The Yazidi Genocide in Iraq

13/08/14

Who are the killers?

ISIS, or “Islamic State,” is a genocidaire, Salafi-Jihadist Sunni organization founded after the American invasion of Iraq. It was previously known as Al-Qaeda’s subset in Iraq. The organization has been responsible for a long list of terror attacks waged against Shiites, Christians and Iraqi and Western security forces—mainly between 2007 and 2012. In 2014, the organization broke off from Al-Qaeda, and in June its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of the “Caliphate of the Islamic State,” appointing himself as its helm. At that time the organization ruled over a third of Syrian land (northeast Syria) and half of Iraq (northern Iraq). Its members became notorious for their relentless brutality. They disseminated many videos in which they are seen indiscriminately slaughtering scores of civilians and mutilating their bodies. ISIS murders Sunnis who are infidels in their eyes, among them leaders, clergyman and clerks, Shiites, Assyrians, Hazaras, Christians, Alawites, and Kurds. Following the capture of the city of Mosul it was reported that hundreds of thousands of Christians—who had lived in the city for 1,600 years – fled after ISIS demanded they convert to Islam or die. The number of victims is not known but it is clear that ISIS slaughtered thousands since last June. The Yazidi people are not given a choice; they are summarily murdered. The members of ISIS nickname the Yazidis “worshippers of Satan” and call for them to be murdered wherever they may be found.

Who are the victims?

The Yazidis are an ancient Middle-Eastern people who claim to have preceded Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As an ethnic group they are divided over their connection to the Kurdish people: some call for them to be differentiated as a nation, while others see themselves as part of the Kurdish people. The Yazidi religion – the roots of which date back to the BC centuries – is distinguished in its similarity to the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. The Yazidis absorbed various traditions, from the Sufi Islam as well as other cultures in Mesopotamia. Like Muslims, the Yazidis pray five times a day. Like the Zoroastrianists, they preserve the purity of the Four Elements (earth, water, air and fire). They believe that God manifests in human form as well as in reincarnation.

Throughout history, the Yazidis’ Muslim neighbors saw them as the “devil’s children.” The Yazidis were forced to live in constant flight, and in the last few hundred years they forged two large enclaves in the mountains of northern Iraq: in the region of Sheichan, around the temple of Sheikh Adi bin Musafir, and in the vicinity of the Sinjar mountains.

The Yazidi people have experienced many periods of persecution at the hands of Muslims -dating back to the days of the Ottoman Empire. Among other episodes they were massacred during the First World War (parallel to the Armenian Genocide), and they were deported in large numbers from Turkey in the 1960’s. This was partly for their unique religion being interpreted as Satan’s work as well as their cultural and religious isolation.

Since the invasion of American forces into Iraq in 2003, Islamist organizations have been persecuting, terrorizing and massacring the Yazidis. The Yazidi community in Iraq—which constitutes the majority of the Yazidi people—today numbers 650,000 people. They live in the Ninveh valley of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Other large communities live in exile in Syria, Armenia and Germany. The Yazidis in the Ninveh valley live in two enclaves: one is located in the vicinity of the Sinjar mountains west of Mosul (adjacent to the Syrian border); the other is located in Sheichan region—north of Mosul—home to the grave of Sheikh Adi, the holiest site in the Yazidi religion.

Under Salafi-Jihadist Occupation

Early in the morning of August 4th, 2014, ISIS forces invaded the township of Sinjar and its surrounding villages and the Peshmerga forces (the army of the Kurds in Iraq) escaped. This led to the capture of the entire region by ISIS forces. Following the pattern of their previous captures, ISIS members forced the Christian minority to convert to Islam. The Yazidis, meanwhile, were not granted this possibility. ISIS’ commandeering of Sinjar threatens the majority of the Yazidi people (as most live there) as well as its holy sites. ISIS members are not showing any mercy toward them, and it appears that their intention is to destroy this ancient religion. At least tens of Yazidis – who belonged to the forces defending the city alongside the Kurds – were murdered immediately following Sinjar’s capture. Since the beginning of the fighting approximately 200,000 Yazidis have fled from the township and its surrounding villages – half of whom made their way to the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, the other half of whom headed to the adjacent Sinjar Mountains. Many Yazidis are currently near the grave of Sheikh Adi in the Sheichan district – a mere 40 kilometers north-east of Mosul. ISIS’s movement toward the region – as well as the potential collapse of Peshmerga’s defensive lines there – may lead to the annihilation of the Yazidi community in Iraq.

Siege of Sinjar Mountains

Estimates of 100,000 refugees have fled to the Sinjar ridge, exposed to the blistering sun in temperatures of 40-45 degrees Celsius – without water, food or medicine. The state of the refugees is dire, especially as ISIS militants have sealed the ridge from all directions and basic humanitarian aid cannot be delivered by land. It was reported that ISIS militants have penetrated the ridge, are presently murdering Yazidi men and kidnapping Yazidi women. Members of the Yazidi community report on approximately 100 infants and elderly civilans who have already died of thirst and heatstroke, and on others who are immobilized as a result of exhaustion and various diseases. On August 6th it was reported that hundreds of women belonging to the Yazidi community in Iraq were kidnapped. The spokesperson for Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry, Kamil Amin, estimated that the women—all under the age of 35—were held in schools across Mosul. American intelligence officials confirmed this report.

American Involvement

On August 7th, US President Barack Obama instructed the American air force to strike ISIS militants both in order to protect American military officials and advisors (stationed in the city of Irbil in northern Iraq), and to thwart the entrapment of the Yazidis who had fled to the mountains of Sinjar. In a special address to the nation Obama stated that American planes have already begun dropping water and food meant for the Yazidis, “who face the horrible decision to either descend from the mountain, which would result in their slaughter, or to stay on the mountain, which would result in a slow death from thirst and hunger.” Obama noted that the United States cannot stand by in light of the threat of mass murder facing the Yazidis, and that it is in her power to act “with caution and responsibility to prevent a potential genocide.”

That same day, the American air force began its offensive in the Sinjar region, which allowed the Kurdish security forces to establish a humanitarian corridor toward the mountain’s ridge and thereby save over 20,000 Yazidis. American, British and Kurdish military planes then started dropping water, food, and medicine meant for the Christian Yazidis.

Never Again?

At the end of the Second World War, as the horrific crime committed by the Nazis against the Jewish people came to light, the moral injunction of “Never Again” was coined in relation to mass atrocities. But this injunction was not realized and many nations were maliciously and systematically destroyed as the world fell silent.

65 days after the outbreak of genocide in Rwanda, after some 620,000 people had already been murdered, an American State Department official was interviewed as part of a press conference. The transcript follows:

“That’s just not a question that I’m in a position to answer.”
“Well, is it true that you have specific guidance not to use the word ‘genocide’ in isolation, but always to preface it with these words ‘acts of’?”

“I have guidance which I try to use as best as I can. There are formulations that we are using that we are trying to be consistent in our use of. I don’t have an absolute categorical prescription against something, but I have the definitions. I have phraseology which has been carefully examined and arrived at as best as we can apply to exactly the situation and the actions which have taken place … “

The Rwandan genocide continued for 35 more days, and 300,000 more people were murdered. The countries of the world neither intervened nor sent aid to the victims. Is it possible that the United States and the international community will fail similarly here?

We call on the international community to act immediately to save the Yazidi Christians on Mount Sinjar, and to prevent the capture of the Yazidi enclave in the Sheichan region north of Mosul.

First, a way must be forged to allow the safe passage of Christians from Mount Sinjar to a protected area while providing them with food, water, and clothing.

Second, we need to establish a barricade between ISIS militants and the rest of the Yazidi population within the borders of the Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq, as well as to prevent the impending danger in the event of their capture by ISIS forces.

Beyond that we ought to note that the persecution of the Yazidis is the most ruthless heretofore undertaken by ISIS—though other religious groups (Shiites, the Zara, Christians, Assyrians, Kurds, etc.) are also persecuted—and the international community must act to weaken the organization and its murderous activities.

The Jewish people have a unique responsibility to protect the fate of other nations facing annihilation. This responsibility compels us to act. We call on the Israeli government, and on its leader, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, to provide refuge to Yazidi refugees and to grant them as much humanitarian assistance as possible.

The Israeli government ought to serve as the West’s pioneer in molding a moral and protective stance vis-à-vis those facing annihilation, whoever and wherever they may be. This is our most fundamental obligation as members of the Jewish people – those who faced the darkest, most systematic campaign of annihilation ever orchestrated – and as human beings who are bound to the moral compass of our world.

 Tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir in Lalish

Tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir in Lalish