De afgelopen week is de Islamitische Staat (IS, voorheen ISIS) verder opgetrokken in Noord-Irak in gebieden waar veel religieuze minderheden wonen, waaronder christenen, Yezidis en Shabak. Het PAX-project Kulluna Muwatinun (“We zijn allen burgers”) heeft tot doel sectarische verdeeldheid in Irak en Syrie tegen te gaan door burgerschap te versterken. Daartoe zijn op verschillende plaatsen in Irak “ambassades van burgerschap” opgericht. Onze Franse collega Benoite Martin coordineert dit project vanuit Amman en heeft dagelijks contact met de “burgerschapsambassadeurs” in Irak. Ze beschrijft in deze blog het verhaal van twee van hen in Noord-Irak (Engels).
Last Wednesday, on August 6, the Islamic State (IS, previously named ISIS) continued its progress in Northern Iraq and attacked another set of towns where minority groups live. In the middle of the night, thousands of Yezidi, Shebbak and Christian families fled from their homes, by car, by foot, running away from mortar attacks. The towns of Bartella, Bashiqa, Qaraqosh (also called Hamdaniya) were seized in a matter of hours by IS.
The families reached the city of Erbil in the early morning and settled in the Christian district of Einkawa. Churches have opened their doors to host hundreds of persons, but the dire lack of room obliged numerous families to settle camp in gardens and parks around the district.
Lekar, a young citizenship ambassador from PAX, explains that he fled from Qaraqosh at 2 am on Thursday with his family. There are no flats available or hotel rooms to rent in Erbil and he now temporarily lives in the garden of a church of Einkawa. His family sleeps on the grass but during the day, with the temperatures reaching 44 degrees, it is very hard to stay outside under the sun, they need a shelter. Tomorrow, he will participate to a demonstration that will reach the United Nations compound to demand for help to displaced families and support to retake control over his hometown.
In the area of Sinjar, while the rescue of hundreds who were trapped in the mountains has begun, thousands of Yezidis are still living under the threat of IS. Zuhair, another young citizenship ambassador from PAX, shared information about two villages located south of the town of Sinjar. He explained that these villages were visited regularly by the IS last week who confiscated all weapons available. They were given a deadline to convert to Islam before Sunday or be killed. After negotiations conducted by local clan leaders with IS, an extension of the deadline was obtained until Tuesday. PAX helped to facilitate contact between villagers, the United Nations and the Military forces to seek rescue. So far, the villagers are still waiting for help and are ready to commit suicide rather than facing torture and killing by IS.
Zuhair shared the sadness of the Yezidi community who continues to feel unsafe in the Kurdish Region. The Peshmergas have shown they were unable to provide adequate protection to Yezidis following to the tragedy that occurred in Sinjar. He hopes that the US forces will be able to ensure a retreat of IS so that he can as well return to his village North of Mosul. Or else, he is considering taking his family to Turkey.