The Yazidis are mainly based in Iraq and Syria, possessing a rich culture which spans back to the beginning of time. The only way to become a Yazidi is to be born into it. If a Yazidi marries a non Yazidi they are no longer allowed to identify as one. Speaking Kurdish, their main religion is titled Yazidism which teaches the reincarnation of souls among other things.
Yasdan is the sole ‘creator’ God in Yazidism who created the World and everything in it before bestowing it’s protection onto the seven angels. The ‘head angel’ is Melek Taus, commonly known as the Peacock Angel because of his appearance when arriving on Earth. It is said that the Peacock Angel spread trees and plants across the planet before travelling to the Garden of Eden to meet Adam. Adam was the first human to be created and the Peacock Angel blew his soul into him to make him pure and living. The next step was to create Eve but before the two humans could engage in intercourse, or a greeting of any kind for that matter, the Peacock Angel set them a challenge. The Peacock Angel wanted to see if either of them could produce offspring without the help of the other so gave them both a seed in a sealed jar.
Once the set period was over both jars were opened and the results marked the rise of Yazidism. Eve’s jar was full of insects whilst Adam’s jar was said to contain a baby boy. This child, known as Shehid Bin Jer or simply ‘Son of Jar’, married and produced offspring himself as time went by. It is said all Yazidis are the descendants of the Son of Jar as well as Adam and the Peacock Angel but not Eve. Adam had inherited wisdom through the Peacock Angel thus so had Shehid Bin Jer and all Yazidis to this day.
The Peacock Angel, however, has more strings to his bow and unrivalled repercussions in the 21st century. It is said that the Peacock Angel fell from Yasdan’s grace and was only forgiven when his ‘tears of repentance quenched the fires of hell to which he had been sent for punishment’. This story somewhat correlates to the well known story of Satan thus other religions and races sometimes refer to the Yazidis as devil worshippers, just one of the reasons why ISIS launched a torture campaign in 2014.
During the Ottoman Empire Governors attempted to forcefully convert Yazidis to Islam. The Yazidis survived. Under the watchful eye of Saddam Hussein from 1979-2003 the Yazidis were said to be colonised or ‘arabised’ and begin shifting their culture and language towards that or Iraq and Islam. The Yazidis survived. In 2009 the Kurdistan Government attempted to make all Yazidis to identify as Kurdish. They survived. Then in August 2014 the Islamic State sought to eradicate the Yazidi people in it’s bid to make Iraq a solely Islamic society. They are surviving.
Due to the captures of both Tal Afar and Sinjar, both Iraqi towns, as well as the claiming of land near Zumar, around 90,000 Yazidis were forced to flee. Most of the fleeing victims attempted to get away by trekking through nearby mountains a huge distance away. This spread fears about the elderly and disabled especially considering the general lack of water as well. Those who could not complete the journey were executed or tortured by the Islamic State. Mount Sinjar, rumoured to be an important place in the story of Noah’s Ark, became synonymous with suffering and genocide almost overnight. Tens of thousands of Yazidi people were now stuck, spread across the treacherous Mount Sinjar with vicious rumours flying in every direction. The now refugees were in turmoil, realising if they left their ‘safe haven’ they would be captured by terrorists but if they stayed the threat of death was almost on par.
The Telegraph’s Jonathan Krohn said in 2014 that “on the dry mountain, the Yazidis fight with the goats for the remaining water […] There is no way to put this: the thousands of people left on this mountainside are covered in goat droppings and have no water to drink, let alone to wash it off.”
An Iraqi army helicopter did provide some medical supplies and could take people to safety but only twelve at a time. Some routes down were eventually protected by the YPG and PPK, Kurdistan military groups, which helped the majority of women and children out of one danger and potentially into another with women the main target of the Islamic State. To make matters worse, some members of the PPK were trying to recruit Yazidi men to bolster their own political needs and not focus on the survival of those in desperate trouble. The ordeal, on paper, lasted for a few days but the trauma will continue for years to come. It was convert or die, preach or perish. Thousands and thousands of women were captured and their ordeals impossible to fathom. Some rape victims thought it best to commit suicide by jumping from Mount Sinjar rather than having to live with the monstrous things that had happened to them.
Nazand Begikhani, adviser to the Kurdistan Government and all round human rights activist, spoke to CNN saying “these women have been treated like cattle. They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They’ve been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags.” In December 2014 there was a global outrage as it was released that ISIS published an official leaflet dictating what to do and what not to do with female slaves as they were captured. It was deemed acceptable to rape and beat women and children. Since then the stories have somehow got worse.
What I am about to write was hard to do so and will also be hard to read. Lamiya Aji Bashar, now eighteen, was captured by Islamic State members and horrifically injured by a land mine when trying to flee, making her blind in one eye. When captured, Lamiya Aji Bashar was just sixteen years of age, both her parents are suspected to be dead. The teenager spoke out about her constant beatings and rape. Her ‘owners’ changed rapidly with members of the Islamic State becoming bored of abusing her. One of her ‘owners’ forced her to make suicide vests and car bombs among other things. Another story with an unnamed victim said that “You have to be raped to become a Muslim” and that ISIS members would grope the breasts of those captured to test whether they were old enough to be raped.
Iraqi MP Vian Dakhil emotionally told the story of another unnamed woman on live TV in which the victim was kept alive in a cellar for three days with no food or water. The door was opened and “they brought her a plate of rice and meat. She ate the food because she was very hungry. When she was finished they said to her: “We cooked your one-year-old son that we took from you and this is what you just ate”.” One Mother horrifically recalls the story of not being able to breastfeed her new born son who was then beheaded in front of her when he cried.
Through disturbing darkness comes supreme strength and unmatchable courage. Lamiya Aji Bashar, alongside Nadia Murad, was awarded the Sakharov prize for human rights in December 2016 whilst hundreds more Yazidi women join forces with Kurdistan military groups with an all female group called ‘The force of the Sun Ladies’. The aim is to reclaim their villages from the militants that raped, beat, tortured, and executed them for years. Captain Khatoon Khider of the Sun Ladies spoke to Fox News, “Whenever a war wages, our women end up as the victims. Now we are defending ourselves from the evil. We are defending all the minorities in the region. We will do whatever is asked of us.”
To end this piece I am going to leave you with a quote from Tony Lagouranis and his book Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator’s Dark Journey Through Iraq “There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the Yazidi, and a lot of contradictory information. But I was drawn to this aspect of their beliefs: Yazidi don’t have a Satan. Malak Ta’us, an archangel, God’s favourite, was not thrown out of heaven the way Satan was. Instead, he descended, saw the suffering and pain of the world, and cried. His tears, thousands of years’ worth, fell on the fire of hell, extinguishing them. If there is evil in the world, it does not come from a fallen angel or from the fires of hell. The evil in this world is man-made.”
Further information and links
An insightful video from BBC News tells the story of a group of survivors after being safely rehomed in Germany whilst this interview with Lamiya Aji Bashar by the EIUC displays just what a wonderful human she really is.
Nadia Murad has launched Nadia’s initative which is a registered organisation looking to redevelop communities in crisis and to increase advocacy for women and minorities. Please help the cause if you can.
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