In August 2014, the self-declared Islamic State terrorist group attacked the village of Sinjar (known to the Kurds as Shingal) in northern Iraq. Home to thousands of Kurdish Yezidis, the village of Sinjar was overrun, the men were killed, and the women were taken as prisoners. Several hundred Yezidi escaped and found refuge on Sinjar mountain, where they hid from ISIS terrorists until the region was liberated by Kurdish Peshmerga forces in December 2014.
One year after the “Sinjar Massacre,” the Kurdish Yazidi people are in disarray. Many of the women and girls are still held captive by ISIS terrorists, and the remaining refugees are scattered throughout Iraqi Kurdistan. How did the Yazidi people find themselves targeted by ISIS terrorists, and what does their future hold?
Who Are the Kurdish Yazidis?
The Yazidi people are a group of ethnically Kurdish people. The majority of Yazidis speak Kurdish and practice Kurdish culture. Thousands of years ago, Yazidism was one of the only religions in the region, and many Kurds practiced Yazidism. When Judaism, Christianity and Islam appeared over the next millennia, most Kurds converted to these new religions, but a faithful group of Yazidis held onto their sacred religion.
The Kurdish Yazidis call themselves “Ezidi” (and not Yazidi). “Ezd” means “God” (or angel) in the Kurdish language and “Ezidi” correspondingly means “believer in God”. Recently, some of the Yazidi diaspora, including Yazidis in Germany and Armenia, have renounced their Kurdish connections because they believe that their Kurdish brothers who practice Islam have done a poor job of protecting the Yazidi faith.
Why Did ISIS Target Yazidis?
ISIS terrorists believe in an interpretation of Islam that labels Yazidi people as “devil-worshippers”. This interpretation allowed ISIS terrorists to kill Yazidi men, and to take Yazidi women as concubines, or pseudo-wives, against their will.
Despite releasing a few hundred Yazidi women, ISIS terrorists have sold many more Yazidi women into sex slavery, and it is estimated that between 3,000 and 5,000 remain as ISIS hostages.
What Will Happen To the Yazidis?
Many Yazidi men, women and children (nearly 80%) are now displaced throughout Iraqi Kurdistan. Many of them are seeking refuge outside of Iraq, in safer countries with more hospitable governments. Other Yazidis are working to better the plight of the Yazidis inside Iraq.
Since the liberation of Sinjar in December, Yazidi advocacy groups have helped increase US-led coalition airstrikes against Islamic State terrorists who hold Yazidi hostages.
Vian Dakhil is a Yazidi women, and the only Yazidi member of Parliament in Iraq. She was the first to speak up about the plight of the Yazidis in August 2014, and many credit Dakhil for inspiring the world to launch its full scale attack on ISIS.
One Yazidi man is working to help free Yazidi captives who are being held in Mosul and other ISIS cities. He is operating a network of informers inside these cities who help the women escape.
Recently, a group of Yazidis helped form a constitutional amendment for increased rights for marginalized ethnicities and religions in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). This would give the Yazidis a larger voice in the Kurdish Parliament.