Gohbal: How Arabs Stole Yezidi Land

map copyright 2016 by Qasim Osman, green oval shows approximate location of Sheikh Khalaf's land (not to scale), purple star is Gohbal

Green oval shows approximate location of Sheikh Khalaf’s land (not to scale), purple star is Gohbal (map copyright 2016 by Qasim Osman)

By Dr. Amy L. Beam:

Human rights activist, Dr. Amy L. Beam, met with Hamad Ajuj, manager of Gohbol village in Shengal, to write this story. This is an excerpt from her forthcoming book, “The Last Yezidi Genocide”

I am Hamad Ajuj Murad Barakat. I was born in 1978 in Gohbal. Gohbal is in the district of Sunoni, Shengal, on the north side of the mountain. I am Yezidi. The village of Gohbal in Arabic is called Al-Andulis. Gohbal is its Kurdish name. I was the town manager of Gohbal when Daesh attacked us. After the attack, I became a Peshmerga commander at the Domiz front line. It is on the south side of the mountain next to the Hamadan massacre site where Daesh killed over 80 Yezidis in an open field.

The founder of Gohbal was Sheikh Khalaf, the brother of my great-grandfather. He was a well-known religious man as well as the chief of his tribe. Before he came to Gohbal, he was living in Basheqa and Bahzan, Yezidi villages. His father, Sheikh Nasser, moved to Karsi. After he died, his son Sheikh Khalaf founded Gohbal village in 1962. By that time Khalaf was already around 80 years old. He died in 1968.

Sheikh Khalaf and his brother, Sheikh Barakat, bought this land from the Iraqi government. It is 56,000 dunams (13,838 acres). I have the original, official documents with signatures and stamp. The ownership of this land is registered under Sheikh Khalaf’s and Barakat’s names. Some of this land was west of Gohbal, and some of it was in Gohbal proper.

Hamad Ajuj and Amy L Beam looking at map of Sheikh Khalaf’s and Sheikh Barakat’s land

original map of land purchased in 1962 by Sheikh Khalaf and Sheikh Barakat

original map of land purchased in 1962 by Sheikh Khalaf and Sheikh Barakat

deed with Sheikh Khalaf and brother Sheikh Barakat's signatures, government stamp, date of 1962

deed with Sheikh Khalaf and brother Sheikh Barakat’s signatures, government stamp, date of 1962

Khalaf gathered the inhabitants for Gohbal from Bazili, Zumar, and elsewhere. After founding Gohbal, Sheikh Khalaf distributed 5,000 dunams (1,235 acres) to Gohbal’s poor inhabitants and kept the rest for himself.

Next, some Jihish Arabs came and became Sheikh Khalaf’s farmers. They were planting for him. Jihish (also spelled Jaish, Jaeesh) are a Sunni Arab muslim tribe.

The Ajeel, who are part of a muslim tribe called Shammar, warned Sheikh Khalaf to kick the Jihish farmers off his land or they would be like a nail in his back, meaning they would make a problem for him and his people. Sheikh Khalaf told them the Jihish are poor, and since he owned four vacant houses, he let them live here.

After they lived here for a while, their population increased, and they grew powerful. Then they betrayed Sheikh Khalaf who had been kind to them, and began to fight against him. They burned his house and stole his land.

They were Jihish Sunni Arabs and, because the government, also, was Sunni, it supported them in stealing our land. The government’s position was, “How can Kurdish people be the owners of this land? Impossible.”

So the government distributed the land to Arabs. They divided the land into 60 dunams (15 acres), making 400 parcels of land. After that, they divided it among themselves.

Apart from this, the government took 416 dunams (103 acres) and claimed that it was for the Ministry of Finance, then they gave it to their people. I asked for that land in 2014. The government said that Baghdad should deal with this problem.

Sheikh Khalaf and Barakat were allowed to keep only four thousand dunams (988 acres) where Gohbal is.
Ninety-five percent of the land was given to the Jihish tribe. They were farming it for themselves in front of our eyes. Furthermore, we could not protest. We had to accept living among them. We were even forced to thank them for that, but still they were not satisfied.

This was our land and Jihish Arabs took it through the backing of a dictatorial regime. After Saddam Hussein’s regime was finished by the American occupation, we asked the new government two or three times to get our land back, and it refused. The government said when the decision on Article 140 is made, you will get it, and if it is not done, you are not going to get it back.

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution requires a referendum be held for the disputed territories to decide if they want to belong to the Kurdistan or Baghdad government. The referendum was supposed to be held by October 2016, but the deadline came and went.

We have asked the government many times for our land, but the Arabs are the ones who have the authority . The president of parliament was Osama Al Nijifi. He is not going to take the land from Sunni and give it to us. Abdullah Al Humidi (from Ajeel’s tribe) knows that this land belongs to us, and that Shallan village is our border. Jihish’s tribe was living between us in Gohbal and Shammer’s tribe.

Hamad Ajuj in his home in Gohbal

Hamad Ajuj in his home in Gohbal

Amy L Beam standing in Gurmiz village looking out at Hardan and other villages on north of mountain

Amy L Beam standing in Gurmiz village looking out at Hardan and other villages on north of mountain

After Daesh invaded Mosul, our Jihish Arab neighbors were more confident, laughing and comfortable, telling us, “You guys are going to run away one day.” We did not expect them to do what they did. After Daesh controlled many areas, the Jihish tribe supported them.

Before Daesh controlled Shengal, our Jihish neighbors were visiting each Yezidi house and telling us, “Daesh is not interested in you. They will come only to destroy Nouri Al-Maliki’s government. Daesh is not going to hurt anyone. ”

Both before and after Daesh controlled Mosul, there were threats against us. When Shia were escaping from Tal Afar, they came to our villages, and we showed compassion to them, so in return the Jihish Sunni Arabs destroyed our properties.

They forced many people out of their houses, burned their houses, and destroyed their water wells with explosives. My house on my farm, north of Gohbal and south of Rabbia, was one of them that was burned. They destroyed my brother’s well, my cousin’s well, and another one of my relatives. We quit living there until the present moment.

Before the attack on Shengal, our Yezidi drivers were taking passengers to Duhok when Jihish killed many of them and burned their cars. Jihish killed one man, injured another, and burned a car from my village of Gohbal.

The chief of Jihish’s village came to our houses and denied responsibility. They refused to name the killers. Okay, please explain to me, if you are not the guilty ones, when someone kills a driver and burns a car publically in your village, is it logical to say that you do not know him?

Jihish taunted us, “If you want to get your revenge on us, go ahead. We dare you to do what you can.” They have been torturing us since the moment they seized our lands decades ago until August 3, 2014.

Now what we want from the world, regardless of any specific country . . . Kurdistan, America, the United States Congress, or each human being . . . we want to tell them that we are innocent people. If they are going to let Arabs live with us again, we want to say that we are not going to live here. Yezidis and Arabs can never co-exist.

After Daesh invaded Shengal, they came and said, “Don’t leave your places” and “No one is going to hurt you. ” Afterwards they massacred Hardan’s people. The people of the villages of Zorova, Gohbal, Borek, Dohala, Duguri, and Sunoni had to run. Many were captured and killed.

Daesh blocked the roads of the two villages, Hardan and Khanasor, so we could not drive to Sunoni then Kurdistan for safety. We had to run to the mountain. Not everyone escaped. Daesh arrested some people, and more than 250 people from Gohbal were taken captive because of these Jihish Arabs. Jihish and other surrounding Arab villages slaughtered Yezidis from Hardan in the east to Khanasor in the west.

They came to exterminate us. The things they did not manage to do to us were only because they were not able to.

They destroyed the houses in Gohbal. If you want, I can show them to you. Thirty houses out of every one hundred houses are burned. The bullets of their doshka cannons left holes in my house in Gohbal and are still there.

After Al-Maliki’s regime failed, Jihish seized all the border’s weapons and cars. They took any government vehicle they saw. There was a governmental Hummer parked on a hill, and Jihish just took it. Why did they take that Hummer? Why didn’t I take it? Because I did not have the authority to take a Hummer. But they took the Hummer and we know the man who took it, even the name of his father.

I personally know the Jihish who burned the police station. Some of them are now in Badoosh, and they are called Abu Salim tribe. Fifteen families are living in Rabbia. I have no idea about where the rest of them live. The most important thing is that one of them is a member of a provincial council and he is supporting Jihish in his role as a member of that authority.

There is no hope for us ever to live together again with Arabs even if they were innocent, because these innocent groups are going to be aggressive again in the future. It is not due only to the problem of the land. The matter is bigger. It is a problem of religion.

We would not ask now for that land if only they had not kidnapped our women and girls by force, did not burn our houses, and did not kill our men. So what we want now is not to allow the Arabs to return to our village, because we cannot live among them if they come back.

The matter is I cannot trust those who bought our honor; our women and our sisters. When they come back, nobody is going to remain here. I promise you when Jihish come back here, you are not going to see two Yezidi families in Gohbal.

Okay, if they were not supporting Daesh, why did they escape with Daesh? If they were actually innocent people, they would have escaped with us when we escaped. None of those Arabs denied on TV that they did not participate with Daesh in killing us.

All the Arabs who lived in our area were Jihish from the Abu Salim tribe. Jihish were living between us and the Shammer tribe. There are always good and evil people in every place, so I can neither tell you every Shammer man was evil nor everyone was good.

Regardless of their tribe, we are not going to accept living among them, even if one of those Arab families who escaped with us promised us to be good and loyal. In such a case, we still will not accept them, because they may later marry someone from a family that supports Daesh.

Even if I would accept them, our people will not accept them. As the manager of Gohbal, I represent more than 500 families. If I personally said I want Jihish to come to live with us again, in such a case, there is a possibility that the people of the villages of Borek, Dohala, and Duguri may not accept my decision.

All Yezidi people are furious with Arabs. When a family lost their daughter, or their son was killed, or their house burned, or the mother is killed, in these cases, how can I defend Jihish?

I have nothing to say to the Iraqi government, but from the Kurdistan government, I want them to understand that we cannot live with Arabs anymore, and if they are going to let Arabs come back, we want them to find somewhere else for us to live. We had religious temples here and they exploded everything, so nothing is left here for us.

Even if America surrounds us with their big weapon and gives us a helping hand, we will not be satisfied and will not stay in our villages when there are Arabs living close to us or among us. It is out of the question to deal with Arabs any more. We will thank any human being and organization when they do something for us.

[Note: Jihish tribe leader Omar Hussein Ibrahim was responsible for the enslavement of hundreds of Yezidi women and operated as a commander for Daesh in the area of Sununi and Gohbal. Hussein Ibrahim was killed in the Peshmerga offensive in December 2015.]

Dr. Amy L. Beam is a researcher, writer and human rights activist. She has lived in Turkey then Iraq since 2007. She is executive director of AAJ humanitarian organization in Kurdistan, focused on helping the Yezidi women and children who have escaped ISIS captivity. This is an excerpt from her forthcoming book, “The Last Yezidi Genocide”. Contact: amybeam@yahoo.com, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmyLBeam


Gohbal: How Arabs Stole Yezidi Land – Part 1

Gohbal: How Arabs Stole Yezidi Land – Part 2

Gohbal: How Arabs Stole Yezidi Land – Part 3

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