The tragic plight of Iraq’s Yazidis under ISIS
BAGHDAD - Holed up on a mountain range overlooking their ancestral hub, the Yazidis have had to watch the town of Sinjar being occupied by Islamic State (ISIS) militants with no hope that the area will soon be liberated.
At least 40,000 Yazidis fled Sinjar and the surrounding area in northern Iraq to Mount Sinjar in the wake of an ISIS onslaught that began August 3, 2014. Without food or water, the Yazidis were surrounded by ISIS militants.
They abducted and raped Yazidi women and killed hundreds of civilians, including children. The process was widely called a “forced conversion campaign”, but to the United Nations it was simply “genocide”.
International media estimated the number of Yazidis killed at more than 5,000, but the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which controlled the area said 1,280 Yazidis were killed in the ISIS offensive and 841 were missing.
The persecution of Iraq’s Yazidi minority gained international attention and resulted in the US-led air campaign against ISIS hideouts in northern Iraq. Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, alongside Turkish Kurds fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syrian Kurds from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) captured Mount Sinjar from ISIS in December 2014, giving some relief to thousands of Yazidis trapped there.
Nevertheless, the agony of Yazidis continues and their frustration grows.
“A year has passed and our land, civilisation and history are being wrecked by strangers and we’re still crying out for help,” lamented Princess Auroba Bayzid Esmail Beg, from a northern Iraqi Yazidi royal family.
“In this year, Yazidi families have been broken and scattered all over,” Esmail Beg, who is also a rights activist and former adviser to the governor of Iraq’s northern Nineveh province, told The Arab Weekly in a telephone interview from her residence in Germany.
The princess said that Yazidi boys under 13 years-old and living under ISIS in the Iraqi village of Kojo near Sinjar were being transformed into jihadists “rigged up for bombings and primed for suicide attacks”. Boys older than 13 were killed.
She blamed ex-Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki for the agony of her people, explaining that the pullout of Iraqi forces under his command — his being at the time the supreme commander of the Iraqi armed forces — from northern Iraq led ISIS to advance and take over Sinjar and other Yazidi areas.
Another Yazidi, a male activist in Iraq who insisted on anonymity for safety reasons, blamed the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga for the fall of Sinjar and other towns with Yazidi inhabitants.
“On the eve that ISIS captured Sinjar, Kurdish peshmerga forces withdrew from the area, leaving a largely unarmed civilian population vulnerable,” the activist said.
“We were abandoned and also attacked because of our faith, not for any other reason.”
Meanwhile, Iraqi media reported that at least 76 deputies signed a petition in Iraq’s legislature calling for questioning Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani on Sinjar’s fall to ISIS.
The Yazidis consider themselves Kurds, with an independent culture and traditions. But they are not recognised by the Kurds and others in Iraq as such. They are scattered across several countries, mainly in Iraq, but also in Syria, Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Georgia, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.
They are monotheists, who believe in God as creator of the world, which has been placed under the care of seven angels, or holy beings, ruled by an ambivalent character called the Peacock Angel.
As ruler, the Peacock Angel causes both good and evil to befall individuals. He fell from God’s favour but was reconciled after an arduous remorseful experience.
They pray three to five times a day in the direction of the sun and call themselves the “children of the sun”. Their holy scriptures are the Yazidi Book of Revelation and the Yazidi Black Book.
ISIS, which has set up a self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, pledged to purge the Arab world of people it considers “infidels” and Muslims — including those who follow the Sunni sect just like ISIS — have not been spared its violence and persecution.
Jian Aziz, another Yazidi activist, said women members of the community suffered significantly under ISIS.
“ISIS raped them and those saved among them gave birth to babies who were adopted by Kurdish Iraqi Muslim families,” Aziz said.
Esmail Beg insisted “the level of support by the international community is way below our expectations”.
Thankfully, she pointed out, Germany has been welcoming Yazidis, including the battered and raped women for treatment.
“I spoke with a number of them. They are heartbroken, feeling humiliated, yet they are responding to treatment,” Esmail Beg noted. She angrily added that a year has passed while Yazidi women were still “being held captive by ISIS as the world watches the tyranny, but didn’t move to end it”.
The princess said she did not expect her hometown in northern Iraq to be freed soon because “there are no real efforts, neither Iraqi nor internationally to this end”.
“We tell the world that our religion, civilisation and culture as a whole face extinction,” she said. “Isn’t there a way to save the remaining ‘children of the sun’?”