Yezidi women and girls light fires to celebrate Chawrshama Soori, their new year in 2017. File photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — On the occasion of Yezidi new year, the UN’s representative in Iraq has called for renewed efforts to release the thousands of Yezidis who were captured by ISIS and have not yet been found.
Noting that Wednesday is the first celebration of the new year since the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq, the UN’s Jan Kubis said, “Yet, this joy remains incomplete while many of the thousands of the Yezidi women and children kidnapped and enslaved by the terrorist group are still not back with their loved ones.
“It will remain incomplete without justice and accountability for the crimes against Yezidis. It will remain incomplete while so many Yezidis cannot return voluntarily to their homes to live there in safety and dignity.”
The fates of about half of the 6,417 Yezidis abducted by ISIS in 2014 are still unknown.
Kubis said UNAMI is ready to support “all relevant authorities in Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region, in ensuring the full accountability for crimes against Yezidis in the recent tragic period.”
The Yezidi new year, Sere Sal, is held on Chwarshama Soori, translated as Red Wednesday, this year falling on April 18. It marks the day that Tawuse Melek, the Peacock Angel who is God’s representative on earth, descended on the holy site of Lalish to bless the earth with fertility and renewal.
Around 200,000 or about half of the Yezidi population in Iraq fled into the Kurdistan Region or Syria in 2014. Approximately 80-85 percent still remain in camps primarily in Duhok province.
“Now all conditions need to be put in place by the Iraqi and Kurdistan Region authorities, assisted by the international community, so that they can return home and embark on rebuilding their ancestral towns and villages, live in security and peace…” wrote Kubis.
The Yezidi homeland of Shingal remains unstable
and the IDPs say they fear returning. The Iraqi Army and Yezidi Peshmerga were in a standoff on March 28 when the army insisted on entering a Yezidi holy shrine.
According to a report released by Nadia’s Initiative on the status of Shingal, redevelopment has focused on areas in northern Shingal “where the situation is more viable for a return of the population.”
The organization was foundered by Nadia Murad, a Yezidi woman who survived ISIS kidnapping and rape. The outspoken activist, who became the face of Yezidi survivors, was appointed a UN Goodwill Ambassador in 2016.
She made an emotional return to her hometown of Kocho in June 2017 when she reunited with family members in an area of southern Shingal under the control of Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries.
“Future research should examine the situation in the southern areas more deeply once it is cleared for safe returns,” the initiative stated.
Murad urged the international community to establish a Sinjar Action Fund to begin steps towards rebuilding Shingal.
“I continue to fight against the Islamic State to bring justice for their crimes against humanity. This moment must be remembered to ensure genocide no longer has a place in this world. Yet as we reflect back, we must also look forward. With justice must come progress,” wrote Murad.