Why Yazidi survivors of Daesh enslavement and their children are stuck in limbo in Iraq

Special Children believed to be from the Yazidi community, who were captured by Daesh fighters, are pictured after being evacuated from the embattled Daesh holdout of Baghouz. (AFP/File Photo)
Children believed to be from the Yazidi community, who were captured by Daesh fighters, are pictured after being evacuated from the embattled Daesh holdout of Baghouz. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 01 February 2022

Why Yazidi survivors of Daesh enslavement and their children are stuck in limbo in Iraq

Children believed to be from the Yazidi community, who were captured by Daesh fighters, are pictured after being evacuated from the embattled Daesh holdout of Baghouz. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Yazidi spiritual leaders rejected children born in Daesh captivity because their fathers were not Yazidi
  • Iraq’s parliament passed the Yazidi Survivors Law in March 2021, yet victims of rape are still shunned 

DUBAI: From outside, the unassuming two-story house in Irbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, resembles a regular family daycare center. It echoes with the happy shrieks of children playing behind its high walls.

However, the compound holds a closely guarded secret: These are the children of Yazidi women who were raped in captivity by Daesh militants.

The extremists tore through Sinjar, ancestral home of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, on Aug. 3, 2014. Some families fled in terror and sought refuge on nearby Mount Sinjar, where they were left exposed to the elements, without food or water.

Those unable to escape found themselves surrounded by black-clad militants who massacred the men and sent the boys to training camps, where they were forced to convert to the group’s warped interpretation of Islam.

The Yazidi women and girls, meanwhile, were held captive, to be distributed to the militants as sex slaves and domestic servants. They were taken deep into Daesh-held territory in western Iraq and neighboring Syria, where they were sold as chattel at medieval-style slave markets.

Many chose suicide rather than submit to rape and servitude. Others would end up carrying their rapists’ children.

Following the territorial defeat of Daesh — first in Iraq in late 2017, then in Syria in early 2019 — many of the captive women and girls managed to escape or were ransomed by family and government authorities.

INNUMBERS

* 3,000 Yazidis murdered by Daesh in 2014 siege.

* 7,000 Yazidi women sexually abused by militants.

* 60,000 Yazidis now living in Germany.

While some took their children with them, others were separated from them. Physically and emotionally scarred by years of abuse, many were taken in by aid agencies or sent to other countries for specialist treatment.

The accelerated flight of Yazidis following the depredations of Daesh terrorists has brought the ancient community in Iraq to the brink of extinction.

Those women who wanted to return to their homelands following their liberation were presented with a stark choice: Abandon the children fathered by their Daesh captors or forever be exiled.

The decision by Yazidi elders to reject the children of Daesh seems callous and anachronistic to many observers. According to the Supreme Yazidi Spiritual Council, however, it is theologically impossible for anyone, including children, to convert to the Yazidi faith; they must be born to two Yazidi parents.




Iraq’s Yazidis are a symbol of the suffering caused by Daesh during its rein over vast swathes of Syria and Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)

The Yazidi form one of the oldest ethnic religious groups in the world. They are now spread thinly across the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe, having faced repeated bouts of genocide and persecution for their beliefs.

In the eyes of Daesh, the Yazidi are infidels and devil worshippers who are to be exterminated, their persecution justified by Shariah on account of their esoteric beliefs.

“While I have the utmost respect for the Yazidi religion, I believe the issue of reuniting the mothers with their children is not a religious one,” said Peter Galbraith, a former US diplomat, who has played a leading role in efforts to return children to their mothers.

“It is a fundamental human right. The mothers have the right to their children and the children have the right to their mothers,” he told Arab News.

The theological case for the rejection of the children is not the only obstacle. Another complication is Article 26 of the Iraqi Nationality Law, which stipulates that if a child’s father is Muslim the child must inherit the father’s religious status.




Displaced Iraqi children from the Yazidi community, who fled violence between Daesh and Peshmerga fighters in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, play in the snow at Dawodiya camp for internally displaced people in the Kurdish city of Dohuk. (AFP/File Photo)

“It is agreed by all that Daesh were not real Muslims — their twisted savagery is not a real representation of the religion,” Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament, told Arab News. “Yet according to Iraqi law their children have been registered as Muslims.”

A report published in 2020 by human rights monitors Amnesty International, titled The Legacy of Terror: Plight of the Yazidi Survivors, featured accounts by several women of how they were forced to make the heart-wrenching decision of whether to give up their children or their identity.

Hanan, 24, was persuaded by her uncle to leave her daughter at an orphanage, on the understanding that she could visit whenever she wanted. But after the child had been dropped off, Hanan’s uncle told her: “Forget your daughter.”

Sana, 22, took her daughter with her when she was rescued. After daily threats, however, she decided to leave the child with an aid agency.

“In that moment it felt like my backbone broke, my whole body collapsed,” she told Amnesty.

All of the women interviewed for the report displayed signs of psychological trauma and several said they had contemplated suicide. Few have any way to communicate with their children.




Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community carry their children as they cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014. (AFP/File Photo)

“What happened was a real catastrophe and the women who were raped were not only victimized but also faced more problems when the children were born,” said Dakhil.

“It is a human matter; it is motherhood, despite it coming from rape. We cannot force the girls to leave or abandon their children. There must be a solution. There have been girls who were convinced that what happened to them was abnormal and so have decided to give up their kids.”

Women who were able to reunite with their children are not faring much better; they are forced to live in secrecy in Irbil, fearing for their safety should they be discovered.

In 2019, Iraq’s President Barham Salih drafted the Yazidi Female Survivors Bill, which became law in March last year. It represented a watershed moment in efforts to address the legacy of Daesh crimes against Yazidis and other minorities, as it officially recognized acts of genocide and established a framework for the provision of financial support, and other forms of redress, to survivors.

In focusing institutional attention on the female survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, the law placed Iraq among the first countries in the Arab world to recognize the rights of such survivors and take steps to redress their grievances in line with international standards.

Almost a year later, however, little has been achieved in terms of reparations for survivors.

FASTFACTS

* Yazidis revere both the Qur’an and the Bible but much of their own tradition is oral.

* It is not possible to convert to Yazidism; adherents must be born into it.

* An estimated 550,000 Yazidis lived in Iraq before the Aug. 2014 Daesh invasion.

“The vote to approve the bill has been passed; the only problem lies with actual implementation, which hasn’t really started,” said Dakhil.

“The government claims allocating money is a problem but this is unacceptable, as these people are in dire need of assistance and aid. The bill was created for this issue. We will try our best to implement it fully.”

Pari Ibrahim, director of the Free Yazidi Foundation, told Arab News: “The issue of those Yazidi women who have children born from rape is the most challenging one for the Yazidi community.

“Our position, as a Yazidi women-led organization, is that the final decision of the individual survivor is more important than any other view, including those of family members or religious leaders.”

Several of the women want to move to Australia to live with other Yazidi survivors. The Netherlands is also touted as a potential option. However, border restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed the asylum process.




Members of Daesh parading with a tank in a street in the northern rebel-held Syrian city of Raqqa. (AFP/Handout Welayay Raqa)

“The best solution is for them to be resettled abroad in another country, where they can live without stigma,” said Ibrahim.

“But no matter what, their rights and their wishes should be respected after all the suffering they have endured. This issue is intensely painful for the Yazidi community — but not more painful than the trauma inflicted upon Yazidi survivors. We must respect and defend their rights.”

For those women and children spurned by their community, neglected by the state and confined to an anonymous compound in Irbil, few options remain other than to wait and hope for an opportunity to leave their tainted homeland behind for good.

“I think the solution lies with international states and humanitarian (nongovernmental organizations),” Dakhil said. “These women should be taken abroad where they can live without fear.”


Tunisian constitution committee head blasts president’s latest draft

Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
Updated 03 July 2022

Tunisian constitution committee head blasts president’s latest draft

Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
  • Belaid said the final constitution published by the president contains chapters that could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime”

TUNIS: The head of Tunisia’s constitution committee blasted the proposed constitution published by President Kais Saied this week, local Assabeh newspapers reported on Sunday.
Sadok Belaid, a former constitutional law professor was named by Saied to draft a “new constitution for new republic,” said Saied’s version was dangerous and did not resemble the first draft proposed by the constitution committee.
Belaid said the final constitution published by the president contains chapters that could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime.”
The president has not commented on the constitution since he published the text on Thursday in Tunisia’s official gazette. The constitution would give Saied far more powers and will be put to a referendum next month.

 


Israel shoots down Hezbollah drones over Mediterranean

An Israeli Navy vessel patrols in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern town of Naqoura, Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP)
An Israeli Navy vessel patrols in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern town of Naqoura, Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP)
Updated 03 July 2022

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drones over Mediterranean

An Israeli Navy vessel patrols in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern town of Naqoura, Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP)
  • Israel considers the Iranian-backed Lebanese group its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military on Saturday said it shot down three unmanned aircraft launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah heading toward an area where an Israeli gas platform was recently installed in the Mediterranean Sea.
The launch of the aircraft appeared to be an attempt by Hezbollah to influence US-brokered negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border, an area that is rich in natural gas.
In a statement, the Israeli said the aircraft were spotted early on and did not pose an “imminent threat.” Nonetheless, the incident drew a stern warning from Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid.
“I stand before you at this moment and say to everyone seeking our demise, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: Don’t test us,” Lapid said in his first address to the nation since taking office on Friday. “Israel knows how to use its strength against every threat, against every enemy.”
Israel earlier this month set up a gas rig in the Karish field, which Israel says lies within part of its internationally recognized economic waters. Lebanon has claimed it is in disputed waters.
Hezbollah issued a short statement, confirming it had launched three unarmed drones toward the disputed maritime issue over the Karish field on a reconnaissance mission. “The mission was accomplished and the message was received,” it said.
Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies that fought a monthlong war in the summer of 2006. Israel considers the Iranian-backed Lebanese group its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.
The US last week said that mediator Amos Hochstein had held conversations with the Lebanese and Israeli sides. “The exchanges were productive and advanced the objective of narrowing differences between the two sides. The United States will remain engaged with parties in the days and weeks ahead,” his office said in a statement last week.
The two countries, which have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948, both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to exploit offshore gas reserves as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history.
On Saturday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters that Lebanon received “encouraging information” regarding the border dispute but refused to comment further saying Beirut is waiting for the “written official response to the suggestions by the Lebanese side.”
 


Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection

Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection
Updated 02 July 2022

Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection

Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection
  • Regional actors voice concerns over potential military operation in Tal Rifaat and Manbij 
  • “No need for hurry. We don’t need to do that,” Turkish President Erdogan told journalists in Madrid

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey is in no rush to stage a new military operation against armed Kurdish militants.

But regional actors have voiced their concerns over the potential Turkish offensive against the towns of Tal Rifaat and Manbij.

“No need for hurry. We don’t need to do that,” Erdogan told journalists in Madrid, where he met with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Erdogan offered no timeline for the planned operation.

The stakes are high. Experts believe that Turkey still lacks Russian backing for a military intervention against Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers to be a terror group with direct links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the ORSAM think tank in Ankara, said that Russia’s failure to back the operation remains its major obstacle.

“Ankara decided to launch a military offensive on Syria while the world’s attention is focused on the war in Ukraine — and after thousands of Russian troops withdrew from Ukraine. However, Russia cannot risk looking weak in both Ukraine or Syria by giving the greenlight to a Turkish operation now,” he told Arab News.

Orhan noted that Turkey only hit targets along the Turkish-Syrian border as retaliation against attacks by the YPG.

“I don’t expect a larger-scale operation in which the Syrian National Army would serve as ground forces and the Turkish military would give aerial support,” he said.

Ankara has previously conducted three military operations in the area: Euphrates Shield in 2016, Olive Branch in 2018, and Peace Spring in 2019.

Troop numbers from both Russia and the Syrian regime have been increasing in northern Syria since early June ahead of a potential Turkish operation.

Iran has also been very vocal in its opposition of any Turkish military operation in the area.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saaed Khatibzadeh recently said: “The Syria file is a matter of dispute between us and Turkey.”

On Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister paid a visit to Damascus following Turkey’s threats to launch the new offensive.

“Both from an ideological and strategic perspective, Iran accords importance to protecting Shiite settlements — especially the two Shiite towns of Nubl and Al-Zahra. And there are also some Shiite militia fighting along with the YPG in Tal Rifaat,” Orhan said.

“However, at this point, Russia’s position is much more (important to Turkey) than Iran’s concerns, because Russia controls the airspace in northern Syria and it would have to withdraw Russian forces before approving any Turkish operation,” he added.

Some experts have suggested that Turkey used its potential Syria operation as a bargaining chip during its recent negotiations with Washington. When Erdogan met Biden on June 29, they discussed the importance of maintaining stability in Syria, according to the White House readout.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), mainly led by the YPG, still holds large areas of northeast Syria. Syrian Kurds are regarded by Washington as an important ally against Daesh.

Although the Biden administration has repeatedly said that it acknowledges Turkey’s security concerns, it has also warned that any Turkish operation in northern Syria could put US troops at risk, and undermine the fight against Daesh.

Hamidreza Azizi, CATS fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, thinks that, given the course of events, the Turkish operation is inevitable.

“It (will) happen sooner or later. Because Turkish leaders have been maneuvering on what they see as threats Turkey is facing from northern Syria, we should expect some kind of military operation,” he told Arab News.

“But the scope of the operation has been a matter of speculation because, in the beginning, Turkish officials were talking about a vast area from Tal Rifaat and Manbij to east of the Euphrates, but they reconsidered after US opposition to the expansion of the operation east of the Euphrates,” Azizi said.

Azizi expects a limited operation to happen, the main aim of which would be to expand Turkey’s zone of influence in the area.

Turkey’s original plan had been to establish a 30 kilometer-deep security zone along its southern border both to push back the YPG and to repatriate around 1 million Syrian refugees in a wider safe zone.

President Erdogan recently announced a reconstruction plan to enable Syrians to return to their homeland.

Azizi believes that “the main friction” over this potential operation would be between Iran and Turkey.

“Iran is worried because if Turkey — or Turkish-backed troops — control Tal Rifaat, they have access to Aleppo, where Iran is present, which will give them further access to central Syria.”

Iran is still a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but also an important trade partner for Turkey.

Unless Turkey is able to come up with a new plan that alleviates Iran’s concerns, Azizi expects a response from the Iranian side — albeit an indirect one via proxy forces.

“Such a move could push Turkey to further strengthen ties with Arab states and cooperate further with Israel,” he said.

-ENDS-


Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process

Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process
Updated 02 July 2022

Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process

Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process
  • Arab League representatives also discussed the Ukrainian war, food and energy
  • The meeting will prepare for the Arab summit to be held in Algeria in October

BEIRUT: Arab foreign ministers on Saturday pledged their support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process, following an Arab League meeting held in Beirut.

They said their presence in Lebanon amid its “significantly difficult” economic and political circumstances signaled that Arab countries supported stability and stood by the country’s negotiations with the IMF and the reform process.

Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit said: “We came to say that there’s a problem and you must seek to resolve it.”

He told a press conference that the meeting had discussed the preparations, timing, and attendees of the upcoming Arab League summit.

“We just held some discussions and exchanged views to be decided upon in the appropriate place. We also went over the Ukrainian war, food, energy, and the topic of Somalia, where millions of Somalis might be at risk of starvation.

“We also discussed the Palestinian cause amid the American-Israeli moves and how we react to these events. We did not agree on anything because they are mere discussions that we will not reveal.

“Everyone supports ending the pressure of Syrian refugees. The Lebanese state provides them with care but, when decisions similar to agreeing on their return to their country are taken, some specific circumstances should be present.”

He said there was a civil war going on in Syria and “huge” destruction.

“At least $500 million is needed to rehabilitate the Syrian infrastructure,” he added. “These are very complex issues that cannot be resolved with a simple decision. But the international community has the will to end the Syrian war and is still exerting pressure when it comes to the matter of refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries.”

Lebanon, which was represented by caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, chaired the ministerial meeting.

Algeria will host the Arab League summit in early November after it was postponed in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Saturday’s meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Kuwait, Yemen, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, Algeria, the Comoro Islands, Sudan, Somalia, Palestine, the deputy foreign minister of Egypt, and the league’s permanent representatives from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Djibouti, Iraq, Morocco, Oman, Libya, a representative from Mauritania, and the Bahraini ambassador to Syria.

The Arab ministerial delegation met Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who expressed the importance of regional relations in the “critical circumstances the Arab world is going through, the challenges it is facing, and that requires the utmost consultation and cooperation.”

He talked about the crises facing Lebanon and the burden of Syrian refugees in the country which, he said, was “no longer capable of handling this reality.”

“We seek to reach an agreement with the IMF. There’s an American mediation to demarcate the southern maritime borders of Lebanon,” he said, adding that Lebanon retained its water, oil, and gas resources.

Responding to media questions about revoking the suspension of Syria’s Arab League membership, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said: “We didn’t support its membership suspension because Syria is a founding member of the league. The Syrian foreign minister will visit Algeria and we will go over this point with a high sense of responsibility.”

The Arab ministerial delegation also met Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who said Lebanon was now requesting that its “Arab brothers come and get to the core of its suffering.”

He told his guests that the indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel, with US mediation, to demarcate the maritime borders in preparation for gas extraction were advancing.

Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati met the delegations on Friday night.

He reiterated Lebanon’s commitment to implementing all the resolutions from the UN Security Council and the Arab League in a way that reinforced the dissociation policy toward any Arab dispute, extending the state’s sovereignty over all its territory, and preventing offense to any Arab state and threats to its security.

Aboul Gheit received a political letter from the Sovereign Front for Lebanon opposing Hezbollah and Iran’s role in Lebanon.

The letter demanded “the activation of Lebanon’s right to be free from the Iranian dominance that uses Lebanon and its territories as a platform to conduct hostilities, putting the country in danger and exposing it to attacks from all sides.”   

It highlighted “the persistence of illegal weaponry represented by Hezbollah’s organized armed militia, which receives support, orders, and funding from Iran.”


Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz
Updated 02 July 2022

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz
  • Last month on June 6, UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg proposed opening a main road linking Taiz with other provinces
  • The government previously insisted on a complete lifting of the siege

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen will not begin discussing other issues with the Houthis under a UN-brokered truce until the militia accepts a proposal to open roads in Taiz, a government official has told Arab News.
Last month on June 6, UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg proposed opening a main road linking Taiz with other provinces that would partially ease the Houthi siege on the city, with the aim of resolving stalled negotiations between the two sides.
The government previously insisted on a complete lifting of the siege but accepted the proposal as long as other roads opened during subsequent rounds of talks.
But the Houthis rejected Grundberg’s proposal, dealing a blow to the talks and the truce that has by and large been holding since April 2.
“We will not accept discussing other issues or offer more concessions before they agree to the UN envoy’s proposal,” the Yemeni government official said anonymously because he was not authorized to brief reporters. “We have not received any invitation (from the UN envoy) to take part in a new round of discussion on the Taiz file.”
The Houthis alternatively proposed opening an old, rough road connecting Taiz with the countryside.
Taiz residents and local government officials told Arab News that the proposed road was narrow, unpaved, and had been abandoned for over six decades.
The head of the Houthi delegation to the talks, Yahiya Abdullah Al-Razami, said on Friday that the movement would unilaterally open the old road, claiming it had not pledged to open main roads in Taiz when it signed the truce.
“This is not true. The Houthis signed the elements of the truce that include Sanaa airport, Hodeidah port, and opening roads in Taiz,” the government official said.
The Yemeni army has accused the Houthis of breaking the truce more than 100 times last week in Hodeidah, Taiz, Hajjah, Saada, Jouf, and Marib, and killing a soldier and wounding four more.
In Taiz, the army on Saturday said it had shot down a small explosives-rigged drone sent by the Houthis to government-controlled areas north of the city.
The Houthis have been laying siege to Taiz for the past seven years, having failed to take control of it due to resistance from government troops.
Yemeni and Western diplomats have criticized the Houthis for refusing to lift their siege and called on the movement to respond positively to peace efforts.
“The UN calls for access around Yemen’s third-largest city, Taiz. The Houthis must find a way to compromise on the UN proposal so we can move forward to broader issues important to Yemenis,” US Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking told France 24 Arabic TV on Friday.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak warned that the Houthis’ unwillingness and delays in opening roads in Taiz would jeopardize the truce.
He said his government had accepted the UN proposal on Taiz as it was a test of the militia’s motivations for making peace and ending the war.
“Lifting the siege is one of the main elements of the truce. We affirm our keenness to respect the truce and treat it as a space of hope and a window for peace. But the continued intransigence of the Houthi militia threatens the truce very seriously,” he told Lebanon’s Annahar Al-Arabi news website.