The number of minority groups in former ISIS-held areas of Iraq have decreased considerably following the group’s three-year rule over large swaths of the country.
Minorities were among the hardest hit by ISIS militants who perceived groups such as Yazidis and Shabaks anathema to their ideology. Even “people of the book” such as Christians were targeted and their homes destroyed.
Pre-ISIS estimates indicate that as many as 1,250,000 people from minority groups lived in Iraq. Many of these groups are from the Nineveh Plains, an area between the Kurdistan Region and Mosul in Iraq’s northern Nineveh Province. This number has now decreased to almost 700,000 with many people fleeing or killed by ISIS’ brutal rule.
The Yazidis, whose name translates as “he created me”, have been among the hardest hit in Iraq. Massacres in Sinjar in August 2014, most prominently around Mount Sinjar and the village of Kojo, have stained the recent history of Yazidis in Iraq. Due to violence and systematic persecution, 100,000 have fled the country, while 15,000 still remain unaccounted for, thought to be dead or missing. Furthermore, 45 mass graves containing Yazidi bodies have been found in Iraq.
The Shabaks, a relatively unknown group who have lived in Iraq for over five centuries, are Muslims with a majority of Twelver Shiites and a minority of Sunnis. Shabaks mostly reside in the Nineveh Plains and have their own language, separate to that of Arabic and Kurdish. Due to the arrival of the so-called Islamic State, as well as historical persecution from extremist groups, hundreds of Shabaks along with their families have emigrated to other countries. Some have even been internally displaced, with many of the Shia Shabak moving to areas in the south of Iraq, like Karbala and Najaf.
The Turkmen are the third largest ethnic group in Iraq after Arabs and Kurds, with the majority being Muslims and a minority Christian. The Turkmen come from the ancient Sumerians who migrated from Central Asia to Mesopotamia in the fifth millennium BC and speak their own language, Turkmen, a Turkish dialect close to the language spoken in Azerbaijan. Approximately 500,000 Turkmen have been displaced across Iraq, with many residing in the contested city of Kirkuk, which was recently taken back by the central government.
And finally, Christians, too, have been the subject of ISIS’ oppressive and deadly attacks. Many Christians who returned to their homes after the defeat of ISIS southeast of Mosul have returned to rubble, as well as an increasingly uncertain future. Approximately 150,000 used to live in Nineveh Province, with 30,000 in Mosul. Although 70% of these people have reportedly returned, many churches, homes and sanctuaries have been destroyed, some dating back 1,500 years, forcing Christians (with the help of others) in Iraq to rebuild their heritage.