Yezidis: A minority of genocides 

by Darya Najim/ Krekar Mustafa    


In April 2007, al-Qaeda hijacked a bus full of Yezidis, Christians, and Muslims in Mosul. The Christians and Muslims were sent home, while the Yezidis were all slaughtered in a bloodbath. Al-Qaeda then claimed to have sent twenty-three "devil-worshipers" to hell.  

This was not the first or the only massacre that the Yezidis have experienced. In fact, they have faced genocide more than 70 times, mostly during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. This August marks the fourth anniversary of the 74th genocide against the Yezidis. The incident left one of the smallest and most vulnerable minorities in Iraq— within KRG borders— at the hands of the most barbaric terrorist organization in modern West Asia. The Islamic State not only killed thousands of people in Sinjar, but also kidnapped and enslaved more than three thousand Yezidi women.  

This genocide committed by IS was arguably the most barbaric one of the 21st century so far, and the region where the Yezidis are historically located has seen more damage than any other region controlled by IS. The Yezidi community has lost hope and trust in Iraq, resulting in an exodus to Europe in search of safety and recognition. While Germany took in the largest number of Yezidis, it also tightened its borders, making it extremely difficult for some to leave and for others to unite with their own families. Yezidi-populated cities in Iraq are now in ruins and lack basic services, making a restart for those who are still in Iraq almost close to impossible. 
Each and every genocide the Yezidis have suffered has had one common denominator: Islamism. In 2014, IS controlled one-third of Iraq, containing several ethnic and religious groups. Only Yezidis were slaughtered for no other reason than their faith, their women enslaved, sold, and forced to convert to Islam. It is Islamism, no matter in what form or shape, that justifies the genocide of members of the non-Abrahamic religions and enslavement of their women. Islamism has become a major player in the forming of different state and non-state actors in Iraq, especially in the south. The Yezidis, whose religion is not Abrahamic, have paid the highest price. For a number of times that Yezidis have been sold out, they have lost confidence in both the Iraqi and the Kurdistan regional governments. They know they are alone. The Yezidi community, more desperate than ever, is leaving Iraq. 

During the economic boom in the KRG after the US invasion of Iraq, the Yezidis were the post-war slaves of the KRG. They were underpaid and humiliated, working the jobs the non-Yezidi Kurdish community all of a sudden was not willing to take. Though the Kurdish community has left the question of the Yezidis unaddressed, the Yezidis were the ignored other in the KRG. After IS attacked Sinjar, the attitude within the Kurdish community towards the Yezidis shifted from internalized racism towards a less hostile tone. Though the treatment of the Yezidis still holds its own ambience and not a very pleasant one, there is now more sympathy towards them than before. Still not treated as equals to the rest of the population in Iraqi Kurdistan, there is an open dialogue on it partially because the genocide of the Yezidis is evidence to the threat Kurdish communities are facing in all parts of Kurdistan.  

Yezidi religious traditions and the perception that the rest of the Kurdish population has of the religion have led to segregation between the two groups. To protect their traditions, the Yezidis have kept to themselves. This will most likely increase following the events of August 2014, since, once again, the Yezidis feel abandoned. Whether the Yezidi community wants to integrate back into Kurdish society in the aftermath of the bigotry, prejudice and betrayal they faced is a question that the community must decide on itself. As for the relationship between the Yezidis and the rest of the Arab population in Iraq, one can logically calculate what might happen. The religious and sectarian division has created a hostile and untrusting relationship between them.  
After August 2014, when IS slaughtered Yezidis until there were lakes of blood in Sinjar and Yezidi women were sold between IS members, the international community gave a flickering attention to their sufferings. There were some Yezidi activists, such as Nadia Murad, whose suffering was honoured and whose bravery saluted, but who remained only as a face of the thousands of women who were sex slaves. The international community sympathized with her, gave her platforms to speak and cry. However, on the other side of the world, there are over three thousand women still being raped and tortured by IS members. The international community has done nothing to rescue these girls and women. Those who managed to escape are in horrible conditions and very little is done to help them deal with the traumas that they face. 

When all hope was gone and no other armed force helped the Yezidi community as IS committed atrocities in Sinjar, the PKK rushed in to help. They stayed there until this spring, leaving after Turkish threats against Sinjar made their presence a danger to the people. The PKK— and everyone in Sinjar— wanted to see fewer clashes and casualties. The questions as to what to do with the challenges Yezidis face— their guaranteed safety and treatment on equal terms with the rest of the people in the KRG— is still blurry. In fact, it is hardly ever addressed, especially by the Kurdish government. Yezidis still feel unprotected, and many of them want to leave the country. The PKK has proposed democratic autonomy, in a project similar to Rojava. There is a question as to which extent this would work, especially considering that Iraq is still a war zone, and Turkey is getting more and more hostile towards this project.  

The Yezidis have faced genocide and trauma on top of trauma... How many more times must they face massacres before we turn to them and say, “Yes, you are indeed in danger. It is our responsibility to provide security for you and recognize your suffering”?