Six years ago today, the apparently unstoppable Islamic State blitzkrieg visited true terror upon Iraq’s marginalised Yazidi religious minority. Rolling through Sinjar in their customary pick-up trucks, men and unwanted women were executed on the spot, their bodies flung into mass graves. Women and children were systematically kidnapped and enslaved as the spoils of war.
Thousands who escaped the initial assault took refuge on the barren Mount Sinjar, facing starvation and thirst on the mountain or descending into the clutches of the waiting Jihadists. Hundreds perished, others ate leaves to survive.
Six long years later, the suffering is far from over. In the words of one UN inquiry:
Nearly 250,000 Yazidis languish in IDP camps and many women and children are still unaccounted for. In perhaps the cruellest twist, long after the group’s territorial defeat some women and children are still stuck living among their tormentors in the camps of Northern Syria.
Survivors live with the physical and mental scars of Islamic State’s atrocities. Some women mutilated themselves to deter their captors from rape, others involuntarily re-enact their sexual abuse in horrifying, writhing seizures.
Despite the ongoing torment, it is the lack of justice that has left the bitterest taste for many Yazidis. 40,000 foreigners joined Islamic State. Some 6,000 from Western Europe and several hundred more from North America and Australasia answered Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s “Caliphate” call, yet so far not one successful conviction has taken place and only a handful of cases have made it to court for the atrocities committed against Yazidis – a genocide, according to the UN.
Germany has put three women in their twenties and one Iraqi man on trial for atrocity crimes, and the courts look set to bring charges to another young woman. Other states have approached the ‘foreign fighters’ issue almost exclusively through a security lens, all but writing the Yazidi genocide out of the equation. But foreign fighters were there, fighting for an organisation that delighted in ideologically sanctioned rape.
Public debate has too often portrayed Islamic State’s Western recruits as naïve, brainwashed or vulnerable — particularly the women. A fantasy some of the most fanatical have cynically played back to us via the press, in a performative plea for leniency.
We should listen to what Yazidi survivors say: which includes that the women among their oppressors were sometimes worse than the men, preparing helpless captives for rape at the hands of their husbands. Six years on, survivors are losing hope of securing justice for the horrors inflicted on them. If justice is a distant hope, we can at least correct the narrative on Islamic State’s foreigners. They are not the victims here.