KOCHO — Islamic State (ISIS) militants entered the village of Kocho, 25 km southeast of Sinjar city, on August 3, 2014. For several days after their arrival, nothing happened. Then, on August 15, the jihadists launched their genocide of the Yezidis.
They took 1,250 men, women and children into Kocho High School. Four-hundred men were then taken to the outskirts of the village where they were killed. Just 19 survived to bear witness.
Finding no use for them, ISIS also slaughtered 77 older women. Children were indoctrinated, radicalized, and taught how to fight. At least 850 women and girls were taken as slaves.
“Our neighbors betrayed us and killed all our brothers,” said Shada Salih, a survivor of Kocho.
“They were held captive for 14 days and no one tried to rescue them. Our brothers were just shepherds and young boys. Neighbors turned to ‘faith’ and became our enemies and killed our brothers in groups,” she wept.
Almost four-and-a-half years later, the Iraqi government, United Nations, and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are supporting an experienced international team, which began exhuming the suspected mass gravesites of Kocho on Friday.
“This is a site of killing, of mass graves,” said Karim A. A. Khan, a British QC who is heading the UNITAD-Iraq investigation.
“It is one of 11 mass graves in Kocho, one of 70 mass graves in Sinjar, and one of hundreds of mass graves in Iraq that are the result of Daesh crimes,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“So of course what we have to do is to uncover them, see what the evidence is, look at the rounds, look at the bullets, look at other information or evidence that may feed into a criminal trial in accordance with international standards,” he added.
This start of the exhumation process in Shingal is the first under the auspices of the UN since the genocidal campaign by ISIS.
Today, nobody lives in Kocho. Most buildings have collapsed and are unsuitable to use. Political tensions exist between the Iraqi federal government, KRG, federal police, the army, Peshmerga, armed groups, and Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitias.
Locals say just 630 of the village’s original inhabitance are living. They will not return any time soon, and most live in IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region.
“Much of my family was lost, and with the loss of Kocho’s villagers, almost all were killed,” said Shreen Ibrahim, a survivor of Kocho.
“Few survived – from my whole family, only my sister and me. The rest all were killed in the massacres.”
“We have lost a lot.”
Reporting by Mahdi Faraj