Cartoon shows Yazidis' struggle against annihilation
The graphic novel Shingal shows that the Yazidis were not passive victims of the Islamic State's attacks in August 2014. The Yazidis were abandoned by the army that was supposed to protect them, but the men held out so their families could escape up Mount Sinjar, where Mission East has been helping them ever since.
The story of the Yazidis' own resistance has not been told or documented. Journalist Tore Rørbæk and cartoonist Mikkel Sommer have remedied this with the book Shingal. The book documents with text and drawings, produced after Rørbæk's meticulous research and the Yazidis' detailed information, the atrocities that the UN, the European Parliament and country after country now recognise as genocide.
The defence that disappeared
Tore Rørbæk first met the Yazidis in northern Iraq. Here he spoke to Yazidi women who had enlisted in the Kurdish PKK army. They told of Islamic State killings, rapes and kidnappings. The story is complicated. According to Rørbæk, when Mosul fell and was taken by the Islamic State, the Iraqi government army also disintegrated. The Yazidis, Christians and other victims of the Islamic State's purges had only the Kurdish Peshmerga army to defend them. But this army also fled with its tail between its legs as the terrorist movement approached - despite promising the minorities otherwise.
- I am outraged by the Peshmerga's failure to protect the Yazidis. Without informing the population, between 7 000 and 12 000 soldiers withdrew overnight. The population just woke up and saw that all the soldiers were gone, says Rørbæk.
Yazidi men held out
The Yazidi men bravely formed a front so their families could escape up Mount Sinjar, which has been known for centuries for its protective power. The Yazidis knew the mountain inside out - so the male fighters were able to form strongholds and firing positions in just the right places on the mountain, forcing Islamic State to give up on them. So the Yazidis were trapped there - 50,000 people - with nothing wet or dry until a corridor was created for emergency relief. Relief that was also provided by Mission East.
Stronger than words
Tore decided to investigate the matter thoroughly and contacted the Kurdish authorities in the region for permission to enter Sinjar. In addition to the usual bureaucracy in the latitudes, it was extra difficult to get permission.
- It was clear that they didn't want me to drill too much into that story, says Rørbæk
Eventually, with the help of the Mission East office in Iraq, the permit was obtained, and the opportunity to document the huge failure was there.
- After all, there are no pictures at all from the actual attack on 3 August 2014. So I decided to create them by drawing the events from the Yazidis' own stories.
Why have you published this page of Yazidi history?
- With the drawings I can reconstruct the course of events, which are not represented in any other way. I can create visual impressions that are a thousand times stronger than words. And I do this as a defence for the Yazidis, to tell them that they are not only victims in need, but also fought the Islamic State themselves.
- I wanted to create new representations! Show other sides of the history of this proud people. What is striking is that the courage of the Yazidis is not told at all elsewhere. I wanted to tell how they felt let down and felt the pain when their defences suddenly disappeared.
What do you think it means for the Yazidis that this side of the story is being told?
- I think it means a lot for their self-understanding - also for future generations. Their children need to know that they were not passive, but fought for everything they were taught and more.
- They need to know that the Yazidis have a tremendous survival instinct. And that they saved their people from annihilation. That many sacrificed themselves in the struggle so that others could escape.
- I hope it will give them a sense of pride - because they need that as a small people who have gone through so much suffering," concludes Tore Rørbæk.
Since 2015, Tore Rørbæk has been a Middle East correspondent for Jyllands Posten and Kristeligt Dagblad. Mikkel Sommer has worked on illustrations for The New York Times, among others. Shingal is published by Forlæns in 2019.