Yazda Statement: Ethnic Cleansing of Yazidis and other religious groups in Syria Accelerates
May 29, 2020
In 2018, the Turkish Armed Forces and its allied militias conducted a ground operation into northern Syria, code-named as “Olive Branch”, and took full control of Afrin, a multi-ethnic city and a home for Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Yazidis, and others. The armed conflict in Afrin created a particularly grim situation for the local Yazidi population.
As a result of the Turkish incursion to Afrin, thousands of Yazidis have fled from 22 villages they inhabited prior to the conflict into other parts of Syria, or have migrated to Lebanon, Europe, or the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Based on the information collected by Yazda, an estimated 3,000 Yazidis who fled from Afrin presently live in three IDP camps and three villages: Al-Auda Camp, Al-Asser camp, Al-Muqawama camp, Tal Rifat village, Al-zawraq Al-kabeer, and Ziyarah villages – all located in Al-Shahba region and under the control of the Syrian Government. Of particular concern for Yazda is the estimated 1,200 Yazidis who fled from Ras Al-ain and were displaced to Washokani IDP camp. They currently suffer a lack of humanitarian aid sufficient to meet their basic daily needs.
Due to their religious identity, Yazidis in Afrin are suffering from targeted harassment and persecution by Turkish-backed militant groups. Crimes committed against Yazidis include forced conversion to Islam, rape of women and girls, humiliation and torture, arbitrary incarceration, and forced displacement. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its 2020 annual report confirmed that Yazidis and Christians face persecution and marginalization in Afrin.
Additionally, nearly 80 percent of Yazidi religious sites in Syria have been looted, desecrated, or destroyed, and Yazidi cemeteries have been defiled and bulldozed. According to the Syrian-Yazidi advocacy group Ezdina Foundation, and as independently confirmed by Yazda, 18 Yazidi religious sites have been destroyed in Afrin. These include the sites of Sheikh Jened in Al-faqira village, Melak Adi temple in Qivare village, Sheikh Hussien shrine, and Chel Khana temple in Qivare village, Sheikh Rekab temple in Jedere village, and the Yazidi cemetery in Qivare village. In a report published last year on Yazidi destroyed cultural heritage in Iraq, Yazda, RASHID International and EAMENA concluded that the destruction of tangible heritage is and must be prosecuted as a war crime, as a crime against humanity (the crime of persecution) and also serves as evidence of the special intent to destroy a protected group as part of the crime of genocide.
On April 20, 2020, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) independently confirmed that members of the Turkish-backed Sultan Murad factions destroyed and looted a Yazidi cemetery in the village of Jan Tamer, east of Ras al-Ain and are resettling families of their loyal fighters in formerly Yazidi villages. This is a clear instance of ethnic cleansing and an attempt to change the demographics of the region.
The current situation for Yazidis remaining in the Afrin is dire as they are forced to hide their identity, unable to practice their faith, and remain frightened for their safety. Those forced to reside in IDP camps live with insufficient resources to meet their basic daily needs, while their homes are either destroyed or appropriated by militants.
Yazda calls on the United Nations, the European Union, the United States of America, and other relevant parties to support the following:
1. Pressure Turkey to withdraw all armed factions from north and eastern Syria and halt the ongoing ethnic cleansing against Yazidis and other minorities in the region.
2. Immediately dispatch a UN investigative team to north and eastern Syria to evaluate the situation and document atrocities committed by all armed actors against civilians.
3. Immediately deliver urgent humanitarian support to the areas affected by the military operations and to the IDP camps.
Finally, we call on countries active in refugee resettlement to provide relocation opportunities to hundreds of Yazidi families unable to return to their homeland from Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey.