Khaled Murad walks around his home in the Yazidi village of Kojo, located 4km south of Sinjar. Yazidis living in the village call Kojo “the mother of massacres” after the numerous atrocities committed against the Yazidi people by ISIS. Militants took away Khaled and his family, including his children. He hasn’t seen them since.
As he walks around his house, Khaled looks through burnt images of his family. “This is the son of my brother and that’s my son,” says Khaled, crouching on the ground, disconsolate as he remembers his relatives. Khaled was also taken by ISIS militants and thrown into a mass grave along with his family. Despite being shot and left to die, he was the only one who managed to escape.
To this day Khaled still remembers those who took away his loved ones. “We have never offended anyone. We have never hurt anyone,” Khaled says. “They came to kill us and kill the people of the village and commit genocide.”
ISIS seized Sinjar and its neighbouring Kojo in August 2014. Tens of thousands fled from ISIS brutality, running to Mount Sinjar where dozens died of thirst and hunger as militants besieged them. Those that remained in the village were summarily executed.
Among one of the biggest massacres committed at the time was inside Kojo’s school. After gaining control of the town, ISIS militants rounded up men and women – an estimated 1,700 people – and gathered them in the school. Within two hours, hundreds had been executed. The clothes of those slaughtered remain dispersed in one of the school’s buildings as a reminder of the heinous atrocity committed by ISIS militants.
In November 2015, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Peshmerga, in conjunction with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and allied forces, launched an offensive on Sinjar, which was retaken within a number of days. The towns south of Sinjar, including Kojo, however, remained under ISIS control leaving thousands under the group’s rule.
In early May 2017, the Lalish and Kojo Battalions, the two biggest Yazidi armed groups within the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units, began liberating the villages south of Sinjar. On May 25th, fighters had finally liberated the town of Kojo, putting an end to almost three years of ISIS rule. One of the survivors of ISIS rule, Nadia Murad, visited the village for the first time since being taken by ISIS and exploited as a sex slave. “The liberation of Kocho is a victory for humanity,” said Murad, standing in her village. “It is a victory of good over evil.”