Gendered Impacts of the Ezidi Genocide
Giles Clarke/Getty Images Reportage
A Yazidi Kurd from Sinjar who was abducted by ISISL, pictured here in Mamilyan Camp for internally displaced persons in Akre, Iraq
By Allison Newey
The Ezidis are a Kurdish-speaking, ethnoreligious minority group indigenous to the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Although the first mention of Ezidi populations dates to around the 7th century A.D., Ezidis trace their heritage back to the 14th century B.C., making this religion potentially one of the oldest in the world. Ezidis were degraded and looked down upon by radical Muslims for several centuries. Research suggests that as many as 74 genocides have been carried out against the Ezidi in the past 800 years by extremist Islamic groups and states. The discrimination and violence from radical Middle Eastern Islamic groups continue even today, especially from al-Qaeda and ISIS.
During the genocide in 2014, ISIS militants invaded Sinjar, the central capital of the Ezidi group in northern Iraq. Approximately 3,000-5,000 Ezidi men and women were killed during this invasion, while the survivors were subject to rape, forced conversion, beatings, torture, captivity, and slavery. Several genocidal tactics were present in the Ezidi genocide, including sexual enslavement, genocidal rape, forced religious conversion, forced pregnancies, and attempts to terminate pregnancies.
ISIS forces have since been defeated but the genocide caused lingering issues in the Ezidi community. One of the biggest impacts was the psychological trauma experienced by Ezidi women after years of rape and sexual slavery. Survivors of war atrocities and enslavement report experiencing significant mental ill-health and trauma. Research shows that formerly enslaved female Ezidi survivors have a high prevalence of severe mental distress, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts. In addition, the Iraqi and Kurdish governments have not provided enough mental health services to Ezidi survivors, especially in refugee camps.
Women also suffer from the physical impacts of surviving sexual abuse, including sleep disturbances, eating disorders, headache, vomiting, vaginal discharges, STDs, skin diseases, and bladder infections. Inaccessible health care for Ezidi women exacerbated their health concerns: some women were physically unable to reproduce after the genocide, and scars from beatings, torture, and abuse remain on their bodies.
Another important impact of the genocide was the debate about children born of ISIS fathers. Ezidi culture was extremely male-dominated and valued the concept of virginity and purity, so sexual relationships outside of their community were prohibited. Therefore, there were concerns that women raped by ISIS would be forced to leave the Ezidi communities. In an unprecedented move, the Ezidi Supreme Spiritual Leader allowed female survivors to return to Ezidi society. However, the women were not allowed to bring back children born from ISIS fathers and could not return if they kept their children. Many survivors grappled with an impossible choice - return home to their families or remain with their children.
Although justice for the Ezidi genocide has been slow to develop, progress has been made in recent years. In November 2021, a German court in Frankfurt issued the first legal ruling that convicted an ISIS member of genocide. Taha al-Jumailly, an ISIS militant since 2013, was prosecuted for crimes including the murder of a 5-year-old Ezidi girl and found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and human trafficking (BBC News). This first ruling confirming genocide against the Ezidis has given hope to Ezidi activists and survivors that more perpetrators will face justice for their crimes.
Allison Newey is an Alliance Coordinator and Early Warning Analyst at Genocide Watch.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Genocide Watch.