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Following the genocide of Yazidis in 2014, 'never again' must mean never, ever again

Iraqi Yazidis attend a candle-lit vigil in the Sharya area, some 15 kilometres from the northern city of Dohuk in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region on August 3, 2020, marking the sixth anniversary of the Islamic State (IS) group's attack on the Yazidi community in the northwestern Sinjar district. (Photo by SAFIN HAMED / AFP) (Photo by SAFIN HAMED/AFP via Getty Images)
Iraqi Yazidis attend a candle-lit vigil in the Sharya area, some 15 kilometres from the northern city of Dohuk in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region on August 3, 2020, marking the sixth anniversary of Daesh's attack on the Yazidi community in the northwestern Sinjar district [SAFIN HAMED/AFP via Getty Images]

On 6 February, 104 members of the Yazidi community killed by Daesh were reburied in a ceremony in Kocho in the northern Iraqi region of Sinjar. The Yazidis live in different countries but came together last Friday to show their respect and mourn their loss.

Historically, the Yazidis have suffered from the systematic destruction and deprivation of their religious and socio-economic rights. They are among the most vulnerable displaced people in the Middle East because of their religious identity. It is estimated that there have been seventy-four genocidal attacks against Yazidis to date. The latest such attack took place in 2014 and appears to have been ignored across the region and by the international community.

The Yazidis are mostly a Kurdish religious minority living primarily in the north of Iraq, western Iran, eastern Turkey, and northern Syria. There is no clear and specific data, but it is estimated that the total population is anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million people.

The religion of the Yazidis includes elements from Zoroastrianism (the ancient Persian religion), Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Yazidis are often unfairly referred to as "devil worshippers". Certainly, the terrorists of Daesh regard them as heretics.

READ: 100 Yazidi Daesh survivors to join police force

When Daesh declared the Yazidis to be infidels, the extremist group targeted northern Iraq's ethnoreligious minorities in 2014. Its fighters attacked the Yazidis in their ancestral homeland of Sinjar on 3 August. It is assumed that around 500,000 Yazidis were living in that region before the Daesh invasion.

According to the Yazidi Rescue Office data, Daesh kidnapped 6,417 Yazidis in August 2014, of whom 3,451 have been rescued or escaped. This means that just under 3,000 remain in captivity with their whereabouts unknown. More than 2,700 Yazidi children have been orphaned in the process. Ominously, 80 mass graves have been found so far.

The UN estimates that 5,000 Yazidis were killed in the 2014 massacre. Most of those killings took place in the first ten days of the Daesh occupation of the Sinjar area.

Vian Dakhil is a Yazidi MP in Iraq. She broke down in tears in the first week of August 2014 when she told the Iraqi parliament that: "There are Yazidis who now live in the Sinjar Mountains. Mr Speaker, we are being slaughtered under the banner of 'there is no god but Allah'. Mr Speaker, until now 500 Yazidi men have been slaughtered. Mr Speaker, our women, are being taken as slaves and sold in the slave market… Brothers, away from all political disputes, we want humanitarian solidarity. I speak here in the name of humanity. Save us! Save us!"

Unfortunately, most governments and organisations did not listen to her pleas, which was shameful for all of us; shameful for humanity. The national and international community failed to protect innocent Yazidis. A couple of days after Dakhil's statement, on 11 August 11, the largest mass killing of Yazidis took place in Kocho, where more than 700 were murdered. They were killed just because they were Yazidis. Daesh killed, kidnapped and enslaved thousands of children, men and women, displacing whole communities to refugee camps.

UN investigators released a report headed, "They Came to Destroy: [Daesh] Crimes against the Yazidis" and determined that the terrorist group committed genocide against the Yazidis in Iraq. Then, in February 2016, the European Parliament passed a resolution to declare that Daesh had committed genocide against Yazidis, Christians and other ethnic and religious minority groups in the Middle East. The following month, the US House of Representatives did likewise.

READ: Iraq discovers mass grave of Daesh victims in Kirkuk

Acknowledging that the Daesh attacks on the Yazidis was genocide is very important, but it is not enough. If the crimes of genocide and sexual violence go unpunished, the precedent of impunity threatens the fundamental human rights of minority groups everywhere. The Iraqi government and international community have the responsibility to act on the evidence by prosecuting the perpetrators in Daesh for crimes against humanity.

The reburial last week of the 104 Yazidis killed by Daesh was an essential closure ceremony. After six years, at least some of the Yazidis have been able to lay their loved ones to rest. Remember, though, around 3,000 Yazidis are still missing. We cannot forget that, which is why it is crucial to stand up and support the Yazidis in the effort to make sure that the dead and missing aren't forgotten.

Every time a genocide happens, the world says "never again". Following the genocide of Yazidis in 2014, "never again" must mean never, ever again.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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