U.S. Holocaust Museum: The Islamic State’s War On Yazidis Is Genocide

The U.S. Holocaust Museum argues that the Islamic State has committed genocide against Iraq's Yazidi people.

A man holds a placard reading "Yazidi children want to live" and sporting the Yazidi flag next to others holding placards during a demonstration mainly by Yazidi refugees in support of their community in Iraq, on August 20, 2014 in Angers, western France. Yazidi refugees living in France's Maine-et-Loire department, whom arrived in the region in the last 10 years, demonstrated along with Kurdish speakers on August 20 in Angers in support of Yazidis persecuted in Iraq by the Islamic State (IS).   AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER        (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds a placard reading "Yazidi children want to live" and sporting the Yazidi flag next to others holding placards during a demonstration mainly by Yazidi refugees in support of their community in Iraq, on August 20, 2014 in Angers, western France. Yazidi refugees living in France's Maine-et-Loire department, whom arrived in the region in the last 10 years, demonstrated along with Kurdish speakers on August 20 in Angers in support of Yazidis persecuted in Iraq by the Islamic State (IS). AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds a placard reading "Yazidi children want to live" and sporting the Yazidi flag next to others holding placards during a demonstration mainly by Yazidi refugees in support of their community in Iraq, on August 20, 2014 in Angers, western France. Yazidi refugees living in France's Maine-et-Loire department, whom arrived in the region in the last 10 years, demonstrated along with Kurdish speakers on August 20 in Angers in support of Yazidis persecuted in Iraq by the Islamic State (IS). AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)

When Islamic State militants invaded Ninewa province in northern Iraq in summer 2014, one of their primary objectives was to wipe out the minority Yazidi population that lived there. More than 1,500 Yazidis, mainly men, were killed, and thousands of women and children were kidnapped and enslaved.

On Thursday, the U.S. Holocaust Museum published a report labeling those attacks as genocide.

The findings are based on evidence gathered by Naomi Kikoler, a deputy director at the museum, during visits to Yazidi refugee camps, meetings with government and U.N. officials, and interviews with victims. The report also gives accounts of Islamic State war crimes against other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq, including Shabak, an offshoot of Sufi Islam, and Shiite Turkmen. Yazidism is a 4,000-year-old religion that includes elements of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and which has roughly 500,000 adherents in northern Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.

When Islamic State militants invaded Ninewa province in northern Iraq in summer 2014, one of their primary objectives was to wipe out the minority Yazidi population that lived there. More than 1,500 Yazidis, mainly men, were killed, and thousands of women and children were kidnapped and enslaved.

On Thursday, the U.S. Holocaust Museum published a report labeling those attacks as genocide.

The findings are based on evidence gathered by Naomi Kikoler, a deputy director at the museum, during visits to Yazidi refugee camps, meetings with government and U.N. officials, and interviews with victims. The report also gives accounts of Islamic State war crimes against other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq, including Shabak, an offshoot of Sufi Islam, and Shiite Turkmen. Yazidism is a 4,000-year-old religion that includes elements of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and which has roughly 500,000 adherents in northern Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Yazidi women and children forced into slavery by the Islamic State were also made to convert to Islam, which under Islamic State rule includes abiding by a harsh version of sharia law. Yazidi men, meanwhile, are more likely to be killed outright. The deadliest massacre recorded took place in August 2014, when Islamic State militants may have killed up to 400 Yazidi villagers in Ninewa province.

That same month, fearing what he labeled “potential acts of genocide,” Obama applied U.S. airpower to attack Islamic State strongholds and free roughly 50,000 Yazidis who tried to flee the Islamic State and became trapped on Mount Sinjar, in northern Iraq.

But according to the Holocaust Museum researchers, Islamic State militants weren’t just preparing for genocide. They had already begun to carry it out.

Every Yazidi interviewed for the report had family members kidnapped or killed. One Yazidi woman, identified by the researchers only as Xian, said she could never have imagined the level of violence carried out against members of her community.  “I thought the world was more developed than this,” she said. “I saw so many children die on Mount Sinjar, I hope no one has to ever see that again.”

The Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters failed to protect them or adequately warn them they planned to retreat. One survivor said if the Peshmerga had warned them they were leaving, Yazidis “would have fled earlier, and lives would have been saved.”

The United Nations defines genocide as any one of a range of violent and coercive acts carried out in the name of destroying “in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

Some of the world’s deadliest exterminations include the killing of six million Jews in Holocaust in Europe and nearly two million Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge. There are varying reports on just how many Yazidis have been killed since last summer, but the museum researchers argue that it is not the scale of the attacks against Yazidis but the intent behind them that qualify them as genocide.

And according to Yahoo News, American officials are paying attention. Secretary of State John Kerry is weighing the possibility of labeling crimes against Yazidis as genocide in coming weeks. Such a move could result in formal investigations and trials at the International Criminal Court.

JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

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