By Qasim Swati (United Kingdom)
The exact origin of the Yazidis is still contentious, because even the scholars do not fully agree on who the Yazidis are. However, most of them are Kurmanji-speaking (Northern Kurdish dialect of the Kurdish language), besides Arabic and Armenian languages, and originally coming from Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Despite being the original natives of these three countries, the Yazidi population can also be found in several other countries of the world, including Canada 1,200 (2018 estimate), Australia 2,738 (as estimated in 2019), Turkey 5,000 (2010 estimate), Sweden 6,000 (as roughly calculated in 2018), Syria 10,000 (2017 rough calculation), France 10,000 (2018 estimate), United Sates of America 10,000 (as estimated in 2017), Georgia 12,174 (according to 2014 census), Armenia 35,272 (2011 census of Armenia), Belgium 35,000 (2018 estimate), Russia 40,586 (Census of 2010), Germany 200,000 (as roughly calculated in 2019), and the majority of as many as 500,000 to 700,000 Yazidis are still believed to live only in Iraq, according to a rough calculation or estimate, conducted in 2018. Thus, there are no exact estimates of Yazidi population available, but it is estimated that the total Yazidi population amounts to 700,000 – 1,000,000 globally.
Although some Western scholars derive the name “Yazidi” from one of the Umayyad Caliphs, Yazid ibn Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan (or Yazid I: 646 – 683 [who is deemed as a tyrant and an illegitimate ruler by many Muslims in history]), yet the original name of Yazidis is Ezidi or Dasini (mainly a tribal name). Accordingly, some people may think that, if not all, the majority of the Yazidis are Muslims, but this is not the case, because they believe in several religions/beliefs, like Yazidism, Evangelicalism, Islam and Armenian Apostolic Church, with the majority of them being the believers and followers of Yazidism or Sharfadin (a monotheistic faith, based on belief in one God who created the world and entrusted this into the care of seven Holy Beings, known as Angels, having some similarities with Abrahamic religions, as well.
The Yazidis have been experiencing different sorts of human rights abuses, violations and persecution in different parts of the world at some point in their lives at the hands of their predators, abusers and perpetrators for the last so many years.
They suffered under the Arabistan/Arabization process of Saddam Hussein since 1970 till 2003, in which the Yazidis were forced by the Saddam regime to adopt the Arab culture by shifting their original language to Arabic and integrating into the Arab culture in all other ways, with their significant Arab identity. Almost the same maltreatment the Yazidi residents of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq underwent in 2009 by the Kurds, in which the Yazidis were required to identify themselves as Kurds, as reported by the Human Rights Watch.
But it was even before Saddam Hussein and the Kurds that Yazidis were suffering under the Ottoman Empire in order to forcibly convert them (the Yazidis) from Yazidism and their other religions to the Sunni Islam by the governors of Baghdad, Mosul and Diyarbakir of the Ottoman Empire.
Nevertheless the Yazidis went through more sufferings, persecution and human rights abuses that were even worse than the previous ones. Some of such human rights abuses include the 2007 Mosul massacre on April 23, where some 23 Yazidis were made hostages and shot, forcing them to lie face down in front of a wall by unidentified attackers who had hijacked a bus, carrying workers from the Mosul Textile Factory.
Similarly, some 796 people lost their lives and more than 1,500 wounded, as a result of co-ordinated series of suicide bomb attacks in the Yazidi towns of Til Ezer (al – Qahtaniyah) and Siba Sheikh Khidir (al – Jazirah) near Mosul in northern Iraq in August 2007, among the dead, at least, 500 were Yazidis. However, August 2009 also saw the killings of, at least, 20 Yazidis and injuring some 30 of them in a double suicide bombing in northern Iraq.
But the aforesaid oppression and ill treatment, experienced by the Yazidis in the past, could not quench the thirst of ISIL for conducting more human rights violations against this innocent community, and, thus, commenced persecuting, terrorising, killing, abducting and raping the Yazidi people in 2014, when the fighters and militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant occupied Sinjar (a town in the Sinjar District of the Nineveh Governorate in northern Iraq, mainly inhabited by Yazidis and being one of the major settlement areas) in August 2014. It was during this period of barbarism in Iraq that about 50,000 Yazidis were forced to flee into the mountainous region, located nearby. ISIL had dubbed the Yazidis “devil worshippers” and wanted to punish them as much as possible.
It is reported that the elderly and ill/poorly Yazidis who were unable to carry on their journey (typically on foot) when fleeing Sinjar in order to reach Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan, were being put to death (executed) by the militants of ISIL. Thousands of Yazidis (mostly children and women) had been besieged by ISIL, who later escaped after a long struggle. An eye witness compared the situation on Mount Sinjar to genocide where hundreds of dead bodies were found in the area.
It was also stated in a witness statement that many Yazidi girls had taken their own lives by jumping to their death from Mount Sinjar who had been raped by the militants and fighters of ISIL in Iraq.
Women were the main victims of the war, fought by ISIL and other combatants, in Iraq and other such regions. They used to treat captured girls and women as spoils of war/booty or war booty and sex slaves. Women and girls were raped, tortured and finally killed, if they refused to change their religion and convert to the Islam of ISIL, while those who converted to the chosen belief of ISIL used to be sold as brides. Women giving birth to babies in prisons were deprived of their newborns by taking them away from their mothers to a place where nobody knew about their whereabouts.
Nadia Murad Basee Taha (commonly known as Nadia Murad), an Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist (born in 1993 in Kocho, a Yazidi village in the Sinjar District of northern Iraq) and the winner of Sakharov Prize (2016) and Nobel Peace Prize (2018) Awards is an example of similar victims of human rights violations who had been used as a sex slave by the ISIL after kidnapping her in 2014.
To conclude, the exact figures of casualties, rape, tortures and other human rights abuses, carried out by ISIL/ISIS against the Yazidi people in Iraq and even Syria are not available, but over 5,000 Yazidi people have been murdered and more than 5,000 to 7,000 (most of them children and women) have been abducted by ISIL, so far, as reported by the United Nations in October, 2014.
Regrettably, ISIL/ISIS did not repent of/for what they have done to the innocent Yazidi community during all this period of horror, fear, brutality and ferocity, instead they have religiously justified their anti-human rights activities of making and treating Yazidi women as slaves, as claimed by them in their digital magazine “Dabiq”, where the name of the magazine has been taken from the town of Dabiq, situated in northern Syria.
Qasim Swati is a freelance journalist, writer and human rights activist, based in the UK, and can be reached at qasimswati.com or email@example.com.