Remembering the Shengal genocide

The Yazidis, who faced the horrors of genocide, described it shortly with the words: "We have witnessed treason with our own eyes". When they fled desperately to the mountain to escape the massacre, 12 riders of legendary Derwêşê Evdî came up to meet them

When on the 3rd of August 2014 the savage ISIS gangs swept over Shengal, which counted at that moment of the attack a population of 500 000 people due to migration, the Yazidi community witnessed with their own eyes how the Peshmerga of the KDP as well as the soldiers of the Iraqi army all ran away taking their entire weapons and armaments with them, throwing the Yazidi population under the bus and leaving them totally unprotected in the fangs of ferocious ISIS. The ISIS gangs launched their first attacks together with some local thugs that lived in southern Shengal, on the village Gir Zerik. Afterwards they aimed at the villages Siba Şêx Xidir, Rambosî, Til Qeseb, Kocho and Til Benadê.


The defenceless Yazidis who were left alone to fend for themselves, struggled with a couple of arms, which they successfully hid from the KDP. But it was impossible to stand against all the panzers, missiles and heavy artillery which the gangs had obtained from Mosul. The flight of the Peshmerga rendered the Yazidis completely desolate and dispirited, and therefore they headed to Mount Shengal, the last resort. Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis at all ages were at the mercy of a calamity and betook themselves desperately to the mountain. The Peshmerga of the KDP were meanwhile crossing the humanitarian corridor, which the YPG had opened, to Rojava and rushed from there over back to South Kurdistan.


One of the fighters of the Shengal Defense Units (YBŞ) Tîrêj Şengalî conversed with the ANF on those very moments and said: "When ISIS got control of Mosul, up to 12000 soldiers that were stationed here assured us: 'Shengal is our honour, we will defend it no matter what.' But they did not fulfil that promise. They delivered us to the gangs and left us in the clutches of the genocide. We saw with our very own eyes how they abandoned these poor women and children and ran off. They betrayed this people. We have witnessed this treason by ourselves."


One of the fighters of the Women's Defense Units (YJŞ) Viyan Helabî called the incidents of the 3rd August 2014 in Shengal a Black Day and stated: "No matter how much and long we talk, we will never be able to put into words what really happened there back then. It was a black day. The whole world was watching minute for minute what barbarity was being done to the Yazidis. Everything, every step happened in front of the eyes of the tacit world. Those who fell into the hands of ISIS, were gone for good. They were either enslaved or slaughtered. But also among those who fled in masses to the mountain, countless died of thirst and hunger, whereas others fell from the crags and died. Some people also jumped from the high cliffs to save themselves from falling into the clutches of ISIS. Despite all that horror, on that night the stars over Shengal were sparkling brightly. It was a lucid night. Every moment was illuminated by the light of the stars. The stars were shining in an unnatural way. There was a meaning hidden behind that...


The ISIS gangs massacred only within the first 24 hours thousands of Yazidis and kidnapped tens of thousands. Those who managed to get to Mount Shengal beheld on the mountain a light of hope. The Yazidis who always fell victims to genocides in the course of history, looked now on a small group of guerrillas of the HPG standing there in front of them on Mount Shengal, having taken control of both routes and repelled the attacks of the ISIS gangs successfully. The guerrillas of the HPG had taken both routes leading to the mountain under their control with only some light personal arms and one DsHK, which the Peshmerga left behind as they were busy running away. The interview of the journalist Hayri Kızıler, who also left for the mountain as the genocide was taking place, gave us some impression of how the guerrillas used those personal rifles in the fight against the ISIS gangs.


In his interview Kızıler gave following account: "The people arrived at the mountain, and by then the HPG had taken control of the routes. This was heart relieving, no matter how small. After that a vast unit of YPG fighters came in and they fought a fierce war of position, until they managed to get to the Mount Shengal. The next day, following the statement of the People's Defense Central Headquarters Commander Murat Karayilan, a unit of guerrillas fought its way open to mount Shengal step by step. On the 5th August a local militia force was founded, called the Shengal Resistance Units. Emplacements were set and on the fifth day the mountain was secured completely. The HPG unit consisting of 7 guerrillas turned within shortest time into a 2 000 men and women strong force. On seeing this, the people gained new trust. With the arrival of the YPG and the HPG, the Yazidi people were filled with tremendous esperance."


As news about the genocide were spread, Rojava mobilized to highest degree. The forces of the YPG and YPJ, who were themselves in Rojava's Hesekê in the heat of a great operation against ISIS gangs and their appendages, left that operation halfway and moved heaven and earth to get to Shengal over the Til Koçer, Rabia and Jazaa route. The fighters of the YPG and YPJ opened a way of hundreds of kilometres, giving dozens of martyrs, and reached Mount Shengal finally on the 8th August. The fighters of the YPG and YPJ on the mountain guided hundreds of thousands of Yazidis with the cars of the mobilized inhabitants of Rojava placed at their disposal through the corridor to Rojava. The global community, which remained until then completely silent in view of the tragedy the Yazidi people faced, titled this corridor that has been fought open fiercely, the "humanitarian corridor".


One of the commanders of the Shengal Defense Units (YBŞ) Tîrêj Şengal, who himself was among the civilians saving themselves through the "humanitarian corridor" to Rojava and decided to return once again to Mount Shengal, told ANF about his psychological state back then and the happenings he witnessed with these words: "We were really completely at a loss. Then we heard that some of the HPG guerrillas who were stationed on the mountain had entered the city and wanted to organise the people. Some of them were even arrested by the KDP. At that time we had crossed the border to Rojava, but many of us had the deep desire to return to Mount Shengal and do something, no matter what."


People's Defense Central Headquarters Commander Murat Karayılan stated in an interview he gave in November 2014, that basing on the warnings of Kurdish People's Leader Abdullah Öcalan they wanted to send their forces to Shengal, Makhmur and Kirkuk and to get on that issue into contact with the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan).

Karayilan conversed on the diplomacy that were conducted then as follows: "The KDP asserted that they have got everything under control, that the Peshmerga units would be totally sufficient and that there would be no need for the guerrillas". The PUK also said the same thing and added that in case they needed help they would call for us. We, the PKK, are taking matters into our own hands. And based on this we made some preparations. We mobilized 12 of our guerrillas to head to Shengal. When I talked with those 12 comrades, I compared them with the 12 riders of Derwêshê Evdî, a very famous Kurdish epic, and told them that they will defend Shengal the same way. We sent those comrades clandestinely to Shengal. When the Peshmerga got wind of that, they arrested three of our comrades of that group. The nine remaining guerrillas made their way carefully to their destination. On the 3rd August at 09:00 o'clock we received news of a catastrophic dimension and we heard that the Peshmerga had retreated from Shengal one day before. It was the first time for eight years that I used a phone to talk with the comrades in Shengal, and that minute we send off a unit of guerrillas to Shengal."


From here on we leave the talking to the HPG guerrilla Êrîş Hewreman, who was one of the guerrillas of the "intervention force": "We were put in charge as soon as the genocide in Shengal took place in order to rescue our people there. After we set off from Qandil, we crossed the border to Rojava and from then headed over the corridor, which the YPG had secured, to Shengal. As we betook ourselves to Shengal, we came across on the way many of our Yazidi people that had starved to death and severely effete children and elderly. A drop of water was a great need. The valleys and canyons were filled with corpses of those who were massacred by the ISIS gangs or died of thirst. What infuriated us even more than the actual abhorrent genocide, was the treason of the KDP, that bragged to be a Kurdish party".


The majority of the Yazidis managed to escape the genocide and reached Mount Shengal and were then taken to Rojava. Another part went to the cities of Southern Kurdistan. Those who reached Rojava were accommodated in the Newroz refugee camp in the Dêrik city. The Yazidi Kurds that crossed the border to Northern Kurdistan were placed into refugee camps mostly in the cities of Şırnak, Mardin, Batman and Amed. Some others headed afterwards, despite all calls of the Yazidi institutions and the Kurdish people, to Europe.


We want to listen once more to the words of the HPG guerrilla Êrîş Hewreman telling of what exactly was done back then and what kind of resistance was offered: "When the fighters arrived at the area and the Yazidi youth started to self-organize, the people was loaded up with great morale. Even though the corridor between Rojava and Shengal was closed again after some time, the morale did not fade at all. Between the people and the fighters a strong bond was forged. At the very beginning the Yazidi people did not know anything about the PKK at all. But now they have come to understand the PKK thoroughly. At that time they switched from the defense to offense, inflicting heavy blows to the enemy. Within a small area they offered a massive resistance 11 months in a row. It was an unparalleled resistance. The Yazidi community came to know and love heroes like Pirdoğan, Canfeda and Berxwedan."


On the one side a substantial struggle was waged in Shengal against the ISIS gangs, and on the other side the KDP put all its efforts into hindering the liberation of Shengal. On 29 October 2015 the Shengal Defense Units (YBŞ), the Women's Defense Units (YJŞ) and the Shengal Defence Forces (HPŞ) issued a joint statement and declared the formation of a joint command for Shengal's liberation, called the "Êzîdxan Command to liberate Shengal".


On the border to Rojava the forces of the YPG and YPJ liberated Hawl and Xatûniyê, providing a great boost to the operations to liberate Shengal. On the border to Shengal the guerrillas of the HPG and YJA-Star advanced on the mount Kolik and Geliyê Şîlo and liberated many villages of Shengal.


The joint command that was forged on 29 October, heralded the start of the "Operation to Liberate Shengal" to the Yazidi community and the people of Kurdistan. After the operation was launched, the KDP mobilized on the eastern front to get rid of the bad reputation it had earned with its withdrawal from Shengal on 3 August. The Yazidi people who remained on Mount Shengal also took up arms in the framework of self-defence and joined the operation. Already on the second day of the operation the forces of the YBŞ and YJŞ and the guerrillas of the HPG and YJA-Star cleared the city centre of the gangs. The HPG command in Shengal as well as the general command of the YBŞ issued a statement saying: "We dedicate the liberated and free Shengal to our people."


Shengal was freed from the ISIS gangs in front of the eyes of the entire closely watching world. The president of the KDP Masoud Barzanî however held a press conference one day after entering Shengal once more and tried to deny the reality that occurred second for second in front of the eyes of the world. He claimed that the Shengal town was secured by his Peshmergas. The fighters of the YBŞ and YJŞ and the guerrillas of the HPG and YJA-Star immediately went on liberating the villages in the south, as soon as they cleared the city centre. But the KDP Peshmerga took their seats in Shengal town centre, settled there and did not move an inch whatsoever.