On 13 November the peshmerga forces entered Sinjar as part of the long awaited offensive on the Isis held city, and former stronghold of the Yazidi minority. But Yazidis on the mountain are still scarred by the Isis massacre of their people in 2014 said it would take more than liberating land to put them at ease.
“Even if they free our town we won't be able to go back because we can no longer trust our neighbours” said Nadya (alias), 35, a Yazidi woman from the town of Gerzerik who is now living in a tent on the cold, barren slopes of mount Sinjar. Her tent where nine of her relatives also sat speaking to the Independent, is made of blue tarpaulin sheets secured to the ground with rocks. Even if Yazidis like Miskeen can go home, the Isis massacre of her people has cut ties between former neighbours as the Yazidis accuse local Sunni Arabs of siding with Isis.
Her family have been displaced since August 2014 when Isis attacked their town from the Syrian border, killing hundreds and capturing thousands of the Yazidi minority who are now nearly all displaced and bracing for another harsh winter in sub standard shelters. Her cousin Tahsin, 29 said he fought Isis for four hours when they attacked Gerzerik in August 2014, killing his uncle and aunt in the battle.
Nadya said that she doesn't trust any of the Kurdish forces fighting for Sinjar. She doesn’t trust the militant fighters of the PKK or the peshmerga who are now leading the battle into Sinjar, because last year “they betrayed us” when they were outgunned and fell back from the town. Thousands of Yazidis were besieged on Mount Sinjar and the US began airstrikes against Isis in part to relieve pressure on them.
The Kurdistan Region’s Security Council said in a statement that the peshmerga forces now inside Sinjar and are clearing the area of remaining Isis fighters. President of the Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani at a press conference said that “Sinjar is very important because it has become a symbol of the injustice against the people of Kurdistan.” He thanked the coalition for their air support and said “Aside from the Kurdistan flag, no other flag will rise in Sinjar.”
Guerrilla fighters from groups aligned to the PKK, who fought a bloody 30 year long war for Kurdish rights with the Turkish state, managed to clear a path from the Mountain to Syria and rescue thousands of Yazidi civilians, leading to an uptick in popularity for the group amongst Yazidis.
The battle for Sinjar is important strategically, but also important to win back the hearts of the Yazidi population who want to go home. “Sinjar belongs to the Yazidis,” said peshmerga Zaim Ali, adding that “We need to show that Isis are not that strong.” He said the progress to take the town was slow because of IEDs that needed to be cleared first, but today his men managed to enter the city.
The assistant commander of one of Kurdistan’s elite anti-terror forces speaking to the Independent said the city had strategic importance because it allows the peshmerga to put additional pressure on Isis in the town of Tel Afar and Baadge, “so they will fall too,” he said, adding that “Sinjar is important because it belongs to Yazidis, we need to reclaim it because they are our brothers and suffered a lot.”
A Yazidi fighter with the peshmerga heading into the battle said that the base of the mountain, looking towards the city. He is from a town near Sinjar and said that “I feel proud to be taking our land back.” He added that the offensive was delayed due to “politics.”
As evening grew, the peshmerga continued to deal with the remnants of Isis, who are known for planting deadly IEDs before they retreat. A grey cloud from an Isis car bomb spread over the city after the initial impact, showing the ongoing danger faced by the peshmerga, even after Isis have gone. Combined with diffusing explosives, Yazidis like Nadya will also need to regain trust in those that are protecting here which maybe a long process.
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