“We were sacrificed by our own government!” a fearful young Peshmerga soldier told me, while we were stationed in Sherfadeen in Shingal, Kurdistan. He was anxious that nobody heard him telling me this. He seemed to know something, some terrible secret that made him so scared to talk about, but was forced to accept it.
Later that evening we met a further group of Peshmerga soldiers in the little town and got invited to meet their section commander at the HQ. After exchanging the common kind welcoming phrases and drinking tea, we asked him about what we had heard had happened on the 3rd August 2014. The faces of the Peshmerga sitting in the room turned pale and the atmosphere was tense. I looked into their eyes, deep into their fearful and war torn eyes. We told the section commander about the repetitive stories we had heard from Yezidi refugees and especially from Peshmergas who were present on that exact date. Thinking we would be snubbed by such a highly ranked officer, we were surprised to see the look on his face turn to a doubtful smile. A seemingly long period of silence took over. He looked us deep in the eyes, lit his cigarette, took a slow sip form his tea and said “My friends, I will tell you a few things now, that cannot be known to have come from my mouth. Please switch off all of your recording devices and listen carefully. It’s imperative you follow me now.” He stood up and walked to a large map hanging on the wall of his office.
“On the 3rd August 2014 there were three battalions of Peshmerga in Shingal, in this exact area. We had heard of what Daesh was capable of, yet knew we could beat them with the amount of soldiers we had here…” he told us in his typical military, stern voice. He continued by telling us about how he suddenly, out of nowhere, got the command to withdraw, shortly before the battle erupted. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!” he told me while looking shocked. He obeyed his orders, yet with one exception. Bravely he decided to leave his sections weapons behind, as he could not bare the idea that the abandoned Yezidis would be left without any means of defence. Until today he has no idea why that command was given. He has a few theories why this might be, yet these are too speculative for me to write about. We left the HQ with a sense of doubt in what really happened on that day.
“Like so many times before, we were sacrificed for regional politics.”
Daesh arrived. The events that followed would be devastatingly cruel and will present us with many questions that have to be asked. The Peshmerga had run away, the majority of which did not even leave their weapons for the Yezidis to protect themselves with. First mass casualties were reported, Daesh had begun their vicious genocide, brutally burning old ladies, shooting family fathers cold-heartedly into the head in front of their crying children and wives. The Yezidis that had the chance to run, ran away and with barely any water or food, made it to the protection of the Sindjar mountains. Daesh was not able to get them there, as small Yeszidi militias were able to protect their people in the rough mountainous region and the heavy weaponry that Daesh had captured in Mossul weeks before, would not reach them in the safety of the mountains. Without the help of the Peshmerga or any other force, the Yezidis were trapped in the mountains. As day by day passed more and more people died of thirst, died of hunger and suffered immensely. We heard of mothers that decided to kill their children, rather than seeing them suffer of thirst and hunger.
We were there. We travelled to Shingal, saw the burned out cars and tanks. Saw the piles of ash in front of several destroyed houses, where people had been burnt alive. Saw blood on the stairs and on the streets. Saw the terror in the eyes of the brave Peshmerga that were still there and of the refugees, that had to leave everything behind, that had lost all hope and especially had lost the will to live. All of this, simply for the reason that they were Yezidis, an ancient religion, seeking peace and unity, a religion that, in the eyes of the so- called Islamic State has to be extinguished by god’s command. Apparently it is halal, lawful in god’s eye, to do so. Many Muslims I have talked to since strongly disagreed. It is never halal to murder someone innocent.