By Dr. Amy L. Beam:
Human rights advocate and author of forthcoming book “The Last Yezidi Genocide”;
Founder and Executive Director, AAJ humanitarian organization in Kurdistan, Iraq
The Yezidis are a non-Muslim religious minority who were brutally attacked in Shengal, Iraq, by the Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh) on August 3 and 15, 2014. The entire population of 400,000 was displaced and fled to the safety of Kurdistan. Forty thousand left Iraq as refugees. The rest are living in dire conditions in tents, trailers, and unfinished buildings nearly three years later.
More than 10,000 Yezidis were barbarically killed or captured by ISIS because of their religion. All those captured were forced to convert to Islam.
- Most males 16 and older who refused to convert to Islam were beheaded, hanged, or shot.
- Boys aged 5 – 15 were sent to jihadi training as ISIS soldiers and forced to be suicide bombers.
- Children aged 3 – 8 were snatched from their mothers and sold to Arab couples to raise as Muslim.
- Old women were executed or used as laborers.
- Females aged nine and older were beaten, raped, and repeatedly sold as sex slaves. Approximately 2700 are still being held prisoner.
The Yezidis’ first appeal is to help free the captive women and children. They also need forensic teams to identify the bones of their loved ones in the mass graves.
ISIS was created by former Saddam Hussein Sunni Arabs in Iraq. They recruited an additional 30,000 members with their families from over 80 countries to their extremist pathological Islamic ideology. Even when ISIS is defeated militarily in Iraq, their ideology will remain a threat.
Yezidis want the choice between two options: asylum in a safe country or the return to their homeland of Shengal (Sinjar in Arabic) and the Nineveh plain, a disputed territory in Iraq, adjacent to Kurdistan.
Pass H.R. 379 Yezidi Justice Act to Grant Asylum to Religious Minorities from Iraq
At least 75% of Yezidis want to leave Iraq. Especially the most traumatized groups need asylum. These include:
- survivors who have escaped from ISIS captivity, rape, or military camps
- those who have missing or murdered family members, and
- interpreters and others who risked their lives working for the US Army and whose houses were targeted and destroyed for helping America.
But make no mistake, all Yezidis are unsafe in Iraq and request asylum based on being a persecuted ethno-religious minority. Even if asylum does not provide financial support, local sponsorship can be found in America if the Yezidis can be granted visas to enter the country. Congress should pass H.R. 379 Justice for Yezidis Act without delay.
A Safe Haven for Religious Minorities
If a safe haven in Shengal were created for Yezidis and other religious minorities, many Yezidis would return. Arab neighbors, joined by Sunni Turkmen from Tal Afar, Iraq, killed and captured Yezidis. Yezidis refuse to live again among Arabs by whom they are surrounded. Secularism has failed in Iraq. It is time for the West to accept the need for sectarian division to stop the death and destruction. A cooling off period for “Truth and Consequences” (as opposed to “Reconciliation”) of one or two generations is needed. Guilty must be prosecuted. Punishment must be served. Compensation must be given.
In order to return to their homeland now, Yezidis demand self-governance and self-defense supported by foreign protection. This protection would be in the form of a U.S. or international coalition airbase in the Nineveh plain, military aid, and a massive rebuilding fund. With the U.S.-Turkey relation growing ever more strained, it behooves the U.S. to create an alternative to Incirlik Air Force base in Turkey. A rebuilding program should employ 80% local workers so families can move out of IDP camps and return home. Arabs cannot return, because trust is broken. Yezidis say it is impossible to distinguish the good Arabs from those who supported ISIS. Therefore, all must be banned. To go a step further, a Yezidi majority wants all Muslims to be banned from Shengal and Nineveh. Sunni Turkmen should not be permitted to remain in Tal Afar.
The economic base of this autonomous region for religious minorities would be:
- a foreign military base
- Yezidi self-defense force
- oil revenue
- agriculture growing wheat and barley (bread basket of Iraq)
- sheep and poultry
- the largest cement factory in the Middle East, dormant but untouched by the conflict
- construction trades
- civil service
The Kurdish – Yezidi Conundrum
On July 14, 2014, the Iraqi Army Border Patrol left Nineveh and Shengal. In the next two weeks Peshmerga forces disarmed all Yezidis. Between 4 AM and 9:30 AM on August 3, 2014, the Kurdish PDK Peshmerga defense forces withdrew from Shengal, leaving the Yezidis defenseless against the ISIS attack. The unanswered question is “Who ordered the Peshmerga withdrawal?” Yezidis blame KRG President Masoud Barzani who ordered an inquiry with 200 commanders. Some say the order to withdraw came from America. Yezidis can neither forgive nor forget this Peshmerga betrayal. After this retreat, Yezidis joined Peshmerga and are now the major force protecting Shengal with aid of coalition air defense. The Yezidi Peshmerga have refused orders to remove Kurdish PKK and Yezidi YBS because it was the PKK who saved the Yezidis when ISIS attacked.
So the Rojava Peshmerga were formed from Arabs and Kurds in Syria and a few Sunni Turkmen from Tal Afar. Sunni Turkmen joined ISIS. Shia Turkmen fled from Tal Afar when ISIS took over in 2014. Rojava Peshmerga are backed by Turkey and KRG with the singular goal to remove PKK and YBS forces from Shengal. There is a stand-off in Shengal between Rojava Peshmerga and Yezidi YBS. It turned violent in March 2017, resulting in the death of at least four Yezidis. Some speculate that this skirmish is for the purpose of providing cover for ISIS to escape from Tal Afar to Syria.
Yezidis claim Shengal was sold out so that it could be annexed to an independent Kurdistan in exchange for Kirkuk being claimed by the Sunni Islamic State. The unwavering position of Kurds in Iraq is that Yezidis are Kurds. Thus, the KRG position is that Shengal and Nineveh are “Kurdish lands” which de facto belong to Kurdistan.
The process of referring to Yezidis as Kurds is referred to as Kurdification. Over the last centuries Yezidis were forcibly converted to Islam. They are the Kurds. The Yezidis never converted.
Between 5% to 10% of Yezidis do identify themselves as Kurds. They are the elected officials, government employees, Peshmerga receiving a KRG paycheck, Iraqis who never lived in Shengal, and Yezidis in the Diaspora. The remaining Yezidis identify themselves as Yezidis, not Kurds.
Yezidis are on the horns of a dilemma which the KRG has done nothing to mitigate. As long as Kurds deny Yezidis their ethno-religious identity, Yezidis cannot trust the Kurds of Kurdistan. The conundrum is that while Kurdish Peshmerga betrayed them, it was Kurds in Kurdistan who rescued them and continue to provide for them in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). This has resulted in a love-hate relationship.
This dilemma cannot be resolved without KRG acknowledging the genocide, offering an apology for leaving Yezidis defenseless, and recognizing Yezidis as a distinct ethno-religious minority. KRG and all Kurds in Kurdistan are steadfast in their refusal to recognize Yezidis as anything other than Kurds. Under this condition, many and possibly most Yezidis do not want to become part of Kurdistan because they cannot trust not to have their identity denied and their land stolen. Neither do they want to be part of an Islamic country governed by Sharia law embodied in its constitution. Both Iraq and Kurdistan constitutions incorporate Sharia law.
Kurdish supporters have accurately argued in Washington DC that Kurds are America’s best friends. Kurds love America for creating the autonomous area of Kurdistan in 1991. Supporters lobbied to directly fund the Kurdish Peshmerga because funds sent to Baghdad to fight ISIS were not being shared with Kurdistan. KRG stopped receiving central government payroll funding from Baghdad in January 2014. All civil servants in KRG get paid for one month every three months. KRG needs to sell its oil directly through Turkey to pay government salaries, including Peshmerga. If KRG gained independence, it would be a strong ally and benefit American interests.
Unless KRG recognizes the existence of Yezidi identity, then the only viable solution for Yezidis is not for three separate cantons or countries, but for four: Kurdistan, Sunni state, Shia state, and a state for minorities. Others have been proposing this fourth state be named Mesopotamia. If this were created, not only would the displaced Yezidis return, but also those born in the Yezidi Diaspora would return to build it. A Mesopotamia would offer the U.S. a second strong non-Islamic ally, like Israel, in the Middle East.
Dr. Amy L. Beam
Executive Director, “Amy, Azadi and Jiyan” (AAJ) humanitarian org in Kurdistan
240-696-1905 US phone
9647500278028 Whatsapp or Viber
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