UN exhumes Yazidi mass graves from Islamic State massacre in northern Iraq

Zaid AL-OBEIDI / AFP | Forensic workers and experts inspect a zone during the exhumation of a mass-grave of hundreds of Yazidis killed by Islamic State (IS) group militants in the northern Iraqi village of Kocho in Sinjar district on March 15, 2019.

United Nation teams have begun exhuming mass graves around the city of Kocho, hoping to identify bodies of missing people and allow their families to bury their remains, five years after the IS group killed thousands of Yazidis.


Since the Islamic State (IS) group lost control of the Sinjar region in northern Iraq, Yazidi men have protected the remains of those who died during the Kocho massacre, which took place in August 2014. They suspect that some of their relatives might be found in the city’s mass grave.

“I lost my two brothers in this village,” says Kocho massacre survivor Sammy. “I also lost my father and three of my uncles and nephews. We hope that these organisations find and identify the bodies so that we can bury them in line with Yazidi traditions.”

Five years after the Islamic State group swept through Sinjar, Kocho has become a dead city. Then inhabited by 1,700 people, it became the sight of the worst massacre when Yazidi villagers refused to convert to Islam. Extremists then gathered them at the school, taking hundreds of women captive and killing over 400 men.

Only 26 bodies have been exhumed so far. “There were a number of issues, including the security situation in this area,” Martyr’s foundation’s Dhia Kareem said.

Once the remains of the victims have been recovered, they will be sent to Baghdad for DNA analysis and identification. They will be then returned to the families for burial.

Apart from identification, Yazidi genocide survivors want justice for the crimes committed in Sinjar, but it remains uncertain if the evidence recovered will be sent to a court of law.

Five years after the massacre, most of the roughly 400,000 Yazidi community in Iraq remains displaced.

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