and other religious communities in Iraq. Stabilization and economic prosperity should be a priority if we want to help Iraq build a just society where everyone is treated equally, especially the weakest. The international community should support the Yazidis and other minorities to build resilience in their homeland so that their rich cultures can be preserved. Only then will the Yazidi community be able to rebuild a homeland with opportunities for economic prosperity and a life with dignity.
Murad Ismael is a Yazidi activist and co-founder of the global Yazidi organization Yazda. Nadine Maenza is a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.