Yazidis: ISIS’ Target of Hatred
A recent grim report from U.N. (Human Rights Office) stated that the Islamic State militants may have committed genocide against one of Iraq’s minor community: Yazidi. The report, based on hundreds of witnesses and victims describes detailed mass killings of the Yazidis between June 2014 and February 2015 as ISIS captured Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul during its rapid advance in June. The horrific accounts recount the killings of at least 40,000, torture, rape, sexual slavery, and forced religious conversions.
The vast majority of Yazidis, as far as 700,000, are living in the Norther Iraq, in and around Mount Sinjar. Yazidis are being targeted by ISIS for their religious beliefs. The Kurdish speaking Yazidis are the most misunderstood group in Iraq as they don’t conform to Middle-East’s sectarian mosaic. Majority of the Yazidis consider themselves as ethnically Kurdish, but they are religiously distinct from the predominant Sunni Kurdish population of the region. ‘Yazidism’ is an ancient religion, which is believed to have been found in 11th century by Ummayyad Sheikh. Some scholars believe that Yazidism was founded by Sufi leader Adi ibn Musafir in the 12th century as he settled in Kurdistan. The roots of the religion is said to have been derived from Zoroastrianism (an ancient Persian faith).
Yazidis’ beliefs have mixed elements of Islam with local pre-Islamic beliefs. The religion has also taken elements from Christianity (like baptism). Yazidis primarily worship a fallen angel called as ‘Melek Tawwus’ (or ‘Peacock Angel), one of the seven angels in their belief. Unlike the Judeo-Christian tradition, the fallen angel in Yazidism is believed to be forgiven and returned to heaven by God. So, the worship of Melek Tawwus has given the Yazidis, the reputation of ‘devil-worshipers’.
The accusations of ‘devil-worshipping’ by Muslims are believed to have started in the late 16th or early 17th century. Under the Ottoman rule, the Yazidis were subjected to genocidal massacres. The geographical isolation (mountain villages) of Yazidis has allowed them to overcome the abundance of persecution. Under Saddam Hussein’s rule in the 1970’s, the traditional Yazidi villages were razed to ground, and they forced to settle in the cities or urban centers. The climate of extremism against Yazidis continued into the 21st century as earlier Al-Qaeda denounced the group as ‘infidels’. The Iraqi Kurds provided support for the Yazidis when Saddam Hussein’s government was toppled and the Kurds were given an autonomous region in Northern Iraq (known as Kurdistan Regional Government – KRG).
Kurds have rallied up support the embattled Yazidis, when ISIS captured their villages in last June. The plight of the Yazidis in the refugee camps is far worse (children in camps freeze to death). Prominent members of Yazidi community blame various entities for their predicament. Iraq government is the first culprit, which has never tried to protect the minority community. The Kurdish forces decision to abandon the fight for Sinjar (last August) has also dispersed at least two million Yazidis. As of now, the ISIS fighters were driven out from Sinjar (Yazidi civilians took up arms alongside Kurds during a month long siege in Mount Sinjar), but the returning Yazidis are uncovering one mass grave after another.
Arabs living in the Sinjar region are accusing the Yazidis for carrying out revenge attacks on Sunni Muslim villagers in the past few months. The attackers believe that those people were responsible for helping ISIS to commit the atrocities. Armed Yazidis are said to have raided Sunni Arab villages in Sinjar, killing more than 20 men. However, it remains unclear about the Yazidi militants since many forces are secretly fighting for ISIS. The extremist militant group is creating divisions between communities that have co-existed for decades. It is seen as a horrific attempt to turn one village against another. After what’s believed to be a Yazidi raid, the Arabs have begun the attacks, raiding Yazidi villages, and paving way to another feud.
UN has called on Iraqi government to make sure that all the accusations of Yazidi genocide are thoroughly investigated as per the international human rights standards. It has also called the Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court to prosecute the alleged perpetrators. We all know how ‘effective’, an UN investigation would be.