The Yezidi Genocide, five years on

6th August 2019

Saturday 3rd August marked the fifth anniversary of the Yezidi genocide that, according to the estimate of the United Nations, resulted in the murder of 5000 innocent people by ISIS terrorists. Thousands of women were enslaved and 3000 still remain missing. The genocide inflicted on the Yezidis is not the only one in in the history of this people –  the religious minority consider the event the 74th genocide inflicted upon them. However, it is the most brutal in modern history. 

Sinjar, the Yezidi homeland that was assaulted by ISIS in 2014, is situated in Iraq’s Nineveh Province and is a territory that is constitutionally contested by the Federal Government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The ongoing disputes that has led to military  stand-offs in the past has brought further issues to local citizens, who just want to return to normal life in their homes instead of living as IDPs across other parts of the country.

The Yezidis have long been persecuted as a religious minority in the Muslim World. Ethnically and linguistically Kurdish, they religiously differ from the majority Muslim Kurds. Their faith is hugely influenced by indigenous Mithraic and Zoroastrian practices that the ancestors of Muslim Kurds once followed prior to conversion. Furthermore, Yezidism is also influenced by Islamic mysticism, namely Sufism. The tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, a 12th century Sufi Muslim figure who claimed descent from the Arabo-Islamic Ummayad Dynasty, is buried in the Yezidi heartland of Lalish and is considered the most holiest site. The huge spiritual influence Sheikh Adi has had on the Yezidis invests this monument with significance for the community, with pilgrimages often taking place to his grave.

Religious fanaticism in the Muslim World has obviously been the key motivator in genocides faced  by religious minorities in the region. However, the Yezidis have been further hampered by the misconception that they are “devil worshippers”. This canard has been used to justify persecution by Islamists and ultraorthodox Muslims, the most recent iteration being that inflicted by ISIS. This false belief stems from the Yezidi belief that the Peacock archangel, Melek Taus, who is protector of Earth, disobeyed God’s command to bow to Adam. This story may sound similar to the Abrahamic religious account of the fall of Lucifer or Iblis (the devil), who refused God’s command to bow to Adam, and was accordingly cast out of heaven. In the Yezidi tradition, however, Melek Taus repents with his tears washing away the fires of hell. Thus, Melek Taus remains a source of good (not wickedness) and secondary to God as protector of Earth in Yezidi mythology. Notwithstanding, the label of “devil worshippers” has been used to demonise the community during a number of periods of history, including recently prior to ISIS when al-Qaeda killed hundreds of Yezidis in a string of bombings and massacres in 2007.

The history of Yezidis is tainted with massacre and genocide. The governing authorities must do more for a people that have been appallingly neglected. During the recent visit to the United States, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Yezidi activist Nadia Murad spoke passionately of the terrible plight and living conditions of Yezidis. This included a speech about the territorial disputes between Iraq’s Federal Government and the KRG and the effect it was having on citizens. The Federal Supreme Court of Iraq recently announced that Article 140 of the constitution, which should determine the status of ‘Disputed Territories’, is still valid. As a result, the Federal Government has an obligation to implement this provision and to use it to solve an issue that plagues Sinjar. Additionally, both governments should look promote Sinjar’s status to a Province, with local Yezidis in control of top administrative and security positions to safeguard their areas: something which others have failed to do. 

Sadly, Yezidis have no ministerial representation in either coalition governments that were formed in the last year and only have one quota parliamentary seat in Baghdad. This limited political presence is certainly insufficient for a community that has suffered so much in recent years. Political and Security representation is an ultimate necessity for this community’s survival. The sooner it is delivered, the better.