Genocide of Yazidis by ISIL

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, calling itself Islamic State) is recognized by the United Nations as the perpetrator of a genocide of Yazidis in Iraq.[1][10][11] The genocide led to the expulsion, flight and effective exile of the Yazidis from their ancestral lands in Northern Iraq whose women and girls were forced into sexual slavery by the Islamic State and whose men were killed by the thousands.[12] The genocide led to the abduction of Yazidi women and massacres that killed five thousand Yazidi civilians[4][13] during what has been called a "forced conversion campaign"[14][15] being carried out in Northern Iraq by ISIL, starting in 2014. The genocide happened following the Kurdish Peshmerga withdrawal, which left the Yazidis defenseless.[16][17]

Genocide of Yazidis by ISIL
Part of 2014 Northern Iraq offensive and the Iraqi Civil War (2014-2017)
Images from top, left and right: Yazidi refugees receiving support from the International Rescue Committee. A member of the U.S. Mt. Sinjar Assessment Team being greeted by locals near Sinjar, Iraq. Bundles of water inside a C-17 Globemaster III before a humanitarian airdrop by the United States Air Force.
Date3 August 2014
TargetYazidi people
Attack type
Genocidal massacre, ethnic cleansing, forced conversion
Deathsabout 5,000 Yazidis were killed by ISIL, according to the United Nations[2][3] (per Sinjar massacre)
Injured4,200-10,800 kidnapped or captive[4] (per Sinjar massacre)
Perpetrators Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
MotiveReligious persecution, human trafficking, and forced conversions to Islam[9]

ISIL's persecution of the Yazidis gained international attention and led to the American-led intervention in Iraq, which started with United States airstrikes against ISIL. Additionally, the US, UK, and Australia made emergency airdrops to Yazidis who had fled to a mountain range. YPG and PKK fighters opened a humanitarian corridor to the Sinjar Mountains and helped the Yazidis.[18] ISIL's actions against the Yazidi population have resulted in approximately 500,000 refugees and several thousand killed and kidnapped.[19] The Yazidis have also had their human rights violated by terrorist organizations who began killing the Yazidis. The effects of the genocide have impacted other communities of Yazidis, especially in Germany.[20]


The Yazidis are monotheists who believe in a benevolent peacock angel and practice an ancient gnostic faith. The self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other followers of Islam in the region tend to view the peacock angel as the malevolent creature Lucifer or Shaitan and they consider the Yazidis 'devil worshippers'.[21][22]

In August 2014, more than 300 Yazidi families were threatened and forced to choose between conversion to Sunni Islam or death.[23]

Previous targeting of Yazidis (by Sunnis)

Ottoman era

  • In 1640, 40,000 Ottoman soldiers attacked Yazidi communities around Mount Sinjar, killing 3,060 Yazidis during battle, then raiding and setting fire to 300 Yazidi villages and murdering 1,000–2,000 Yazidis who had taken refuge in caves around the town of Sinjar;[24]
  • in 1892, Sultan Abdulhamid II ordered a campaign of mass conscription or murder of Yazidis as part of his campaign to Islamize the Ottoman Empire, which also targeted Armenians and other Christians.[25]

Post 2003 Iraq invasion era

Violence outbreak

On 3 August 2014, ISIL militants attacked and took over Sinjar in northern Iraq, a Kurdish-controlled town that was predominantly inhabited by Yazidis,[27] and the surrounding area.

Yazidis,[28] and internet postings of ISIL,[29] have reported summary executions that day by ISIL militants, leading to 200,000 civilians fleeing Sinjar, of whom around 50,000 Yazidis were reportedly escaping to the nearby Sinjar Mountains. They were trapped on Mount Sinjar, surrounded by ISIL militants and facing starvation and dehydration.[29][30][31]

On 4 August 2014, Prince Tahseen Said, Emir of the Yazidi, issued a plea to world leaders calling for assistance on behalf of the Yazidi facing attack from ISIL.[32]


On 3 August, ISIL killed the men from the al-Qahtaniya area, ten Yazidi families fleeing were attacked by ISIL; and ISIL shot 70 to 90 Yazidi men in Qiniyeh village.[33]

On 4 August, ISIL fighters attacked Jabal Sinjar, killed 30 Yazidi men; 60 more Yazidi men were killed in the village of Hardan.[33] On the same day, Yazidi community leaders stated that at least 200 Yazidis had been killed in Sinjar (see Sinjar massacre), and 60–70 near Ramadi Jabal.[33] According to reports from surviving Yazidi, between 3 and 6 August, more than 50 Yazidi were killed near Dhola village, 100 in Khana Sor village, 250–300 in Hardan area, more than 200 on the road between Adnaniya and Jazeera, dozens near al-Shimal village, and on the road from Matu village to Jabal Sinjar.[33]

On 10 August 2014, according to statements by the Iraqi government and others, ISIL militants buried alive an undefined number of Yazidi women and children in northern Iraq in an attack that killed 500 people, in what has been described as genocide.[9][34][35][36] Those who escaped across the Tigris River into Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria on 10 August gave accounts of how they had seen individuals also attempting to flee who later died.[27][37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44]

On 15 August, in the Yazidi village of Kojo, south of Sinjar, after the whole population had received the jihadist ultimatum to convert or be killed, over 80 men were killed.[45][46] A witness recounted that the villagers were first converted under duress,[15] but when the village elder refused to convert, all of the men were taken in trucks under the pretext of being led to Sinjar, and gunned down along the way.[47] According to reports from survivors interviewed by OHCHR, on 15 August, the entire male population of the Yazidi village of Khocho, up to 400 men, were rounded up and shot by ISIL, and up to 1,000 women and children were abducted; on the same day, up to 200 Yazidi men were reportedly executed for refusing conversion in a Tal Afar prison.[33]

Between 24 and 25 August 14 elderly Yazidi men were executed by ISIL in the Sheikh Mand Shrine, and the Jidala village Yazidi shrine was blown up.[33] On 1 September, the Yazidi villages of Kotan, Hareko and Kharag Shafrsky were set afire by ISIL, and on 9 September, Peshmerga fighters discovered a mass grave containing the bodies of 14 executed civilians, presumably Yazidis.[33]

According to an OHRCR/UNAMI report on 26 September, by the end of August, 1,600–1,800 or more Yazidis who had been murdered, executed, or died from starvation.[33] In early October, Matthew Barber, a scholar of Yazidi history at the University of Chicago, estimated between 3,000–5,000 Yazidi men had been killed by ISIL.[48]

In October 2014, a UN report revealed that ISIL had massacred 5,000 Yazidi men in northern Iraq in August 2014.[13]

In May 2015, the Yazidi Progress Party released a statement in which they said that 300 Yazidi captives were killed on 1 May by ISIL in the Tal Afar, Iraq.[49]

A 2017 survey by the PLOS Medicine journal significantly decreased the number of Yazidis killed however concurrently raised the number abducted with 2,100 to 4,400 deaths and 4,200 to 10,800 abductions.[4]

Sunni collaboration

In several villages, local Sunnis were reported to have sided with ISIL, betraying Yazidis for slaughter once ISIL arrived, and even possibly colluding in advance with ISIL to lie to Yazidis, to lure them into staying put until the terrorists invaded; although there was also one report of Sunnis helping Yazidis to escape.[50]

Sexual slavery

Slave market process


On 3 August, ISIL abducted women and children from the al-Qahtaniya area, and 450–500 abducted Yazidi women and girls were taken to Tal Afar; hundreds more to Si Basha Khidri and then Ba'aj.[33] When ISIL fighters attacked Jabal Sinjar on 4 August, they abducted a number of women in the Yazidi village of Hardan, wives and daughters were abducted; other Yazidi women were abducted in other villages in the area.[33] On 6 August, ISIL kidnapped 400 Yazidi women in Sinjar to sell them as sex slaves.[51] According to reports from surviving Yazidi, between 3 and 6 August 500 Yazidi women and children were abducted from Ba'aj and more than 200 from Tal Banat.[33] According to a statement by the Iraqi government on 10 August 2014, hundreds of women were taken as slaves in northern Iraq.[9][35][36] On 15 August, in the Yazidi village of Kojo, south of Sinjar, over 100 women were abducted,[45][46] though according to some reports from survivors, up to 1,000 women and children of the Yazidi village of Khocho were abducted.[33] According to an OHRCR/UNAMI report on 26 September, by the end of August up to 2,500 Yazidis, mostly women and children, had been abducted.[33] In early October, Matthew Barber, a scholar of Yazidi history at the University of Chicago, compiled a list of names of 4,800 Yazidi women and children who had been captured (estimating the total number of abducted people to be possibly up to 7,000).[48]

The abducted Yazidi women were sold into slave markets with ISIL "using rape as a weapon of war" according to CNN, with the group having gynaecologists ready to examine the captives. Yazidi women were physically observed, including examinations to see if they were "virgins" or if they were pregnant. Women who were found to be pregnant were taken by the ISIL gynaecologists and forced abortions were performed on them.[52]


Haleh Esfandiari from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars highlighted the abuse of local women by ISIL militants after they have captured an area. "They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them. The younger girls ... are raped or married off to fighters", she said, adding, "It's based on temporary marriages, and once these fighters have had sex with these young girls, they just pass them on to other fighters."[53]

Speaking of Yazidi women captured by ISIL, Nazand Begikhani said in October 2014, "These women have been treated like cattle... They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They've been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags."[54] Yazidi girls in Iraq allegedly raped by ISIL fighters have committed suicide by jumping to their death from Mount Sinjar, as described in a witness statement.[55]

A United Nations report issued on 2 October 2014, based on 500 interviews with witnesses, said that ISIL took 450–500 women and girls to Iraq's Nineveh region in August where "150 unmarried girls and women, predominantly from the Yazidi and Christian communities, were reportedly transported to Syria, either to be enslaved to ISIL fighters as a 'reward' or to be sold as sex slaves".[56] Also in October 2014, a UN report revealed that ISIL had detained 5,000 to 7,000 Yazidi women as slaves or forced brides in northern Iraq in August 2014.[13][57]

On 4 November 2014, Dr. Widad Akrawi of Defend International said that "the international community should define what's happening to the Yezidis as a crime against humanity, crime against cultural heritage of the region and ethnic cleansing," adding that Yazidi females are being "subjected to as systematic gender-based violence and the use of slavery and rape as a weapon of war."[58] A month earlier, President of Defend International dedicated her 2014 International Pfeffer Peace Award to the Yazidis, Christians and all residents of Kobane because, she said, facts on the ground demonstrate that these peaceful people are not safe in their enclaves, partly because of their ethnic origin and/or religion and they are therefore in urgent need for immediate attention from the global community.[59][60][61][62][63][64][65] She asked the international community to make sure that the victims are not forgotten; they should be rescued, protected, fully assisted and compensated fairly.[66]

In June 2017, reports from Vian Dakhil of the Iraqi parliament told of a captured sex slave being fed her own one-year-old child. The woman was starved for three days in a cellar and was finally given a meal by her captors. When finished, they said "We cooked your one-year-old son that we took from you, and this is what you just ate".[67]

Selling process

On 3 November 2014, the "price list" for Yazidi and Christian females issued by ISIL surfaced online, and Dr. Widad Akrawi and her team were the first to verify the authenticity of the document.[68][69] On 4 November 2014, a translated version of the document was shared by Dr. Akrawi.[70][71][72][73][74][75][76] On 4 August 2015, the same document was confirmed as genuine by a UN official.[77][78]

Writing in mid 2016, Lori Hinnant, Maya Alleruzzo and Balint Szlanko of the Associated Press report that ISIL tightened "its grip on the estimated 3,000 women and girls held as sex slaves" even while it was losing territory to Iraqi forces.[79] ISIL sells the women on encrypted smart phone apps, "primarily on Telegram and on Facebook" and to a lesser degree on WhatsApp. In advertisements for the girls obtained by AP,

many of the women and girls are dressed in finery, some in heavy makeup. All look directly at the camera, standing in front of overstuffed chairs or brocade curtains in what resembles a shabby hotel ballroom. Some are barely out of elementary school. Not one looks older than 30.[79]

As Western-backed forces closed in on ISIL's capital city Raqqa in July 2017, reports from the wives of ISIL members shared on an Arabic program were released. One wife stated that on encrypted apps, "They were sharing photos of the sex slaves with the best make-up and clothes, and asking $2,000 for this one, $3,000 for that one. A virgin cost $10,000". They contested statements by former Yazidi captives, saying that "the sex slaves were lavished with gifts including expensive lipstick and clothes". Many wives were jealous of the Yazidi sex slaves, leaving their husbands, and when they were provided aid by refugee services in the area, "the wives of the jihadis showed little emotion over the atrocities committed in Syria".[80]


In November 2014 The New York Times reported on the accounts given by five who escaped ISIL of their captivity and abuse.[81]

According to Mirza Dinnayi, founder of the German-Iraqi aid organization Luftbrücke Irak, ISIL registers "every slave, every person under their owner, and therefore if she escapes, every Daesh [ISIL] control or checkpoint, or security force - they know that this girl ... has escaped from this owner".[79] For over a year after the girls were first enslaved, "Arab and Kurdish smugglers managed to free an average of 134" slaves a month. But by May 2016, an ISIL "crackdown reduced those numbers to just 39 in the last six weeks, according to figures provided by the Kurdistan regional government". ISIL fighters have been targeting and "assassinating smugglers who rescue the captives". At the same time the funds to buy the women out of slavery provided by the Kurdish regional government "are drying up," as a result of the collapse in the price of oil and disputes with Iraq's central government over revenues.[79]

ISIL beliefs

In its digital magazine Dabiq, ISIL explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women.[82][83][84][85][86][87]

According to The Wall Street Journal, ISIL appeals to apocalyptic beliefs and claims "justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world".[88] In late 2014, ISIL released a pamphlet on the treatment of female slaves.[89][90][91][92][93][94] The New York Times said in August 2015 that "[t]he systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution."[95]

Forced exile

Flight into Sinjar Mountains and PKK's support

The ISIL offensive in the Sinjar area of northern Iraq, 3–4 August, caused 30,000–50,000 Yazidis to flee into the Sinjar Mountains (Jabal Sinjar) fearing they would be killed by ISIL. They had been threatened with death if they refused conversion to Islam. A UN representative said that "a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar".[96]

On 3 and 4 August 14 or more Yazidi children and some elderly or people with disabilities died of hunger, dehydration, and heat on Mount Sinjar.[33] By 6 August, according to reports from survivors, 200 Yazidi children while fleeing to Mount Sinjar had died from thirst, starvation, heat and dehydration.[33]

Fifty thousand Yazidis, besieged by ISIL on Mount Sinjar, were able to escape after Kurdish People's Protection Units and PKK broke ISIL siege on the mountains. The majority of them were rescued by Kurdish PKK and YPG fighters.[97][98][99][100][101][102][103][104] Multinational rescue operation involved dropping of supplies on the mountains and evacuation of some refugees by helicopters. During the rescue operation, on 12 August, an overloaded Iraqi Air Force helicopter crashed on Mount Sinjar, killing Iraqi Air Force Major General Majid Ahmed Saadi (the pilot) and injuring 20 people.[105][106]

On 8 August, PKK was providing humanitarian aid and camps to more than 3,000 Yazidi refugees.[104]

By 20 October, 2,000 Yazidis, mainly volunteer fighters, who had remained behind to protect the villages, but also civilians (700 families who had not yet escaped), were reported as still in the Sinjar area, and were forced by ISIL to abandon the last villages in their control, Dhoula and Bork, and retreat to the Sinjar Mountains.[107]

Forced conversion

In an article by The Washington Post, it was stated that an estimated 7,000 Yazidis had been forced to convert to "the Islamic State group's harsh interpretation of Islam".[108] Yazidi boys were taken to Raqqa, Syria to be trained to fight for ISIL, with some being forced to fight as U.S.-led forces closed in on the group.[109][110]

Return of Yazidi population

Following ISIL's retreat from Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the region during late-2017 campaigns, both governments laid claim to the area. The Yazidi population, with only about 15% returning to Sinjar during the period, was caught in the political crossfire. Yazidis returned to an abandoned town of crumbling buildings, leftover IEDs and the remains of those killed during the massacre.[111]

In November 2017, a mass grave of about 70 people was uncovered[112] and a month later in December, another mass grave was discovered holding about 90 victims.[113]

Classification as genocide

The Genocide of Yazidis is officially recognized by the United Nations[114][115] and the European Parliament.[116] Also many states have recognized it, for example the Armenian parliament,[117] the Australian parliament[118] and the Scottish parliament.[119]

The persecution of the Yazidi people has been viewed as qualifying as genocide by groups such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in a March 2015 report. The organization cited the numerous atrocities such as forced religious conversion and sexual slavery as being parts of an overall malicious campaign.[10][120]

On 14 March 2016, the United States House of Representatives voted unanimously 393-0 that violent actions performed against Yazidis, Christians, Shia and other groups by ISIL were acts of genocide. Days later on 17 March 2016, United States Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the violence initiated by ISIL against the Yazidis and others amounted to genocide.[121]

Multiple individual human rights activists such as Nazand Begikhani and Dr. Widad Akrawi have also advocated for this view.[58][122] The term itself first arose in 1944 as the creation of a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin, who himself defined the term as reflecting "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves."[123]

Releases of Yazidi captives

In January 2015, about 200 Yazidis were released by ISIL. Kurdish military officials believed they were released because they were a burden. On 8 April 2015, 216 Yazidis, with the majority being children and elderly, were released by ISIL after being held captive for about 8 months. Their release occurred following an offensive by U.S.-led air assaults and pressure from Iraqi ground forces who were pushing northward and in the process of retaking Tikrit. According to General Hiwa Abdullah, a peshmerga commander in Kirkuk, those released were in poor health with signs of abuse and neglect visible.[124]

In March 2016, Iraqi security forces managed to free a group of Yazidi women held hostage by ISIL in a special operation behind ISILs lines in Mosul.[125][126]

In March 2016, the militant group Kurdistan Workers' Party managed to free 51 Yazidis held hostages by ISIL in an operation called 'Operation Vengeance for Martyrs of Shilo'[127] Three Kurdistan Workers' Party guerrillas died during the operation.

In April 2016, the Kurdistan Workers' Party with the Sinjar Resistance Units managed to free another 53 Yazidis held hostages by ISIL.[128]

International responses

Western military intervention

On 7 August 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered targeted airstrikes on IS militants and emergency air relief for the Yazidis. Airstrikes began on 8 August. (See American-led intervention in Iraq (2014–present)#Obama authorizes airstrikes.)

On 8 August 2014, the US asserted that the systematic destruction of the Yazidi people by the Islamic State was genocide.[129]

President Barack Obama had authorized the attacks to protect Yazidis but also Americans and Iraqi minorities. President Obama gave an assurance that no troops would be deployed for combat. Along with the airstrikes of 9 August, the US airdropped 3,800 gallons of water and 16,128 MREs. Following these actions, the United Kingdom and France stated that they also would begin airdrops.[130]

On 10 August 2014, at approximately 2:15 a.m. ET, the US carried out five additional airstrikes on armed vehicles and a mortar position, enabling 20,000–30,000 Yazidi Iraqis to flee into Syria and later be rescued by Kurdish forces. The Kurdish forces then provided shelter for the Yazidis in Dohuk.[131][132]

On 13 August 2014, fewer than 20 United States Special Forces troops stationed in Irbil along with British Special Air Service troops visited the area near Mount Sinjar to gather intelligence and plan the evacuation of approximately 30,000 Yazidis still trapped on Mount Sinjar. One hundred and twenty-nine additional US military personnel were deployed to Irbil to assess and provide a report to President Obama.[133] The United States Central Command also reported that a seventh airdrop was conducted and that to date, 114,000 meals and more than 35,000 gallons of water had been airdropped to the displaced Yazidis in the area.[134]

In a statement on 14 August 2014, The Pentagon said that the 20 US personnel who had visited the previous day had concluded that a rescue operation was probably unnecessary since there was less danger from exposure or dehydration and the Yazidis were no longer believed to be at risk of attack from ISIL. Estimates also stated that 4,000 to 5,000 people remained on the mountain, with nearly half of which being Yazidi herders who lived there before the siege.[135][136][137]

Kurdish officials and Yazidi refugees stated that thousands of young, elderly, and disabled individuals on the mountain were still vulnerable, with the governor of Kurdistan's Dahuk province, Farhad Atruchi, saying that the assessment was "not correct" and that although people were suffering, "the international community is not moving".[136]

International bodies

  •  United Nations – On 13 August 2014, the United Nations declared the Yazidi crisis a highest-level "Level 3 Emergency", saying that the declaration "will facilitate mobilization of additional resources in goods, funds and assets to ensure a more effective response to the humanitarian needs of populations affected by forced displacements".[137][138] On 19 March 2015, a United Nations panel concluded that ISIL "may have committed" genocide against the Yazidis with an investigation head, Suki Nagra, stating that the attacks on the Yazidis "were not just spontaneous or happened out of the blue, they were clearly orchestrated".[139]
  •  Arab League – On 11 August 2014, the Arab League accused ISIL of committing crimes against humanity by persecuting the Yazidis.[140][141]
  • Defend International – On 6 September 2014, Defend International launched a worldwide campaign entitled "Save The Yazidis: The World Has To Act Now" to raise awareness about the tragedy of the Yazidis in Sinjar; coordinate activities related to intensifying efforts aimed at rescuing Yazidi and Christian women and girls captured by ISIL; provide a platform for discussion and the exchange of information on matters and activities relevant to securing the fundamental rights of the Yazidis, no matter where they reside; and building a bridge between potential partners and communities whose work is relevant to the campaign, including individuals, groups, communities, and organizations active in the areas of women's and girls' rights, inter alia, as well as actors involved in ending modern-day slavery and violence against women and girls.[66][142]

Turkish aid

Thousands of Yazidis took refuge in neighboring Turkey, where they were sheltered in refugee camps in the Turkish city of Silopi.[143][144] The Turkish Disaster Relief Agency (AFAD) reportedly began preparations to set up camps for receiving 6,000 refugees from Iraq.[145] The number of Yazidi refugees in Turkey had reached 14 thousand by 30 August.[146]

Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman claimed Turkey has also airdropped humanitarian aid to Yazidi refugees within Iraq.[147]

International recognition

Armenia became the first nation to recognise the crime against humanity perpetrated by ISIL.[148] The UN recognized the genocide as ongoing, however, the international community still must recognize the detrimental effects of the genocide. While some countries may choose to overlook the idea of the genocide, the UN writes that the atrocities need to be understood and the international community needs to bring the killings to an end.[149] Recently, the Security Council team has enforced the idea of a new accountability team that will collect evidence of the international crimes committed by the Islamic State. However, the international community has not been in full support of this idea, because it can sometimes oversee the crimes that other armed groups are involved in.[150]

See also


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