The euphoria has passed. Cold and fear slowly draw in people. Civilians haven’t returned, and they won’t. Nowhere to come back to. The army has occupied the ruins. Keep warm and quiet. No electricity. No water. For days I haven’t seen two fingers in the air as a sign of victory and resistance. They all tuck their chins into their shoulders. While rifles bother them, hanging off their necks. But they’re used to them. If these people are used to anything, it’s rifles.
Written and photographed by Zoran Marinovic
The offensive has halted. The battle for Sinjar is finished. Kurdish fighters, Peshmerga and PKK, have managed to cut off the strategically vital road 46 connecting two largest ISIL strongholds: Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. The Caliphate has been divided in two. However, even after the military victory, a rarity in the last four years, the shadow of war and destruction still looms over the city.
While I observe what’s left of it from the cold mountain, I cannot relinquish the feeling that this sinister line could have been moved much father. Deeper. I don’t know what halted the attack as the Islamic State army was in shambles after the fall of the city? Maybe fear? As the next village, Baaj, around 2 kilometers from the center of the city, is still in Jihadi control. 70 Yazidi families are being kept there as a living shield.
Once a lovely place, this mellow area in a valley will forever be remembered by mass graves and 5,800 of those killed along the road, on the way to the cement factory. Over 15,00 Yazidi, mostly young women from the town and surroundings, were taken as slaves to young jihadists. And when you think it couldn’t get worse, you find that over 500 children younger than 10 were taken too. No one knows what has happened to them. There is only fear that they will be trained as new caliphate soldiers in camps.
Hussein is a Yazid from Sinjar. The last years are cut deep in his face. His thirty years seem much more now. He has returned, while to him, who’s staying, and to me, who’s leaving, it seems he shouldn’t have. He says he is a civilian while holding a Kalashnikov in one hand. guarding the house. Or what’s left of it. As a custom dictates he wants to offer me something. But he has nothing. We sit on the doorstep.
“We are the greatest victims of this madness,” he says to me. “Better off they kill us right away, than slowly like this. As slaves. as cattle. We are not Muslims nor Sunni nor Shiite. We believe in seven angels and Malak Taus, the supreme angel bestowed by God. Taus is the sun in the sky. He comes out, looks over Earth and sets. The Islamic mules have said we are not real people as we don’t have our own book, such as Kur’an or Bible, so we may choose in the final hour to become Muslims or die. So jihadists take our women as to save their lives they convert to Islam. It would be better if they kill them straight away.”
On the main city square that is a heap of rubble, a suicide bomber blew up. Bodies are still on the ground. Dead people. Dogs. Sheep. Birds. Everything that can be found on a main square somewhere in the Middle East. Places where you can buy food, fresh fruit, play pool and drink tea with friends, where a bride chooses the cloth for her wedding dress. Place where people meet and love and argue and sing and steal and lie. In the next moment, a place of dust, death and flies.
Several soldiers heat by a barrel. Drinking tea and smoking. They are PKK, actually YBS or some of the versions of the name of the Kurdistan Workers Party, whose names changed depending on the territory. The ideology is the same, just the letters are different. Most of the young men are from Bakur in Turkey and Rojava in Syria, but all are Kurds. They keep guard. The Peshmerga don’t pass their positions and points.
Tension is felt between them too. Now is a time of ignorance, but very soon the day may come when they turn their guns on each other.
Yazidi, all of them, still claim that, when Sinjar fell to the Islamic State, only the PKK tried to defend. Peshmerga, “volunteers”, the larger and more important fraction in Iraq and the more “official” Kurdish army, betrayed them. Left them behind the mountains.
One morning at the town exit, after a quiet night, a funeral. Tomorrow again. Yazidi are taking revenge. Taking justice in their own hands. Hate is now focused on the Sunni. The town Sunni. Fellow citizens. Eye for an eye. Tooth for tooth. And so until the end. And this place looks like the end has come.
That same morning, an official visit from the Iraqi Defense Minister and Barzani Chief of Staff. To victoriously declare the city is free. To take photographs and give interviews. More or less just propaganda. Shaking hands in front of cameras with mistrust. A line of armored cars with shaded windows will kick up dust again. Hundreds of special forces in new uniforms, with German machine guns, eyeglasses, mortars, knives, bulletproof vests and bombs, will form an array along the line. All with a cross look. To the eye. With disdain. As if they will fire on all who remain.
And who remains? Yesterday I returned from the front line. From a village near the Syrian border. Among the huts, a dozen skinny soldiers, some younger than 18, wrapped in old blankets, with run down Chinese Kalashnikovs. Shooting. Defending. Digging trenches. Eating dry bread and cold canned food. Dying. Far from the shine of armored jeeps and mortars. Far from cameras. Far from the loot.
Immediately after the fall of the city the army scavenged the ruins and stores. Then cars began to arrive. No markings. Came empty, and left in the night loaded with microwaves and stereos. As the euphoria dies down vans began to appear, loading furniture, carpets and ceramics. And so on. And so on.
I wonder if anything will ever change under the heavens. Does Taus see in the morning what has happened in the dark night while he was gone? Does he see the funerals and trucks? Does he see or just know?