Since the 26th of May 2019, the Sinjar region is facing a series of devastating wildfires that are destroying lives, fields, crops and mass graves in the area. The Yazda documentation team was deployed on both sides of Sinjar mountain and undertook a thorough information gathering mission, to assess the extent of the damages.
According to the information held by Yazda, the first fire took place on the south of Sinjar mountain between the villages of Solagh and Tel-Qasab on Sunday the 26th of May 2019. The second fire started in the Shenanik region on Wednesday the 29th of May 2019. The third fire occurred during the nights of Saturday to Sunday the 8th June 2019 in Borek and Gohbel, on the north side of the Sinjar mountain.
The last and largest of the fires occurred on the south side of the mountain between the 4th and 11th of June 2019 and reached, among others, Kocho, Tel-Banat, Ger-Zerk and Hamadan. According to Ezidi24, the administrator of Til Azer district, Jalal Khalo, revealed that since early morning today, 19.06.2019 the wildfire started and is continued till this time, the fire has burned nearly about 1000 houses.
The origin of the fires remains uncertain. On the 30th of May 2019, the Islamic State (IS) stated in its weekly magazine Al-Naba, that it was adopting a tactic of carrying out a series of arson attacks against farmlands belonging to "apostates". Also, on the 13th of June 2019, IS released in the same magazine a statement claiming responsibility for the burning of Yazidi crops in Sinjar. However, the authenticity of this statement could not be established and Yazda calls upon the authorities to carry out an investigation to determine the legitimacy of this claim.
Human, Material and Evidentiarily Losses
Three Yazidi young men from Borek village perished in the fires on the 8th of June 2019- Barzan Omar Gabaou, Ismail Beker Gernos and Saeed Sheikh Sabri. These men were trying to extinguish the fires when the fires caught them. This is a great loss for the Yazidi community and Yazda sends its condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims.
As for the material loss, it is estimated that the fires burned more than 3,000 hectares of land throughout the Sinjar region.
According to the Director of Agriculture of Sinjar City, Khider Faris Halo: "Only for Sinjar city (without counting Qairawan, Senuni sub-districts), the annual agricultural plan foresees 79,000 dunums (7,900 hectares) wheat and 234,000 dunums (23,400 hectares) of barley to be planted. Since the 7th of June 2019, more than 10,400 dunums (1,040 hectares) of barley were burned, and more than 1,500 dunums (150 hectares) of wheat burned alone in Sinjar city”.
According to the Director of Agriculture of Tel-Azeer, Khero Saido: “More than 40,000 dunums (4,000 hectares) of wheat and barley were planted in the administrative boundaries of the area and more than 15,000 dunums (1,500 hectares) were burned during the last few days”.
For the north side of Sinjar, in Senuni sub-district, Barkat Issa, Director of Agriculture stated: "220,774 dunums (22,077 hectares) of wheat and 61,402 dunums (6,140 hectares) of barley were planted this year. 1,000 dunums of barley (100 hectares) and 1,200 dunums (120 hectares) of wheat were burned so far”.
This represents a grave threat to the livelihoods of the farmers of this region, many of whom were entirely dependent upon farming for their income. With so many farmers affected, it is essential that the government immediately addresses these losses, to prevent families falling into poverty.
Finally, the fires damaged two mass graves, one in Kocho and one in Hamadan, both on south side of Sinjar mountain. Other surface remains are now under immediate risk and can lead to more evidentially loss if reached by the fires. Yazda calls upon the Iraqi authorities, ICMP as well as UNITAD to make the mass graves and surface remains their top priority, and to protect them until a proper investigation can be conducted.
Yazda calls upon the Iraqi authorities to:
Investigate the origins of the fires;
Compensate the loss of the burned areas especially to the farmers and their families;
Investigate the two damaged mass graves and establish the extent of the evidentiary loss;
Prioritize the protection of the surface remains; and
Protect all additional mass graves in Sinjar.
Update 1 : 25.06.2019: ONGOING WILDFIRES ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF SINJAR MOUNTAIN ****
Yazda documentation team is currently witnessing wildfires on the south side of Sinjar mountain, near Domiz, Tel-Qasb Sinjar city, Tel-Banat and Solagh. According to the information obtained by Yazda, a first fire started today around 10am in Domiz.
A second fire started in Silo Sinjar around 1:30pm. The origin of the fires is unknown.
The fires are now around 300 meters from the mass grave in Solagh containing the remains of 75 to 80 elderly women killed by ISIS. There is a high risk for the mass grave to be damaged which will led to evidence loss. Community members and Yazda's team are currently trying to protect the mass grave in Solagh. Yazda asks the people from Sinjar to not go any close to the fires.
Yazda retires its demands to the authorities and asks them to:
• Investigate the origins of the fires; • Compensate the loss of the burned areas especially to the farmers and families; • Investigate the two damaged mass graves and establish the extent of the evidentiary loss; • Prioritize the protection of the surface graves and • Protect all additional mass graves in Sinjar.
Yazda also calls upon ICMP and UNITAD to support the authorities in this unbearable situation.
Update 2: 26.06.2019: ONGOING WILDFIRES ON THE NORTH SIDE OF SINJAR MOUNTAIN ****
Yazda's documentation team is currently witnessing wildfires near Hardan. The fires reached seven mass graves and kill sites so far. In addition to Hardan, Zoarava, Bakhlef, Gurmez and Gollat were affected. According to Yazda's sources, the fires started around 1pm. The origin of the fire is unknown.
*Photos Credit: Yazda Documentation Team