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In Photos: Now Free From the Islamic State, It Has Been a Desperate Year for Sinjar

VICE News photographer Frederick Paxton has made multiple trips to cover the plight of the Yazidi people and the fight against the Islamic State in Sinjar, Iraq, over the last year.

by VICE News
Nov 23 2015, 3:55pm

Photo par Frederick Paxton

The Yazidi people are a religious minority with roots in Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam that settled in Iraq's Nineveh plain nearly 1,000 years ago. Their communities are mainly located in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Estimates put their population anywhere from 70,000 up to 500,000.

In August 2014, Islamic State (IS) fighters pushed north and attacked Sinjar city in northern Iraq, home to the largest and oldest Yazidi community. More than 50,000 people fled, with many ending up on nearby Mount Sinjar without food, water, or shelter, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. Rescue efforts were launched, including US air support to both supply aid and bomb IS. The Kurdish militia known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) also created a safe corridor to help Yazidis escape into Syrian territory they control.

Related: In Photos: Kurdish Forces Celebrate Routing the Islamic State From Sinjar

IS has been particularly focused on "cleansing" the Yazidis, casting them as devil worshippers and apostates. As they moved through Yazidi areas, residents were faced with prospect of death, conversion, or fleeing. Many did not get a choice and thousands were slaughtered. Women were taken as sex slaves and sold as property. 

For the last 15 months, IS held Sinjar, as the peshmerga, PKK, and US airstrikes tried to shake their hold. Then, in mid-November, peshmerga forces retook the city in a massive push involving 7,500 troops, with the hopes of cutting off the resupply routes between IS territory in Syria and Iraq. 

Watch the VICE News documentary, Reclaiming Sinjar: Pushing Back the Islamic State:

Grotesque details of the torture and mass murder of unarmed civilians during the vicious occupation have filtered out steadily since Sinjar was reclaimed. Mass graves are still being discovered. The United States Holocaust Museum has declared that what happened to the Yazidis constitutes genocide.

VICE News photographer Frederick Paxton has made multiple trips to cover the plight of the Yazidis and the fight against IS in Sinjar over the past year. Below are some of his photos from August 2014 to November 2015.

Related: Some Yazidis Hesitate to Return to Sinjar After Ousting of the Islamic State

Yazidi refugees from Sinjar arrive at Newroz refugee camp in Syria's autonomous Kurdish region­ in August 2014. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

Syrian Kurdish activists throw food to Yazidi refugees as they arrive in Syria after a dangerous trek through the IS-held desert­ last August. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

A member of the Kurdish peshmerga remonstrates with a colleague at a base located not far from the foot of Mount Sinjar, just after the peshmerga had retreated from the mountain as IS overran the surrounding areas in August 2014. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

Syrian Kurdish fighters greet a Yazidi guide deep in the Iraqi desert last August. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

Syrian Kurdish fighters from the YPG secure a precarious humanitarian corridor through the IS-held desert for Yazidi refugees from Sinjar in August­. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

A peshmerga anti-aircraft gun is fired down at IS positions in Sinjar in March 2015. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

A peshmerga warrant officer inspects an abandoned IS IED factory in Sinjar in March. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

The scene from Hardan, Iraq, in March. IS took thousands of captured Yazidi women as sex slaves. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

November's offensive to retake Sinjar was covered by both international and local media. The reclaiming of the city was a key moment in the battle against IS. Pictured here is a host from local station Kurdistan TV standing in front of a group of peshmerga fighters warming themselves by a fire on November 11. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

A convoy of Kurdish peshmerga snake towards the city of Sinjar on November 12. Progress was slow due to the belief that a large number of IEDs had been placed along the route by IS. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

Peshmerga artillery prepare to fire at villages surrounding Sinjar. In an attempt to clear the route ahead they made repeated stops to set up and fire on IS positions on November 12. Mortars landed close to the convoy on a number of occasions and it was often unclear what direction they were coming from. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

A Peshmerga fighter conducts his daily prayers. In the background, smoke billows from an IS-held town under attack. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

A peshmerga fighter parades a flag from an IS position on November 12. Captured on the edge of Sinjar, this position was located on Highway 47, a road connecting the city with Tel Afar, where IS has more support and resources. Cutting off this route would disrupt supply lines between IS forces in Syria and Iraq, dealing a major blow to their efforts. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

A peshmerga engineering unit prepares an armored vehicle for the final push into Sinjar on November 13. IEDs have caused a huge number of casualties in the fight against IS. The day before this photo was taken, four members of this engineering unit where killed by an explosive device as they pushed towards Sinjar. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

Peshmerga fighters on Highway 47 ready themselves to push into Sinjar on November 13. As the convoy moved into the city, one fighter decided to use a motorbike as his preferred mode of transport. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

A Kurdish fighter sits among the rubble in the center of Sinjar. The battle for the city had been long and hard, but most of the fighting actually happened earlier, and by the time the convoys arrived many of the remaining IS fighters had fled, leaving only a few snipers, suicide bombers, and IEDs. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

Members of the YPG push a heavy machine gun captured from IS back to their base in Sinjar on November 13. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

An IS flag painted on the wall of a destroyed building inside Sinjar. The city may have been liberated but it is almost completely destroyed. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

Peshmerga fighters drive a Humvee through the center of Sinjar, as a member of the YPG look on. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

YPG members gather in the center of Sinjar. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)

Holes made by mortars and other explosives litter a soccer pitch inside Sinjar. (Photo by Frederick Paxton)