A year on from the Islamic State offensive that brought the slaughter of thousands of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar and left many thousands more trapped, the Iraqi MP who first told the world of their plight has said that still nothing is being done to help them.
On August 3 2014, Islamic State jihadists overran and captured the town of Sinjar, in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, sending tens of thousands of Yazidis fleeing before them to the supposed safety of Mount Sinjar. Instead they found themselves under siege, and for the next few days were sustained only by aid packages dropped by allied forces.
On the first anniversary of the offensive, mass graves in the area are testament to the thousands of men who lost their lives at the hands of the jihadis. But thousands of the women and children carried off by fighters, often to be sold in local slave auctions, are still missing.
Vian Dakhil, the female MP who made an impassioned plea to the Iraqi Parliament to save the Yazidis, has told the Telegraph that, other than the airstrikes which broke the siege, the Yazidi people have been abandoned by the wider world.
“The world has forgotten us,” she said at her family home in Erbil. “I know Sinjar was not the first town attacked by Isil, but it was the first to have a mass kidnap.
“We have a thousand people that no one knows where they are. And yet we are totally forgotten.”
When 250 Nigerian girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, there was a mass outpouring of condemnation from the world at large, she said. But when she wrote to Michelle Obama asking for help for the Yazidi women, she received no reply.
“I have been to the United Nations security council three times and spoken there,” she said. “Some people were crying. They applauded, then they said sorry and goodbye.
“I have been to the European Parliament six or seven times. ‘Oh my god,’ they say, ‘what a terrible story.’ And then they do nothing.”
At the time of the siege, western media streamed images of the tens of thousands of Yazidis trapped atop Mount Sinjar in the summer heat. Pictures of elderly people and children dying of dehydration shocked the world into offering assistance by way of airstrikes, driving back the IS forces enough to allow the majority to escape.
But just a few days after the airstrikes began, they were halted. US Military Personnel assessing the situation had decreed that there were only a few thousand Yazidis left on the mountain, and that they were in good condition.
Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel called the assessment “a bit of good news,” adding: “As a result of that assessment, I think it’s most likely far less likely now that we would undertake any kind of specific humanitarian rescue mission that we have been planning.”
Yet three months later, 1,000 Yazidi families were still trapped on mount Sinjar, hemmed in by IS, and were suffering from a critical shortage of food. According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), aid packages were being dropped but were not accessible to the families. One Yazidi man had told them that fathers were unwilling to leave their families to attempt to collect the aid, as they feared what might happen to them while they were gone.
Ms Dakhil has condemned Obama’s refusal to put American boots on the ground in the region, avoiding a swift – and potentially reversible – victory over ISIS. She has called for the west to increase the pace of the war, including through providing local Kurdish fighters with weapons, in an effort to release the girls already held captive in the area.
“There are many ways the world could help,” she said. “More air strikes, they could send the army, or more equipment and arms. We need humanitarian supplies.”
ISIS has openly been encouraging the jihadists who capture girls to force them into sexual servitude, justifying the practice in online literature by citing examples of the similar treatment of captive non-Muslims during the early Islamic conquests. Ms Dakhil said that she believed recent reports that 19 girls were executed for refusing to submit to the jihadist’s sexual demands, having been convicted of refusing to “participate in the practice of sexual jihad.”
She said that children were also being converted to Islam, and the boys trained as jihadists.
Some 780 women have now been bought back, with ransom payments funded through the sale of what few possessions the Yazidis have left to them. More recently, the Kurdish regional government has put up money for the purchase of the girls, and has also provided social services to the traumatised women, including gynaecological and pregnancy care.
Foreign individuals have also been coming forward: a Jewish Canadian businessman has raised nearly C$190,000 through his initiative, the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI). So far, the initiative has freed more than 100 girls, some of whom have been reunited with their families.
At least 2,000 more girls are known to still be held.