Yazidis Are Facing Existential Threats

Yazidis Are Facing Existential Threats
Some Yazidis are fleeing their homes in Sinjar after the ISIS’ assault in 2014. Photo Credit: Reuters
:: PM:04:25:15/01/2020 ‌
Yazidis are one of the oldest religious communities in the Middle East and also one of the most persecuted minorities in the region. They have been oppressed for centuries, and lately, they faced a brutal genocidal campaign by the so called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). To keep Yazidis, their culture and religion safe from more prosecution and genocidal threats, local policy makers and international community should create sustainable strategy. The regional conflicts turned their areas to conflict zones with ISIS’ insurgents still being active, while most of Yazidis still live in IDP camps and forced exile. 

Author

Karwan Ibrahim
is journalist based in Iraqi Kurdistan. He holds master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Osmania University in Hyderabad, India.
This morning, Turkish fighter jets stroke a Yazidis’ residential area in Sinjar (Northern Iraq), targeting Sinjar Resistance Units (local Yazidi Organization) affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has launched an armed struggle against Turkish Government since 1984. Last October, hundreds of Yazidis fled their homes from eight villages in northeastern Syria, where Turkish military and its allied militants launched an assault against Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF.) Likewise, the Turkish fighter jets have pounded dozens of PKK affiliated organizations’ targets in Yazidi majority areas of Northern Nineveh, Iraq. This conflict, alongside with ISIS’ insurgents, still pose existential threats to Yazidi people in their hometowns and villages.
The Yazidis, who are ethnically Kurdish, have kept alive their ancient religion for centuries despite oppression and assimilation threats by Ottoman Empire and its local rulers. The majority of this community members live in Iraq, and the rest are in Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. Due to the recent ISIS attacks, many Yazidis dispersed around the world, and about 200 thousand of them now live in Germany. The Iraqi Yazidis live mostly in Nineveh (districts of Sinjar (Shingal) and Shekhan) and Dohuk, where their holiest temple Lalish is located.
Locally, Yazidis are known as innocent, poor and non-aggressive people. They love their home lands and never attack other religious communities. However, just in the 18th and 19th centuries, they had faced 72 genocidal massacres by local Muslim rulers that where reporting to Ottoman Empire.
The Cause of Hatred
Many conservative Muslims perceive Yazidis as devil-worshipers since late 16th and early 17th centuries. The misunderstanding is coming from the Yazidi’s narrative about Adam and Eve. They believe that once God created Adam he ordered angels to bow to him as his creature, and all of them did except for Melek Taus (Peacock Angel), who believed he should bow to no one except for Supreme God. The disobedience took Peacock Angel to Hell. According to the Yazidi beliefs, he now serves as an intermediary between God and humanity. Therefore, the Peacock Angel is considered God’s ultra-ego, inseparable from Him. 
The contrasts of the creation story between Islam and Yazidi religion story caused many Muslims to perceive Yazidis as devil-worshipers; therefore, they believe that they have right of attacking them and looting their properties similar to what ISIS did in 2014.
Oppressing Yazidis is not just dependent on the medieval narratives of Peacock Angel. It actually lasted to modern nation states of the Middle East. In the late 1970s, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein Regime launched an Arabization campaign against Kurds in the Northern Iraq, so they destroyed traditional Yazidi villages and resettled them in urban centers, disrupting their agrarian lifestyle. The regime built the town of Sinjar (locally known as Shingal) and forced Yazidis to abandon their mountainous villages to relocate in town centers.
Following the fall of the Saddam Hussein Regime in 2003, Yazidis again faced a new wave of Islamist groups’ attacks. In 2007, about 500 Yazidis were killed by car bombs of Al-Qaida linked groups. The Islamist groups’ attacks, latter evolved to the ISIS’ genocidal campaigns in 2014.
According to some rights groups and local media, the 2014 ISIS’ genocidal campaign killed about 5 thousand Yazidi men and boys (who refused to convert to Sunni Islam) and enslaved about 7 thousand women and girls-including some as young as 9 years old. They also displaced more than half a million Yazidis and destroyed their original home-places in Nineveh. 
The recent ISIS’ genocidal campaigns damaged social fabric in Nineveh Province and caused lots of tensions between Yazidis and Arab Sunni Muslim tribes neighboring to Yazidi majority areas. Some Yazidi leaders and activists accuse people in neighboring Arab Sunni villages and towns of supporting ISIS in massacring and enslaving them.
Sheikh Jamal Qasim, one of the leaders of Yazidi Democracy and Freedom Party, said, “in several villages, local Sunnis were reported to have sided with ISIS, betraying Yazidis for slaughter once ISIS arrived. It is just because we have another religion that is different from Islam.” It is estimated that it will take decades of planned rehabilitation programs to get back the social fabrics among Nineveh religious communities, especially Yazidis and Arab Sunni Muslims. 
While ISIS was militarily defeated in Iraq (in 2017) and in Syria (in 2019), it still poses direct threats to Yazidis in both countries. ISIS’ sleeping cells and active insurgents are not far from the Yazidi majority towns and villages. Plus, the ISIS’ ideological believes and values are already passed on to several small organizations that could prosecute Yazidis when security gaps in the border areas give them opportunity.
To Save Yazidis 
Yazidis are still under threats as local and regional conflicts have left their areas (especially Sinjar) as flashpoints between various conflicts players. Radical Islamist Groups, Turkey’s allied groups in Northern Syria, and military operations all together continues to hurt Yazidis and displace them. Different players attack them for different reasons. 
ISIS attacks aimed destruction of their religion. Turkish army and fighters attacked their residential areas and villages in Sinjar because of hosting some PKK affiliated organizations. Turkey allied militias in Northern Syria are killing and displacing them because of their Kurdish identity and cooperation with SDF forces, or just for being stuck in the conflict zone between them and SDF.
Regardless of what are the causes of the conflicts, Yazidis are the ones who have being paying the price. They mostly lost their homes, farms, businesses, and indigenous lifestyle. 
United Nations, US led Coalition Against ISIS, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and Autonomous Administration of North and East of Syria should take their responsibilities in protecting Yazidis. All the players should avoid bombarding and shelling the Yazidis’ residential areas. Civilian Yazidis should not be part of any regional and internal conflicts in Iraq or Syria.
Turkish government has to acknowledge Yazidis’ live in villages and towns under control of its allied militias in Northern Syria. Many extremist Islamist elements and ex-ISIS militants are currently serving within the Turkish backed militias. 
The international community, Turkey, and the UN should immediately intervene to save Yazidi majority villages in Northern Syria and stop any ethnic cleansing operations against them. Once their farmlands get seized and their shops occupied by the Turkish backed militias, they have no option except for fleeing their homes. This process ultimately leads to a stark ethnic cleansing in the area.  
Local governments, NGOs and media organizations can also play a big role in changing opinions and perceptions of Muslims about Yazidis. They should promote tolerance between all religious communities in mixed areas. They should launch educational programs that get different religious communities to accept Yazidis as their peer citizens and respect their believes. This process could be part of any rehabilitation process for the detained ISIS members.
All in all, protecting Yazidis from future prosecution and genocide is a multi-sided process and effort which needs everyone’s full commitment to avoid future tragedies which might destroy the whole community forever in both Iraq and Syria.