I enjoy the algorithm-generated post Facebook hits me with each morning — recycled digital memories of happy times with people I love. It’s my daily scrapbook moment, like pulling the photo album off the shelf for a quick peek at the past.
A memory popped up recently from five years ago. It shows our family gathered to celebrate my youngest daughter’s high school graduation. An assortment of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents gleefully surrounds my daughter, clothed in cap and gown and a broad smile. It was a good day, a milestone day.
A grimmer memory from five years ago also popped up — this one on my news feeds. It was not a good day, but it was a milestone. August 3rd marks the 5th anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide in Syria and Northern Iraq.
On that day, the Islamic State (ISIS) launched a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Yazidi community. The Yazidis are an ethnic and religious minority with a culture that dates back some 6,000 years. Throughout that miserable summer of 2014, ISIS militants slaughtered or abducted some 12,000 Yazidis. They drove more than 400,000 from their homes. Then they abducted upwards of 6,800 women and children and forced them into sexual slavery.
Nadia Murad was one of those women. She escaped her captors and today advocates on behalf of the shattered Yazidi community. “I lost nine family members during this genocide,” said Murad, speaking before an audience at the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the U.S. Department of State last month.
“Twenty-one women and girls from my family were taken into captivity, including myself. Today, I have 19 nieces and nephews that will grow up without fathers. ISIS killed their fathers because they were Yazidis. This is only one story of one Yazidi family.”
Hers is not the joyful, carefree Facebook memory. Indeed, the devastation of genocide that fractured families and forever altered the Yazidi community lingers and likely will for generations.
Five years out, more than 350,000 Yazidis remain trapped in IDP camps, unable to return home. They live in terrible conditions. Access to the basic necessities — adequate food, water and electricity — is limited. Employment opportunities are scarce. Even basic healthcare is lacking. Nearly 3,000 Yazidi, mostly women and children, are still missing.
Yazda, a global humanitarian organization that advocates on behalf of Yazidis, noted that, “The security situation of this ancestral homeland remains fragile, with ongoing attempts by ISIS to re-infiltrate and cause harm.” Community healing and rebuilding is further compromised by what Yazda describes as an “invasive identity annihilation,” by ISIS through mass-scale cultural genocide and the obliteration of many Yazidi religious and heritage sites.
Healing and Rebuilding
Healing and rebuilding remain the greatest hope for the Yazidi people. In her speech at the State Department’s Ministerial, Murad called on the international community to support efforts for the repatriation of Yazidis. Specifically, she outlined these four steps for healing and rebuilding:
- Resolving local governance issues
- Investing in long-term sustainable development initiatives
- Recruiting Yazidis into Iraq’s official security forces
- Prosecuting ISIS for war crimes
In a recent op-ed, Murad wrote, “These steps are not only crucial to helping the Yazidis recover from the genocide but can also promote the rebuilding of trust among the different communities in Iraq, ultimately supporting the process of peace and reconciliation in the region.”
Congress Considers Modest Commitment
To that end, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) introduced a bipartisan resolution last spring that would support the repatriation of religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq to their ancestral homelands. Informally known as The Security Resolution for Northern Iraq, H. Res. 259 would:
- Make it a policy priority of the U.S. to support the safe return of displaced indigenous people of the Nineveh Plain and Sinjar to their ancestral homeland;
- Call on the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Regional Government to more fully integrate religious minority communities, including the Yazidis, into the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga; and
- Encourage coordinated efforts by the U.S. and international partners to provide for the safe return and future security of religious minorities to the Nineveh Plain and Sinjar.
For the Yazidi people, the memories of five years ago cannot be erased. But with proper action by the international community, we can ensure that the Yazidi people themselves are not erased.
Murad, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, concluded her State Department remarks with this sober warning: “If we abandon the Yazidi community, we are helping ISIS accomplish its goal of eradicating the Yazidis from their homeland. If the international community does not act swiftly, my community will disappear from their homeland.”
Learn more about the Yazidi genocide:
My People were Massacred Five Years Ago. The Genocide Continues by Nadia Murad | Washington Post | July 31, 2019
Yazidi Women Raped as ISIS Slaves Face Brutal Homecoming Choice: Give Up Their Child or Stay Away by Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim | Washington Post | July 30, 2019
Nadia Murad Explains the Blueprint to Help Religious Communities in Iraq by Ewelina U. Ochab | Forbes | July 24, 2019
We Have Unfinished Business in Iraq by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry | The American Conservative | July 3, 2019