Dutch looking to improve agricultural in Sinjar: ambassador
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Netherlands is looking for ways to help improve agriculture in Sinjar after funding similar projects in Mosul, Dutch Ambassador to Iraq Michel Rentenaar said.
Rentenaar visited Sinjar in late July, just before the seventh anniversary of the Ezidi (Yezidi) genocide, in which thousands of people were brutally murdered, kidnapped, and trafficked at the hands of ISIS. He spoke at a conference commemorating the genocide on August 4, hosted by the Yezidi rights organization Yazda.
Security concerns have kept most diplomats from Sinjar, but Rentenaar said he visited to remember the “unbelievable” tragedy that happened there and the need to support Yezidis.
“As the head of [the UN mission in Iraq] Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said, the international community has a responsibility to help these people and to at least keep that focus on a place like Sinjar,” Rentenaar told Kurdistan 24 in an exclusive interview. “And I don't want to do it from my armchair, I want to go there and see it myself.”
Rentenaar said the Netherlands was one of the first countries in the world to recognize the atrocities by ISIS as a genocide. Last month both the Dutch parliament and Belgian lawmakers voted to recognize ISIS crimes against the Yezidi community as genocide.
“There are not many resolutions that are passed unanimously by the Dutch parliament,” Rentenaar noted, adding that there is much attention to the situation of Yezidis in the Netherlands.
The ambassador pointed out that the Dutch government funded the International Commission on Missing Persons headquarters in the Hague, which has helped to uncover mass graves in Sinjar and Mosul and do DNA research to help identify the victims. “One of the bodies found in Solagh, is the mother of Nadia Murad,” he said, referring to the Nobel laureate and Yezidi survivor.
Yezidis Remain Displaced
Due to the presence of competing armed groups and a lack of rebuilding, many Yezidis remain displaced throughout the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and abroad.
“When you drive through town, the villages around Sinjar,” Rentenaar said, “You can see, you can feel, that many people are not there, and obviously part of that is because of the murders that ISIS committed, another part is migration, and another big reason is that many of the displaced people are in camps in the Kurdistan Region.”
Recently, due to poor security and services, 95 families returned from Sinjar back to the Kurdistan Region. An agreement to expel armed groups so far has not been implemented.
The agreement has been backed by the United Nations, but Rentenaar said Yezidi representatives have said they were unhappy at not being consulted.
“It is not for me as a bilateral diplomat to tell the Iraqis, the Kurds, the Yezidis, how to fix the security situation there,” he said.
The ambassador was present for the reopening of the Sinjar police station, which was rebuilt with Dutch support. He said the local police chief conveyed that the biggest problem they had faced was traffic, followed by a bit of narcotics trade.
“That is one step in the right direction,” Rentenaar said. “When we can help as Dutch rehabilitate the police station, why not?”
Genocide at Kojo Village
Kojo village, about 16 kilometers south of Sinjar center, was the site of the worst massacre of Yezidis at the hands of ISIS when the group swept through Iraq in 2014. More than 400 men were killed and hundreds more women taken captive.
The village contains 11 mass graves, believed to hold hundreds of bodies of Yezidis who the terrorist group executed en masse.
“There is nothing that prepares you for literally standing in the mass graves, that was just such a chilling experience,” Rentenaar said. “It was 50 degrees, but I felt cold on my back. It was just horrible and inhuman what ISIS can do to people.”
“They rounded up the men on the ground floor of the school where children used to laugh,” he explained. Women and children were kept on the first floor but had to watch their brothers, fathers, and husbands, be taken away to be killed in the schoolyard.
“On the ground floor there are hundreds of pictures, every single one a story of a family,” Rentenaar said. “And then they just took the mothers away and the girls of younger age to sell them as sex slaves.”
Rentenaar also met Sinjari Director of Agriculture Sharaf Nayef Rashouqa to discuss possible future agricultural projects. The Netherlands previously funded the construction of new greenhouses around Mosul, in Tal Kaif, al-Qosh, Rashida and Bozane.
“With some Dutch fertilizer, we managed to increase the yields of that particular piece of land by four times,” the ambassador said.
He noted that stability and a regeneration in agriculture would be more difficult in Sinjar than Mosul or the Kurdistan Region.
“It’s a much more arid region, it's rather flat out there, and there is a desert. Water is absolutely essential, and ISIS blew up most of the water wells, and it's not easy to repair,” he said.
Rentenaar stressed he did not want to promise economic recovery that he could not deliver, but “I wanted to see what the possibilities are. That's why we are going to expand with a consultancy firm, the same one we used in the Kurdistan region, to see if we cannot copy one of those projects in the Sinjar district.”
The embassy will send agricultural staff to Sinjar in September to do an initial assessment.
“A lot of pre-work has to be done by locals and identify which farmers we can work with,” Rentenaar said.
Pari Ibrahim, Founder and Executive Director of the Free Yezidi Foundation, welcomed the Dutch initiative. She told Kurdistan 24 that her organization had “strongly advocated for the development of modern skills and tools for the Yezidi community” because “one day the humanitarian aid will stop.”
“We have already been in touch with the Netherlands Embassy regarding agriculture development in Sinjar. There are challenges in Sinjar, to be sure. But modern tools and capacity building for Yezidis is the most sustainable way for the international community to help Yezidi recovery and future stability.”