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PHOTOS: A modern genocide — Yazidi survivors in Shingal

Text and photos by Seth J. Frantzman

In August 2014 the extremist group calling itself Islamic State (ISIS) swept through a part of northern Iraq inhabited by the Yazidi religious minority. ISIS had already broadcast to the world their intention to exterminate “un-believers” and those they opposed. They had massacred 1,600 Shia army cadets at Camp Speicher on June 12, 2014 and ordered all Christians to convert or leave their homes through the areas they controlled. In August the crimes became even more brutal as they massacred men and elderly Yazidi women and sold an estimated 5,000 women into slavery. Many Yazidis describe the mass killings as a genocide. Seventeen mass graves were found around the town of Shingal (Sinjar in Arabic), after it was liberated by Kurdish peshmerga forces. In mid-December of 2015, a year and a half after the massacres, I went to northern Iraq see for myself.

Refugees as far as the eye can see

Refugee camp in Shingal, Kurdistan, Iraq. (Seth J.  Frantzman)

Kharbatto refugee camp north of Duhok, Kurdistan, Iraq.

Since August 2014 around 250,000 Yazidis have been forced to flee their homes and become refugees. According to Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of Iraq’s parliament, more than 85 percent of the Yazidi people are not living in these kinds of camps. Some of them are seeking better lives in Europe, which means a perilous voyage through Syria or Turkey to Greece. At this camp of 20,000, young girls and boys sold phone cards and men sold live chickens ($3 a kilo). A boy butchered the chickens on a cardboard box next to his father’s truck. Yazidi girls who were enslaved by ISIS and raped but managed to escape or are freed return to their families in these camps where there are scant services to help them through their trauma. A documentation center in nearby Duhok records their stories.


The doctor on the mountain

Kurdish doctor Khansa Shamdin, Shingal, Iraq (Seth J. Frantzman)

Shingal (Sinjar) Mountain summit, Kurdistan, Iraq

Khansa Shamdin, a Kurdish woman, was a deputy head of surgery in a Syrian hospital before she fled the regime of Bashar al-Assad. On the 15th of September she volunteered to be helicoptered in to Mount Shingal, which was surrounded by ISIS, to help Yazidi refugees. Around 20,000 Yazidis had refused to flee the mountain, preferring to live and die closer to the homes they had fled. Shamdin says she sees around 120-150 patients a day and provides free medicine, funded by the Barzani Foundation. She now has a small caravan which is parked near the summit of the mountain, in the cold, biting wind. “I had no idea there were so many people here,” she says. Living in tents in the valleys below the medical caravan, the people make their way on foot in height of winter to ask for help. She has also aided Yazidi women who were rescued from ISIS and who suffered rape and require urgent medical attention.


The clothes they left behind

Clothes left behind on Shingal Mountain, Iraq. (Seth J. Frantzman)

Shingal mountain road, Kurdistan, Iraq

ISIS conquered the area south and north of Shingal mountain so quickly, the people who fled took only what they could carry. They had heard that in the town of Tel Afar that ISIS supporters had begun to murder Yazidis. This road became a lifeline as tens of thousands fled to the mountain. Their cars and trucks broke down and the burnt hulks still line this highway of life and death. The people discarded clothes by the roadside. A year and a half later no one has returned to remove the clothes. It feels like taboo. This is a living, ongoing, tragedy. They dead have not been accounted for. The clothes cannot be touched. Like a living museum.


Niswan Zalud, 22

Yazidi man Niswan Zalud, 22 (Seth J. Frantzman)

Shingal (Sinjar) town, Kurdistan, Iraq

“766 people from my district were captured and killed by ISIS. We would like to go back, but there is no interest unless the women are returned. I don’t think they will be though, some of them were taken to Saudi.” Zalud runs a small shop in the ruined city of Shingal. Where once there were 80,000 people, now there are just a handful like him. “I walked nine hours to Shingal [mountain] with my father, brother and sister,” he recalls. “But my uncle’s daughter was kidnapped and is in Raqqa,” he says, referring to the ISIS capital in Syria. “We never thought this will happen, that ISIS will do this crime. We didn’t have weapons to defend ourselves.” Now he sleeps in the shop. Tuborg beer for $1.50. This town was once a majority Arab, although the outlying district was primarily Yazidi. Those like Zalud say the crimes mean coexistence will not return. Too many of these people saw their neighbors raise the ISIS flag even before the killings began.


A human skull

Human skull in a mass grave west of Shingal town, Iraqi Kurdistan. (Seth J. Frantzman)

Mass grave west of Shingal town, Kurdistan, Iraq

There is no exact figure for the number killed. Khairi Bozani, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) head of religious affairs for Yazidis says that 1,882 were murdered. 3,321 women and children have been rescued from the hands of ISIS. 3,400 women and children are still held as slaves by the extremists. 19 mass graves have been located so far and it is expected 20 more will be found as more villages are liberated by the Kurdish peshmerga (the military forces of the KRG). Mass graves? How many times can one say mass grave before it is trivial, banal? When I was in Shingal, there was a mechanical feel to it. “We will go see the mass graves now.” Like a tour. A genocide tour. But the reality is too human, too real. It’s a human skull. It doesn’t seem real. A year and a half ago this person walked and breathed and laughed. Now this is all there is? No grave? No name? Just dirt, and bones strewn about. A mass grave.


‘They shot them in the head and bulldozed the bodies’

Mass Yazidi grave west of Shingal, Iraqi Kurdistan. (Seth J. Frantzman)

Mass grave west of Shingal town, Kurdistan, Iraq

Sheikh Nasser Pasha holds up a cartridge from an M-16 and an AK-47, the two weapons used to massacre more than 1,000 Yazidi men and elderly women. At this site the bodies of elderly women were found. ISIS had captured thousands of armored vehicles from the Iraqi army, many of them U.S. made Humvees, and it used them to overrun this area. The Kurdish peshmerga who were here fled when they saw they could not defend against armored vehicles. Yazidi, unprotected, abandoned their villages for the mountain. Some of those left behind were told to stay by neighboring Arabs. Videos shot by ISIS showed men and women separated, and the men and elderly women taken away. ISIS machine-gunned the victims. Two men, hiding beneath the corpses, were able to escape and bring news to the world.


A teenager’s soccer shirt and jaw bone

A murdered Yazidi teenager’s shirt and jawbone in a mass grave west of Shingal, Iraqi Kurdistan. (Seth J. Frantzman)

Mass grave west of Shingal town, Kurdistan, Iraq

ISIS sold women and young children into slavery but killed all the teenage and adult males. In this mass grave there were women and this teenager. ISIS tried to put dirt over the mass grave, but the rains came and washed it away. Dogs got at the bodies and spread the bones on the surface. A year and a half later they sit in the sun. No protection, no one to investigate, no one to care, except a few lonely journalists who come to see. How did an extermination campaign against an ethnic group happen before the world’s eyes, and no one is here to care about this? This isn’t some secret, some place no one can get to. A six hour drive north of Erbil, a few hours flight from Europe.



Blindfolds in a mass Yazidi grave west of Shingal, Iraqi Kurdistan. (Seth J. Frantzman)

Mass grave west of Shingal town, Kurdistan, Iraq

The mass graves near Shingal town are a living museum of genocide. The blindfolds ISIS put on the Yazidis before they shot them in the back of the head, are here, on the surface. When I was confronted with this horror, it seemed surreal. Can I reach out and touch the clothing of death? No. It’s untouchable. It’s present, but it transcends. It is an everlasting trauma.


Field of blood

A mass Yazidi grave west of Shingal, Iraqi Kurdistan. (Seth J. Frantzman)

Mass grave, East of Shingal, Kurdistan Iraq

The similarities with the Holocaust and other genocides scream out. Here men in groups of 35 were taken from their families and killed. When the dismembered bones were found, only their small plastic Iraqi IDs helped identify some of them. When writers in the West speak of “negotiating” with ISIS or excuse its crimes, scenes like this must be shown them. A little red ribbon is all that demarcates the crime scene from us. You want us to negotiate with those who did this? Would we have negotiated at Buchenwald? Why does an organization that destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands, that sold women, that engaged in systematic rape, murder and cultural genocide through the dynamiting of religious sites, deserve anything but the kind of reaction the KKK gets in the West?


The resistance

A Yazidi man shoulders an AK-47 near the frontline with ISIS east of Shingal, Iraqi Kurdistan. (Seth J. Frantzman)

Near the frontline, East of Shingal, Kurdistan Iraq

A bearded Yazidi man shoulders an AK-47 near the frontline with ISIS east of Shingal. More than 8,000 Yazidi men and women have joined the Kurdish peshmerga since the war began in August of 2014. Several hundred others have joined Kurdish PKK guerilla units that operate in the same area against the extremists. The war has transformed this community from one of passive, peaceful life, to active participation in armed conflict. Before August 3rd there was trust and a belief that no matter how bad things became, no one would commit mass killings and rape and slavery. Now men speak of a “break” with the past. Take up the rifle, sleep with it by your side, that is all that is left.

The author is a Jerusalem-based journalist and academic who holds a PhD from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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    1. Baladi Akka 1948

      The tragedy of the Yazidi and other ethnic and religious groups in Iraq and Syria, such as the Sunni tribe Albu Nimr in Ramadi, is a great concern, but sorry, to be frank, an American ‘immigrant’ to the Jewish State (founded on the ethnic cleansing and massacres of the indigenous population) working for the semi-fascist Jerusalem Post has no credibility as far as I’m concerned.
      ISIS is more or less a modern version on steroids of the Zionist militia that created the State of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Merkava

        Dude, so, the GENOCIDE, the rapes of little girls and their mothers, their sexual enslavement, the beheadings of their fathers and brothers and the wiping out of the Yazidi-people by YOUR Muslim Arab brothers are just “of great concern, but sorry, to be frank, an American ‘immigrant’ to the Jewish State (founded on the ethnic cleansing and massacres of the indigenous population) working for the semi-fascist Jerusalem Post has no credibility as far as I’m concerned”?

        What kind of a hateful, deranged selfish lunatic are you?

        Have you forgotten that before there was anything like Islam, Judaism and the Jewish people existed in the Land of Israel?

        Have you forgotten that your Muslim Arab brothers rejected the UN Partition Plan?

        Have you forgotten that FIVE Muslim Arab countries/armies declared war in 1948 against the Jewish state that was created just a mere few hours ago?

        Have you forgotten that the goal of the FIVE Muslim Arab countries was to commit genocide against the Jewish People (as they are doing to the Yazidis now)?

        Have you forgotten that Muslim Arab leaders called on the Arabs living in Israel then to vacate to other Arab countries in order to create enough room for the invading Arab armies to slaughter the Jews and avoid killing fellow Muslim Arabs during the planned GENOCIDE ?

        Have you forgotten that your Muslim Arab brothers LOST the war they started?

        Have you forgotten that while about 750.000 Arabs fled the war, over 100.000.000. Jews were expelled from Muslim Arab countries, while thousands of others were killed by Muslim Arab mobs?

        This article is about the Genocide committed by your Muslim Arab brothers against the Yazidi people TODAY, but all you want to do is start re-righting the history of the atrocities your people planned to commit, but failed because you were defeated? This is yet another heart wrenching example of how fake and evil the so-called “Palestinian cause” is and why you will never prevail in your genocidal quests against the Jewish state.

        Let’s talk about the Yazidis, instead of YOU – FOR ONCE!

        Reply to Comment
        • Baladi Akka 1948

          Zionist extremists like you who have no empathy for their own State’s victims (past and present) but pretend to have for victims of other fascist groups, have absolutely NO credibility. You wouldn’t give a shit about the Yazidis if they were living within your illegitimate State.
          As far as I’m concerned Zionism and ISIS is the same shit (and Bashar al-Assad’s regime too), their methods might be different but their goals are the same.
          And don’t waiste your time to answer. I really don’t care what you ‘think’ but I guess as a around-the-clock Hasbarista you have to react.

          Reply to Comment
          • Merkava

            You are the victims of yourself, moron. Do you have to read my post 100x to come to that simple conclusion? Seems you are still stewing in your own juice, BaladiAka4189? Right now, your Muslim Arab brothers are not only slaughtering innocent civilians in Iraq and Syrian, but also in the streets of Paris, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, etc. And, somehow you think I care about what islamo-fascist barbarians like you think or have to say? You must be delusional.

            See Gustav’s post below. It offers you more insight in that which waylays and menaces your jihadi-mind.

            Reply to Comment
          • Baladi Akka 1948

            I didn’t read your comment, I never do. As I said: don’t waste your time with me.

            Reply to Comment
          • Merkava

            Seems BaladiAkka4189 is a liar who is not even intelligent enough to see how transparent his lies are. You didn’t read my comment, yet you know what my comments say? Oh boy… these islamo-fascit barbarians are definitely not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Your stupidity is one of the reason why you can never prevail in your racist and genocidal struggle against Israel. Got that, you little islamo-fascist thug?!

            Reply to Comment
        • Merkava


          …..is what I meant with that fig.

          Reply to Comment
      • Leffe


        You’re all heart.

        Reply to Comment
        • Yes they even killed those who said they will convert.

          Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Baladi our resident Palestinian Arab supremacist.

        What happened in 1948 was a result of Arab violence against Jews. Had you been victorious, you would have perpetrated against us what your fellow Arabs are doing to the Yazidis. How do we know? Because you have shown us glimpses of what you are capable in various massacres which you did perpetrate against us. For instance in 1929 in Hebron and Tzefat. In Gush Etzion, during the Arab revolt, the list is endless but I’ll stop there.

        Fortunately we were not as helpless as the Yazidis are so we gave you as good as you tried to give us and did in fact give us but in smaller doses coz we stopped ya.

        Reply to Comment
        • shmuel

          Please read a few articles by Seth Frantzman on Israel and Palestine. He is extremely biased, as his mentor Ruth Kark is, although he likes to perceive himself as very open and informed. This article is good but anyone that knows him is aware that this is his way of saying: please don’t focus on the only people that since decades is both without a state and a citizenship.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            As usual with bleeding heart extreme left wingers, he describes the end result of what Arab intransigence (refusal to accept the two state solution) and violence led to. He pretends that the Arabs need not lift a finger to reach a solution and only Israel needs to act to solve the problem.

            The reality is that until the Palestinian Arabs accept the right and the reality of the Jewish nation state and sign a peace deal, this mess will continue indefinitely. There is nothing that we alone can do to solve the problem. We either solve it together or the problem won’t be solved.

            Moreover, if we are not careful and adopt the solutions which the ‘bleeding hearts’ propose, we could end up in a situation much worse than the Palestinian Arabs are. In other words we would swap destinies. The Palestinian Arabs are not as sentimental about what may befall us as some of us are about their destiny to which they amply contributed to.

            Reply to Comment
          • shmuel

            From your words one would get the impression that Israelis are under occupation since decades. Israel is the only state in the world that is keeping millions of people – that until 1 century ago were the 9/10th of the total population in present-day Israel and Palestinian territories – both without a state and without a citizenship. Stop playing the victim. What is happening beyond the green line has very little to do with what you are claiming. Beside the fact that while the PLO recognized Israel, Israel never recognized the right of the Palestinians to have a state, nor ever voted in favor of the 2 states solution.

            Reply to Comment
        • Israel

          “Fortunately we were not as helpless as the Yazidis”

          Fortunately neither are the Palestinians.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Nobody accuses the Palestinian Arabs as being helpless. We accuse them of being supremacists and violent. And for that, they reap what they sow.

            Now tell us that we reap what we sow too, parrot. And I’ll tell you that if we wouldn’t give to your Palestinians as good as they give us, then we wouldn’t be around to reap anything because they would do to us what your fellow Arabs do to the Yazidis.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Yousef Dservit

      This is all very fascinating, but ask these same Yazidis what they think of the murder of: Du’a Khalil Aswad:

      wikipedia article for reference:

      …and they will tell you that she deserved to be slowly, HALF AN HOUR, stoned to death in the streets by thousands of Yazidis and then have her body dragged through the streets.

      Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, you reep what you sow.

      Why should the west help one group of barbarians over another group of barbarians?

      Reply to Comment