July 17, 2019
It started in March, five years after the massacres. U.N. and Iraqi officials stood solemnly in a circle, looking at the grass where the first mass grave in Sinjar would be exhumed. Underneath were the bodies of Yazidis -- kidnapped children, women who'd been shackled as sex slaves, executed husbands and fathers and sons. Looking down at the dirt, officials were quiet, knowing this was just the first of 198 sites where thousands of people, slaughtered in cold blood, lay dead.
Haider Elias came to the U.S. before those ISIS killings. A Yazidi himself, he spent years translating for the U.S. special forces -- a job so dangerous, the New Yorker points out, that most of them carried pistols so they could kill themselves instead of being captured. Like Elias, two of his friends immigrated to America, taking jobs in different states. On August 2, 2014, one of the translators got a call that there had been an attack. "ISIS has taken over Sinjar," he was told. "Everyone is running to the mountain."
Elias "spent the night calling his family but was unable to reach his youngest brother, Faleh. In the morning, he found out that Faleh had been executed, along with dozens of other men from their village. When Elias closed his eyes, he imagined his brother's phone ringing the moment the gun was fired." Early the next morning, "Yazidis across America began to organize." A half-decade later, Elias is in Washington, D.C., the head of the Yazda organization, dedicated to finding relief for the Yazidis affected by the tragedy at Sinjar.
Tuesday night, at a special FRC event on the future of religious liberty in Northeast Syria, Elias talked about the importance of holding the monsters of ISIS accountable. More than 5,800 people died in that massacre, but at least 3,000 are unaccounted for -- girls who endured unimaginable torture and suffering. The ones who didn't commit suicide after being raped by ISIS fighters are living in worlds that have been destroyed. Now, he says soberly, "the hope of many Yazidi families to find their daughters alive is fading."
"We kept talking about the Yazidi genocides... in the past ... but right now, the genocide is ongoing against the religious minorities. And justice is the first thing. If justice doesn't happen, what is the alternative for these minorities? If they have any power, retaliation is the alternative. They want to go and kill their Sunni neighbor, because they didn't see there is any justice or there is anything happening. So a civil war will occur for sure... Anywhere that Yazidis and Christians live, if they don't see justices... they will try to defend themselves by themselves. Just like what happened in Mount Sinjar in Iraq, when the people left [for] the mountain and tried to defend themselves and kill ISIS."
Elias, who's spent hours collecting evidence from survivors, finally persuaded the U.N. and other international leaders to create an investigative team to go to Iraq and look at the mass graves in Sinjar. The same thing, he insists, needs to happen in Syria -- making sure perpetrators are held accountable.
And the perpetrators, Sinam Mohamad told our crowded audience, are many. "Look at the north of Syria," she said. "I'm from Afrin... [Since last March], it has been occupied by Turkey and the mercenaries who are [affiliated] with Turkey." In 2018, her family was forced to flee after 58 days of shelling by attack planes. What happened to all of the religious minorities who used to coexist? They left.
"[The militants] came by sword and they said, 'We are coming to kill the Kurdish people who are infidels. We are coming to kill the Alawites. We are coming to kill the Yazidis.' So this is what happened: the Yazidi people emptied their villages and ran away. The Alawites, the same. The Kurdish people, most of them my family, left their houses and went to the other regions for safety... Church people, Christian people, they left. They couldn't [stay] or they would be threatened."
What's going on in Afrin now? "The Turkish and the mercenaries, they are brainwashing the people there. Do you know how? They built the school, and they force the Yazidi people to go to the mosque. And they force the children there to go to the school, and they are teaching them radicalism, extreme Muslim [beliefs]. So maybe after five years, you will have there a new people who are jihadists. Who knows?"
Lord David Alton, who's had a long and distinguished career as a British member of Parliament, warned that "This lethal evisceration of Christianity and the annihilation of communities which these monuments, churches, and shrines represent isn't sadly over. Not in Syria, not in Iraq, not in Egypt, and not in African countries like Nigeria, where Isis affiliates have destroyed hundreds of churches and not in communistic atheistic states such as North Korea and China. Witnesses say that the faithful cried as they saw the way of the cross destroyed in Henan Province in China. They said, 'But do we cry with them? And do we raise our voices as the obliteration of the sacred and enforced loss of memory and heritage occur?'"
Thanks to the Trump administration, America is trying. To watch last night's powerful event, check it out in full on FRC's Facebook page.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.