Skip to main content

Update on the Victims of Sinjar: The Need to Locate Thousands of Missing Yezidis

Date & Time

Aug. 10, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am ET


In 2014 the Islamic State began its campaign to annihilate Yezidis in Iraq and Syria. The territorial defeat of ISIS did not, however, end the suffering of Yezidis and other victims of Daesh. Until now, there are an estimated 2,868 Yezidis whose whereabouts are still unknown. Many of them were presumed to be dead. However, in July, Yezidi women were discovered in Syria and Iraq who had been missing since 2014—underscoring the need for concerted international search efforts.

Yezidi civil society organizations have called upon the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the Iraqi Government, the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria, Interpol, UNITAD, UNAMI, and other stakeholders to craft a plan and mount a serious effort to locate Yezidi abductees who are still alive and suffering.

Selected Quotes

Peter Galbraith Former U.S. Ambassador to ­Croatia and Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations in Afghanistan

“In Bosnia, Warren Christopher struggled mightily to avoid the word ‘genocide’ because that would’ve required some action. By contrast, in Sinjar, the attacks began on a Sunday and on Thursday the Obama administration declared it to be a genocide and took military action. So, in some sense, you could say this is a case where the Genocide Convention worked. It worked as well as it might reasonably have been expected to.”

“These [Yezidi] women actually didn’t want to be found, not because they wanted to stay with ISIS, but because they didn’t want to lose their children. And so I’m sure there are more women, Yezidi women, in Al-Hol, but who are unwilling to identify themselves because they believe that their children will be taken away. So I think if you want to find the women, it is going to be very important for the SDF and for the Yezidi religious establishment to make absolutely clear that if you are a Yezidi woman, you will be able to keep your children. And unless that happens, then I think there are going to be some significant number of women who will not identify themselves.”

“The Yezidi religious establishment is entitled to their opinion, but the mothers and children are entitled to their basic human rights, which if they choose to be with each other—and not all the mothers want their children, but some do—then that is their human right. We could say the Pope is entitled to say who gets communion, but he’s not entitled to say what Catholic gets to keep their child. That is the core of the issue, and it is a fundamental human right.”

Nisan Ahmado, Journalist at Voice of America

“About 3,000 Yezidis used to live in Basufan village. An estimate of 200 remain in the village today. Local human rights groups, and groups in Syria have been documenting human rights violations against residents of Afrin, mainly against Yezidis. Kidnapping women and men for ransom, imprisoning and torturing Afrinis, imposing what they call a “protection fee” on some villages, destroying Yezidi shrines and graves and looting and confiscating their homes and lands. And all this happened after the genocide against Yezidis in Sinjar. No wonder that Yezidis still feel they will be the first target in any confrontation that takes place in Iraq and Syria.” 

“The way that ISIS, the way they felt about Yezidis and how they treated them, that didn’t come from [a] void. It has been there for a long time. This was empowered by the government and former governments in Iraq and [the] current government in Syria. The community, how they look at the Yezidis, basically Yezidis have always been living among a hostile surrounding.” 

“One of the things that a lot of Yezidi activists are calling for is to work with the survivors and their families to reintroduce and reintegrate them. The second thing—it’s just a thought I had about the trials—perhaps at least the ISIS foreign fighters who came from countries, members of the ICC, there’s hopefully a possibility to try them inside their countries. And I second Abid’s request to everyone who is with us right now to just read more about the genocide and reach out and try to help in any way possible.”

Abid Shamdeen, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Nadia's Initiative

“What happened with ISIS is not something new. Yezidis have been persecuted for centuries in Sinjar and in Iraq and the region and Syria. If you notice, going back, Yezidis were, for a reason, located around Mount Sinjar, our traditions are oral for a reason, because Yezidis were afraid to document and practice their religion and tradition in public. And Yezidi temples, if you look, most of the Yezidi temples are located deep in Mount Sinjar or even Lalish, the main one, in the Kurdistan region. So Yezidis have faced persecution but also resource deprivation over decades.”

“We’re at this point where we need a comprehensive effort to one, when it comes to the missing Yezidi women and children, to help all of them, but also to help the Yezidi community recover from this trauma, from this genocide. And help them restore their lives and go back to a normal life. And when we look at this issue of missing women and children, and about 2,800 are still missing, the majority… of them want to be found. The majority of them are waiting for a chance to be found, especially the children, [and] the women… There are those that want to be found, they want to come back. We should focus on the bigger picture, on trying to help all of them, and yes, help the others too, bring them somewhere safe, give them a new life, and unite them with their children.” 

“The Yezidi community is traumatized. They are living in poverty. They are displaced, and they have gone through a genocide. So placing the burden and blame on the Yezidi community does not help, the international community should not do that. They cannot put more burden on their shoulders as they are trying to recover from this genocide, and dealing with poverty and displacement and loss of family members and looking at tens of mass graves in Sinjar, their homes and temples destroyed.”

Hosted By

Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform US foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more

Thank you for your interest in this event. Please send any feedback or questions to our Events staff.