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Director Kikoler Delivers Remarks on Nine-Year Commemoration of Yezidi Genocide

Director Kikoler addresses attendees at an event commemorating the ninth anniversary of the Yezidi genocide.

Remarks delivered August 1, 2023 by Naomi Kikoler, director of the Museum's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

I want to thank the Yezidi community for bringing us together to commemorate a day that forever changed each of your lives. 

We, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, are deeply honored to join you on this sober occasion. 

We understand intimately the cost of indifference, and the pain that you are experiencing.

We stand in solidarity with you, and are committed to working to ensure that your community is not targeted again, and that you have an opportunity to thrive, and that justice is served. 

With that in mind, it is with deep regret that we watch as your community faces immense challenges, and understand the sense of despair that many of you feel.

As we gather today, we ask the governments in Baghdad, Erbil, and the international community to reflect on a few things: 

How would you console a father, who nine years after his wife and daughter were taken, do not know if they are alive and enslaved, or dead?

What do you say to the family that has spent nine years living in a tent, exposed to the elements, in an internally displaced person’s camp?

To a mother who is unable or unwilling to return home to Sinjar because home lies in ruins, because she doesn’t see a future for her children, because home is a defacto no-man’s land where political and armed actors jockey for control and people are dispensable? 

How do you give hope to a young woman who yearns for justice yet knows that the man who raped her lives freely?  

It has been nine years since ISIS attempted to destroy the Yezidi people.

They did not succeed. 

Yet the community remains vulnerable and we, the international community, are failing them. We do not have good answers to the questions I posed.

There is no comprehensive strategy to help survivors of genocide.

Khanke IDP camp in northern Iraq, August 2023. Many Yezidis who fled the August 2014 genocide live here. —Ryan D'Souza for US Holocaust Memorial Museum

That is not to say that nothing is being done. Rather it is to acknowledge that the action taken is not enough. 

The Yezidi community is asking for you to help find and return their kidnapped loved ones. 

Shingal, the traditional homeland of the Yezidi, has become a security nightmare, where Turkey, Iran, Iraqi Security Forces, PMF’s, and other militias vie for control. 

After the so-called defeat of ISIS in 2017, that area has been allowed to descend into a precarious security situation that threatens the stability of Iraq, the region, and makes returns difficult, and a secure and viable future for the Yezidi community precarious. The Yezidi are asking for international leadership in finding a solution to this political and security crisis.

When I first visited the liberated areas of Shingal in 2016 much of the area was destroyed. Today, reconstruction is slow to non-existent and must be prioritized. How can people return home if infrastructure is destroyed, unexploded ordinances remain, there are few opportunities for livelihood, and climate change is undermining agriculture in the area? 

On accountability, ISIS fighters and their leaders largely enjoy impunity. Germany has been the rare shining light, prosecuting perpetrators for the crime of genocide. As has UNITAD who has been building cases that will hopefully be taken forward in the future. 

The Government of Iraq, nine years after the genocide, has yet to pass legislation criminalizing genocide. That is simply unacceptable. And both the governments of Baghdad and Erbil repeatedly overlook opportunities to charge perpetrators for rape and sexual violence, murder, torture opting instead for terrorism charges—missing an opportunity to build trust within a community who understandably feels abandoned. 

In the aftermath of genocide, and in a situation where genocide is ongoing for those who are missing and enslaved, we owe a special duty of care, to survivors. 

As we approach the 10th anniversary, what the Yezidi people need is not statements, but action.

Tangible action on reconstruction, on building a political and security resolution to Sinjar and the other disputed areas, to finding the missing women and girls, advancing justice, and promoting tolerance and respect for diversity in Iraq—a country often referred to as the cradle of civilization.

In that country, there was ample warning of the threats facing the Yezidi community. Not just after ISIS took control of Mosul in June of 2014, but for the decades before. The Yezidi community was discriminated against and demonized in Iraqi society. The area of Sinjar was under-resourced and marginalized. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the genocide let’s make sure that we do not make the same mistakes. We neglect Sinjar and the Yezidi people, at their, Iraq's, and our own peril. 

We at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are moved each day by the courage and resilience of the Yezidi community. We endeavor to be with you on your path out of genocide, and to be with you in Shingal for not just future commemorations, but also celebrations.