ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – On Friday, a caravan of twenty-one Yezidi (Ezidi) Iraqis, most of them children, returned from Syria to a town in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, locals sources told Reuters.
The group is reported to be made up of 18 children and three women. According to the Ezidi24 media outlet, they were recently rescued by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the last Islamic State holdout in eastern Syria, in Deir al-Zor Province's town of al-Baghouz.
The outlet further added the militant group first kidnapped the 21 persons four years earlier as it took over vast swathes of territory in Iraq, including Nineveh, where the majority of the Ezidi community resided.
In recent weeks, a number of members of the religious minority have been rescued from Baghouz and later transported to the northeast of Syria, an area of relative calm in a country that has been wracked by years of war and destruction.
Now, the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State is on the brink of full territorial collapse. The Kurdish-led SDF forces are currently evacuating civilians from Baghouz as they prepare for a final assault on the area, believed to be the last enclave of the terrorist organization in Syria.
The emergence of the Islamic State and its violent assault on the Ezidi-majority city of Sinjar (Shingal) in 2014 led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Ezidi civilians. Most of them fled to the Kurdistan Region, while others resettled to neighboring countries in the region or Western states.
Others were not as lucky and remained stranded in the war zone, where they experienced atrocities and mass executions at the hands of the extremist group for years. Militants subjected women and girls to sexual slavery, kidnapped children, forced religious conversions, executed scores of men, and abused, sold, and trafficked females across areas they controlled in Iraq and Syria.
Before the 2014 attack, there were roughly 550,000 Ezidis in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. As the militant group took over large swaths of territory in Nineveh province, 360,000 Ezidis escaped and found refuge elsewhere, according to the Kurdistan Regional Government's Ezidi Rescue Office.
So far, 69 mass graves which contain the remains of Ezidis have been excavated along with untold numbers of individual graves.
Editing by John J. Catherine