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Part II: After ISIS, survivors want recognition, rights, return and justice

By Hannah Lynch and Chris Johannes 29/4/2017
Abu Amaar is a career coffee vendor who wanted to return to his craft after ISIS was pushed out of eastern Mosul. Video: Rudaw
This series of special reports examines the struggles and path the survivors of ISIS — particularly minority groups in the Nineveh Plains and Shingal — have taken in their quest for justice after the extremist group rapidly controlled large swathes of territory in northern Iraq in 2014. Critical questions were asked: What do survivors want? What are they doing? What is and can be done at the community, governmental and international levels?


Groups like Christians, Kakais, Shabaks, and Kurds have told stories of displacement, and to a lesser degree compared to Yezidis, killings, at the hands of ISIS. These stories of survival reflect what they now desire in terms of justice, reconciliation and their returns home.

What survivors of ISIS also express is to be able to safely return home, basic health and particularly psychological services, recognition of what ISIS did to their groups, and justice. 

The Yezidi story has resonated globally because of its wide coverage in the media, and the sharing of first-hand survivor testimony from women like Nadia Murad.

The backing of international Yezidi organizations has helped their stories of survival garner attention and recognition at highest levels of the international community and its bodies.

Yazda, a non-governmental activist organization for Yezidis backing Murad and others, does not feel the needs of its people and the other persecuted minorities in Iraq have been met by the international community, and the regional and local governments.

Yezidi women like Nadia Murad (left) and Lamiji Bashar want to share their stories of survival with the international community to fight for those still left behind. Photo: EU

Farhad al-Kake, an instructor at the International University of Erbil,  has little faith in the international community to assist the Kakais because he said little is known about the Kakai people, although there have been recent efforts to change that.

Christians have more hope for the Western nations and international organizations to do something because of Christianity’s international popularity as one of the major three monotheistic religions.

"The genocide against the Christians committed by ISIS must be recognized internationally," Nawzad Hakim said.

Christians from the Nineveh province in Iraq have said that they don’t feel that the international community recognizes the history of Christians in the region, despite their historical presence.

"During the First World War, the mass deportation and massacres of the Armenians resulted also in the general persecution of other Christians and their evacuation from Kurdistan," Martin Van Bruinessen wrote in 1978 in his monumental study of the Kurdistani people 'Agha, Shaikh, and State.'

“Diyarbakir, Bitlis, Van, Erbil, Mosul, Sanandaj and many minor towns were centres of craftsmanship and trade."

Who do they trust to facilitate the returns to their homelands?

Prior to ISIS there were about 400,000 Christians in Iraq. Now there are about 200,000 who are sheltered in the Kurdistan Region with about that many having sought refuge abroad.

For those who want to return to their homes there is a question of justice that they want answered. Baghdad lacks a strong central government, which in many countries would be expected to relocate the survivors of ISIS crimes to their homes.

The survivors have little trust in the central government to deliver justice for the minority groups in the Nineveh province.

"We know that nobody cares about the Shabak people and it always has been like that since the regime of Saddam Hussein," community representative, Mohammad Ibrahim Shabak said. “It will continue if we stayed under the central government's control."

While some Yezidis have been accepted into specific immigration programs in Germany, Canada, and Australia, permanent displacement for others is not acceptable.

“Yes, we will preserve our culture, but it will not be the same. We will lose our language. We will lose our traditions when far away from the burial grounds and pilgrimage sites," wrote Dawud Khetari, a Yazidi historian from the Sheikhan region, in a University College London publication.

Safe zones or provisions for international protection, akin to Balkanization, for Yezidis and other minorities is another request by Yazda — something foreign diplomats don’t see as feasible.

Furthermore, security for the 300,000 Yezidis mostly in the Shingal region has been particularly unstable with various Kurdish armed factions clashing in March.

The people need a lot, safety and services, but firstly services, according to said General Amer Shamoun Mousa, commander of the Christian-led Nineveh Plains Guard Forces. 

Psychological services, which government officials have acknowledged are lacking in the region, have been a major request of Yezidis, but it is also desired by Christians.

“We even need psychological services and assistance because people are people and have been displaced for such a long time,” Mousa said.

Justice for the survivors, accountability for those responsible

Yazda wants the establishment of “an accountability mechanism to hold ISIS criminals legally accountable for genocide and other crimes.”

The Kakais, who estimate their population in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region to be between 250,000 and 300,000, have said they were targeted for being a double-minority, so legal religious recognition is a desire for Kakais.

“There are two things. First we were attacked by Arabs because we are Kurds. And we are attacked by Muslims because we are not Muslims,”  said al-Kake.

Now displaced, disputes are often settled through patriarchal or community-level representatives. Christians displaced into the Kurdistan Region, for example, have used a special court established after ISIS came in 2014. The judge is someone they trust.

One worker at such a court in Ainkawa said justice will come through our churches, we only trust our churches and bishop, no one else.

Baghdad with its current constitution and laws is repeating its pre-ISIS mistakes.

“Everything is a mess,” Mousa said, referring to the situation facing the Iraqi central government in Baghdad.

Given the region’s historical complexities and meddling, trust at all levels — local, provincial, federal and international — remains a hindrance to the process of return. 

It is a barrier for Shabaks and Christians, as Christians feel areas like Bartella have been encroached upon by Shabaks, claiming they took advantage of the Christians' plight after ISIS as the Iraqi army and its Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary forces took control of lands once held by ISIS.

Mousa said return is possible for Christians and Shabaks “no problem,” Mousa said, adding  Shabaks must respect the privacy of Christians, and the politicians must agree.

He did caution that if Shabaks want to expand, it will be difficult to rebuild the relationship.

Given the uncertainty of the future of these disputed areas claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil, displaced people say they still fear ISIS or what comes after ISIS, despite the group holding just 10 percent of the territory that it once held according to the Coalition.

“There is no single Christian left in the Christian areas who doesn’t fear ISIS’s killings,” Nawzad Hakim said.

There is unwillingness to return home until justice is served and the survivors of ISIS feel that they have rights.

“We need only our rights,” said Mousa. 

And, rights, as described by displaced survivors equates to the ability and means  to return to their homes knowing their voices will be heard and represented in governance.

This is Part II in a Rudaw English series of special reports on what is being done to document ISIS atrocities and achieve justice for survivors. The authors thank all at Rudaw who contributed including Zhelwan Zeyad and Salim Ibrahim for their editing and translations.


AY | 29/4/2017
No Mr priest not every Muslim or Arab or Sunni supported ISIS, but these were also their victims
Peter Jordan | 30/4/2017
Good God they are drinking from the same dirty cup. Yuck, no way will I drink from this filthy cup. Spread of germs.
Rojhelat Kurmanc | 30/4/2017
All neighbors of iraq and syria hosted refugees from there because of the war except for Israel which still build its settlements like the saddam did. Even Kurdistan whith its finacial crises have 2 million refugees the world must support Kurdistan more
bravekurd | 30/4/2017
Everyone suffered under Isis, including Kurds It's interesting to hear these stories, most Christians were the rich and wealthy in Iraq and especially in Kurdistan, you see them in western countries jobless, rely on welfare, I am not sure what they are complaining about. Christians also complain that they suffered under Saddam, so did most Iraqis. In a country where power and corruption was the tool everyone suffered, Kurds in the hands of Arabs, Shia and sunnies, Christians in the hands of others, Yazidies and the rest of minorities, under Saddam nobody dared mention, now that KRG provides safe haven all complain. Most of Saddam men in Kurdistan areas were Shia, they raped Kurdish women, tortured Kurdish men, abused Kurdish citizens on the streets, now they run Iraq and complain about Saddam era, these are the people who served Saddam to the bone.
Kandil | 1/5/2017
For Christian West, money is more important than Christians.

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toralf | 7/29/2018 7:59:32 PM
Your water problems seem to be political, not a result of a changing climate, which is also a political issue and not a proven fact.
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the turks do it deliberatly this is always the way they defeated the local powers. read how they defeated the byzantinian empire its hilarous...
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Erdogan does all the things against Allah...then calls Allah to help him. Contradict one...two...and thee. Even Allah says bye-bye.
good guy | 8/14/2018 9:32:46 AM
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Why is Turkey facing economic oblivion?
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corruption is EVERYWHERE in the middle east and it always get to a point where people have had enough. NOBODY in America is talking about a war . It...
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@trinity Sounds like Erbillywood script.
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....but but but ISIS was defeated last year!
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yes and 300 million outside while 50 million in nonmuslim countries.
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