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Iraq’s Yazidis are on the brink of genocide – who will save them?

Iraq is rapidly spiralling into an unprecedented situation - and the international community is standing by.

Iraqi Yazidi demonstrate outside the UN offices in the city of Arbil. Photo: Getty
Iraqi Yazidi demonstrate outside the UN offices in the city of Arbil. Photo: Getty

President Barack Obama has confirmed that the US military has made targeted airstrikes and carried out a humanitarian operation in Iraq, marking the deepest US engagement in the country since US troops withdrew in 2011.

The humanitarian aid drops targeted areas populated by the persecuted Yazidi minority, as well as cities and villages northwest of Mosul. These included Qaraqosh, the biggest Christian city in Iraq, which fell under control of Islamic State (IS) militants two days ago. At this stage, the US operation will be very limited. There will be no troop presence on the ground.

This means that the IS threat won’t be removed from Iraq – at least in the short term. The IS fighters will continue their massacres after the limited US operation has finished.

Iraq is rapidly spiralling into an unprecedented situation that is already much worse than it has been in recent decades. However, the international community is standing idly by, apparently indifferent to Iraqis' suffering.

Who are the Yazidis?

The Yazidi community, whose numbers have been estimated at upwards of half a million worldwide, are the residue of one of the world’s most ancient ethno-religious groups.

The Yazidi faith is unique, as it is a monotheistic adaption of ancient dualism. The name Yazidi is derived from the ancient Persian term yazata, which means “who deserves to be worshipped”, originating from a Zoroastrian concept. Yazidis believe in one creator with two different main actors in the universe: God and Satan. They believe Satan is a creation of God and his role is a sacred duty. Consequently, they respect Satan and oppose any insult of him.

The Yazidis' unique religion has resulted in many stereotypes about them, which has had serious adverse consequences for their community. The most damaging of these is the commonly held belief that they are Satan worshippers.

Due to these stereotypes, a common misconception has arisen that Yazidis are a dangerous people who lack ethical principles. The resulting hostile attitudes towards Yazidis are not unique to fundamentalist Islamic theologians. It was also shared by classical orientalists and early Western explorers such as John Ussher and Wallis Budge, who reinforced this falsehood.

Yazidis have long been subjected to discrimination and racism in Iraq. They have been at the centre of identity crises in Iraq; both pan-Arab and pan-Kurd ideologies have attempted to impose their identity on them. This is while they demand to identify them as a separated identity in a multicultural society.

As result of those stereotypes and identity conflicts, Yazidis have faced 72 massacres in their history.

What’s happening to the Yazidis?

Over the last week, IS militants have seized control of the Iraqi cities of Sinjar, Shikhan and the frontier regions north of Mosul province along the Syrian and Turkish borders. These regions are the historic homelands of the Yazidi ethno-religious community, which traces its origins back thousands of years to ancient Mesopotamia.

A majority of the Yazidi community fled before the arrival of IS forces and took refuge in the mountains of Sinjar. Remaining Yazidis have been presented with two options by their new rulers: convert to Islam or be killed.

IS militants did not offer the Yazidis either of the two other options that were extended to remaining Christians: leaving the area or paying the jizya, a form of tribute that “religions of the book” (Ahl Al-Kitab) must pay in return for “protection”, according to Islamic fundamentalist belief.

As IS do not consider the Yazidis’ faith one of the aforementioned religions, large numbers of Yazidi men have been massacred and women have become slaves. Some have converted to Islam to save themselves and their families.

Yazidi refugees sheltering in the mountains are surviving in precarious circumstances without adequate food or water. Children are dying of thirst and starvation. As the Yazidis lack weapons, when IS forces turn their attention to these displaced people the prospects of genocide seem high.

Earlier this week, the Iraqi parliament’s sole Yazidi MP, Vian Dakhil, outlined the tragic history of her people while begging authorities to save them from genocide. During her speech she collapsed on the floor of parliament. Dakhil said:

We are being butchered under the banner of there is no god but Allah.

Some MPs tried to stop Dakhil at this point as they found her expression offensive to Muslims. The parliamentary speaker warned her to control herself and not go further. Other MPs supported her and requested she be allowed to finish her speech. She continued:

Five hundred Yazidi youths and men have been butchered until now. Our women have been captured and sold in the slavery market. There is a genocide taking place against Yazidi people … My family is being beheaded, just like other Iraqis that have been killed; Shiite, Sunnis, Christians, Shabak, Turkmen and now is the Yazidi’s turn.

Thirty thousand families are stuck in the mountains of Sinjar without water and food. They are dying one by one. Seventy children have died until now from thirst and asphyxia. Seventy elderly have died from being under miserable condition. We demand all to stop this genocide. A whole religion is being wiped out from the earth.

Vian Dakhil’s speech to Iraqi parliament


Iraq needs immediate, comprehensive and unlimited military and political assistance to eradicate IS fighters from the country. IS is not just a normal terrorist group and it is not a political opposition. Rather, it has become a professional irregular army with more than 20,000 well-trained soldiers and a very strong ideology, operating in a region from Iraq to Lebanon with many sleeper cells worldwide.

The ConversationAli Mamouri does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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