“ISIS have subjected every Yazidi Woman, man or child that it has captured to the most horrific atrocities” stated a reporter to the UN, elucidating the genocide that Yazidis face in Iraq. He continued: “ISIS permanently sought to enslave the Yazidis through killing, enslavement, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm”.
Like many jeopardized communities in the Middle East, Iraq’s Yazidis have been plunged into peril by a conflict that has no end in sight. Their own struggle is unparalleled however. Unlike the numerous Kurdish factions, of whom many Yazidis share ethnic heritage with, they are a defenseless force, due to military service being restricted by their religious beliefs. Considered ‘devil worshipers’ not just by ISIS, but by many perverted Islamist factions in the region, they face as much hostility and contempt as any Jew or Christian would.
And now, despite being one of the oldest known religions, with over 7000 years of history, their way of life is threatened — due to conflicting with the poisonous ideology that ISIS possesses.
Ever since the US-led invasion in Iraq in 2003, when dictator Saddam Hussein was displaced from power, and the government was dismantled, the nation has been torn apart by sectarian violence. According to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), Iraq has suffered more casualties from terrorist attacks than any other nation since 2004, every year. The Yazidi community has suffered from this; a destructive attack on numerous Yazidi towns in August 2007 by jihadist suicide bombings, which killed almost 800 people, and wounded more than 1500, is a prominent example.
Yet since ISIS rapidly gained momentum in 2014, the crisis intensified. That year, an onslaught on Yazidi communities, which led to the ‘Sinjar Massacre’ in August, led to the expulsion of 40,000 Yazidis; while an estimated 2000-5000 were slaughtered.
Even those who remain suffer greatly, with many being taken captive. Another UN report found that 3,200 women and children were taken into captive by ISIS militants. From forced conversions of Yazidi men — the alternative being execution — to child slavery. Women are forced into a vile role too, being made sex slaves after being taken from their families. Many are rounded up, and degradingly sold off to ISIS fighters; “market day”, as one militant sickeningly refers to it.
After being in captivity, numerous women provided testimonies about their experiences. A young women describes how she and many others would face physical violence if refusing to meet the demands of the militants. Sound bad? These are perhaps comparatively minor cases. According to the Kurdish ARA News agency, 19 women were recently put in iron cages and burnt to death for refusing to have sex with ISIS fighters, in front of a huge crowd in Mosul.
Such atrocities only reflect the dire circumstances that many within the Yazidi community face. This UN condemnation has shone a light on their perils, bringing further attention to the attempted genocide of the Yazidis. This awareness is certainly a vital starting point, but now actions need to be taken.
The downfall of ISIS would immediately free the Yazidis, along with neighbouring minorities. Thankfully, this is a distinct possibility. A victory has just been claimed by Iraqi government forces in Fallujah, where the government HQ has been captured within the city. Mosul looks set to follow soon too.
Yet even with ISIS gone, another threat could emerge. As the past has shown, relentless warfare alone will not solve the crisis; it will only prolong and enhance the turmoil. As I’ve stressed in the past, unanimous international coalitions need to be agreed upon. Moderate forces, and existing regimes need to be backed. A future for the region, which meets the wishes of the people, should be established. Only a stable solution, agreed upon by diplomacy and joint engagement, can bring about a positive future not just for Yazidis, but for all minorities trapped in this disastrous situation.