Amy L Beam works with Yezidi refugees and survivors in Iraq and has agreed to share a chapter from her forthcoming book: “The Last Yezidi Genocide”
NB: This was first published on Amy’s facebook page, link at bottom of the article.
For the excerpt please continue reading:
Kocho Manager Describes August 15, 2014, Daesh Executions Were Watched from the Sky
by Dr. Amy L. Beam, as told to her by Nayef Jaso Qassim, October 26, 2015
The flat plains of Nineveh, where Yezidis live, is the bread basket of Iraq. In the center is Mount Shengal, surrounded on all sides by 100 kilometers of wide open, rich agricultural land and many small villages. (Sinjar is the Arabic name and Shengal is the Kurdish name.) There are no trees for shade. The only canopy is the expansive blue sky. We grow the barley, oats, and wheat for flour for the entire country of Iraq. We are mostly farmers and shepherds with large herds of sheep. Some men take jobs in the cities of Duhok and Erbil.
August in Iraq is the dry season. The wheat and barley crops have been harvested and trucked to Erbil silos. Temperatures soar to a stifling 45C. The green grasses die and turn brown. The ground hardens and cracks from drought. A grayish-brown fog of dust hangs in the atmosphere like a heavy blanket, lowering visibility and causing people chronic breathing problems.
I am the manager of Kocho village. My name is Nayef Jaso Qassim. I was born in 1958, one year after Kocho was founded by my father, the leader of the Al-Mandkany clan. People tell me I look younger, but after what I have seen in my lifetime, I feel as old as the desecrated earth of Shengal itself.
I have witnessed the most treacherous betrayal that I could not have imagined was possible. Even though the Yezidis have recorded 73 genocidal attacks upon our people, the 74th was unlike all others. It destroyed the lives and properties of over 400,000 Yezidis. It destroyed our ancestral homeland. Shengal is finished.
Four of my sons were killed. I lost 71 relatives in Kocho, all sharing my family name of Qassim. They are either dead or missing. Twelve of them had married into our family. Only two of the kidnapped women on my list have escaped. One is the wife of my dead son.
Now my mission is to tell the world the truth about the attacks on Shengal in August 2014. I defy any individual or government or Daesh terrorist [Islamic State jihadists] to silence me, because truth is on my side. I will never stop telling what happened. Only God himself can silence me.
Yezidis share many customs with the Kurds and the Arabs, including managing our villages under the tribal or clan system. We do not elect mayors. The leader or manager of the village is a senior man from the clan. As the town manager, I am given great respect by the town’s people who are all my cousins to one degree or another.
I make decisions that affect the well-being of the entire town of 1,735 people. Being manager carries great responsibility to protect and provide for my people. A leader must also take counsel from his advisors. So I am often in council meetings with the eldest men in Kocho, the fathers of each family. On important matters I must consult with the town’s people to reach consensus and have their support. We have a big hall for these gatherings.
On July 28, 2014, my wife and I flew to Istanbul. My elder brother, Ahmed Jaso Qassim, who is actually the head of our Al Mandkany clan which includes Kocho and four other villages, returned on July 27 from his work in Duhok to manage Kocho in my absence. His first wife and their house is also in Kocho.
We Yezidis have our own festivals, separate in custom and dates from the Kurds and Arabs around us. One of our annual events is the feast after the forty hottest days in the year. It is celebrated after the crop is harvested.
On August 2, one day before the Islamic State terrorists attacked Shengal, my brother Ahmed Jaso hosted a lavish luncheon at his house for 50 guests. It included 22 Arab neighbors of whom 15 were managers of the surrounding Arab villages and one Kurdish village. Ahmed sacrificed a sheep for this special occasion. There was every kind of special food prepared.
Women and children were not present at this special luncheon. All the village managers were friends and equals. This was a luncheon for Ahmed’s associates and neighbors to share in the Yezidis’ harvest. It was like The Last Supper, but instead of there being only one Judas who betrayed Jesus, 13 out of the 15 Arab village managers betrayed my brother and the entire Al-Mandkandy clan less than 15 hours after smiling in his face, dining at his table, and eating his sacrificial sheep.
Clan leaders of neighboring Arab villages who had lunch with Ahmed Jaso August 2, 2014: Nofel
9. Muhammed Imad
10. Mallik Al Nuri
11. Muhammed Abaz
13. Farhan Jarallah
Not only were my brother Ahmed and I friends with the managers of the surrounding Arab villages, but our wives and children also were friends. We danced at each other’s weddings and visited in one another’s homes. Our children played together. We grew up together. We did business together. I regularly traveled together to Baghdad and Mosul with the Arab village managers for meetings with the government.
Our fathers’ friendship goes back to 1948. The Yezidis used to live with Arabs in Kinissee which is only 8 kilometers to the east of Kocho on Blaj Road. There were never any problems between the Yezidis and Arabs in Kinissee. In 1956, Yezidis built Kocho and they all moved out of Kinissee. Kocho is surrounded by 13 Arab villages and one Kurdish village.
Since 1957, when Kocho was founded, our fathers, and then we, have been friends with our Arab neighbors with not one problem between us. Our problems started only when Daesh came. We call the Islamic State “Daesh”.
When Shengal was attacked on August 3, 2014, my wife and I took the next plane from Istanbul back to Erbil. While we were flying home, some people from Kocho tried to get away in their cars. Daesh captured them and massacred a total of 150 people in three different locations. The others turned back.
I wanted to drive immediately from the airport to Kocho, but my brother, Ahmed Jaso, told me on the phone to stay in Duhok. It was already too late to return. Peshmerga had left Kocho and it was now surrounded by Daesh. Daesh was everywhere in control of Shengal cities and villages. Over fifty thousand Yezidis were trapped on Mount Shengal without enough water or food.
The road from Sunoni, on the north of the mountain, across the flat open plain to Kurdistan, was jammed with cars and trucks packed with families fleeing to safety. The Peshmerga pickup trucks were leading, with Yezidis following close behind. Four-wheel trucks were passing on the side of the road over the hard ground, over-taking the slow traffic and turning the two-lane country road into a four-lane one-way road.
It would be impossible to drive against the flow of traffic that inched northward at only a few kilometers per hour. Every civilian had to pass through several checkpoints before entering the safety of Kurdistan which has protected borders in northern Iraq.
So I stayed here in Duhok, Kurdistan, from where I was in constant telephone contact with my brother, Ahmed Jaso, trapped in Kocho.
We did not know Abu Hamza, the Daesh leader who came to meet with Ahmed Jaso on August 5, but he came with my Arab friend Khalef Al Ayid and one other man. Khalef Al Ayid is the manager of Pisqi Jemali village which is 3 kilometers east of Kocho. Abu Hamza is from Khaider city, south of Mosul. They drank tea together in the meeting hall next to Ahmed’s house.
Abu Hamza demanded we convert to Islam and gave us three days to decide. We tried to get outside help to rescue the village. We called the Arab managers who had been Ahmed’s luncheon guests on August 2, and asked them to help us by going to talk to the Daesh leader in Mosul. I do not know the name of this bigger Daesh leader, but his wife’s father is named Salam Mala Allo.
The Arab managers from our neighboring villages, whom we asked for help, talked to the brother of the Daesh leader in Mosul. They promised to do something to help us, but no help arrived. We remained besieged.
On August 8, Abu Hamza returned pretending to help us. Ahmed Jaso and the men of Kocho listened to what Abu Hamza had to say. The meeting hall was full. Hamza told us we did not have to convert to Islam after all. He told us to go about our normal lives, but we did not believe him. We knew they were Daesh.
For twelve days my brother and I and all the people of Kocho were desperately phoning people everywhere in Iraq and in the world asking to be rescued. My friends who were interpreters with the U.S. Army took our message to Congress and the government in Washington, D.C. and to Europe. We called members of the E.U. parliament. Yezidis living in Europe went to the European Court in Brussels and pleaded for help for Yezidis, especially to rescue Kocho. We contacted every embassy. There were even demonstrations in Brussels in front of the European Court and in Hannover, Germany.
We called government leaders and military commanders in Kurdistan and Iraq and begged to be rescued, but the Iraqi government gave us no response and did not care. We were racing for time. We never rested.
So I sent my message to the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani, the most respected religious leader in Iraq. Only a few days earlier, on August 1, six grand ayatollahs had publicly announced their support to Ayatollah Sistini because Sistini was calling for a democratic Iraq in which each person could vote. Sistini called for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down or be voted out of office.
Sistini sent my message to Prime Minister Maliki: “Kocho needs to be rescued.”
The next day the Secretary to the Ministry of Iraq, close to Maliki, called me from his phone, 07802200011, and asked me if I was Nayef Jaso, the manager of Kocho. I said, “Yes.” We talked.
After our talk, the Secretary of the Ministry of Iraq signed an order to rescue Kocho. This order was sent to the operations control room for the Iraqi Army in Baghdad. This happened sometime between August 8 and 12. My sources told me that Americans were in the control room along with Iraqis.
I will never trust Americans again.
I had connections within the PDK political party. I sent them the same message, “Kocho needs to be rescued.” I gave them a plan. They said they would send it to the military operations room in Erbil, capital of Kurdistan. There were Kurds, Arabs, and Americans in that control room. I did not see the Americans in the operations room in Erbil with my own eyes, because I was in Duhok, but my intermediary swears that American military personnel were there.
I asked for 14 planes to include ten helicopters, two Apache attack helicopters, and two military fighter jets such as F-16s. The helicopters were to be used to evacuate the people of Kocho to Mount Shengal. The Apaches and the F-16s were to protect the helicopters during their operation. I said, “I have 200 Yezidi men of my own forces on the ground in Kocho. They will protect the helicopters when they land.”
We got no sure reply to our request to be rescued.
On August 12, I called my brother Ahmed in Kocho and told him, “It’s a plan. I do not know what will happen in the future, but I am sure it is a plan. Take whatever steps you can to save yourselves. No one is coming to your rescue.”
On August 13, Daesh returned and brought some rice and food to the village. They also brought more guards to surround the village night and day. Only 3% were foreign. Only 7% were from other areas of Iraq. Ninety percent came from the Arab villages in Shengal. They were our neighbors.
The operations room said to my intermediary contact that they were watching Kocho intensively. They promised if more than two cars go to Kocho, they would bomb the cars.
I told my brother on the phone, “On August 15, Daesh will give you their decision. Either you can change your religion or they will kill everyone or you can escape to the mountain.” Daesh did not say this, but I understood.
On August 14, Ahmed hosted a luncheon meeting with five of the 15 Arab managers from surrounding villages in an effort to avert an attack. They were Nofel, Khaton, Tarik, Jarella, and Farhan Jarella. These were the same friends who had come for lunch on August 2. Abu Hamza attended, too.
On August 15, at 9 AM many cars entered Kocho from three available directions. Cars came from Tal Afar to the north, heading south on Blaj Road. Others came from Blaj village southeast of Kocho, heading north. Others came from Baaj, southwest of Kocho. They had loudspeakers on their cars and announced they would take everyone to the mountain. It was very hot that morning, so they brought ice and distributed it. They told everyone to bring their gold and cars and report to the school which is on the northeast corner of Kocho.
From 9 AM planes were flying overhead. The operations room in Baghdad watched and did nothing even though there were lines of cars and pickups surrounding and entering into Kocho.
They took the women and children to the second floor of the school. The world knows by now that they were all kidnapped and the women and girls were beaten, raped, and used as sex slaves. Some of them have escaped, but nearly 3,000 Yezidis are still being held captive.
Daesh kept the men and adolescent boys on the ground floor of the school. They checked the hair under the arms of some of the boys to determine age. Young boys went with their mothers.
Abu Hamza asked Ahmed one last time, “Do you want to change your religion?” My brother told everyone, “You are free to choose.”
No one agreed to change religion except for one family that was not from Kocho. They were allowed to leave. Daesh said to the others, “We know you are not going to convert to Islam.”
Until they collected the mobile phones, I was always in touch with my son, Mufit Nayef Jaso, who was only 20. He was the last one to have his phone taken, because he was hiding it in his pocket with a wire in his ear. He was in constant communication with me. He was giving me the details of what was going on in the school. How they separated the men from the women and children. How they collected everyone’s gold and cash and took their ID cards (hawea).
When they started taking the men out of the school and driving them away, my son told me they were shooting everyone. I told my son, “They will kill you.” Then they took his phone.
I was in Duhok meeting with a man named Khairi Hamoka. He was sitting right next to me. He was talking on the phone to the operations room in Erbil. As my son told me what was happening, I was telling Khairi, and Khairi was telling the operations room. They knew everything that was happening in real time. The operations room said they were watching from the planes overhead.
Khairi relayed the question from the operations room to me, “What will Daesh do?”
I answered, “They will kill everyone.” I told them, “Bomb everyone, the women, the children, the men.”
The man from the operations room asked, “You gave us orders to bomb and kill everyone in Kocho? What is your relationship to them?”
I said, “They are my family, my children, my relatives. I will write a report and put my fingerprints on it that I gave the orders to bomb.”
The operations room said, “Human rights will not allow us to do that.”
So they watched from their planes and never did anything to stop the executions that went on for an hour from 11AM until about noon. Two planes flew overhead watching until late afternoon. Inside my head, I was screaming for help. I felt helpless. No! No! No! Please stop them! Please bomb them! Where was God?
When they took my son’s phone, I called my Arab friend who lives in Pisqi Junoovi, 2 kilometers from Kocho. I told him to go see and listen for sounds of shooting. My friend called me back and began to cry on the phone and said, “Yes, you are right. They are killing them. I see one person running away. He is coming toward Pisqi Junoovi.”
I asked my friend to care for him. When he arrived, my friend called me again and let me speak with him. He was Alias Salih Qassim, the father of Basman who is missing and presumed dead. Alias was shot in the knee. Alias told me they were shooting everyone. I told him to take care and promised we will try to get you and take you to the mountain.
This information was passed immediately by Khairi Hamoka to the operations room in Erbil.
Daesh took the men in their own cars and pickup trucks parked at the school to four locations at the edges of Kocho. The first location was to the water storage pool on the side of the perimeter dirt road at the edge of southeast Kocho. The first group of men and boys was shot in the back of the head at the edge of the pool. This is the group Alias was in. He ran directly east to escape.
The second group was in the same location, but Daesh made them get into the empty pool where they were executed.
The third and fourth groups were executed about 300 meters away from the first group on the southeast corner of Kocho, next to the perimeter dirt road where it turns to the west and wraps around the village.
The fifth group they took to a farm one kilometer north of Kocho. [According to a survivor, this was actually the fourth group to leave the school, but it may have taken longer to get there or shoot them because Daesh made a video first.] They put about 50 men into the empty pool and shot them. Three men escaped with multiple bullet wounds.
The sixth group was executed on the southwest corner of Kocho.
During the executions, the men in the cars saw others who were dead or being shot and they jumped from the cars and the back of the pickup trucks in an attempt to escape. On the northwest perimeter of the town, twelve men got shot and killed while running away.
Later, Daesh brought other kidnapped Yezidis to live in Kocho. They are witnesses to the locations of the four execution sites and the twelve bodies of men who jumped from the trucks.
Kocho had a population of 453 males aged 15 years and older. Of these, 19 men and teenagers escaped the execution lines with bullet wounds. These men have identified 84 people who were killed next to them.
There are another 350 men who are considered missing because no witness has identified them as killed. This includes my brother, Ahmed Jaso Qassim, leader of our clan. No one has heard from any of these 350 men since the attack of August 15, 2014. We will not have closure until we can enter Kocho, uncover the mass graves, and perform DNA testing.
Four months after the attack, in December 2014, I visited the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. It’s a town, not a building. It is rumored they have 5,000 American soldiers there. We argued for two hours. I made him listen. The U.S. government cannot claim that it does not know what happened in Kocho.
I am sure if I live long enough, I will see the videos, taken from the planes, of the men and boys being executed in Kocho. If we do not have weapons, our children will fight with pens.
No one has seen me shed a tear, because my life’s mission now is to tell the world the truth about Kocho. The U.S. Embassy offered me a visa, but I turned it down. I will stay right here in Iraq.
Nayef Jaso Qassim
manager of Kocho
October 26, 2015
Duhok, Kurdistan, Iraq
interviewed by Amy L Beam
copyright 2017 by Amy L Beam; chapter from forthcoming book “The Last Yezidi Genocide”
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