// Text and photos by Alba Cambeiro
The road from Mosul to Sinyar has very little to do with the one at the Iraqi Kurdistan. Nobody has come to repair the tunnels, memory of the US Army bombings that cut the withdrawal of the Islamic State. On the right, the remains of a homemade antipersonnel mine. A pot, with explosives placed and cooked with cement, had been waiting for a car to pass over.
On August 3, 2014, ISIS fighters abandoned their bases in Syria and Iraq and attacked Sinyar. This region, located less than 15 km from the Syrian border, is home to the majority of the Yazidis, a religious minority whose beliefs and millenary practices are demonized by the terrorist group’s fighters.
Before reaching the main city, the terrorist group took the surrounding villages. In the town of Kocho, more than 700 people died on the spot. Seger, a peshmerga who was at Sinyar the day of the attack, confesses that they could not face them and fled.
Few days after, facts were known. Murdered men, women and girls forced to covert to Islam and kept as sex slaves, and children forced to enter training camps. The self-named Islamic State tried to exterminate Yazidis through assassinations, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, whose physical and mental consequences are now very difficult to overcome. «More than 3,000 women are still abducted by the Islamic State” says Kaywar Omer, head of the International Media Office at Kurdistan Regional Government.
Today, the city is a disputed place, to enter it is necessary to pass a double checkpoint. On one side, the Iraqi regular army with the waving flag of Hashd Al-Sha’abi, the Shiite militias. To the other, the PKK, the Kurdish revolutionary guerrilla. During the attack, and before the retreat of the regular army of the KRG, the PKK headed to the region, where they formed their Yazidi branch, the YBŞ and YJÊ. Because of this, according to Human Rights Watch, the Kurdistan Regional Government has imposed restrictions on the circulation of goods in and out of the city. In arbitrary detentions, food and medicines are been confiscated.
The city is in ruins. During the siege, more than 3000 homes were destroyed without even the help of explosives, due to the precariousness of the buildings. Most of the infrastructure is demolished and the few remaining houses are empty. According to the United Nations, 25,000 Yazidis were forced to flee their homes. During the first days after the attack, more than 50,000 people tried to survive on Mount Sinyar, only with the help of a helicopter that threw water and food. The Iraqi military forces were overwhelmed.
Currently more than 10,000 people are still living in a makeshift settlement in the mountains, they are afraid of returning to their homes. Others are settled in camps for internally displaced people (IDP) distributed throughout various parts of Iraqi territory, as was the case of Elias. His family lived at Khanke camp, along with another 40,000 displaced people. They just returned home a week ago, due to the urban recovery program of the United Nations Habitat section of Iraq in collaboration with UNDP. This initiative, financed by the Government of Germany, has already rehabilitated 562 houses.
The reconstruction program employs local people from Sinyar, mostly men. Collect debris, sand, put tiles, paint. «Three thousand people have returned with the urban development program» confirms Alan Miran, representative of UN-Habitat in Iraq. Another UN source explains «the pressure of the number of inhabitants who wish to return is the opportunity to raise the problem among all parties and resolve it once and for all.»
Yazidi society has historically been based on agriculture and grazing, the task of reconstruction is temporary. “Now we do not have resources or work opportunities» explains Elias. The family lives with little; wheat, barley, goats… In the sun is drying the keşk, sour yogurt obtained from the milk of this animal. Together with portulaca and wheat they can prepare mehit, a nutritious soup.
The reconstruction process has still many challenges. Families, with the help of UN-Iraq, must demonstrate to local authorities the ownership of their homes. And despite all efforts, it is still necessary to repair the public infrastructures and the support of the local government for the suppy of medical care and other essential services.