DOHUK, IRAQ/WASHINGTON —
With vigils and demands to free the enslaved, Yazidis in Iraq and throughout the world on Wednesday commemorated the second anniversary of a massacre committed by Islamic State militants in Sinjar.
At least 5,000 Yazidis, mostly men and boys, were killed during the 2014 attack on the Iraqi city. The United Nations reported Wednesday that the religious minority continues to suffer at the hands of IS.
“Two years on, over 3,200 women and children are still held by IS and are subjected to almost unimaginable violence,” the U.N. Commission for Inquiry on Syria said.
The commission was referring to the Yazidi women and girls who were taken as sexual slaves by IS militants. Most of them are being held in Raqqa, the IS de facto capital in Syria.
Yazidi women cry as they attend a demonstration at a refugee camp in Kurdish-dominated city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, to mark the second anniversary of what a U.N.-appointed commission of independent war crimes investigators termed a genocide against the Yazidi population by the Islamic State, Aug. 3, 2016.
Prior to the assault in August 2014, Sinjar was home to the largest Yazidi community in the world. Yazidis, a distinct Kurdish religious minority, are viewed as infidels by IS extremists.
In November 2015, Iraqi Kurdish forces known as Peshmerga, with the help of the U.S.-led coalition, liberated Sinjar from IS militants. “I would like to express my gratitude to the coalition, which is led by the United States,” Hazim Tahsin, a Yazidi spiritual leader, told a gathering Wednesday at Lalish Temple in northern Iraq, the most sacred Yazidi site, to remember the genocide’s victims.
The city is now under Kurdish control, but many Yazidis still feel it is not safe to return to their homes. Thousands of Yazidis remain in refugee camps inside Iraq and across the Middle East.
One woman's plea
“I have been living in a camp for nearly two years,” said Tawra, a female Yazidi refugee who preferred to go by her first name only. She lives at a refugee camp near Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey.
“All I want now is for my Yazidi sisters [enslaved by IS] to return home safely,” she told VOA.
Yazidi activists say the international community needs to do more to help Yazidis.
“The world has recognized what happened in Sinjar as genocide,” Peri Ibrahim of the Free Yazidi Foundation, a group that advocates for Yazidi rights, said in an interview with VOA’s Kurdish service. “This recognition should be translated into actions that protect Yazidis and help them return to their homes.”
Kurdish activists in Istanbul’s Taksim Square commemorate the Yazidi genocide in Sinjar, Iraq, Aug. 3, 2016. (Z. Yasar/VOA)
Ibrahim said her organization has been working with the Hague-based International Criminal Court to document crimes committed by IS fighters — many recruited from the West — against Yazidis.
The U.S. earlier this year blamed IS for perpetrating genocide against Yazidis and other minority groups in the Middle East.
“Today, as a somber occasion, we remember Yazidi victims of Daesh [IS] and its hateful ideology,” Ken Gross, the consul general in Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, said during a speech at Lalish Temple.
In Washington, Yazidi activists planned to hold a candlelight vigil Wednesday in front of the White House to honor the victims of Sinjar and to call for “global attention to help displaced and traumatized survivors of the genocide,” a statement from the Free Yazidi Foundation said.