Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images

Yazidi community under attack – again

The ancient Iraqi minority is under attack by ISIL

Recent advances made by the armed group Islamic State (IS) in northern Iraq is alarming for minorities in the region that do not adhere to their religious views and interpretations. The Yazidis, who are not Arab or Muslim, are the latest victims to fall under IS control on Aug. 3 when the armed group took over Sinjar in Nineveh province where thousands of the minority group live.

At least 500 Yazidi men were reportedly killed by IS and dozens of women taken into captivity. Tens of thousands of Yazidis, whose religion predates Islam and Christianity with roots in Zoroastrianism, fled Sinjar to the mountain areas without access to food and water.  

"Seventy children have already died of thirst and 30 elderly people have also died," Yazidi politician Vian Dakhil said at an Iraqi parliamentary session. 

Who are the Yazidis?

Yazidis, who originated from Mesopotamia (Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Syria, Turkey and Iran) more than 4,000 years ago, stem from the Zoroastrian faith with some subsequent influence from Islam and Christianity. Iraq’s Yazidis population is the largest with estimated 500,000, while tens of thousands of others live in Syria, Germany, Russia, Armenia, and Georgia. Most Yazidis are Kurdish speaking, though Arabic is the first language for some.

Yazidis’ preeminent deity is Melek Tawus, a Peacock Angel, who they also call "Shaytan," the same name Muslims have for Satan. This coincidence has led to members of IS and other Muslims in the past to view Yazidis as devil worshippers.

Nineveh province was the first loss of control from the Kurdish forces to IS. Yazidis have often sought protection from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), the autonomous Kurdish authorities and forces in northern Iraq. The small Yazidi communities in Syria, after that country’s civil war has led to the rise in armed groups like IS, fled to Iraq’s Kurdish region for security.

Religious persecution is not a new horror for Yazidis. On Aug. 13, 2009, a suicide attack in a cafe in Sinjar killed 20 people and injured dozens more, apparently targeting Yazidis.

On Aug. 14, 2007, a series of car bombings almost completely wiped up two small Yazidi villages killing more than 500 people. The attack was the deadliest event since the war started in 2003.

Even before the war, Yazidis felt threatened. Thousands of them, despite Iraq being their ancestral homeland for more than 4,000 years, fled to Europe under Saddam Hussein’s control. Germany is home to the largest community abroad, with an estimated 40,000.  Hussein’s government has targeted the Yazidis. "For example, 33 members of the Yazidi community of Mosul, arrested in July 1996, still are unaccounted for," the US State Department said in a report on international religious freedom.

Under Hussein’s rule, Yazidis also found themselves persecuted by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for resisting assimilation, according to a report by the Roosevelt Institute on Iraq’s minorities.

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