74 Massacres Later: The Persecution of the Yezidis

By Hastiar Sheikhani

On August 3rd 2014, the terrorists of the self declared Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacked the predominantly Yezidi inhabited town of Shingal and the other Yezidi areas in the northwest of Iraq.

For the 74th time in their history, the Yezidi people faced a slaughter that led to the murder of at least 5,000 Yezidis, the displacement of about 300,000 people, and the abduction and enslavement of 5,000-7,000 women and children. Sadly, since the advent of Islam, the Yezidis have been often attacked and massacred by many Muslim groups. Almost all of the previous recorded massacres were committed by Sunni Muslims, most of whom were Ottomans.

The main reason for these genocides was their religion, as they are considered infidels and “Satan” worshipers by many Muslims and Christians. This is refuted by the Yezidis themselves because their faith is different from Islam and Christianity; in the Yezidi faith, one of the oldest monotheistic religions, Satan did not bow down to Adam because he was loyal to God himself and didn’t want to worship anyone other than God. Thus, God awarded him with making him God’s emanation on Earth. In the Yezidi faith, Satan is not called Satan, but Tawûsê Melek, or the Peacock Angel, the most important religious figure in Yezidism.

 Although the Yezidis are usually identified with their faith, they are Kurdish in ethnicity. And it is believed that the Kurds were all Yezidis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians before they were converted to Islam mostly forcibly by the Muslims.

Even though all these 74 attacks were genocidal, the August 2015 attack on the Yezidis must be officially recognized as genocide internationally because it includes all the characteristics of a genocidal massacre that are outlined in the United Nations’ Genocide Convention. Thus, the Yezidis who have currently taken refuge in south of Kurdistan, Iraq, should receive all the necessary aids first to survive and then to be replaced in their home territories.

In Article II of the UN Genocide Convention, it is explicitly stated that committing crimes that will lead to the destruction of a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group in whole or in part is considered genocide. These crimes include killing, causing bodily or mental harm, harming the conditions of life that may lead to the destruction of the group or preventing birth within it, and kidnapping their children. The Islamic State militants have committed all these crimes against the Yezidi population, as it is illustrated in the next paragraphs.

 “He burnt me with cigarettes on my shoulders, my stomach, and my legs. I couldn’t even talk after that. So he raped me,” reported Noor, a survivor Yezidi girl.

 Another Yezidi girl, Jinan, who co-authored a book about her experience in ISIS captivity called “Daesh’s Slave” quoted a customer when he had come to “buy” Yezidi girls: “That one has big breasts. But I want a Yazidi with blue eyes and pale skin. Those are the best apparently. I am willing to pay the price.”

Yes, thousands of Yezidi girls were taken into the ISIS sex slave market, wearing price tags and getting transported from city to city, from owner to owner. Sexual slavery, this is exactly what ISIS does to the people it captures, not necessarily women, but children also. They are considered spoils of war. And they are infidels. Thus the fighters are allowed by Shari’a (Islamic law) to rape them.

“Sexual slavery, this is exactly what ISIS does to the people it captures, not necessarily women, but children also. They are considered spoils of war. And they are infidels. Thus the fighters are allowed by Shari’a (Islamic law) to rape them.”

These quotes are among thousands of their examples. They were psychologically destroyed. Some of these captivated Yezidi girls were raped so many times – some of them as many as 50 times, and by different militants even – that they wanted to commit suicide when they escaped due to their mental conditions. Some number of them actually killed themselves by throwing themselves from the mountain, Mount Sinjar, which was where the Yezidis fled when ISIS attacked them.

The Islamic State justifies all of its crimes with verses from the Quran and the Hadith of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. It is written in the Sahih al-Muslim, collection of Prophet Muhammad’s narratives, that when an Islamic army attacks an infidel group, they should offer the infidels three options: to convert to Islam, to pay capita tax, or to die.

 Sahih al-Muslim says “When you meet your enemies who are infidels, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to accept Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them”

Moreover, whenever these terrorists take over a city, they apply their literally interpreted Islamic law to govern the people. For example if somebody steals, his punishment will be chopping off his/her hands. ISIS and extremists justify this with the 38th verse, chapter 5 of Quran which says “for the thief, male and female, amputate their hands in recompense for what they earned as punishment from Allah. And Allah is mighty and wise.” These were only examples of numerous other violent laws that are applied by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham.

As the Yezidis escaped to Mount Sinjar from the ISIS attack, the only force that immediately protected them was the YPG and HPG (People’s Defense Units, Forces, respectively) guerrilla forces that belong to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) which is considered a “terrorist” organization by some international authorities. Yezidis report that if not for the PKK guerrillas, almost all of the Yezidis would have been killed, or captivated and raped by ISIS terrorists.

For this reason, the PKK forces earned the respect and trust of the Yezidi people. Some of the Yezidis joined their forces. And some others created their own defense units, the YBŞ, or the Shingal Defense Units. On this mountain, many Yezidis, mostly weakened children, faced their death because of dehydration and hunger. And many took their own lives. With the cooperation of KRG Kurdish Peshmerga forces, the trapped Yezidis on the mountain were then aided and saved by Iraqi helicopters and American airstrikes, who immediately decided to help when they learned about the assault on the minority group.

 The Yezidi territory, Shingal city mainly, was also a very strategic area for the terrorist organization, ISIS, to take over. The reason is that the geographical location of Shingal and the other Yezidi areas connects Raqqa, the ISIS capital city in Syria, and Mosul, the second biggest city in Iraq that ISIS took over in June 2014. Therefore it was very important for ISIS to control. It is also the reason why ISIS strengthened its forces in Shingal immediately after the takeover.

“They have lost their homeland, their families, their shrines and temples, their virginity – which is very important in their religious beliefs – for the girls whom were captured, even their faiths for some of them as they had been forcibly converted to Islam when they were captured by ISIS.”

When the town was attacked in August 2015, it was only protected by some small Peshmerga units. These Peshmerga were outnumbered and outgunned by the ISIS army that was attacking the town. The strong existence of ISIS militant and their resistance stopped the Peshmerga attack to take back Shingal on 20th of December, 2014. Until the moment, ISIS is occupying the city; and Peshmerga bases have been set on the mountains and hills around the city.

The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga forces have been in war with ISIS since more than a year; and they are much in need of international military supply. The Peshmerga are fighting with light weapons, traditional AK47 guns mostly and some other artillery and anti-tank weapons. Although they have been supported continuously by US and coalition air forces, they definitely need more help of that sort especially if ISIS is meant to be thrown out of the region and eventually of Iraq. Since the beginning of the war in June 2014, more than 1200 Peshmerga soldiers have been martyred by the Islamic State militants.

The Yezidis, one of the ancient people who have lived in the Kurdistan regions, are one of the most harmed people by ISIS, if not the most.

They have lost their homeland, their families, their shrines and temples, their virginity – which is very important in their religious beliefs – for the girls whom were captured, even their faiths for some of them as they had been forcibly converted to Islam when they were captured by ISIS.

And, although they have been massacred 74 times by different Sunni Muslim groups, especially the Ottoman Turks, the Yezidis have survived with their ancient religion that some scholars believe to have originated from ancient Zoroastrianism.

At this time, there are certainly more than 1.7 million refugees from both Syria and Iraq in Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Among them, there are more than 130,000 Yezidi refugees. Not talking about all the food, shelter, and basic aids, the Yezidis have been in need of medical care and especially intensive psychological and psychiatric care.

Because of their extreme psychological conditions and their loss of many family members, some Yezidis, mostly girls, were helped by some NGOs in Kurdistan to get asylum in other countries. Because it is an ancient religion of Mesopotamia, Yezidism is considered a national heritage of Iraq by many people.

However, because of their insecure situation in the region, many of them have immigrated to European and other countries already. At the mean time for instance, there are around 550,000 Yezidis in Germany.

This is another very important reason why the Yezidis should be saved. It is time for the world and the international powers to aid the Yezidis, help them take back their homeland, and give them legal authority to live peacefully and securely.

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