Who are the Yazidis?
The vast majority of Yazidis are found in northern Iraq, in and around the city of Sinjar. It is estimated that there are approximately 1.5 million individuals worldwide who adhere to the beliefs of Yazidism.
Yazidism is a complex theology, and like all religions, is hard to sum up in a few sentences. It has two unique characteristics, however. First, there is the belief that the divine abstract, such as angels, can be reincarnated in human form. According to legend, these divine human figures would also be the legitimate leaders of the various religious tribes.
Second, there is strong emphasis on purity in Yazidi beliefs. Many combinations are forbidden, such as certain categories of food, as well as marriage between a Yazidi and an outsider.
Historically little known and much misunderstood, the Yazidis are ethnically of Kurdish descent. They have kept their syncretic religion alive for centuries, despite many years of oppression and threatened massacres.
Why do the Yazidis have to flee?
Of the 1.5 million Yazidis in the world, 550,000 of them are in Iraq. Of those, it is estimated that 400,000 have been displaced because they fought against the jihadist Islamic State. To date, more than 1,500 Yazidi men, women and children have been killed, and more than 4,000 are in captivity.
Yazidism is considered an infidel religion by al-Qaeda in Iraq (a predecessor to the Islamic State), which sanctions their systematic and indiscriminate murder.
There are also several thousand Yazidis in Syria, Turkey, Armenia and Georgia. They are mainly herders and farmers. The United Nations estimates that approximately 3,200 Yazidis are currently being held by the Islamic State in Syria alone.
What about human rights?
The Islamic State has a global reputation for brutality. Its fighters are unscrupulous about immediately putting to death anyone who opposes them, who does not belong to their religious sect, or whom they quite simply perceive to be enemies.
Shortly after the battle for Mosul, as the Islamic State was quickly marching toward Baghdad, its media branch published highly graphic videos of massacres committed in Mosul. According to Human Rights Watch (whose mission is the defence and protection of human rights), at least 550 to 770 individuals were brutally massacred in Tikrit over a three-day period. Most of those killed were young soldiers from the Iraqi army who had just completed their training.
“The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trace of non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims.”– Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Advisor, Amnesty International
“The longer they are held by ISIS, the more horrific life becomes for Yazidi women, bought and sold, brutally raped, their children torn from them…. Meanwhile, ISIS’s restrictions on Sunni women cut them off from normal life and services almost entirely.” – Skye Wheeler, a women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Young girls who are captured are often forced to call their parents and describe their sufferings. This is a form of telephone torture for the parents, who feel utterly helpless. Several girls are being held in a secret prison in Mosul, which was used for many executions when the Islamic State arrived. Those who convert to Islam are sold to soldiers as wives, for $25US. Estheticians are brought in and forced to put make-up on the children, as well as to teach them how to be submissive and please their new husbands.
Those who refuse to convert to Islam are raped, and often beaten to death. Yazidi men are often shot or tortured to death.
Such abuses “amount to war crimes, may be crimes against humanity and may be part of a genocide against Yezidis.” – Human Rights Watch
Rape is commonly used as a weapon of war. It is also a reward offered to fighters as recognition for their efforts. Girls as young as 14 are given as gifts to commanders of the Islamic State. Other girls are sold at market as slaves. This crime is a way to humiliate, subdue and demoralize conquered communities. The exact number of girls and women captured by the Islamic State is unknown, but is in the thousands.
They are beaten, tortured, raped – sometimes several times a day.
“They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them. The younger girls… are raped or married off to fighters. It’s based on temporary marriages, and once these fighters have had sex with these young girls, they just pass them on to other fighters.” – Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
What is Canada doing to help Yazidi families?
In February 2017, the Trudeau government announced that over the previous four months, Canada had warmly welcomed nearly 400 Yazidi refugee families, as well as other survivors of Islamic State extremists. Canada will also be accepting 800 other families by the end of the year.
The government says that it also intends to promote private sponsorships of Yazidi refugees, above and beyond the 1,200 government-assisted refugees.
This initiative recognizes that the Islamic State is engaging in genocide against the Yazidis, and is holding many girls and women from that religious group as slaves.
The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen, says that Canada offers protection to refugees based on “vulnerability, not religion or ethnicity.” Canada is therefore turning its attention to the most vulnerable survivors of the abuse of the Islamic State.
What can YOU do to help?
Write to your Member of Parliament!
Don’t know the name of your representative in the House of Commons? Click on the link below to find out!
I can’t do this alone. I need your help. Together, we can create awareness about the plight of Yazidi women and children, and put an end to this genocide RIGHT NOW!