The Yazidi minority is not out of the woods yet

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Iraqi Yazidi MP Vian Dakhil speaks out on challenges Yazidis, other minorities face in region.A file picture of Iraqi Yazidi MP Vian Dakhil. (Reuters)
The ISIS scars among Yazidis are still bleeding six years later, as the majority of these people are scattered in various camps while the fate of others remains unknown. As if this is not enough, this minority group is facing a new terrorist threat from the northern region of Syria, which makes their future even more uncertain due to the unstable situation in the Middle East and the limited attention the international community gives to religious and ethnic minorities in the region during times of crisis.

In 2014, the world was shocked to hear that the Yazidis were being subjected to a bloody massacre in the Sinjar region (west of Mosul) at the hands of ISIS militants, who killed about 10,000 Yazidi men before they kidnapped and enslaved 6,000 of their women. The crime moved the international community, but international attention quickly faded away after the declaration of the end of the war on ISIS in 2019. This left the Yazidis (or those who remained alive among them) once again alone to face their uncertain destiny.

Yazidi displaced students walk at the Sharya camp, in Duhok, Iraq. (REUTERS)
Vian Dakhil, the only Yazidi Kurd in the Iraqi Parliament, said: “Unfortunately, today we are witnessing a decline in international interest and the support of civil society organisations for the Yazidi issue, although there are still more than 80% of Yazidis who have been suffering in camps for more than 5 years, and 3,000 men and women whose fate is still unknown, in addition to many Yazidi children who were kidnapped by the jihadist organisation when they were only three years old and we are not aware of their identity.”

The Yazidi politician warns of the decline of international interest in the fate of the Yazidis, saying it does not only harm the displaced people and those who are still missing but also encourages groups like ISIS to add salt to injury, especially in light of the news coming from Syria.

Since the cross-border military operation conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian Army it backs on Afrin in March 2018, the Yazidis continue to face a systematic campaign forcing them to change their religion. They watched forces kidnap their sons, capture their daughters and destroy their lands and crops.

A Yazidi family poses for a photo at the door to the Lalish temple near Sheikhan, Iraq. (AP)
The same scenario was repeated during the Second Battle of Ras al-Ayn in October 2019.

When the health crisis became the main issue that distracted everyone all around the world, and with the ongoing quarrels between major powers, the campaign against the Yazidis in Afrin doubled in intensity amid fears that this minority would be subjected to a new campaign, as Turkey is tempted to undertake violent demographic re-engineering in the northern Syria region.

Syria’s Yazidi Council spokesperson Adnan Hassan told The Arab Weekly that since the Turkish cross-border military operation in Afrin, 28 Yazidi villages have been evacuated, including a village that has been transformed into a Turkish military base which Syrians cannot visit anymore.

A 2014 file picture shows a displaced Iraqi man from the Yazidi community carrying his daughter as they cross the Iraqi-Syrian border  in northern Iraq. (AFP)
Hassan pointed out that the Syrian Islamist factions in the Afrin region work in ways similar to those of ISIS, in terms of forcing the Yazidis to change their religion. He recalled an incident that occurred about a week ago in the village of Al-Ghazzawiyya in which a girl was kidnapped and her mother was forced to convert to Islam to get her back. Hassan confirmed numerous cases of women being kidnapped and detained over the last couple of months. He spoke about a woman and her daughter who were taken weeks ago. When the villagers spoke out, the girl was released, while the mother remained in captivity.

Hassan considers what is happening to be part of a systematic plan by Turkey to re-engineer the region demographically by forcing people to leave their homes and obscuring the identity of minorities in that area through the demolition of their temples and shrines.

Dakhil said that what is happening in Afrin is another version of what occurred in 2014, during operations led by the same sort of extremism, even if under a different name. She criticised the international community’s silence, saying the world must act quickly to avoid a tragedy similar to the Sinjar massacre. She stressed the need to stop these extremist groups so that the danger does not expand further.

Targeting the Yazidis is the result of political and religious agendas. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously described Yazidis as a sect of non-believers. Dakhil believes that Erdogan’s anti-Yazidi stances are not suprising given his ideological background, and efforts to revive the Ottoman Caliphate. She pointed out that most genocidal campaigns the Yazidis have faced took place during the era that Erdogan seeks to revive. The Yazidis faced about 72 genocidal campaigns, most during the Ottoman era.

One of the most horrific campaigns was carried out by Muhammad Pasha, who some historians say collected some 100,000 heads and performed the Adhan (call for prayers) on top of them. Those campaigns aimed to subjugate the Yazidi minority and obscure its religious and ethnic identity.

Although about three quarters of their followers were lost during the period of the Ottoman rule, the Yazidis succeeded in preserving their identity, before facing the blood-soaked turbulence wrought by ISIS and its spinoff groups, some of which are accused of being backed by regional powers such as Turkey.

A child born to a Yazidi former slave mother and an ISIS extremist cries at a children’s protection house in Rimelan, Syria. (REUTERS)
These groups, Dakhil said, not only victimse Yazidis but but their Muslim neighbours who do not share their views.

The Yazidi activist pointed out that the continuous targeting of religious and ethnic minorities threatens the essence of what makes the Middle East such a special and unique part of the world. She sees within the same context the displacement of Iraqi Jews, the suppression of Lebanese Christians and the marginalisation of Kurds and Yazidis in Syria.

She sees the Middle East as based on diversity, it being the home of prophets and the cradle of civilisations.

The Middle East, she says, will not be the same without Kurds, Yazidis, Syriacs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Jews and Christians, as this mosaic is the secret of the region’s strength and authenticity.