"The Goal is to Achieve a Political Status for Sinjar"
Interview with Fariz Harbo, Member of the People's Council of Sinjar and Spokesperson of the Diplomacy Committee
What is the current situation in Sinjar given the different interests of the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government in Hewlêr (Erbil)?
When we look at the situation in Sinjar, it is important that we do not do so without taking into account the situation in Iraq. Because Iraq has become the center of all the problems that shape the Middle East today. All the different actors are trying to implement their projects and plans here, especially the United States, Iran, and Turkey. They do this because of the geostrategic importance of Iraq, which, of course, is at the same time closely connected with the other countries of the Middle East. The Sinjar region is located in the west of Iraq, along a part of the Iraqi-Syrian border. The Turkish border is also not very far away. Accordingly, developments in the region, especially in these three countries, have a direct impact on Sinjar. Iraq today suffers from severe economic problems. There are major problems in the field of electricity supply. Political problems and lack of security also characterize the country. There are really a large number of problems in the country. But in Sinjar, these problems are not as acute as in other parts of the country. Based on their own means, it is possible for the people of Sinjar today to shape their own lives and provide themselves with all the necessities of life. The region is not as riven by contradictions as other parts of the country. Also, Sinjar is very important geostrategically. Therefore, both governments, the Iraqi central government and the South Kurdistan Regional Government, are trying to push their interests here. They do this instead of taking into account the interests and needs of the local population, such as infrastructure and security. At the same time, Baghdad and Hewlêr themselves have conflicting interests in Sinjar. As both sides try to advance their respective interests here in the region, the people of Sinjar end up suffering. In my opinion, the policies of the South Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi central government are not in the interests of the people of South Kurdistan, Iraq, and Sinjar.
What kind of political status does the Ezidi community and the Ezidi self-administration demand in Sinjar?
After the genocide of August 3, 2014, a system of self-administration was established by the people of Sinjar. On July 23 and 24 this year, the Self-Administration held its 4th congress. 250 delegates attended and elected, among others, the 111 members of the People's Council. At the same time, the Coordination of the People's Council and the Coordination of the Self-Administration were elected. Representatives of other ethnic and religious communities were also elected as members of the People's Council at the congress. These include Sunni and Shiite Arabs, Christians, and Sunni and Shiite Kurds. The goal of the Self-Administration and the People's Council is to achieve a political and administrative status for the Sinjar region and its people. At the same time, stability in the economic and security domains should also be ensured. So this is about autonomy for Sinjar. We would like to achieve this goal through dialogue with the Iraqi central government, because the Iraqi constitution provides the basis for the implementation of our demand. Our demands are in line with the Iraqi constitution. They are not in contradiction with it. But Iraq itself is suffering a lot from the political conflicts and the instability in the country. Therefore, the influence of the central government is limited. It is therefore our view that an autonomous status for the various regions in Iraq, including local self-administration and self-defense, would strengthen Iraq as a whole.
Since the genocide carried out by the Islamic State (IS) in 2014, many Ezidis who have fled have been living in refugee camps. What is the current humanitarian situation in these refugee camps and what are the prospects for the return of these people to their homes?
After the IS attack on Sinjar on August 3, 2014 and the accompanying genocide, our Ezidi population was displaced to all parts of the world. They fled to Rojava and South Kurdistan, but also to regions outside of Kurdistan. After the gradual liberation of Sinjar city and other parts of the region in 2015, 2016 and 2017, our population also began to return to Sinjar. For example, from the Newroz refugee camp in Rojava near the city of Dêrik, all Ezidi families have returned to Sinjar. The Ezidis who settled in South Kurdistan are also slowly returning to Sinjar. However, it is proving very difficult for them to return to their homeland. The majority of Ezidis living in South Kurdistan are eager to return to Sinjar, but the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) is putting massive pressure on them and not allowing them to return. The KDP is using the Ezidi refugees as a political bargaining chip against Iraq, while at the same time drawing large amounts of financial and material support from the UN and numerous states meant for providing care to the refugees. The KDP has thus turned the Ezidi refugees into a political pawn for itself, which is why it is not interested in the return of the refugees to Sinjar. The general situation in Sinjar today is good and safe. Almost 180,000 people live in the region today. If it were not for the obstacles placed in the way of the Ezidi refugees by the South Kurdish bureaucracy and security forces, many more people would return to Sinjar. We therefore call on all responsible institutions, both the Iraqi central government and the UN, to provide assistance and open ways for the refugees to return to Sinjar. The Ezidis who are still living in the refugee camps in South Kurdistan are suffering from psychological problems and are under great pressure.
After the Netherlands, the Belgian parliament has also recognized the massacre carried out by IS against the Ezidis in Sinjar in 2014 as genocide and has condemned it. How do you assess this decision and what are the demands of the Ezidi self-administration towards the international institutions, the international community and civil society?
We view these decisions as positive. The UN and the Iraqi parliament had also previously recognized the events of August 3, 2014 as a genocide. However, in our view, it is not enough for these decisions to remain merely an act of protocol or an official declaration. It is important that as a result practical steps be taken in Sinjar itself. For example, those responsible for the genocide must be held accountable. It is also central that, in addition to the recognition of the genocide, Sinjar's self-administration is officially recognized, i.e., its political, economic, cultural, and security status. Only in this way will it be possible to prevent another genocide or massacres from taking place in the future. So we can say that the decision of the Netherlands, Belgium, the UN and Iraq are positive, but in this form they are not enough. It is therefore necessary that the second step, i.e. the recognition of Sinjar's self-administration, be taken as well. We therefore call on the international community and the Iraqi central government to support the demands of the Ezidis, the people of Sinjar, and the Sinjar self-administration in order to preserve their existence, culture, values, and beliefs and to ensure their self-defense. The goal, of course, is to achieve this within the framework of the Iraqi constitution. We call on everyone to support us in achieving this goal.
This article was first published in the September/October 2021 edition of the Kurdistan Report.