In August 2014, the Islamic State invaded the Sinjar mountains, the homeland of the indigenous Yazidi people of Northern Iraq. At the time, the Yazidi were the demographic and historical majority in the area, estimated at about 600-800,000 people.
Invading ISIS terrorists carried out a kind of blitzkrieg there which included mass murder of men, forced conversions and kidnapping of children whom they took to Jihadi training camps.
They also raped, kidnapped and enslaved up to 7,000 Yazidi women. By hook and by crook about half of these women have been redeemed, but often by having had their families pay exorbitant ransoms to their kidnappers. Today more than a quarter of a million Yazidi languish as IDPs, that is to say “internally displaced people, “ in drab, tented refugee camps south of the Sinjar. Few have the means to return home and, the various Arab and Kurdish factions’ machinations both inside and outside of Iraq, make it difficult for the Yazidi to return home, although some have taken the risk of doing so.
The Yazidi are not Muslims which is why they have drawn the ire of ISIS and its sympathizers. In theory the new Iraqi constitution allows from freedom of religion. In practise, most Iraqis would like to see all remaining Christians and non Muslims minorities there, like the Yazidi, convert to Islam and so there is very little public, political or institutional support for the Yazidi.
There has been much research done on Yazidi culture and religion. Suffice it to say they are indigenous middle eastern monotheists who trace themselves back to Adam of the Bible. They were in Iraq long before Islam was created.
As an anthropologist who has worked with Yazidi refugees for the last five years I can attest to their humility, honesty, family values and desire to live according to the laws of the country they find themselves in, if they are not persecuted, which is not the case in Iraq and Syria. They are in the main, sympathetic to Israel.
Yes, we can all condemn ISIS for the suffering they meted out to the Yazidi. Yes, we can hold the government of Iraq responsible for not protecting them as they are mostly citizens of Iraq. Yes, we can roundly criticize the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) within the Federation of Iraq for running away when ISIS invaded the Yazidi heartland and, we can rightly accuse them of their almost nonexistent desire to help the Yazidi return to their homeland. Yes, we can say the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) have oil interests in Yazidi land and would prefer that the Yazidi emigrate or “disappear.” All of this is fueled by a deep seated social hostility to the Yazidi religion which permeates the government and society of Iraq and which began centuries ago.
But there is another factor which has been consistently ignored since ISIS invaded Sinjar in 2014. The United States and their military were and continue to be the leaders of a coalition of scores of NATO and other countries who invaded Iraq to defeat Saddam Hussein but, who were then left with the chaos of a country whose Western invasion unleashed a civil war among the three major factions of Iraq; a Sunni dominated central Iraq, a Shia dominated southern Iraq and a Kurdish tribal domination of northern Iraq. Canada has been part of this coalition for a number of years now.
Simply put, the persecution of the Yazidi by ISIS and the rest of society can be seen as a “knock off effect” of this civil war in Iraq. To put it differently if your faction cannot win out then, it is easier to take out your frustration on a minority.
Mirza Ismail, the de facto leader of the Yazidi Canadian Community tells me, “I get daily calls from Iraq from Yazidi there, giving me a constant tale of various forms of persecution, small, medium and large. It is overwhelming. And the allied (including Canadian) forces still stationed in Iraq do nothing.”
The Coalition forces did not persecute the Yazidi. They actually hired thousands of Yazidi volunteer translators to help them win the initial war in northern Iraq during the second gulf war. Yet there has been no official US recognition of the risks and sacrifices that these many hundreds of young men took on when fighting for and with their American allies. Nor have the Coalition forces or their host countries done anything substantial to help the Yazidi people in Iraq and Syria who seem to have become the “whipping boy and girls” of the Iraqi on and off again civil war.
When the Western allies finally declared war against Nazi Germany (while the Americans waited three years until Pearl Harbour) the allied high command was well informed that the Nazis were expending incredible, energy, resources and manpower to capture and murder up to 6 million Jews in Europe. The allies did not raise a finger to help them. The Jews were “collateral damage” within the war effort, tragic victims of Nazi hatred.
Well, it would seem that the Yazidi are now the “collateral damage” of the US and its allies foggier and foggier goals and plans for Iraq and their forces there. Neither George Bush, nor Barack Obama or for that matter Donald Trump and his advisors have highlighted the plight of the Yazidi, despite some almost recent public statement that the persecuted minorities of Iraq deserved to be prioritized by US humanitarian assistance.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau allowed in 800 government sponsored Yazidi refugees to Canada and then closed the door on any family reunions, despite promises to the contrary which Yazidi tell me were made to them during their interviews while still in Iraq. Every refugee that has made it to Canada has surviving relatives languishing in the IDP camps, desperate to come to the New World. Few ISIS operatives have been tried in Iraq and most, like the “ex Nazis” after WWII, have blended back into the wider society. Mass graves of Yazidi continue to be discovered in Iraq.
No US Republican or Democratic Congressperson or Senator for that matter, have realized or publicly admitted that their country has a moral responsibility to the Yazidi. The US and its allies rather unsuccessfully invaded and only partially stabilized Iraq. Its majority has in in turn chosen to scapegoat and beat up on Yazidi.
This lack of awareness, this lack of responsibility, this lack of historical perspective among the allies in Iraq is stunning. What has happened to the Yazidi is not the allies’ fault, but it is their responsibility. They brought there soldiers there and some are still there.
As Mark Twain once said, “History Doesn’t Repeat Itself, but It Often Rhymes”, Today, history is rhyming for the Yazidi of Iraq.