Empty words, broken lives in northern Iraq

When the peacock angel first arrived on Earth he coloured all things with his feathers, according to the tradition of the Yazidi, a religious group of Kurdish people. But, when I visited Dohuk in northern Iraq, there were only heavy grey skies; the rain fell relentlessly, creating tracks of mud.

Here, a Yazidi family, three generations together, sheltered in an unfinished building lent by local Christians. Until Islamic State arrived in their village under the Sinjar Mountains in December 2014 they had been tomato farmers, living a life much unchanged for centuries.

The rest of the world had little to do with them; they had little to do with the rest of the world. Islamic State regarded them as devil worshippers.

This week, the United States House of Representatives voted unanimously to classify what Islamic State did to the Yazidis as genocide.

For this family, these were empty words. It wasn’t the West, they said, but PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s armed wing, that led them to safety.

The West believes PKK is a terrorist organisation – a breakaway faction of PKK claimed responsibility for this month’s Ankara bombings.

Will the Yazidis return home now that their area is liberated from Islamic State? Many, especially the young, have sought a new life in Germany. This family wants them to come back together; they also know it may never be safe again.

Many of their Arab Sunni neighbours welcomed Islamic State. These were the same people they greeted every day who stood by as Islamic State dragged Yazidi women off into sexual slavery and decapitated their children.

The place they call home is seeded with tens of thousands of Islamic State mines, handmade packages of evil, put together from reconditioned fertiliser and a nine-volt battery. Yazidi homes are full of booby-traps – a phone wired to explode if a child reaches for so inviting a prize. Open the oven door: bang! Turn on the airconditioner: bang!

With Islamic State having recruited many former Ba’athist military members, with experience of laying mines during the Saddam era, these devices are professionally designed and strategically placed. Islamic State will be killing children long after it is defeated.

The good news is Islamic State is losing the war in northern Iraq. The bad news is the forces that created Islamic State remain unchallenged – not least Arab Sunni resentment at the Shia-dominated government of Baghdad.

Sunni mosques have no allegiance to anything or anyone beyond their own sectarian preaching. A successor to Islamic State is likely to spring up when it disappears. – © Guardian News & Media 2016

Dr Giles Fraser is priest-in-charge at St Mary’s Newington in London

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Giles Fraser
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