Hope for the Yazidi People

I am confident that by now most of you have heard about the Yazidi people, but with the constant evolving news cycle it is difficult to learn who are they, how they are different from other displaced people in the region, and why they have been featured so prominently in the news. While I am not an expert on the Yazidi people, I will do my best to give you a better understanding of this historically persecuted people.

Estimates approximate that there are about 700,000 Yazidis (estimates vary widely), with the vast majority residing in Northern Iraq. Yazidis are an ethnic and religious minority in Iraq. They are predominantly ethnically Kurdish but unlike the majority of Kurds who practice Sunni Islam, Yazidis practice an entirely different religion comprised of elements from Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam. You cannot convert to the Yazidi religion, you must be born into it.

The Yazidi religion is largely based on oral tradition; therefore it is difficult to determine its origin with certainty. The Yazidi religion centers around their veneration of a fallen angel, Melek Tawwus, or Peacock Angel. Unlike the fall from grace of Satan in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Yazidi belief teaches that Melek Tawwus was forgiven and returned to heaven by God. The Yazidis reverence of Melek Tawwus, whose story bears a resemblance to that of Satan, has led to the mistaken belief that they are devil worshippers, a misunderstanding that Yazidis are quick to correct. This mistaken belief, however, has led to centuries of persecution of the Yazidi people. It is also one of the primary reasons that they, along with other religious minorities, were a prime target for the Islamic State (IS).

On August 3, 2014, IS attacked the Yazidi community in the Sinjar district of Iraq. Thousands of Yazidis were killed and abducted and tens of thousands were forced to flee to nearby Mount Sinjar in north-west Iraq or face slaughter by IS. To this day, thousands of Yazidis remain in the mountains because they are too afraid to return home.

During the attack, IS captured thousands of Yazidis, mostly women and children, and transported them to IS prisons and military training camps across Iraq and Syria, where they were raped, beaten, sold, and put into sex slavery. Today, thousands of abducted Yazidis remain missing.

Some Yazidis have returned to the Sinjar area only to find that there is nothing left there for them. About 70 per cent of the buildings in Sinjar were damaged or destroyed. Large parts of the area remain uninhabitable, and today, Sinjar still has no water, only one school, and no hospitals. Most Yazidis remain displaced because they are too afraid to return to the region. Before the region was recaptured, IS left behind explosive devices in schools, hospitals, homes, and even in children’s toys. Until these explosives are defused, basic services such as water resume, and security can be established in the region, most Yazidis will remain displaced.

Most recently, a prominent Yazidi, Nadia Murad, co-won the 2018 Noble Peace prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. In 2014, when she was only 19 years old, Nadia was kidnapped by IS and held for over three months until she managed to escape. She now works to help women and children who are victims of abuse and human trafficking and she advocates on behalf of the Yazidi people.

There is much more information available regarding the Yazidi people and their centuries of persecution. If you are interested in learning more, please email us and we will be happy to answer your questions.

Here at HOPE + FUTURE we believe that despite the horrors of their past, the future is bright for the Yazidi people. We hope you do too.

Jessica Binzoni