“Shout out loud in the face of blackening death,
The soft chirping of nightingales will not suffice today.”
—Murad Suleiman Allo, Yazidi poet from Sinjar
When ISIS (also known as Daesh) swept into Sinjar to begin a genocidal campaign against the Yazidi ethnoreligious minority on August 3, 2014, those who managed to escape fled to the mountain in search of safety. More than two years later, Yazidis are on the run again, this time seeking to avoid being caught in the crossfire of an intra-Kurdish conflict that has flared up in their homeland.
On one side of the conflict is the military arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist group from Turkey that espouses the leftist ideology of Abdullah Ocalan. Together with their Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and aided by US airpower, they broke through ISIS lines in August 2014 and established a safe corridor through Syria to Iraqi Kurdistan for Yazidis who were trapped on the mountain. The PKK has been in Sinjar ever since, with the stated aim of training a local Yazidi force (the Sinjar Resistance Units, or YBŞ) until they are able to defend and administer their own lands.
On the other side is the Peshmerga Rojava, a force made up primarily of Syrian Kurds that is supported by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the dominant party within the KRG and the party of President Masoud Barzani, is a fierce ideological rival of the PKK and members within it — including most recently Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani — have repeatedly asked the PKK to leave Sinjar.
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Peshmerga forces from the KRG have fought alongside the PKK in Sinjar to reclaim territory from ISIS in the past. Today, however, in fratricidal fashion, they are increasingly turning on each other, and forcing the groups they support in Sinjar to do the same. This is even as villages south of Mount Sinjar have yet to be liberated from ISIS.
The ones who are hardest hit by all of this are the Yazidis themselves. Their native Sinjar beset by political struggles from which they have little to gain, and which prevent them from returning home. The genocide against them is ongoing.
In terms of injustices, it doesn’t end there.
Despite confirmations from governments around the world and the United Nations that ISIS crimes against the Yazidis amount to genocide, words have not translated into concrete action. As of today, not one ISIS fighter has been tried for the myriad crimes committed against the Yazidis, including murder, forced conversion, recruitment of child soldiers and sexual enslavement of women and girls.
Earlier this month, international human rights attorney Amal Clooney addressed the UN on the need to bring ISIS fighters to justice. Currently, the only thing impeding a UN Security Council investigation on ISIS crimes in Iraq is the lack of a request for such an investigation from the government in Baghdad. If an investigation through the Security Council turns out to be blocked, Clooney urged other courses of action, saying, “… you must take the initiative to secure accountability in other ways available to you under the UN Charter. Don’t let this be another Rwanda, where you regret doing too little, too late. Don’t let ISIS get away with genocide.”
In her speech, Clooney highlighted that there can be no lasting peace for Yazidis and other minorities in Iraq without justice. For the Yazidis, justice on all fronts looks increasingly out of reach, in large part because it has for so long been delayed.
As the Global Coalition to counter ISIS meets in Washington, DC, this week, it is important to remember that success that is limited to the battlefield is no long-term success at all.
Fortunately, there is still decisive action that can be taken on multiple levels that goes beyond the military defeat of ISIS, fosters justice for the Yazidis and helps to empower them going forward.
Individuals can support organizations in Iraq (such as Yazda and Preemptive Love Coalition Coalition) that provide humanitarian aid and advocacy for Yazidis. Members of Congress in the United States can move to pass H.R. 390 (the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act), a bill that would ensure genocide-afflicted minorities like the Yazidis receive the aid they so desperately need. Additionally, the US government can encourage their Kurdish partners present in Sinjar to resolve their differences through dialogue, thus helping to avert what could foreseeably become a proxy war between Iran and Turkey. Finally, the international community can pressure the government of Iraq to send a letter to the UN requesting an investigation into ISIS crimes there, and can move to support internationally protected zones where Yazidis and other minorities (such as Christians, Turkmens and Shabak peoples) have sought to cultivate greater security and self-administration in the Nineveh Governorate. These are but a few possibilities, and there are no doubt many more.
The response from the international community to the crimes and injustices that Yazidis have had to confront over more than two years has amounted to little more than the “soft chirping of nightingales.” What’s needed is a collective “shout out loud in the face of blackening death.” As Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor of ISIS sexual enslavement and now UN Goodwill Ambassador, has said, “Time is running out. And words of support are not enough. Action is needed.” If justice is delayed still more, and action doesn’t come soon, the world may very well lose the treasure that is the Yazidi community.