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The Yazidi Genocide

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Throughout history there have been many accounts of genocide. Unfortunately, today acts of genocide are still a grave issue. In Iraq the Yazidi people are in an ongoing genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State. Many people have no idea how serious this situation is and that it is still ongoing. There are people who are in dire need of any help they can get, but people turn a blind eye. To understand the seriousness of this genocide, we need the background of the history and religion of both the Yazidi people and the Islamic State, information as to what has occurred during genocide, and the impact it has had on those targeted. To get an idea about why the Islamic State has enacted this terror against the Yazidi people you must know some background of the relationship between the Yazidi people and those of the religion of Islam, ISIS, and the Yazidi religion. “It has been estimated that 23 million Yezidis have been killed by Muslims and their other self-proclaimed enemies during the past 700 years”(‘Yezidis (Yazidis) History’). Going as far back as 637 AD, there are records of an Islamic Kurdish army massacring and forcing Yazidi people to convert to Islam.

There are so many times the Yazidi people have been target I will only name a few. A thousand years later in 1640, Yazidi villages were attacked once again and looted by Ahmed Pasha, a Turkish Muslim Ottoman governor. Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis were killed. In 1733 Ottoman Ahmed Pasha, wrecked Yezidi villages and committed mass killings. Following that raid another one was enacted by the leadership of Hussein Pasha. The villages were completely destroyed and 3000 Yazidis were forced to convert to Islam. Fast forward over another 100 years and once again a major attack was set forth on the Yazidi people. “The Yezidis were attacked by the Ottoman leader Omer Wahbi Pasha. He gave the Yezidis the choice of converting to Islam or paying higher taxes, or death. The Yezidis resisted and Omar Pasha, in alliance with the Moslem Kurds, attacked the Yezidis in the Sinjar and Sheikhan regions. About 15,000 Yezidis were either killed or forced to accept Islam” (‘Yezidis (Yazidis) History’). Unfortunately, the Yazidi people have been targeted throughout history and are used to attacks. Now to understand why the Islamic States desire a turn at the Yazidi people I’ll provide some background on ISIS. “On June 29, 2014, ISIS announced the creation of a caliphate that would efface all state borders, turning Islamic State’s leaders into the self-declared authority over the world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims” (Hechler). A caliphate is an Islamic state led by a caliph. A caliph is a political and religious leader who is a successor to the prophet Muhammad.

The fighters in the Islamic state are ruthless and are primarily comprised of former Iraqi soldiers. Their beliefs are rooted in eighth century Islam so, the Islamic State is ruled by Sharia law and has killed thousands of people perceived as disrespecting Sharia law. They have done this through punishment and public executions. ISIS does not believe in coexisting religions and that is a leading factor for their dislike of the Yazidi people. The religion of the Yazidi people is referred to as Yazidism. Yazidism contains features of many religions like, “Islam, Judaism and Christianity” (Buscher).  Since their religion has multiple elements, it creates confusion about what the Yazidi people support. Their God is known as Melek Taus, the Peacock angel. They sometimes referred to Melek Taus as Shaytan. Shaytan is the name that the Quran gives to Satan; therefore, people who practice Yazidism in Iraq have been given the nickname, “Devil Worshippers”. Another aspect of the Yazidi faith is that one cannot convert to the faith, one must be born Yazidi. “If a Yazidi woman were to claim another religion, she would be expelled from her community not only for the rest of her life, but eternally” (Buscher). For this very reason is why the women who are being kidnapped, raped, and enslaved would rather do so than convert.

During this genocide, many horrific things have occurred. “ISIS has sought to erase the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community” (“UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: ISIS Is Committing Genocide against the Yazidis.”). This genocide began on August 3rd, 2014. It started with the major attack that is known as the Sinjar massacre. “The area was home to around 400,000 followers of the ancient Yazidi religion” (Shackle). More than 100,000 people fled to Mount Sinjar and those who could not flee were gathered up by ISIS. They were told to hand over money, gold, guns, and phones.

It’s estimated 3,100 people were executed by gunshot, beheading, or being burned alive. This number includes mostly men as they were executed on the spot and thrown into pits. “ISIS separated Yazidi men and boys over 12 from the rest of their families, and killed those who refused to convert, in order to destroy their identity as Yazidis. Women and children often witnessed these killings” (“UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: ISIS Is Committing Genocide against the Yazidis.”). American Yazidis were outraged that nothing more was being done by Washington. The day Obama authorizes airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, “about 250 Yazidi Americans had arrived in Washington, DC, thanks to some very hasty organizing on Facebook and Twitter, to call on the US government and international organizations to come to Iraqi Yazidis’ aid” (Lind). Obama ordered airstrikes in the area that helped to slow the advance of the Islamic State. This saved the Yazidi people from a total massacre by ISIS troops, but it did not supply enough help that was needed and neither did the humanitarian airdrops. “The Yazidids outside the White House agreed that what’s being done now isn’t nearly enough” (Lind).

The spokesman for the United Nations coordinator of humanitarian affairs in northern Iraq, David Swanson, said on a phone interview that “Although many people managed to escape from the north side, there are still thousands of others up there, under conditions of extreme heat, dehydration and imminent threat of attack. The situation is far from solved” (‘Despite U.S. Claims, Yazidis Say Crisis Is Not Over’). Farhad Jundi, a Yazidi from Arizona said, when they had made contact with someone and asked what they ate last he said that all he ate was some dry rice because it was all they had. There were thousands of people who were stranded and died on Mount Sinjar. The majority of people who died after fleeing up Mount Sinjar were children under the age of fifteen. They died due to starvation, dehydration, and injuries. During this initial attack, “researchers estimated that 6,800 other Yazidis were kidnapped in the brutal campaign, with over a third still missing at the time of the survey.” (Dearden).

Those people who were kidnapped consisted of young girls and women. These women and young girls had no idea what was to come of their kidnapping but what occurred was horrifying. According to Vian Dakhil, the Iraqi prime minister; women and children, “were enslaved and transported to Isis prisons, military training camps, and the homes of fighters across eastern Syria and western Iraq, where they were raped, beaten, sold, and locked away” (Otten). By the middle of 2016, 2,590 women and children had escaped or smuggled out. There are stories from women who have escaped of girls that are young as eight years old being raped. Some women told how they were sold five or six times and were even raped by as many as five men at a time before being sold to another. The militants would force the young to convert to Islam. They would teach them how to pray and train young boys to be child soldiers. A woman told how her 16-year-old brother was killed while her nine year old brother was enlisted as a child soldier. She was then kidnapped as a sex slave and raped by nine militants. Another woman by the name of Wahda talked about being locked up in a room where she and her daughters witnessed the rape and murder of other women held captive. She talked about how the conditions were horrible and that they would be regularly beaten and forced to convert to Islam.

The stories of this genocide are horrifying. Not only did these people have to witness their male family members being brutally murdered, but they were subject to the utmost terrible treatment. Dr. Cetorelli is demographer for the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and a research officer at LSE Middle East Centre said, “More than one third of the kidnapped are still missing and it wasn’t possible to determine whether they are still alive or not… This is really an ongoing genocide because thousands of people are still in captivity.” (Dearden). The United Nations itself have also recognized this genocide as ongoing. There are a few different impacts this genocide has had on the Yazidi people. The biggest impact this genocide has had on the people is they now are struggling to find a new place to call home and their own government is not assisting them. “‘People are living all over the place, and they don’t know what the future is. There have been no initiatives from the Iraqi government to help the displaced people return back to Sinjar; no national reconciliation process; no attempt to rebuild ruined infrastructure’” said Khider Domle, a Yazidi researcher. Thousands of Yazidi people were living in camps.

They were faced with the difficult decision to either migrate somewhere out of Iraq or return to their devastated communities where they would be haunted memories of genocide and missing family members. Although ISIS no longer poses a threat they feel less safe and returning to their communities may only exacerbate their fears. One of the most occurring and special impacts on the survivors is complex post traumatic stress disorder. Most people know of and have heard of PTSD but, not everyone has heard of C-PTSD. “C-PTSD is typically associated with prolonged trauma where one’s destiny is under another’s control and escape – from captivity, for example — is unfeasible” (‘Following ISIS captivity, Yazidi women suffering from high percentage of C-PTSD.’).  C-PTSD is understood to be a more intense disorder that affects deep into the core of one’s self-organization. You can observe how the Yazidi people truly suffered from C-PTSD from this quote by Khider Domle, ‘Our psychological, social and religious identity has been destroyed,’ (Dearden). Bar-Ilan University researchers conducted a study to see how psychologically the Yazidi captives were impacted.

The study focuses on women because no Yazidi men were held captive they were all executed. “A very high percentage of female Yazidi former ISIS captives were suffering from C-PTSD (>50%) in addition to others with PTSD (23%).” (‘Following ISIS captivity, Yazidi women suffering from high percentage of C-PTSD.’). These statistics are important for those assisting in the care of these Yazidi captives because PTSD and C-PTSD must be treated differently. Now that these studies have been done they can start applying the appropriate treatment to help the people get better. Other impact it had on some of those involved was empowerment and a great sense of motivation to stand up against the Islamic State. Two women in particular are Nadia Murad Basee Taha and Lamiya Aji Bashar. These women were raped, tortured and humiliated by militants. Nadia Murad Basee Taha felt, “it was my duty to tell the world about the brutality of the Islamic State” (Murad). They have both became public advocates and spokespersons for women afflicted by ISIS campaign of sexual violence and were awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.

Another woman who was empowered named Adiba Qasim escaped minutes before fighters began taking hostages. She and her family fled to a refugee camp in Turkey. There she noticed a lack of translators for Kurmanji so, she taught herself English by reading scraps of paper and used old cigarette packets out of trash bins to help translate for NGO workers in the camp. Eventually she would return to Iraq to assist bring the stories of Yazidi women to the world working as a fixer and translator for journalists and human rights organizations. One last woman that experienced an empowering impact after captivity was Inas. At the age of only 17 she signed up to fight on the front lines with an all-female, all-Yazidi Peshmerga unit. “Inas told Al Jazeera. ‘It’s better to do something than nothing.

I am fighting to avenge my sister and all the girls who are still in captivity.’” (Shackle). Now we should have a better understanding of just how serious this genocide is by being informed about what the Yazidi people have gone through throughout time, ISIS, and how the people have been affected. Before this research project I had never even heard the word Yazidi. It is sad to say that because this genocide is still ongoing.  In conclusion the things these people have been and are still being put through are horrific; therefore, I hope and pray that something great it done to put those who did this in their rightful place, and more support is brought to the Yazidi populations across the world.

Works Cited

  1. Buscher, Michele. “The Yazidi Genocide in Iraq by Michele Buscher.” Feminismandreligion.com, 17 Sept. 2014, https://feminismandreligion.com/2014/09/17/the-yazidi-genocide-in-iraq-by-michele-buscher/.
  2. Dearden, Lizzie. “Almost 10,000 Yazidis ‘Killed or Kidnapped in Isis Genocide but True Scale of Horror May Never Be Known’.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 9 May 2017, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-islamic-state-yazidi-sex-slaves-genocide-sinjar-death-toll-number-kidnapped-study-un-lse-a7726991.html.
  3. “Despite U.S. Claims, Yazidis Say Crisis Is Not Over.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Dec. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2014/08/15/world/middleeast/iraq-yazidis-obama-sinjar-crisis.html.
  4. EU affairs. “Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar Winners of 2016 Sakharov Prize .” Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar Winners of 2016 Sakharov Prize, 27 Oct. 2016, www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/eu-affairs/20161024STO48414/nadia-murad-and-lamiya-aji-bashar-winners-of-2016-sakharov-prize.
  5. ‘Following ISIS captivity, Yazidi women suffering from high percentage of C-PTSD.’ Mental Health Weekly Digest, 12 Feb. 2018, p. 154. Opposing Viewpoints In Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A527108714/OVIC?u=mcc_glendale&sid=OVIC&xid=1f1f8624.
  6. Hechler, Samantha. ‘Prosecuting Islamic State Members for Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes Committed against Yazidi Women and Girls.’ Cardozo Journal of International & Comparative Law, vol. 25, no. 3, Summer 2017, pp. 595-624. EBSCOhost, libproxy.gc.maricopa.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=127121007&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
  7. Lind, Dara. “‘Genocide Is Happening on Your Watch.’” Vox, Vox, 9 Aug. 2014, www.vox.com/iraq-crisis/2014/8/9/5983785/yazidi-americans-to-obama-a-genocide-is-happening-on-your-watch.
  8. Murad, Nadia. “Outraged by the Attacks on Yazidis? It Is Time to Help.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Feb. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/02/10/opinion/sunday/yazidis-islamic-state-rape-genocide.html.
  9. Otten, Cathy. “Slaves of Isis: the Long Walk of the Yazidi Women.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 25 July 2017, www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/25/slaves-of-isis-the-long-walk-of-the-yazidi-women.Shackle, Samira. “Yazidis in Iraq: ‘The Genocide Is Ongoing’.” ISIS News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 7 Nov. 2017, www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/yazidis-iraq-genocide-ongoing-171105064140012.html.
  10. “UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: ISIS Is Committing Genocide against the Yazidis.” OHCHR | UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: ISIS Is Committing Genocide against the Yazidis, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20113&LangID=
  11. E.Frantzman, Seth. “Why Has No Islamic State Member Been Charged for the 2014 Yazidi Genocide?” The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com, 24 July 2017, www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Why-has-no-Islamic-State-member-been-charged-for-the-2014-Yazidi-genocide-500537.“Yezidis (Yazidis) History.” Yezidis, Yezidis International, www.yezidisinternational.org/abouttheyezidipeople/history/.
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