On 2 August 2019, the eve of the 5th anniversary of the attacks on Sinjar by the Islamic State (IS), RASHID International, Yazda and the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa Project (EAMENA) released the results of their investigation into cultural heritage destruction during the genocide against the Yazidis, in a report entitled ‘Destroying the Soul of the Yazidis: Cultural Heritage Destruction during the Islamic State’s Genocide against the Yazidis’.
Out of the total of 68 sites reported destroyed we consider 16 sites in the Bahzani/Bashiqa area and 8 in the Sinjar area to which access was possible and which could be documented.
Discussions of the genocide committed against the Yazidi people by IS from 2014 onwards have generally focused on murder, slavery and sexual exploitation. In this report we analyze the destruction of Yazidi tangible and intangible cultural heritage as a significant facet of the Islamic State’s policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Evidence of destruction is collected and presented in context with other criminal acts.
A revised and updated version of the report was published as a peer-reviewed paper in the Asian Yearbook of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (AYHL). The AYHL is edited by Professor Javaid Rehman, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Section 1 introduces the Yazidi (Êzidî being the preferred term) people and their strong connection to their cultural heritage.
Section 2 provides an overview of the genocide against the Yazidis. The Islamic State made no secret of its intention to eradicate the Yazidi community and commenced a coldly calculated policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide on 3 August 2014.
Section 3 analyzes the relevant framework of international criminal law. The destruction of tangible cultural heritage is most easily prosecuted as a war crime. Several convictions were obtained before the ICTY, as well as one conviction (Al-Mahdi) and one indictment (Ag Mahmoud) before the International Criminal Court. Attacks against tangible heritage may also be prosecuted as the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity. Numerous indictments and convictions before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and other courts attest to the viability of this approach. Finally, destruction of tangible heritage also serves as evidence of the special intent to destroy (dolus specialis) a protected group as part of the crime of genocide.
Section 4 provides original research, evidence and context on the destruction of Yazidi tangible cultural heritage in the Bahzani/Bashiqa and Sinjar areas of northern Iraq. We present satellite imagery analysis conducted by the EAMENA Project, drawing on data provided by Yazidi representatives. According to the Department of Yazidi Affairs in the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in the Kurdistan Regional Government 68 Yazidi sites were destroyed by the Islamic State. We consider 16 sites in the Bahzani/Bashiqa area and 8 in the Sinjar area to which access was possible and which could be documented. We include description and religious importance of each site, satellite analysis and photographic evidence.
Section 5 offers conclusions and recommendations. We conclude that the destruction of the cultural heritage of the Yazidi people constitutes a war crime, a crime against humanity (persecution) and further evidence of genocide.
RASHID International is a worldwide network of archaeologists and cultural heritage experts dedicated to safeguarding and promoting the cultural heritage of Iraq, ancient Mesopotamia. To assist our Iraqi colleagues, we collect and share information, research and expert knowledge, work to raise public awareness, and both develop and execute strategies to protect heritage sites and other cultural property through international cooperation, advocacy and technical assistance.
RASHID International is registered as a non-profit organisation in Germany and enjoys charitable tax-exempt status under German law. We are an organisation in special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council since 2019. Learn more about our work at www.rashid-international.org
Yazda is a global community-led institution that protects and champions all religious and ethnic minority communities, including Assyrians, Chaldeans, Kakais, Shabak, Turkmen, and Yazidis in Iraq, Kurdistan Region, and Syria. Founded in 2014 at the onset of the genocide perpetuated by Da’esh, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), against the Yazidis, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity against other minorities, Yazda leads advocacy and strategic projects in Dohuk, Sinjar, and the Nineveh Plains, as well as global diaspora hubs.
We work hand-in-hand with our partners, including United Nations agencies, key donor governments, the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Governments, and instrumental community organizations to ensure justice, accountability, and a sustainable future for all is swiftly reached. We are fervently determined to ensure Never Again, so that no community and people ever face genocide. Learn more about our work at www.yazda.org.
The EAMENA Project rapidly records and evaluates the status of the archaeological landscape of the MENA region in order to create an accessible body of data which can be used by national and international heritage professionals to target those sites most in danger and better plan and implement the preservation and protection of this heritage. The EAMENA project is a collaboration between the Universities of Oxford, Leicester and Durham in the United Kingdom and is supported by the Arcadia Fund and the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund. Learn more about our work at www.eamena.org.