Iraq News

Centre documents Yazidi survivor testimonies

By Khalid al-Taie

Iraqi Yazidi families cry as they reunite with loved ones who managed to escape from the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant'. [Photo courtesy of the Yazidiyat al-Mahjar Facebook page]

Iraqi Yazidi families cry as they reunite with loved ones who managed to escape from the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant'. [Photo courtesy of the Yazidiyat al-Mahjar Facebook page]

Since the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) overran the Sinjar region of Iraq's Ninawa province in 2014, killing hundreds of Yazidis and taking thousands hostage, the Lalish Media Network has been documenting their plight.

Lalish, a social centre that provides humanitarian relief to Yazidis, has documented more than 60 hours of testimonies from ISIL survivors, said centre head Sheikh Shamo, a member of the Kurdish region's parliament.

The centre also has been organising various activities to raise awareness about ISIL's crimes and help victims overcome the tragic events they have endured.

Mawtani : Can you give us a brief overview of the Lalish Media Network?

Sheikh Shamo : Our centre was founded in 1993 in the Kurdish region by a group of writers and those concerned with the Yazidi heritage and culture.

The centre focuses mainly on disseminating Yazidi folklore and aims to spread the principles of co-existence, civil peace and community solidarity and to establish the concept of democracy.

We currently have 40 offices and branch locations inside and outside Iraq that service Yazidis wherever they are.

Mawtani : What activities does the centre offer to Yazidis who survived ISIL?

Shamo : Since day one of ISIL's tragic occupation of the city of Sinjar on August 3rd, 2014, we have been campaigning for urgent relief to the Yazidis displaced from the city. We still provide food aid and integrated care to Yazidi families to improve their living conditions.

Our activities are many. We are always striving to end the suffering of our people and alleviate the pains and tragedies that befell them at the hands of terrorists by providing relief and humanitarian support as well as organising workshops and lectures to raise awareness, provide psychological counseling and organise sports and recreational competitions for displaced children.

Among our recent activities was the honouring of 18 outstanding displaced students at the Sharia camp [for displaced people], and other students in Bersvi, Mam Rachan and Kberto camps in Dohuk. We also organised a tour from Qadya camp for 10 women who survived ISIL to improve their psychological situation.

Additionally, we organise celebratory events on the occasion of Yazidi national and religious holidays.

Mawtani : Tell us about your efforts to account for Yazidi victims.

Shamo : Statistics available to us confirm that from the beginning of the occupation of Sinjar to date, at least 1,000 Yazidis were killed by ISIL, mostly women and children, and were buried in mass graves.

We have so far discovered a total of 15 graves in different areas of Sinjar.

According to statistics, 2,400 Yazidis were liberated and saved from ISIL's grip during that period, but about 3,600 women and children remain captives.

As for material losses, they are innumerable. Sinjar, which was liberated by the end of last year, is still completely destroyed, and was declared by the Iraqi parliament in April a 'disaster zone'. The same also applies to the towns of Bashiqah and Bahzani.

Mawtani : Are you making any efforts to document ISIL's crimes?

Shamo : Yes. Our centre has been working since the beginning on documenting all ISIL violations against Yazidis.

We have volunteer committees that visit displacement camps to collect as much information and facts about the terrorist crimes as possible.

We currently have 60 hours of testimonies documented in sound and image for male and female survivors talking about real life stories they experienced while held prisoners by ISIL. These stories include incidents of killings and brutal torture of innocent civilians.

The recordings were presented to the High Commission of Inquiry on Yazidi genocides in Dohuk.

Mawtani : How much international support is the Yazidi plight receiving?

Shamo : In mid-March, the US Congress voted to designate ISIL's violations against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, including Yazidis, as genocide.

There have been similar decisions by the British parliament and other European parliaments.

International interaction and empathy with our tragedy is great, which gives us some comfort. We call on the International Criminal Court to consider the violations as crimes of genocide to bring justice to the victims.

Mawtani : How is the situation of displaced Yazidis now?

Shamo : Difficult. Whatever we do, they need more support to reconstruct their areas, end their displacement crisis and establish stability.

The number of Yazidis who have left Iraq is increasing. They were estimated at about 700,000 residents who lived mostly in Sinjar.

Now, we estimate that about 15% have fled the country, and many of them now live in Turkey, Greece and Germany.

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