The Islamic State (IS) has brought the Yazidi sect back to the forefront, following the militant organization’s attack on the Sinjar area in northwest Iraq and the blockade it has imposed to take control of more Iraqi areas after the capture of Mosul.
The Yazidis’ unique religion is the reason behind the attacks by IS and other jihadists. The Yazidi religion is a mix of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Manichaeism and Sabianism. Their religious symbols and beliefs differ from those of the three monotheistic religions. Yazidis consider God to be their Lord, but they also believe that the Peacock Angel is the king on earth and ruler of the world, with the aid of seven angels who are God’s emanations.
Yazidis are known for manufacturing alcoholic beverages and homemade pastries. Due to their unusual beliefs, Yazidis are often unjustly accused of being “devil worshipers.”
The number of Yazidis in the world is estimated at 2.5 million people, spread over a number of countries, such as Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Armenia. Their mother tongue is Kurdish, which is also their language of prayer, rituals and religious books, though they speak Arabic as well.
Their direction of worship [or where they pray toward] is in Lalish, in Mosul province, where the holy shrine of Sheikh Adi is located. Prince Tahsin Bek is seen as one of the most prominent Yazidi clerics in Iraq and around the world.
In Iraq, Yazidis total 350,000. The majority lives in the north near Mosul and in the Sinjar Mountains and the surrounding villages, as well as in the Zammar region. They make up 70% of the inhabitants of Sinjar, numbering 24,000.
Throughout history, Yazidis have been persecuted and killed due to fatwas issued against infidelity and apostasy, starting from the era of Mir Jafar with the campaigns during the 16th and 17th centuries and the campaigns by the Ottoman governors of Baghdad, up to al-Anfal campaigns in Iraq during the period extending from 1963 until 2007. This is in addition to the fatwas by hard-liners, the permissible bloodshed of Yazidis and the Sinjar catastrophe in August 2007.
With the expansion of IS influence in Iraq after forcing Christians to leave Mosul, the organization’s fighters overran Sinjar, driving peshmerga forces out. This caused 200,000 inhabitants to flee the region to nearby mountains. They are now stuck there without any food, water or health care in the scorching summer weather.
As the blockade on Sinjar was intensified, the only female MP for the Yazidi sect in the Iraqi parliament, Fiyan Dakheel, called for help: “We are being butchered under the banner of there is no God but God,” bringing tears to the MP's eyes, before she collapsed.
Dakheel said that Yazidis were being killed, kidnapped and displaced in Sinjar. She added that extremists had kidnapped between 520 to 530 women, some with their children, and were being kept prisoners in the Badush prison in Mosul. The United Nations said that at least 40 Yazidi children had died as a result of “violence, displacement and drought” in Sinjar.
Dakheel warned in subsequent statements that only two days were left to save the Yazidis, before a mass murder occurred due to the imposed blockade. The UN warned of a "human tragedy."
These warnings prompted the United States to launch two airstrikes on IS locations in northern Iraq. US military aircraft also dropped containers of water and thousands of food packets. Peshmerga forces reached the locations where food aid had been delivered and distributed them to the needy.
It is not clear, however, whether the strikes or aid will be sufficient to save thousands of IS-threatened Yazidis. Witnesses told Reuters on Saturday [Aug. 9] that IS extremists threatened to kill more than 300 Yazidi families unless their members converted to Islam.
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