It's hard to imagine trying to identify your loved one's remains when the head is missing from the body, but that's what thousands of Yezidis are dealing with right now. They have located 17 mass graves with bodies and heads, including bones and decomposed bodies, all thrown together in a gruesome tangle. This is what the media does not show or report, the pitiful aftermath of the ISIS savages on the warpath.
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region - When Islamic State militants launched an assault last July on Kurdish Yezidi villages in northern Iraq, many residents took refuge on slopes of nearby Mount Shingal.
Others were not so lucky.
Those who left behind fell into the brutal hands of the jihadists. Survivors have described horrific scenes of Yezidi Kurds mercilessly lined up and murdered, then buried in the mass graves. The extent of the suffering is still unknown.
To date, two mass graves have been unearthed. One of sites, in Pirdya, contained 24 corpses. The second, near Xanesur, held 26 bodies with two others found nearby.
In another extreme case, 52 dead bodies were found in Zummar and Sunun towns. Seventeen of the victims had been decapitated and none of the heads could be found.
The horrific scenes have forced families to drastic measures to find their loved ones.
Ali Bazu, son of one of the Yezidi Kurdish victims from Xanesur, went to the mass grave as soon as he heard it had been discovered.
“My dad was in Xanesur. Our house key was in my father’s pocket. I figured one of the bodies must be my father’s, from the key to our door,” said Bazu.
But, like many others, Bazu was not allowed to search through the bodies.
“His remains were not handed to me. They told me the body is going to be taken for an autopsy. I do not know where the body is now,” he told Rudaw.
In September, a committee was formed to excavate the mass graves. The team began by gathering information on the mass graves and the missing individuals.
“We have information that there are many mass graves in Shingal. But many of them are located in areas that are yet to be liberated,” said Captain Falah Hassan, head of the committee.
“We have identified 17 mass graves. We managed to unearth the bodies in two of the 17 graves. Then we received orders that excavation must stop,” he added.
Hassan said the decision to stop the excavation came from Kurdish President Masoud Barzani.
“President Barzani’s decision is based on scientific reasons. It is not a political decision. We have to wait for the foreign experts to come and excavate the bodies and document the mass graves for later use in the genocide case,” he said.
After Kurdish forces recaptured certain areas, more mass graves were found from which 52 bodies have been sent to Duhok for autopsy. The bodies are now kept in the Duhok morgue.
“They will be sent to Erbil for DNA tests. But the process is not easy and rather time consuming,” Hassan said.
He added: “We are waiting for complete liberation of Shingal then inviting foreign experts and UN to excavate the graves. We will conduct DNA test for all the bodies, then we will announce the names.”
Of the 52 bodies, only one identity is confirmed and with no body to match.
“An identity card has been found that belongs to one of the bodies, but we do not know which body. They are all mixed.”
Hassan must ask relatives of the victims to be patient.
“Before we had to send a sample to Baghdad for DNA test. But now we have a device in Erbil. Now the test can be done in Erbil. However, the test not only requires a lot of money, but also two months for the results to come back.”
According to an expert in the Duhok Autopsy Department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the DNA tests for Shingal victims cost millions.
“In Shingal 5,000 people are missing for each missing person’s DNA cost is $30, 000. If we are to conduct the tests the cost is $300 million US dollars,” the expert said.
Nasrat Badi, the director of the Martyrs and Anfal Office in Duhok, said the remains are tangle together and had decomposed down to only bones.
“We have to first separate the bones then decide on their identities,” said Badi.
Badi also told Rudaw, he believes most of the mass graves are located in the Qiblet area, which is still under ISIS control.
Ali Bazu still does not know where his father’s body is.
“When I found the key. I wanted to find the body and take the body to a burial site.” [But the bodies] “were mixed, I was not sure which one was my father’s remains. I was told the bodies are going to be taken to Erbil.”
Like many others, Bazu is urging Kurdish authorities to be quick in identifying the bodies.
“So we can have closure. We still sometimes think he might be alive, somewhere.”