At Yezidi burial ceremony, KRG pledges ongoing support, urges Sinjar Agreement implementation

KRG official Dindar Zebari addresses a solemn Yezidi burial ceremony outside the disputed city of Sinjar, Dec. 9, 2021. (Photo: KRG)
KRG official Dindar Zebari addresses a solemn Yezidi burial ceremony outside the disputed city of Sinjar, Dec. 9, 2021. (Photo: KRG)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – At a solemn event on the outskirts of the disputed city of Sinjar (Shingal), a representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) reiterated his government's support of the Yezidi (Ezidi) religious minority whose local population has remained decimated since the 2014 ascent of ISIS in Iraq.

The comments were made at a ceremony held on Thursday in the village of Kojo to bury the remains of 41 villagers killed in ISIS' brutal massacre of the local Yezidi community as the terrorist group overran Sinjar in 2014.

Read More: 41 Yezidi victims of ISIS to be buried in Kojo 

In the presence of officials from the federal and regional governments, Yezidi clerics, families of the victims, and local residents, KRG Coordinator for International Advocacy Dindar Zebari spoke at the event, reading a letter on behalf of Prime Minister Masrour Barzani that called the attack on Sinjar “of one of the most appalling acts in history.”

In doing so, he said, ISIS violated “all human norms and human rights principles towards the innocent populations of these areas,” adding that, despite such immeasurable hardship, “the Yezidis were resilient in keeping their culture and identity.”

“KRG has coordinated with the relevant national and international counterparts to provide guarantees to redress the agonies that Yezidis and other ethnic and religious groups went through,” he told those gathered.

“Furthermore, KRG strives to secure a safe and dignified return for the people who fled their home due to the atrocities of ISIS,” Zebari said, adding that “we request the federal government to exert more efforts in compensating the victims of ISIL (ISIS) crimes.”

The emergence of ISIS led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Yezidis, who the extremist group considers heretics. Most of them fled to the Kurdistan Region, while others resettled in 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 ISIS for years. Militants subjected women and girls to sexual slavery, kidnapped children, forced religious conversions, executed scores of men, and abused, sold, and trafficked women across areas they controlled in Iraq and Syria.

Before the 2014 attack, there were roughly 550,000 Yezidis in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. As the terrorist group took over large swaths of territory in Nineveh, 360,000 Ezidis escaped and found refuge elsewhere, according to the Kurdistan Region’s Yezidi Rescue Office.

“The regional government has documented 5,170 ISIS cases of crimes against the Yezidis, from which 2,324 cases have went through the required investigation phases,” Zebari continued. “It is worthy to note that KRG has succeeded in harnessing efforts to rescue 3,500 members of the Yezidi community. From the rescued, 1,206 are women and 339 are men, in addition to 1,049 female and 956 male children.”

He pointed out that Kurdistan Region has always been a safe haven for “our Yezidi brothers and sisters,” adding that “the (KRG) Council of Ministers formed the High Committee to Recognize the Crimes Committed against the Yezidis as genocide to convey the agonies of the Yezidis to the International Criminal Court and requests UNITAD to speed up the process of trying ISIS terrorist for core crimes under international law, namely war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.”

Yezidi organizations worldwide enthusiastically welcomed a German court ruling in late November that convicted Iraqi ISIS militant Taha al-Jumailly on charges of genocide.

Read More: Yezidi activists praise German conviction of ISIS member for genocide, stressing legal significance

This is the first verdict worldwide to specifically use the label "genocide," an important legal distinction. In the past, ISIS members have been sentenced to jail on the basis of individual crimes against Yezidis, but not genocide.

At Thursday's ceremony, Zebari also emphasized “the need to overcome political and administrative obstacles that prevent justice for the victims' families, and accelerate the formation of the administration in Sinjar, enhancing security and stability and providing material aid and basic services for their return from displacement camps to their indigenous homeland.”

These were precisely the goals when the federal government in Baghdad and the KRG signed the Sinjar Agreement in Oct. 2020.

Read More: KRG and Baghdad reach administrative, security agreement on Sinjar

Over a year later, the agreement remains unimplemented, most seriously regarding its security provisions since multiple armed militias continue to operate there, making further meaningful progress almost impossible.

“The Yezidis are indigenous people of Kurdistan,” Zebari said as he neared the end of his speech, “and we must seize every opportunity to redress their sufferings.”