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Dead but not forgotten: The unexpected deaths of three Yazidi sisters

Written by Nazaneen Rashid

Edited by Teresa Thornhill

Six years ago three Yazidi were found dead under suspicious circumstances. The cause of their death is not yet confirmed, but murder is strongly believed to be the most likely cause. A crusade to establish the reason for the women’s death is on-going. In the compelling article that follows, Nazaneen Rashid dismisses some of the suggestions made and points to a possible cover up by government officials. KMEWO shares the pain and anguish of the Yazidi people and joins Nazaneen and other sympathisers in demanding an answer from the Kurdish Regional Government as to why the women were killed and what has been done to apprehend the killers.

The unexplained deaths of three Yazidi sisters

It is just over six years since three Yazidi sisters were killed in suspicious circumstances near Sheikhan. Both the KRG and Kurdish women’s organisations have been remarkably silent about the incident. The issue is all the more worrying given that thousands of Yazidi women are known to have been killed or captured by ISIS as sex slaves in the last few years.

Different versions of the incident, which occurred in 2011, have been captured in a number of websites. The most disturbing version of the story was given by the person in charge of the KDP office, who said that the women were beggars and that they went with drivers ( i.e. were prostitutes). I have followed the story closely in order to see whether those who committed the crime were ever brought to justice. Nothing has been reported and I am therefore asking for an answer from the authorities.

I set out below the reports on the case which appeared in the Kurdish media.

‘Three sisters were killed.’ – Kurdistan Nwe

‘The bodies of the three women were found on the main Duhok to Mosul road, near the Sub-Administrative district of Sheikhan. The women’s initials were given as G.H.kh, who was 61 years old; Kh.H.Kh, who was 56 and Sh.H.Kh, who was 51. A board of four people was set up to carry out an investigation. This included Colonel Muhammad, who was responsible for combating violence against women in Sheikhan, a post which was established a month earlier; a police officer from Sheikhan police station and two other police officers.  Colonel Muhammad told Kurdistani Nwe that the investigation would continue until the cause of the murders was established.

‘On 16th January, police were informed by the representative (Mukhtar) of Kitki village that the corpses of three women were thrown onto the main Duhok to Mosul road. The corpses had bullet wounds.

‘The deceased women were sisters, from the Yazd group. They had moved from Shingal area to Sheikhan and settled in Kitki village where most of the inhabitants are Arab settlers.  The three corpses were sent to the Forensic Medicine Unit in Duhok.

‘Colonel Zedan said that two of the sisters’ husbands had died, and that the third sister was separated from her husband. Despite his claim that there would be an investigation, no motive has been established for the murders.  We know that the three women were killed around 11am in the morning.  They had left home on 15th January 2011 and their bodies were found on 16th January.

‘Colonel Muhammad the board member said “Due to the women’s ages, I do not believe this was an act of violence against women. Furthermore, their families didn’t make any complaints.”

‘Hazhar Yousef, a lawyer at Zakhu court, said “We regard this incident as murder. Anyone charged will be put on trial according to Law 409.  If convicted, they will receive either a life sentence or Capital punishment.”’

The same incident was reported in the women’s issues website Warvin. Warvin claimed that sources from Sheikhan told them that it appeared that the women were killed by their family member on the pretext that the family’s honour was at stake. The same sources said the murders were not an act of terrorism but rather reflected a social issue.

Hawlati newspaper also reported the incident and stated that sources from Sheikhan had said these were honour killings.

On 26 January 2011, Badran Ahmad Habib posted an article on Kurdistan Net website asking where the government stood on the issue. He went on to say that In Kitki village, around 15km away from Sheikhan city, on 15th January the dead bodies of three women were found. The three women are sisters; Khunaw was 60, Shireen 55 and Gawer 50.  They had left Mosul city four years earlier as a result of violence.  They lived with their ten children in a derelict building outside Kitki village.  One of the women had lost her husband in the Iraq-Iran war, the second one’s husband had been hung in Mosul city and the third one was separated from her husband.

Habib went on to say that the three victims were killed by bullets. According to KDP personnel, the investigation found that they had been beaten and some of their teeth had been pulled out. The person in charge of the local KDP branch stated that the incident had arisen from a social problem.  He added that the three women were beggars and prostitutes.  He also said ‘We have information that these women were killed by their family members.’ Badran Ahmed Habib considered that the KDP spokesperson was trying to establish that these were honour killings.

Rudaw newspaper reported as follows on 31 January 2011:

‘Three women were killed on 15th January in the Sub-administrative district of Sheikhan, in the Duhok Governorate and their killers remain unknown. Khunaw Hussein aged 60, Shireen Hussein aged 55 and Gawhari Hussein aged 50 had lived in a destroyed building close to Sheikhan Education ‘Department. The three sisters were beggars.  Khunaw had lost her husband during the Iraq-Iran war and was left with six children (4 sons and 2 daughters).  Shireen’s husband was hung in Mosul by Saddam Hussein’s regime, leaving her with one daughter and two sons. Gawhari was divorced, with no children.

‘The eldest son of Khunaw, Amin A’ato is now the head of the family, and the only breadwinner.   A’ato lives by collecting empty cans of Pepsi Cola and selling them. Amin told Rudaw that on 15th January his mother and his two aunts went out, telling him they would be back in the evening. ‘We waited until the next day,’ he said.  ‘In the morning I went out to repair my motorbike. When I came home, I saw policemen at our door.  The police told me that my mother and aunts had been killed.’

‘The corpses of the three women were found near Kitki village which is 15km away from Sheikhan city. These women are from the Yezidi group.  Originally they were from Bashink village of Labanat town, near Mosul city.  They had left for Sheikhan four years earlier due to the poor security situation in the area and attacks on the Yezidi Kurds by militant groups.

‘Amin said that after they moved to Sheikhan the family had lived in poverty. That was why his mother and aunts started begging.

‘Until now it appears that no one has been arrested regarding this crime. The three women were killed by bullets. Amin said the Forensic doctor told him that marks of torture had been found on their bodies.  The women’s teeth were pulled out.  Even the hand one of them was tied.  The three women left behind 10 children with no source of income

‘Colonel Zedan Zakaria the Director of Sheikhan Police station told Rudaw, on 16th January 2011, that the representative (Mukhtar) of Kitk village informed us that the corpses of three women were found in the suburb of Kitk village. A police unit were sent to the area as well, I went with the Mayer of Sheikhan city to the place where the bodies were found. We were able to identify them as one of the victims had a copy of her ID in her pocket.  He said as well that the three victims were killed with bullets to their heads. Colonel Zedan continued saying that until now no one filed a complaint   against the killing. No one has been arrested yet, but an investigation is on-going.  We have some information regarding the incident; we will soon find the killers.

‘Mr. Azad Ismael who was in charge of the KDP office in Sheikhan said, in a statement for Rudaw, that the incident is social. These three women were beggars and went with drivers (i.e. prostitutes). He added according to the information we have these three women were killed by their relatives. Yet Amin A’ato claims that he and his siblings have no relatives.

‘A source from Forensic Medicine unit in Duhok hospital confirmed to Rudaw that the three women were killed with bullets and marks of torture appear on the head of the women.’

I want an answer from the KRG as to why these women were killed.

There are a number of points which require clarification:

Firstly, what was the motive for the killings? It is possible that the women were killed by Islamists simply because they were members of the Yazidi minority; the alternative possibility is that these were indeed honour killings. It is not clear, however, who would have killed the women for reasons of honour, given that Amin A’ato claimed that there were no relatives.

Was honour killing simply a convenient label to use, given that the real cause of the killing is not known?

Secondly, the suggestion that the women were killed because they were beggars and went with drivers (were prostitutes) requires explanation. Begging is not a crime. Prostitution is a criminal offence but the penalty is imprisonment, not death. Further, it is improbable that women in their fifties and sixties would be working as prostitutes.

Thirdly, in a wealthy region like Kurdistan, where members of the government are millionaires living a luxury lifestyle, why were three impoverished women with 10 children obliged to live in a ruined building and with no means of support?

I want an answer from the Kurdistan Regional Government. Who killed these women and what happened to the killer or killers? If nobody has been arrested on suspicion of committing these murders, is the investigation still on going? If not, why not?

I also want an answer from Kurdish women’s organisation and Kurdish women activists as to why the case of these women was not followed up.


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