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

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.

ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images
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How the refugee crisis became invisible

Since the failed coup in Turkey, there are on average 200 refugees a day arriving in Greece. But the world's media has gone home.

The image was familiar for the volunteers in Lesvos that still man the beaches where refugees arrive by boat from Turkey. It’s been many months since boats carried 256 people in a single day across the narrow passage of sea. The refugee crisis seems to be giving way to much larger geopolitical issues to the east of the Greek coastline. Those refugees stuck here might soon be joined by the thousands that remain in Turkey as the situation in Syria deteriorates. There is no solution is on the horizon for the bloodshed.

Almost 300 people arrived that Thursday last week, a number not seen since a deal between the EU and Turkey was reached this spring to curtail the flow of refugees heading for Europe. Following the failed coup attempt in Turkey last month, however, something has changed. 3,300 people have arrived on the islands of the eastern Aegean since, according to the official data released by the Greek state, averaging around 200 a day. Reports on the ground suggest that the traffickers operating in the area are expecting a new wave of refugees leaving Turkey soon, a card for Tayip Erdogan to play in his bid for visa-free entry to Europe for Turkish citizens.

Since the deal – and unlike last year, which saw more than a million people passing through Greece and heading up the Balkan corridor towards Germany and the prosperous north – the crisis has taken a new shape, and it’s now largely invisible. Lesvos, the island formerly seen as the frontline of the refugee crisis, is unseen, abandoned by the media and the tourists that used to be its main source of income.

The refugees unlucky enough to be stuck in Greece after the borders to Macedonia closed are distributed in camps across the country. The camps established at the points of arrival, known as “hotspots”, are overcrowded to breaking point, with violence often erupting between refugees, locals and the police. Instances of violence against unaccompanied minors by police were even recorded in the Moria camp in June.

Now, for the close to 60.000 people who in limbo while their asylum applications are processed, it’s a waiting game that looks more like prison than anything else. Meanwhile, deportations back to Τurkey have effectively stopped because of the political insecurity and terrorist attacks there, despite the fact it is still deemed a “safe third country”.

Forty-nine camps have been set up across Greece, but the government has announced that more are on their way. Local business owners in Crete have already protested the news of a camp for 2,000 refugees established on the island. After what happened in Lesvos the tourism industry – arguably the country’s most important, contributing close to 10 per cent of the GDP – is nervous.

Inside the camps, reports of overcrowding, poor hygiene, illness, violence, trafficking and drugs are on the rise. Even in Greece, Yazidis are not safe in the camps, and special arrangements have had to be made for them. The Greek and Albanian mafias have infiltrated camps on the mainland, especially around Thessaloniki, and are pushing hard drugs, which have become a solution for some of the refugees stuck there. Around the downtown area of Victoria in Athens, reports by the BBC and Refugees Deeply have found underage boys prostituting themselves in the nearby parks for 5 euros.

Here is the real problem: while the numbers arriving are nowhere near those of last year, the infrastructure available to take them in is now so strained that every new arrival counts. The margin for the most vulnerable between safety and harm, has narrowed to nothing. The Katsikas camp, near my hometown in north-western Greece, paints a grim picture. Set up hastily on the site of an old military airport, it is almost entirely unsuitable to host the simple military tents the refugees are expected to live in. The ground turns to mud every time it rains, and it rains often. There are scorpions and snakes wandering the camp.

Living conditions are so horrible that according to the camp’s director, Filippas Filios, 200 people recently walked out and abandoned it, preferring to try their luck crossing the Albanian or Macedonian borders on foot. From the 1,020 people that were transported here between March and April, just 520 remain. Another space is being prepared to take those remaining before September – an abandoned orphanage. Unlike most of Greece, the weather here is rainy and cold. If preparations stall and they are caught outside, these people are unlikely to remain in the camp under such conditions. Traffickers who have been active in the area for decades, are banking on just that.

The EU, via Angela Merkel saying that “we must agree on similar deals with other countries, such as in North Africa, in order to get better control over the Mediterranean sea refugee routes”, is hinting at a similar deal to that with Turkey to try and deal with the flow from Libya. With the current arrangement looking shaky, and those living with the consequences being ignored or even blamed for their predicament, we are on perilous ground. There is hardly anything more that Greece can do.

What’s worse is that in the last few months – under pressure from the EU – the Greek government has been dismantling the solidarity networks that alleviated much of the weight of the crisis last year. But they too, where they still hold, are creaking under the weight of the situation. The conditions in some of these informal camps resemble those in the official camps. The more these people are trapped in either situation, the more likely they are to become victims again, be it of trafficking, drugs or violence. For now, the pro-refugee sentiment still holds in Greece, but the illusionary structure of a “dealt with” crisis might come crashing down sooner than most realise.

Yiannis Baboulias is a Greek investigative journalist. His work on politics, economics and Greece, appears in the New Statesman, Vice UK and others.