The Story of the Yazidi People
The Yazidis (Yezidi) are a group that practices a religion with elements from Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism, and before 2014, there were about 600,000 of them living in the Sinjar region in northern Iraq. In August of that year, Daesh forces invaded the area without warning. The Yazidi people were defenseless, and almost 200,000 of them were besieged by Daesh (also known as ISIS, the Islamic State, and ISIL) while trying to flee. Hundreds that did escape ended up stranded in the heat and died from dehydration, malnutrition, and even suicide. Young Yazidi boys were abducted and forced into Daesh training camps, while women and girls were sold into sex slavery. Any elderly or weak that could not escape were executed.
Since the attack in 2014, at least 5,000 have been murdered and over 6,000 have been kidnapped. Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis remain displaced, and the possibility of returning has proven difficult amidst continuing security threats. Daesh has also destroyed Yazidi cultural sites in Bahzani, Bashiqa, and Sinjar. While the Yazidi people have been the primary targets of this violence and displacement, horrendous acts have occurred to other ethno-religious minorities in the area. This includes Christians (mostly in northern Iraq), Turkmen, Assyrians, those in the Sunni community, and other religious minorities.
The foundation of Daesh can be traced back to 1999, which was originally named Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad (Organization of Monotheism and Jihad), and then morphed into al Qaeda in 2004. They were able to achieve control religiously, politically, and militarily by using tactics of terrorism and guerilla warfare. They were primarily operating in Iraq, but used the unrest caused by the Syrian revolution in 2011 to expand their reach. In June 2014, they declared Syria as its capital. Daesh’s affiliation with and interpretation of Islam has been widely contested by political figures, intellectuals, and Muslim leaders and scholars. Although Daesh was declared defeated in October 2019, experts have warned that its ideology is still rampant. Those loyal to Daesh blend into local populations and carry out sporadic attacks; still posing high threat levels in both Iraq and Syria. They have even expanded their reach and carried out several international terror attacks.
The Yazidi people have endured systematic oppression and discrimination in Iraq since the days of the Ottoman Empire. This is rooted in a deep misunderstanding of their culture among groups in the area, and amongst Iraq’s Arab-nationalist majoritarian rule. In the decades leading up to the devastation caused by Daesh, Yazidi people were the target of active efforts to exclude information about them in order to foster misunderstanding. For example, Iraq’s public school system does not recognize Yazidi history or culture. Since 2003, Yazidi villages and religious objects, including temples, have been repeatedly targeted by hate crimes. Although there has been so much done to them, the Yazidi people are resilient, and in 2018 an Iraqi Yazidi named Nadia Murad was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. In 2017 the United Nations responded to calls from the Iraqi government to bring Daesh members to justice, by establishing a new Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Daesh (UNITAD).
“The European Parliament, US House of Representatives, United Kingdom, French Senate, Canadian Government, as well as a UN Independent Commission Inquiry, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum have acknowledged that the attacks against the Yazidi community constitute genocide; according to a UN Human Rights Council report from 2016 examining [Daesh] crimes against the Yazidis, [Daesh] fundamentally attempted to cut the Yazidi community off from its own beliefs and practices to destroy the population.”