MISSOURI, USA: The mass burial earlier this month of 104 Yazidi victims of the Daesh massacres in Iraq’s Nineveh province was another grim occasion for a religious community marked forever by its encounter with an attempted extermination.
As the remains of the men, identified and exhumed from mass graves, were laid to rest on February 9 in the village of Kocho near Mount Sinjar, video footage and photos from the event reminded the world of the horrific crimes committed by the Yazidis of Iraq. submitted less than seven years ago.
The UN has long determined that Daesh had committed genocide against the small community. The big question is what are their chances of getting justice, if at all?
At least the 104 murdered Yazidis received some dignity in death. In Baghdad, a ceremony was held for them at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and then their remains were brought to their homeland in northern Iraq.
Tens of thousands of other Yazidis who perished at the hands of the self-proclaimed Islamic State are still missing. Their bodies most likely lie in various other unmarked mass graves created by Daesh terrorists who ransacked the region between 2014 and 2017. The families of the victims are still waiting to be informed of the fate of their loved ones.
According to the TBEN, “an estimated 550,000 Yazidis lived in Iraq before the IS invasion on August 3, 2014. Some 360,000 Yazidis escaped and found refuge elsewhere.”
Among the many Yazidis that Daesh turned into slaves during their terrible reign in the region, Amnesty International says that some 2,000 children rescued today still do not receive the care and rehabilitation they need. The Yazidi villages and towns ravaged by Daesh remain in ruins, their former residents unable to return yet and languishing in camps for internally displaced people across northern Iraq.
However, justice and restitution for the Yazidis will require more than just prosecuting Daesh collaborators, rebuilding their communities, and compensating survivors. The treatment of the Yazidis by Iraqi and Kurdish society was problematic long before ISIS entered the scene.
Iraqi society has historically marginalized and ridiculed the Yazidis for their faith, calling them “unbelievers” and “devil worshipers”. In reality, the Yazidi religion combines elements of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Popular misconceptions and the demonization of the Yazidi community created one of the prerequisites for Daesh’s attempted genocide.
Genocide scholars like Helen Fein identify four main preconditions that typically precede genocidal episodes: The first and perhaps most important is that victims are excluded from the main group. Such exclusion can go beyond denying citizenship or group membership.
When group members come to be seen as subhumans (“devil worshipers” or “apostates”), the usual moral injunctions against murder disappear. Iraqi and Kurdish leaders must therefore redouble their efforts to instill popular understanding of the Yazidis and their religion as a legitimate and important component of Iraqi culture and heritage.
The Yazidis and their place in Iraq should be celebrated and respected rather than tolerated.
The crises or opportunities linked to political vacuums constitute the second precondition for genocides. This happened in Iraq when the federal government and its military failed the Iraqi people. Baghdad’s failures of governance raised popular discontent, especially among the Sunni Arab population of Iraq, and paved the way for the emergence of Daesh.
When the Iraqi military, whose leadership was filled with incompetent people appointed by the Nouri al-Maliki regime, fled from inferior Daesh forces, the resulting crisis allowed the radicals to unleash themselves.
Daesh’s rule over much of central and northern Iraq from 2014 to 2017 in turn fulfilled the third prerequisite for genocide, which comes in the form of a dictatorial state. Freed from the checks and balances of democratic politics, the group’s leadership was accountable to no one and could slaughter whoever it wished.
The fourth and final precondition for genocide comes in the form of spectators – particularly powerful states in the international community – who remain reluctant to intervene. Fortunately, this turned out to be the missing precondition for Daesh’s genocidal dreams in Iraq and Syria.
The United States, Iran, various European countries, the government in Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and others have all stepped in to stop Daesh.
Rescue efforts in late summer 2014 to save the fleeing Yazidis on Mount Shingal captured the world’s imagination, and the total elimination of an already small community was luckily avoided.
In 2017, Mosul was freed from Daesh control, with the last remaining territories held by Daesh in Iraq having followed suit shortly thereafter.
Going forward and giving the Yazidis some justice for what has been done to them will require several things. It is obvious that as many perpetrators of crimes against the Yazidis as possible must be brought to justice. It is not impossible, but it requires political will and resources.
Yazidi towns and villages need faster and more sustained reconstruction. Even then, effecting a return of the Yazidi population will remain difficult in an ambiguous political context. The PKK, Shiite militias, Iraqi government forces and KRG forces all linger in Yazidi areas such as Shingal, with frequent Turkish airstrikes.
Whatever the interests of the local population, all of these actors wish to retain their influence and control over the future of the Yazidi region. The fastest way out of such a mess would be to accede to the demands of various Yazidi groups themselves.
They want increased levels of autonomy in their homeland, which would allow them to determine their own fate and ensure their own security in cooperation with Baghdad and the neighboring KRG. The Iraqi Constitution of 2005 allows, and even envisages, the emergence of several regions beyond the Iraqi region of Kurdistan alone.
This should be seriously considered for the Yazidis and Christians of Shingal and the plains of Nineveh. Sunni Arabs in that region would become a minority in such a region, but could easily benefit from guarantees and protections far superior to those that Yazidis and Christians recently had in Iraq.
More generally, Iraq must adopt measures to make its constitutional guarantees to the Yazidis and other minorities more than just words on paper.
Article 2 of the Iraqi Constitution stipulates, in the first part, that “Islam is the official religion of the State and constitutes a fundamental source of legislation”. But he goes on to say, in part two, that “This Constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights to freedom of religious belief and practice of all individuals such as Christians, the Yazidis and the Mandaeans. Sabeans. “
Awareness campaigns and legal initiatives aimed at preventing discrimination against Yazidis and others could further deliver on the promises of this section of the constitution. Just as Iraq in general has come a long way in recognizing the Iraqi Kurds as a legitimate and important component of Iraq, the Yazidis could also be recognized.
In this quest for a certain justice, the international community should also offer all possible assistance. As they continue to unearth their dead from various mass graves, the Yazidi community deserves at least as much.
• David Romano is Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle Eastern Politics at Missouri State University