Nobel laureate draws attention to Yazidis’ plight
TUNIS - Three years after the Islamic State (ISIS) was ousted from the northern Iraqi province of Sinjar, the Yazidi people indigenous to the area continue to suffer the effects of the extremist group’s brutality but are determined to forge a better future for their community.
“We must not only imagine a better future for women, children and persecuted minorities, we must work consistently to make it happen, prioritising humanity, not war,” said a statement by Nadia Murad, a 25-year-old Iraqi Yazidi woman who was announced as a co-recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for efforts “to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.”
Murad, who was captured and enslaved by ISIS fighters when they overran her village in Sinjar in 2014, said she shared the award “with all Yazidis, Iraqis, Kurds, other persecuted minorities and all of the countless victims of sexual violence around the world.”
Yazidi activists said Murad’s victory meant a lot for the community but should not draw away from the overwhelming struggles many continue to face.
“Yazidis feel very happy. We all know the Nobel Peace Prize is a huge accomplishment,” Pari Ibrahim, executive director of the Free Yezidi Foundation, said via e-mail. “However, the world must remember that most Yazidi women live in deplorable conditions and thousands are still missing and likely held captive. We are happy for Nadia… she is a voice for our people… but it is hardly a happy celebration. I’m sure she would say that, too.”
The Yazidis, whose religion combines elements of various monotheistic faiths, have often been subject to persecution. When ISIS established its self-declared caliphate to Iraq in 2013, Yazidis bore some of the worst of the extremist group’s abuses because ISIS deemed them “pagans” or “devil worshippers.”
Yazidi men were killed by the thousands and women were captured, tortured and forced into sexual slavery. An estimated 3,000 women and children remain in captivity and countless others live with the scars of war.
Many areas in northern Iraq once inhabited by the Yazidis are in ruins, with landmines and booby traps littered across the towns, making it all but impossible for them to return.
On top of the physical barriers, Yazidis’ strained relations with their Arab and Kurdish neighbours, who have long competed for influence in and around Sinjar, make reintegration more difficult. Yazidis are infuriated that some Sunni populations accused of supporting ISIS have returned to areas in the north.
As a result, most members of the community have either fled the country or live in camps for the displaced across Iraqi Kurdistan, where they often lack access to adequate medical care, education or employment opportunities.
“No jobs, bad living conditions and a grim future: That’s life for Yazidis who came back after, sometimes, years of captivity,” Bahar Ali, director of the Emma Organisation, told Al-Monitor in June. “They faced all this sexual violence and just sit there in the tents, with all their memories.”
Yazidis yearn for both justice and a world in which they can live and thrive as they once did, Ibrahim said, but they are wary of an international community that has too often used their plight as a prop and done little to effect actual change.
“There is no justice… Terrorists who (have committed) genocide and mass rape and torture… must not only be seen as terrorists but tried in real courts for what they did to our people, including what they did to our girls,” said Ibrahim. “We want these perpetrators to be tried for their rapes and murders.
“Awareness and awards must be followed by serious action and empowerment of Yazidi community itself, not dependence on local or regional government or national governments and also not permanent dependence on foreign aid. In the long run, that won’t work.”