New houses are being built on the ruins. In Sinjar we will build 65 of them
The Siege of Sinjar
In August 2014 the so-called Islamic State launched an organized offensive in northern Iraq. Two months earlier terrorists captured Mosul where they announced the establishment of the caliphate. After an unsuccessful attempt to take over the Mosul Dam (which ultimately was taken over by ISIS), the siege of the Sinjar region began. Terrorists, armed with weaponry captured in Mosul, surrounded the Sinjar city as well as neighboring towns and villages. Lightly armed Daesh (Arabic acronym for ISIS) patrols were going from place to place, ordering local inhabitants to lay down their weapons and remain at homes. The militants ensured the Yazidis that they were safe. But at night many people fled towards the Mount Sinjar. The following days women were separated from men and children from their mothers. Boys older than six were transported to ISIS training camps. Women and girls were taken towards Mosul and Syria to become sex slaves. Older women and men were murdered on the spot. Tens of civilian massacres took place.
The mountain saved their lives
Not believing in ISIS assurances, thousands off people set off towards the plateau nearby the Mount Sinjar peak, without food, with minimal amounts of water and under terrible heat reaching 60 degrees Celsius. Many people died on the way of exhaustion. Young men were risking their lives to go back to villages they had just fled to bring some water and medicines. Not everyone was lucky enough to return. It took a week for the American and British troops to evacuate the majority of people that reached the mountain. Two and a half thousand families remained on top where they live in a wild campsite Sardashty.
Sinjar in ruins
After taking total control over Sinjar terrorists started looting. They were robbing shops and houses and later blowing them all up. They were doing the same in other regions, among others in towns of the Nineveh Plains. They were recording their destruction for propaganda materials but also to simply display their atrocities. Battles of Sinjar led to the total destruction of the city and nearby towns. Reconstruction is slowed down by insecure situation in the region, as well as numerous land mines and unexploded bombs. Neutralizing them will take many years.
The majority of the Yazidis who managed to flee nowadays live in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraqi Kurdistan. After the situation became relatively stable in 2017, many families returned to visit their houses which they left three years earlier. It is merely a few-hour trip from the camps where they live. Unfortunately, they found their homes destroyed. Most places are not habitable anymore. Families that live in the camps cannot afford to reconstruct them or to build the new ones. Many humanitarian organizations from all over the world are present there, but they focus mainly on emergency assistance. Hence, the process of returning to normal life in these territories is very slow.
In October we began the reconstruction of 65 houses for families that fled from ISIS in 2014.
The project, which we named MAREMA (an acronym for the names of wives of the prototype project’s designers which was created in 2018), is being developed in Sinjar and is co-financed by the KPRM (The Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland) with the support from the Department for Humanitarian Aid. Its goal is to allow 65 families to return to the towns which they fled five years ago. It is the first stage for the resettlement of the entire region. Returning to well-known places and meeting friends and relatives again helps to overcome fear and traumatic memories. Additionally, witnessing that life slowly comes back to towns and villages may encourage other families to take a similar step.
From project to construction
Similarly to crofts that we are currently building, the houses were designed by Dakhil – a civil engineer with whom we have been cooperating for more than two years. Dakhil is himself a refugee. He has a wife and two children. Despite the fact he is well-educated and speaks English fluently, he has not thought about leaving Iraq even for a moment. He wants to use his skills and dedication o help people. He is familiar with local building demands and knows how to meet them to make the newly-built houses first and foremost safe for the families that will live in them. He also supervises the construction process to make sure every detail corresponds with his project.
A new house – history of Berkat’s family
Barkat has seven children. He comes from a tiny village Omer Gewa located on the way to Sinuni, north of Mount Sinjar. He was a farmer and a shepherd. Those were the main income sources for the majority of people in this part of the region, as agricultural field conditions are excellent. Fertile soil and unlimited grassland have turned Sinjar into the granary of Iraq. The inhabitants led affluent lives and many accumulated wealth.