SINJAR, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq’s Yazidis marked three years since Islamic State launched what the United Nations said was a genocidal campaign against them on Thursday, but their ordeal is far from over despite the ouster of the jihadist fighters.
Militants were driven out of the last part of the Yazidi homeland in northern Iraq in May, but most have yet to return to villages they fled when Islamic State over-ran Sinjar in the summer of 2014, killing and capturing thousands because of their faith.
Nearly 3,000 Yazidi women and children remain in Islamic State captivity, and control over Sinjar is disputed by rival armed factions and their regional patrons. Justice for the crimes Yazidis suffered, including sexual enslavement, has also so far proved elusive.
“The Yazidis’ wound is still bleeding,” one man told Reuters at a ceremony attended by several thousand people including the mayor and other local dignitaries held at a temple at the foot of the mountain that dominates Sinjar.
“The Kurds and the Iraqi government are fighting for Sinjar and we are paying the price,” said the man.
Thousands of captured men were killed in what a United Nations commission called a genocide against the Yazidis, a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. Islamic State considers Yazidis as devil-worshippers.
Images of desperate Yazidis fleeing up the mountain in the blazing summer heat were broadcast around the world and helped to galvanize the United States to conduct its first air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq.
At least 9,900 of Iraq’s Yazidis were killed or kidnapped in just days in the Islamic State attack in 2014, according to a study documenting the number of Yazidis affected which could be used as evidence in any trial for genocide.
About 3,100 Yazidis were killed – with more than half shot, beheaded or burned alive – and about 6,800 kidnapped to become sex slaves or fighters, according to the report published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine.
Dispute Over Sinjar
The array of forces that drove Islamic State out of Sinjar are now vying for control of the area near the borders of Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
Kurdish peshmerga forces retook around half of Sinjar in late 2015, effectively annexing it to the autonomous region they hope to convert into an independent state. A referendum on independence is due to be held in September, which the government in Baghdad opposes.