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The Yazidis five years after the genocide

No group has suffered as much from the IS terror as the Yazidis. Terrorist militia fighters invaded northern Iraq in early August 2014 to wipe out the Yazidi minority. It followed: mass murder of men, abduction and enslavement of women and children, the flight of tens of thousands of people and the beginning of the international struggle against the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria.

Five years later, three German politicians across party lines are calling for the Yazidis to be helped more than before. "We want to take those few hundred particularly in need of protection, above all Yazidi women and children, who in Iraq and Syria have no realistic prospect of adequate treatment and a new beginning together, in Germany," write Green leader Annalena Baerbock, Volker Kauder von the Christian-conservative CDU and Thomas Oppermann from the Social Democrats in a guest commentary for the newspaper Welt.

Who are the Yazidis?

The Yazidis of the Middle East are an ethno-religious minority persecuted for centuries. Some see themselves as ethnic Kurds, others as independent. Most speak Kurdish Kurmanji. They mainly settle in northern Iraq and northern Syria. In their own historiography, they report dozens of attempts at extinction during the Ottoman Empire alone.

The Yazidis consider their religion to be the oldest in the world. They believe in one God, but they also worship angels. The terrorist militia IS branded the Yazidis as "infidels" and "devil worshipers".

Unlike Muslims, Christians or Jews, the Yazidis do not have any holy scriptures, but pass on their religious knowledge orally. You don't proselytize. One can only become a Yezidi by birth into a purely Yazidi family. Rebirth is an essential element of their faith. Over the centuries, however, the Yazidis also adopted many elements from other religions, especially from Islam.

Before the attack began on August 3, 2014, around half a million Yazidis were living in Iraq. The vast majority settled in the northern Sinjar region, not far from their sacred mountain, which bears the same name.

The largest Yazidi congregation abroad lives in Germany with over 150,000 people.

What happened in August 2014?

In the early morning hours of August 3, 2014, thousands of ISIS jihadists attacked the main Yazidis settlement area around the Sinjar Mountains. A few weeks earlier, IS had captured the Iraqi metropolis of Mosul and captured modern weapons. The militias of the Kurdish self-government in northern Iraq evacuated their positions in the face of the IS attack and left the Yazidis without protection.

The extermination campaign was systematic and planned: Yazidi men and boys over the age of 12 were rounded up and separated from the women and small children. An estimated 10,000 people were murdered and buried in mass graves. More than 70 Yazidi mass graves have been discovered in the Sinjar region.

Up to 7,000 women and children were abducted. Most of them converted to Islam under threat of death. But that didn't protect them from being sold in slave markets in Mosul, Raqqa or online. The IS created a special report that justified the enslavement of Yazidi women and children as spoils of war.

August 2014: Yazidis struggle for survival in northern Iraq

Around 50,000 Yazidis sought protection on their holy mountain Sinjar in early August 2014. There they were surrounded and besieged by IS - in scorching heat and without access to water. Their dramatic struggle for survival prompted then US President Barack Obama to throw relief supplies from the air. He also ordered air strikes against IS positions in northern Iraq. It was the beginning of the international coalition against IS.

Kurdish YPG militias from Syria finally fought an escape corridor for those trapped on the mountain with US air support.

Where are the Yazidis today?

The Yazidis are a people without a home. Around 300,000 live in the large refugee camps in northern Iraq around the city of Dohuk. ISIS has been defeated militarily, but the security situation in the Sinjar region is unstable.

The Iraqi central government is officially responsible for security. In fact, the Iraqi security forces share control with Shiite Hashd-al Shabi and Kurdish militias.

The Yazidi minority is not a priority for the central government in Baghdad. Reconstruction in Sinjar has barely begun. Mines and unexploded ammunition threaten the civilian population.

August 2014: Yezidi refugee camp in Syria

Relations between the Yazidis and their former Arab neighbors in the region are strained. The Yazidis accuse them of supporting ISIS. Trust in the Peshmerga of the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq has also been destroyed. The Yazidis accuse the Kurds of abandoning them in the IS attack.

More than 75,000 Yazidis have fled to Germany from Iraq alone since 2015. More than 10,000 Yazidis from Syria sought refuge in Germany. But the number of positive asylum notices is falling. In 2015, the recognition rate for Iraqi Yazidis was over 90 percent, last year it was just under 55 percent.

The Higher Administrative Court of the northern German state of Lower Saxony has just ruled in a landmark judgment that there is no longer any risk of mass persecution of the Yazidis in northern Iraq today.

What became of the enslaved women and children?

According to the office of the Kurdish regional government in the city of Dohuk, a total of 6,417 Yazidi women and children were kidnapped. Only a little more than half have returned so far.

One of them is the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad, who now lives in Germany. The freed women and children are highly traumatized. Only a few thousand were lucky enough to get to a safe country like the Federal Republic like Nadia Murad through a humanitarian contingent.

Few women and children in northern Iraq receive psychological and medical help. Among the freed children are boys who were trained in captivity to be fighters and suicide bombers. Rape was the order of the day. Many Yazidis were sold several times with their children, sometimes dozens of times. German ISIS members also kept Yazidis as slaves.

To this day, Yazidi families buy abducted relatives for large sums of money with the help of smugglers. Children born during the time of enslavement are not considered Yazidis. Almost all freed women are forced to leave these children behind when they return to their families.

What is happening legally?

The United Nations quickly came to the conclusion that the crimes of IS were aimed at destroying Yazidis and constituting genocide. But so far no IS fighter has been charged with genocide.

Prosecution is left to national courts. The UN Security Council lacks the political will to try the IS crimes before an international court. Nevertheless, UN organizations in northern Iraq are collecting evidence and helping to exhumate mass graves. Yazidi aid organizations such as Yazda document testimony from survivors and witnesses.

In Germany, the federal prosecutor's office is investigating war crimes and genocide against ISIS members.