For Yazidi who survived the Islamic State, al-Baghdadi’s death doesn’t cancel the jihadi madness

Khalf Rasho Younis, a native of Sinjar and now a refugee in Iraqi Kurdistan, speaks about his experience. The Caliph’s death brings "limited joy" because “there are thousands of al-Baghdadis”. Feeling abandoned by the international community, he trusts “the Church, which works for everyone.” he also asks “European nations not to forget us.”

Erbil (AsiaNews) – The death of "Caliph" al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (IS) group is a source of "joy" because "this man has done us so much harm" but “it is limited joy, because there are thousands of al-Baghdadis around, as well as his followers and books” willing to continue his trail of blood and terror, said Khalf Rasho Younis, a 52-year-old Yazidi man, who spoke to AsiaNews.

The Yazidis are perhaps the ethnic group that suffered the most from the jihadi madness, which did not spare women, seniors, the sick, even children, all victims of horrible violence, slavery, targeted killings, which UN experts have not hesitated from calling "genocide".

For many Yazidis in Iraq, the death of Daesh’s leader counts for little, unless justice is done and the other leaders of the self-styled “Caliphate” are not tried for their crimes. Everyone would like to be in the courtroom to testify before the judges, looking at their former torturers in the face, to describe the violence, abuses and massacres the latter committed during their reign of terror. Baghdadi, who led the Islamic State since 2010, blew himself up along with three children during a special operation by US forces.

Younis (pictured with his nieces) was born in 1967, and worked as a farmer and lived, before the militants arrived, in a family of seven, including his mother. He is originally from Rambosi, a village near Sinjar, one of the most important Yazidi centres on the border between Iraq and Syria.

Since August 2014 he has lived in the Dawodeya camp, near Enishke, Iraqi Kurdistan, along with 700 other families. He is still unemployed and survives thanks to the dwindling aid he receives. His wife's uncle and brother were killed in Sinjar, blown up by a mine left in the house by jihadists just before they fled.

Today his brother's daughters live with him. They were freed just two months ago from the IS who held them prisoners in Bakhos, Syria, where they lived most of the war years. They escaped from IS fighters and found shelter in Hol, Syria, before their uncle took them with him.

At the time of the jihadist offensive, he fled to the mountains; to save part of his family he had to abandon another: his elderly and sick father, 80, could not walk and was left behind. Like many others, he died of heat and thirst.

On the flight from Sinjar to Dohuk, his brother Saado Rasho Younis was intercepted and stopped by a group of armed men. Since then, nothing is known about him, his wife and two boys. The four girls managed to free themselves: the eldest in 2015, fleeing with the help of an Arab family; the two youngest (Layla and Haifa), present at the time of the interview, only two months ago. All were victims of sexual abuse and violence.

We met him through Fr Samir Yousif, a Chaldean priest in Iraqi Kurdistan who has been helping refugees (Christians, Muslims, Yazidis) from Mosul and the Nineveh plain for years. Younis is among the beneficiaries of the AsiaNews campaign Adopt a Christian from Mosul, which continues to support and help them face growing needs and the almost total disengagement of the international community.

Here is what Younis told us:

How did you hear about the killing of al-Baghdadi?

We welcomed the news with joy, because this man has done us much harm, like with you Christians. But it is limited joy, because there are thousands of al-Baghdadis around, as well as his followers and books. Many of these people are not yet in prison. A court is needed to try IS members. Only then will our joy be complete. We also need ways to fight the IS mindset, which is still pervasive. Our kidnapped daughters and sisters are still suffering from psychological distress because they were raped; many were killed and many families do not know where the bodies are. For them joy will never be complete.

Are you still afraid of the Islamic State?

Of course, we are still afraid. Many of its members went home or are still free. For this reason, we have not returned to Sinjar. In the surrounding villages, there are Arab families whose sons were with IS. When the Islamic State arrived, many of these families, whom we knew, were the first to enter our homes, abduct our girls, women. We are afraid of the IS mindset; they are extremists and there are still threats in Sinjar as in Mosul.

When we go to government offices, we meet people with the same mindset as the fundamentalists. (The two nieces, Layla and Haifa, joined the discussion. It is difficult, they say, to return to Sinjar, even to rebuild, without international protection. At a time of such political instability, we have found a safe haven here in Iraqi Kurdistan, especially with protests in Baghdad and many southern cities, with people demanding changes).

Was the "Caliphate" the idea of a madman or did he have a specific political, military and religious project?

Al-Baghdadi’ idea was madness, but he was not a madman. His madness was lucid, marked by hatred and evil, like that of many Islamic extremists, in tune with that of al-Qaeda. We began to hear about the Islamic State as early as 2006. They were a shadow power hiding in the towns of Nineveh. By fuelling social and religious conflict, they conquered land and many cities.

What do you remember about the days when IS arrived?

Those hard days are still etched in my memory. I remember women crying, men sounding the alarm, shouted “IS has arrived”. I remember children in tears. Every year, 3 August, the anniversary of the jihadis’ arrival, is a day of great sorrow and sadness for me and for all Yazidis. Those were dark times. we lost so many loved ones, so many old people, men and young people killed because they defended their people and their land. There is no family that has not lost at least one member if not more. With my family, along with many others, we were under siege for nine days in the mountain. Elderly and disabled people left behind were killed. We experienced horrific violence, in all sorts of ways. This remains alive in the mind.

How do you see the future? Can we talk about hope?          

Even today the future for Yazidis, as for Christians, remains unknown. I see no interest from the central government, nor from the most important foreign governments. No one cares about freed young women. There is no material or psychological support.

Of course, we must thank the Church and some countries for their help. This will not be forgotten. But there are no real jobs to rebuild a future or seriously re-launch our region. The Iraqi government does not care about our cause. Now sectarian fighting and clashes have broken out in areas liberated from the Islamic State. However, despite how bad things are we still have hope in the future and trust that God won’t not leave us on our own.

We count on Yazidis educated and trained in Europe and working for our cause, especially the efforts of Nadia Murad. We trust the Church, which works for everyone, not only for Christians, as well as people of good will. Al-Baghdadi may have been killed, but the destructions in the villages and the violations suffered remain; therefore, we ask European nations not to forget us, to keep our cause alive.

(Fr Samir Yousif contributed to this article)