I have always been curious to visit Shingal.. For I have only remotely heard of its name,
I have been visualizing Shingal in various different ways in my imagination: visualizing the image of its glorified shrines, the sharp pointed and milk-colored vaults of its shrines, the glorious and consoling mountains, the wordless and uncared for children, the white-dressed angel women, and the petrified mustached men…etc.
Before I arrived to the town near Syrian border, I was wondering what Shingal might look like, thinking Shingal might be a chilly town laden with forest and wooded landscape. But when we arrived to the gate of Mosul and then from there to Talafar and Shingal, all these imagination and visualization vanished.
It will take you four hours drive if you take the road from Duhok to Mosul and then towards Shingal, where you will see nothing but ruin, wreckage and carnage as consequences of war.
The devastation was so moving, poignant and distressing it was like going to fetch a left corpse and healing a wound of a fearsome war without having required tools and knowing the path…The streets were all riddled with Improvised Explosive Devices, mortars and rockets. One can see long extended Daesh tunnel beside the pavement of the roads, these tunnels were designed with state of the art engineering and structural skills and were stretched out to the mountains…With these views, some cages could be seen beside the tall trees which all looked like pigeon nestles, but these cages were larger in size and was painted with green color and or colors resembling the colors of that environment. If someone is unfamiliar he or she would think that these large cages are nestles made for birds, however, these boxes were similar to guard towers and was used by ISIS snipers to shoot and kill.
While staring at such views we were thinking of the war that raged in this region for about four years. Suddenly we were shocked and our head clashed with the root of the car as our car hit a street bumper (especially if you do not fasten your safety belt). I was fastened by safety belt but the other two friends of mine who were also from that region informed me that I should not fasten my safety belt! They told me that the majority of people from this region do not fasten the safety belt and if someone does he or she will be identified as not from that region. They said “We do not wear and or fasten the safety belt when we come to this place, it will make it difficult for us to pass the checkpoint, if you fasten it the security forces will ask you a lot of questions and they enquire why you are visiting this place, what are your objectives, thus they will cause delays and they might even prevent you from entering Shingal”.
The checkpoints themselves are another topic to discuss, when you leave Duhok to Shingal you will come across dozens of checkpoints, you should stop at each of the checkpoints, they will ask you who are you, where have you come from and where are you going?!.
What is also notable for travelers is that despite the flag of Iraq they can see various forms of other flags, symbols, tribal and political slogans hang on many checkpoints. The presence of these religious, tribal and political slogans on the flags is another form of psychological torture, reminding one of the slogans and flag of ISIS (Daesh).
We arrived Shingal at 12:30 pm. I saw this area as a huge desert with scorching sun of the summer season welcoming us. You rarely can see green woodland in this ruined and traumatized city. The first place we visited in Shingal was the mass graves, which was in close proximity to one of the checkpoints, the armed men of the checkpoint did not allow us to shoot and or take any photograph, it was a flat and even area with barbed wires.
Some of the roads were still in good condition as they were restored with asphalt by Kurdistan Regional Government. However, most of the houses were devastated, squalid and uninhabitable. There were Toyota Pick ups without registration plate numbers carrying some armed and masked young boys and men and were driving fast and furious. Then we went to the bazaar center including only some small shops. Most of the shops were closed as a result of the scorching head of the noontime. We departed the bazaar and set out to the temple of Shiekh Sharafadeen. We saw some families who have also come to visit the temple. One could see these families were expressively in tranquil condition. The temple was well protected from ISIS thugs and the followers of Ezidi were freely reciting their religious anthem.
We talked to many people during our visit to Shingal and those people are still living there now. Also we visited all the three regions which are under the control of (Popular Mobilization Forces, People’s Protection Units’ Forces and Peshmarga Forces). The population of Shingal are still recovering and coping with the sinister rule of ISIS and they are still feeling terrified and not secure of the recurrence of calamities, massacre and captivating their women and girls for sexual slavery. During our interviews with them we felt that most of them are afraid to speak to the camera, but they prefer people to visit them and listen to their demands. Their demands are also simple such as providing them with basic services, opening of schools, hospitals and assisting them to revive and renovate their houses and living conditions. Most of their houses were destroyed by war and bombardment and turned into rubble. Instead of asking for toys and playgrounds the children were asking for teachers and going back to school. Women survivors were seeking psychosocial support as they were traumatized with what ISIS have done to them.
In the future sections we will expose the content of some of the interviews we conducted with the people of Shingal. They tell the stories of the attacks and assaults of ISIS, the people’s return to their homeland, and their living and education conditions.