Yezidis: Living in the Shadow of the Islamic State
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—The 300,000 Yezidis of Kurdistan, one of the world’s oldest religious communities, are facing a humanitarian disaster as a result of the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/IS) into their homeland.
Thousands fled when the Islamist militants moved into Zumar, Shangal and other Yezidi villages at the weekend and thousands more are unaccounted for. Those fortunate enough to reach territory controlled by the Kurdish Peshmerga will join the one million refugees in KRG territory who have already fled violence in Syria and elsewhere in Iraq.
Rudaw reporters in the region have witnessed a looming humanitarian catastrophe for Yezidi Kurds and for Assyrian and Chaldean Christians. Thousands are scattered across open plains where many have died from hunger and thirst. Twenty children have died of hunger and many elderly collapsed from exhaustion in the summer heat.
Survivors of two days’ fighting in Sihela, who described their dire situation to Rudaw TV, spoke of a life and death situation on a mountain where thousands of men, women and children spent 24 hours.
Military officials report the Peshmerga have now re-entered Shangal. But overall the KRG’s ability to protect Yazidi areas has been constrained by an arms embargo imposed by Baghdad and the rest of the world.
The Peshmerga have been confronting ISIS forces armed with weapons seized from the Iraqi army as it fled Mosul in June. These same advanced weapons have now been deployed against Yazidi and Christian civilians.
The Yezidi community fears extermination at the hands of Islamic militants if their region falls to ISIS. Their ancient religion, which is related to Zoroastrianism, predates Christianity and Islam but many traditional and radical Muslims dismiss the Yezidis as devil-worshippers.
In the past decade, insurgents have targeted Yezidi villages and markets with car bombs. In Mosul, Yezidi workers have been kidnapped and beheaded.
Now they fear the worst fate if the Islamic State claims their land, as it did many parts of Iraq’s Sunni heartland.
“No one needs to come to our help,” cried a Yezidi woman demonstrating in front of the U.N. office in Erbil on Monday. “Just give us some arms and we the women will go and rescue our own families and relatives.”
“What do we want? We want humanity. Our children are dying of hunger and thirst under the sun,” she said before breaking down in distress.
Leaders of this peaceful community have urged the international community to come to their aid. They believe their only hope lies in the Peshmerga forces and they have asked the world to give the Peshmerga the help that is needed.
The Peshmerga is part of the Iraqi army under the constitution and the force’s budget and arms should be provided by the federal government. But, since the creation of the post-Saddam army in 2003, the Peshmerga has been denied supplies and funding.
The force has had to rely on what limited resources it has to defend a 1000 kilometer border with ISIS.
The irony is that the kind of weapons that the Kurdish forces need to defend their borders and prevent the expansion of the Islamic State are now in the hands of the Islamist fighters. The arms were supplied to Iraq by the U.S. and then captured from the retreating Iraqi army by the militants.