The enormity of the humanitarian crisis of the cascading exodus from Nineveh was overshadowed, though, by the early reports indicating genocide is taking place against the people of Sinjar, who are mostly followers of the Yazidi religion but also include some Christians.
The Yazidi city of Sinjar and the towns of Tal Afar and Zummar, captured on Sunday by the Islamic State, remain under jihadi control. Some 200,000 of their citizens fled, mostly to Kurdistan. But about 40,000 are now in a truly desperate situation, trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they had fled on foot without provisions and are now dying. Quoting a UNICEF spokesperson, the Washington Post reports today: “There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads. There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”
Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana reports that Kurdistan’s High Commission of Human Rights airlifted ten shipments of aid, each with 20 tons of provisions, to those on Mount Sinjar today.
Others who did not manage to escape have been executed, abducted into sex slavery, or are being used by jihadis as human shields.
The following is a description of their ongoing ordeal from a report sent today by Christiana Patto of the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq:
Yesterday 45 children died of thirst. Some families throw their children from the top of Sinjar mountain in order not to see them die from hunger or thirst, or not to be taken by the terrorists. 1500 men were killed in front of their wives and families, 50 old men died also from thirst and illness. More than 70 girl and women including Christians were taken, raped and being captured and sold. More than 100 families are captured in Tel afar airport. There is about 50 Christian families in Sinjar. The terrorists were able to control the Syriac church there and cover the Cross with their black banner. Till now we do not know anything about those Christian families.
The Assyrian International News reports that the jihadis took captive 150 Yazidi families in Iraq and brought them to Syria for reasons unknown, where they are being held at Camp Hol.
Meanwhile, 500 more Yazidi families were taken to Tel Afar, Iraq, where they are being used as human shields in the Qalaat Tel Afar (the city’s old castle) and in schools.
In response yesterday, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power issued the highest level statement so far by the Obama administration on the two-month-long attack against non-Sunnis in Iraq by the Islamic State. Still relying on the formation of a new Iraqi government as the principal solution, she appealed to “all parties to the conflict,” stating:
We urge all parties to the conflict to allow safe access to the United Nations and its partners so they can deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance, including to those Iraqi families reportedly encircled by ISIL on Mount Sinjar. The United States is committed to helping the people of Iraq as they confront the security and humanitarian challenges in their fight against ISIL. Iraq’s leaders must move swiftly to form a new, fully inclusive government that takes into account the rights, aspirations and legitimate concerns of all of Iraq’s communities. All Iraqis must come together to ensure that Iraq gets back on the path to a peaceful future and to prevent ISIL from obliterating Iraq’s vibrant diversity.
Meanwhile, I just received word that residents of Erbil are now fleeing in panic. My contact writes at 4:41 p.m. today:
People now all leaving Erbil to go a bit more to the northeastern part of Kurdistan. There have been fight in Khabour for the last two days and apparently ISIS is winning, peshmerga is giving in, and they are closing on Erbil. People are freaking out and Security is on every other meter on the streets. Checkpoints everywhere and they are stopping everybody.
To date, neither President Obama nor Secretary Kerry has mentioned the epic humanitarian and human-rights catastrophe underway in this large agricultural province that for over a millennium has been home to Christians, Yazidis, and various ethnic Sunnis and Shiites. The U.S. has provided humanitarian aid in the wake of each attack, but the Islamic State’s siege of Nineveh requires immediate additional measures to protect Iraq’s uniquely vulnerable minorities.
In a rout of Kurdish peshmerga forces this past weekend, the Islamic State captured Shinjar, home to the Yazidi minority, two other smaller towns, and an oil field.
The United Nations’ envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, has warned that a “humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar,” as some 200,000 people, including many Yazidis, have fled to the mountains, where the humanitarian situation is “dire.”
The New York Times reported that one Yazidi worker said he escaped through the hospital window while being shot at when Islamic militants burst in, demanding to know his religion. Hundreds of civilian Yazidi families were reported rounded up and the men were executed and their widows made “jihad wives.” According to the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization (HHRO), working in north Iraq, more than 50 Yazidi children have died.
Yazidi Prince Tahseen Said has issued a desperate appeal for help to President Obama, among other world leaders, but no response has been received.
The Yazidi religion is an ancient, pre-Christian monotheistic faith that reveres angels, is linked to Zoroastrianism, and is viewed by the Islamic State as an intolerable affront to Islam. Like the Christians, Yazidis have been subjected to horrific persecution by extremists in recent years, including a recent incident related to me by the Yazidi Human Rights Organization, in which Isis plucked out the eyes of 13 Yazidi men who refused to convert to Islam and then, when they still refused, doused them with gasoline and burned them alive.
The horrors deepened on Monday, when jihadists entered the village of Tel Kepe. With the Islamic State’s persecution of Mosul’s Christians fresh in mind, Assyrian Christians from there, the village of Batnaya, and other villages north of Mosul immediately fled by car to the Kurdish border. It appears that Qaraqosh, a majority Assyrian-Christian town of 50,000 in Nineveh, will be attacked, if not next, then soon.
With tens of thousands of Yazidis facing imminent threat, a likely attack on Iraq’s largest Christian town, the lives of many thousands of various minorities in play throughout Nineveh, and a dam that could be used by the Islamic State to flood Mosul and Baghdad up for grabs, the U.S. government needs to act fast. It should immediately do the following three things:
Respond to the Kurds’ desperate plea for arms in their defense of Nineveh, which borders on but is not part of Kurdistan. In an emergency meeting on Nineveh called by House speaker John Boehner last week, protection was identified as the most pressing concern, even more than humanitarian aid, by a variety of aid and rights groups The administration withholds arms from the Kurds while awaiting a new, unified Iraqi government with a new prime minister. Meanwhile, Iraqi troops abandoned Mosul to the Islamic State on June 10 and no Iraqi army troops are in Nineveh province now. Yesterday, Iraqi’s current prime minister ordered air support to help the Kurds, but Baghdad has reportedly not paid Kurdish soldiers, now spread very thin, for six months.
Warn local populations of impending attacks; establish regular communications with vulnerable local minorities. An advance evacuation warning could enable an orderly exit of residents ahead of jihadist attacks. When the Islamic State took Shinjar on Sunday, thousands of civilians fled into the nearby mountains, where aid will not reach them. When the group attacked Mosul on June 9, the city’s residents were taken unaware and half a million panicked civilians fled in chaos. Later some of them, including Christians and Shiites, returned, apparently unaware of the Islamic State’s convert-or-die policy in Syria, only to be stripped of their possessions and expelled penniless a few weeks later. Generally, communications between Nineveh residents and the international community need strengthening. As the situation deteriorates, aid delivery will become ever more difficult for aid agencies based in the Kurdish capital, requiring regular communications with local minority representatives inside Nineveh.
Assist resettlement within the country of displaced religious minorities. As Iraq fractures along religious and ethnic lines, the Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans, and other small minorities need help to resettle in places where they can restart their lives. Baghdad facilitated an airlift to evacuate Shabak and Turkmen Shiites and resettle them in Najaf after Mosul fell, but Mosul’s displaced Christians and Yazidis have had to rely on the hospitality of nearby villages, which themselves are struggling under the burden and with acute water shortages created by the jihadists. As the Islamic State takes more Nineveh towns, there will be less local hospitality available and more displaced mendicants. Consulting with local religious and political leaders, Washington should start now to help coordinate resettlement within Iraq for the Christians and Yazidis who have no area of refuge. A safe haven within Nineveh that can be realistically protected, as some Assyrians are calling for, should be considered. The Kurdish Regional Government has generously invited to take in the Christians without confining them to camps. Basra, where there is already a Christian presence, might be another possibility. In each case, these thousands of displaced minorities, many of whom are skilled professionals, will need help to get restarted. If such assistance is not soon in coming, religious diversity will be another of the Islamic State’s conquests, as members of the small minorities continue to leave the country. Of course, in dire cases, France’s offer of asylum to Nineveh’s Christians should be taken up and assistance for this is also needed.
The Islamic State’s bombing of Jonah’s tomb and the historic mosque surrounding it two weeks ago was a significant cultural loss. But now the West must recognize that a horrific crime against humanity is taking place against Christians, Yazidis, and others right now in Nineveh. The leadership of the Obama administration is urgently needed, and the average American can freely speak up to demand it.
Captured Yazidi Girls Say They Would Rather Die Than Be Sex Slaves for the Islamic State (ISIS)
THOUSANDS of captured women from the Iraqi Yazidi sect are being held as domestic slaves or sold to traffickers to work in brothels across the Middle East, Kurdish intelligence sources say. Others, they say, have been forced to marry Islamic State fighters.
It is thought that at least 1200 women were kidnapped from the city of Sinjar alone by fighters from the militant group. Thousands more were taken hostage from other towns and villages in the early hours of August 3.
Two schools in Tel Afar and Mosul city are being used as makeshift prisons for the women — and some Yazidi leaders have begged Kurdish fighters to bomb the prisons, believing it is better that the women have an honourable death than face a life of captivity, rape and enduring humiliation.
“A well-known Yazidi leader called us up and begged us to call in airstrikes on the schools,” a Kurdish intelligence source said. “They asked us to help them kill their women. They would rather they die than face a future as slaves.”
Intelligence officers say they have received information that the women are being sold to human traffickers for between $US500 ($540) and $US3000. Traffickers will then sell on the older women as domestic slaves and the younger women as sex workers across the Middle East.
Some of the women are believed to have been forced to marry Islamic State fighters, who enforce a harsh interpretation of Islamic teachings. Yazidis are viewed as heretics.
At the Iraqi-Turkish border, Yazidi men are desperate for any news of their missing female relatives and friends. Nadum Basi Murad crossed the border into Turkey, where he is living alongside hundreds of others in the makeshift Nerwon camp. He has not heard from his daughter and granddaughters since Islamic State entered their village of Borruk 11 days ago. “A neighbour called me to say that he had seen them being taken away by the extremists,” he said. “They put them in pick-up trucks. I try to call her every hour, but I can’t reach her.”
Hamid Karim could barely lift his head as he spoke of his elderly mother, left on her own in her house in Sinjar as the younger and more able-bodied fled. She has reassured him that she is safe, for now, but he fears the day when she will no longer pick up her phone. “The system of security there has been completely destroyed,” he said. “There is kidnapping and killing everywhere. Nowhere is safe any more.”
The women in Nerwon camp know they themselves narrowly avoided kidnap. Fatima Omar, 44, said that in the moments before she sped away she had seen her neighbour Farida being taken from her house by Islamic State gunmen. “There was no one to help us,” she said. “We are just asking for someone to help the people who are still there, by planes or anything.”
Two weeks ago civil servant Aliyas Hajji Moray and his wife Fatima, a beauty salon owner, were a prosperous young couple living in Deugry. Now they are sleeping in a communal tent in Nerwon camp, their space marked out by a single rug. They are still dazed by the speed at which their fortunes diverged from those of their friends.
“We were sitting smoking shisha together, and I got a phone call to say that thousands of Islamic State fighters were moving towards Deugry,” said Aliyas. “Our friends didn’t believe it, so they stayed there. Two days later, we got a phone call from his brother. He is dead, and his wife has been kidnapped.”
A total of 40,000 Yazidi people used to live in Deugry but just one other family has made it to Nerwon camp. Khadida Ali and his wife Baseya are in the tent next to Aliyas and Fatima. “Even the Christians had better choices than us,” said Khadida. “We could only run, be kidnapped, or die.”