The Story of the Yazidis

Editor’s Note: A similar version was initially published in The Jerusalem Post.

By Khalaf Dakheel

The Yazidi people are a small religious minority, and one of the most ancient religions in the world, though we currently number less than a million members worldwide. A peaceful and non-aggressive people living in northern Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and parts of Armenia and Georgia.

We have quietly carried out our faith for millennia, praying to Xude (God), and Tawsi Melek (the Peacock Angel – God’s representative to mankind). The most important place on Earth for Yazidis is Lalish, a mountain village in northern Iraq which is home to our holiest sites, and also known as Hevini Ardi (Earth’s Heaven).

Yazidis make pilgrimages there to visit shrines and pray. Many years ago, most Yazidis used to live in Turkey. However, they couldn’t stay there anymore, as the ongoing genocides against them made life unbearable. There were millions of Yazidis at the time, but most of them were killed or forced to convert to another religion.

Consequently, they fled to neighboring countries, most coming to Iraq, where we numbered almost 600,000 before 2014. Those that arrived were very poor, so they started to farm the land and tended sheep until they could re-establish the lives they once had.

However, former president Saddam Hussein discriminated against us in many ways. He destroyed many of our villages in 1975, denying us food and aid in the aftermath. He forcefully conscripted many Yazidi men into the army to bolster his war efforts, and many of them were consequently killed or missing, never to be seen again by their loved ones. Those families waited for them for a long time, but unfortunately it was in vain.

Saddam’s regime was toppled in 2003. Yazidis started to rebuild their destroyed villages with mud bricks, still struggling in poverty. It was difficult, yet we were happy. Years passed, and we finished building our villages, finding a little happiness again in our newfound stability.

Then, in August 2007, four trucks packed with explosives were driven into two Yazidi towns and detonated by Arab terrorists. 313 were killed, and 700 injured, making it the second-deadliest terrorist attack in history. The world at large didn’t seem to care about the attack – the perpetrators were arrested and released shortly afterwards. After all that, the darkest day for Yazidis in modern history was August 3, 2014, when ISIS attacked the Yazidis in Shingal and its surrounding villages, destroying many holy shrines as they went.

Those who were close to Mount Shingal had time to flee up its slopes, saving them from abduction by ISIS, but the ones who lived farther away were kidnapped. They took almost 4000 Yazidi girls and women, and forced them into sexual slavery. 3000 men and children were also taken. They separated them by age, killing the men, and taking the children to their training camps to be brainwashed into fighting for the caliphate.

They carried out these atrocities simply because Yazidis had a different, distinct religion. We pass our religious traditions orally from generation to generation, and are targeted because of our love for Tawsi Melek who some wrongly see as an incarnation of the devil.

Today, almost 1500 girls and women have been liberated, each with a different, heartbreaking story. Others are still held captive – sold, raped and tortured in many terrible conditions for almost four years now.

As of this writing, there are dozens of Yazidi mass graves. We may never know how many more are still buried out there. Someone’s brother, someone’s father, someone’s sister, someone’s mother…someone who was a real person and not just a statistic. Presently, thousands of Yazidis have been living in refugee camps for more than three years in Greece and in Kurdistan. There is no long-term solution in place for their situation. We don’t know what the future holds for us as Yazidis . It hangs in the balance while the world looks on.