This article appeared in another outlet and has been republished with the author’s permission.
By Brian Davis
The third day of August, 2014 is an unforgettable date for Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority. On this fateful day, the terrorist group known as ISIS invaded and attacked Sinjar, Iraq, slaughtering the mostly unarmed and peaceful residents.
ISIS thugs murdered men and elderly women and kidnapped younger women for sexual slavery. The extremists also captured young boys to indoctrinate them into the group’s ideology. An estimated 9,900 members of this religious and ethnic minority were murdered or kidnapped in a period of a few days.
Less than two weeks later, ISIS continued the atrocities, as its fighters massacred 80 men in the village of Kojo and abducted more than 100 women. In all, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Yazidis were driven out of their homelands in that time period and more than 300,000 Yazidis remain displaced. Such atrocities are par for the course for ISIS, who have conducted similar attacks across wide geographic and cultural domains.
The Yazidis, as well as Christians, Shia Muslims and groups such as the Bashika and Bahzani in Iraq have been subjected by these terrorists to the most despicable crimes one can imagine: Burning women alive in cages for refusing to have sex with their fighters, beheading prisoners, crucifixion and brainwashing children to use as child soldiers. The fanatics have also blown up numerous places of worship, such as Christian churches, Yazidi temples and shrines, and Shia mosques.
Almost three years since that bloody day, the American media pays the Yazidis little attention, even though they remain the targets of an ongoing genocide. While some congressmen, such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL) have shed some light on the horrific suffering of Iraq’s Yazidis, the U.S. media have often focused instead on far less important matters, such as former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate and the latest scoop on Caitlyn Jenner.
The situation remains bleak in Iraq for those who escaped and those still in captivity. An estimated 3,000 remain in the hands of ISIS as sex slaves, according to Safak Ozanli, who previously served as MP from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Most of the Yazidis who managed to escape remain displaced, impoverished and miserable following the attacks in Yazidi-majority towns. The majority of Iraq’s Yazidis are now living in IDP camps in the country’s Kurdistan region or in refugee camps in Turkey. One Yazidi man, an online acquaintance who asked to be referred to as Ahmed, described his unenviable living conditions.
“I have been living in a tent since 2014 with my five siblings far outside of Sinjar,” Ahmed said. “The heat is unbearable and a tent is not a good place to live. I have scabies due to the dirty tent.”
In addition to these physical discomforts, Ahmed also deals with the psychological turmoil of the memories of that day and of friends who perished in the Sinjar massacre.
“The terrorists invaded Sinjar and we had the choice to either convert to Islam or face beheading. I took some women with me in a big truck and my family as well,” Ahmed said.
“My mother and sister did not understand why we had to escape. Even though I got away, I had friends who were killed by ISIS.”
The homeland they fled is not much to return to today, as it has been devastated by the conflict. An offensive led by the Kurdish Peshmerga with American support through the air retook Sinjar, but between 60 and 80 percent of the town was destroyed, according to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials.
Ahmed and another Yazidi, who I will refer to as Ali, both told me they feel hurt that western democracies have not done more to help Yazidis escape the horrors of their situation. “I feel helpless and upset that the United States and European countries have not done more to help Yazidis and Christians,” Ali said. We are peaceful people who just want to live in a safe country. We do not want to harm anyone or force anyone to convert.”
Ali, who regularly follows western media, also expressed his frustration with the American media’s lack of coverage of the genocide. “I saw CNN’s ‘ISIS: Behind the Mask’ earlier this year and it was definitely inaccurate,” Ali said. They did a very poor job portraying what the situation is actually like on the ground in Iraq.”
Ali also expressed his displeasure with the types of things the media prioritize over the suffering of his people. “It is irritating that the American media and university students focus on many silly and stupid things while most of them ignore Yazidi suffering.”
Ali is correct to note that this lack of perspective is disheartening. Is trivial information about celebrities more important than the life -threatening challenges in the daily lives of Yazidis? While many students at universities across the United States complain and protest like petulant children about the lack of safe spaces on their respective campuses or feeling uncomfortable reading messages they disagree with written in chalk, mass graves are uncovered of Yazidis in towns ISIS captured.
Followers of the ancient Yazidi religion have long faced religious persecution and genocide, from the time of the Ottoman Empire, to the rule of strongman Saddam Hussein and modern-day terrorist groups. The hatred of Yazidis is due in part to the erroneous belief by some groups of Muslims that Yazidis are “devil worshippers.” A considerable number of Iraqi Shia initially believed this, but after discovering the rumors were false, ultimately helped the Yazidis save some of their kidnapped women and girls from captivity, according to Ali.
Given their unfounded reputation and the long history of persecution and genocide, one can understand why Ali believes Yazidis will never be safe in Iraq. “Yazidis and Christians will never find peace until we leave Iraq for a democratic country,” Ali said. The government does not care about us or give us sufficient rights.”
Despite the bravery and resolve demonstrated by Ahmed following the horrors of the ISIS invasion of his homeland, he nonetheless lives in fear of future invasions and murders. He hopes the West will save minorities while the opportunity still exists.
“We are a very vulnerable people and a major attack is imminent,” Ahmed said. “Western countries must help us soon or our people will continue to be murdered.”
While both Ahmed and Ali have expressed hope the United States military will continue to kill off ISIS fighters in Iraq, Ahmed believes the best way to help the country’s religious minorities is by accepting them as refugees.
“The U.S. and other western democracies should accept more Yazidi and Christian refugees if they really want to help us,” Ahmed said. We Yazidis have a very good relationship with Christians and so we would have no issue living in a Christian-majority country. We do not have a missionary religion, so we would never force our religion on anyone.”
American students studying history these days are rightly horrified after reading about the murders committed by the Ku Klux Klan, the Holocaust and other genocides, the rape of Nanking and many horrific atrocities. However, thanks to the insufficient coverage by the media, Americans are not as familiar with Yazidis as one would expect. History is essential, but we are missing a current horror while it can still be stopped.
If the U.S. and other western nations (and Australia in the East) will accept more Iraqi Yazidis and other minorities as refugees, these vulnerable people will at long last live in nations where they may practice their religion without the threat of death and fear.
However, if we continue to ignore their plight, we may one day look back at the deaths of thousands of innocents and find ourselves repeating “never again.”