The Shengal Tragedy and the Threat of Genocide

Shakhawan Shorash

By Shakhawan Shorash:

The Yezidi Kurds (1), who have their own religion and faith, have always suffered oppression. They were on the verge of annihilation under the Ottomans and faced ethnic cleansing from the Arabization policies under the Ba’ath regime. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, they have been a target for extreme Islamist terrorists and attacked by suicide bombers. For instance, there was an attack on August 14, 2007, in the Yezidi towns of Kahtaniya and Jazeera near Mosul.The bombs killed 796 people and wounded more than 1,000 people. The Yezidis have been subject to discrimination by the Muslim majority in the region.

The Yezidi Kurds are a vulnerable group, as they are a small religious minority in the area near and on the border of Arab territory in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurds have been subject to oppression because of their nationality, but the Yezidis have been subject to oppression because of their Kurdish nationality and their different religion. Although they have lived under the shadows of threat and oppression, they have learned through their history how to survive. They have adjusted their behavior and have tried to live in peace with the Muslim majority and other religious groups, such as Christians, in the area. They have survived despite the threats they have experienced during their existence.

The dangers against them increased after the extreme terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took Mosul and other cities in the Sunni area. Many Yezidi families who lived in Mosul fled the city with other ethnic minorities. The dangers came nearer as the ISIS was close to the city of Shengal and the Yezidi villages in the area.

The August 3, 2014, ISIS attack on Shengal and the surrounding area and the occupation of Shengal, which had more than 100,000 residents, was a disaster for the Yezidi people and their faith. Tens of thousands fled to the Kurdish north or the dry Shengal Mountain near the city. Hundreds of them have been killed during the occupation, and several hundred families were captured. Men and boys were killed, and women and girls were treated as war slaves. Several Yezidi temples have been burned and bombed by the terrorists. Many Yezidi elderly and children have died of thirst and hunger. Due to the lack of medicine on the mountain, they are still living in tragic and disastrous circumstances.

The refugees are trapped on the mountain, and they are still under the threat of genocidal killings. There is a furious war between the Peshmerga forces and the Jihadists in the area. The Yezidi refugees are burying their loved ones who die slowly, one after another, due to hunger and thirst, while awaiting help to escape the Jihadists. In the last two days, more than 10,000 people have been rescued by the Kurdish forces of Yekinekani Parastni Gel (YPG), the ‘Protection Forces of the People’, who have placed them in a refugee camp near the city of Derk in Syrian Kurdistan. There are still tens of thousands of refugees who wait for help. They will die if they remain on the mountain a few days more.

The ISIS Jihadists are against everyone who refuse their faith or disagree with them, and they regard non-Muslims, such as the Yezidis, as nonbelievers, or Kufar. They believe the Yezidis are devil worshipers who deserve to die. They believe in the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate (2) under the rule of Sharia. Creation of an Islamic rule similar to the early Caliphate rule in the seventh century is the ultimate goal for them. They take the Quran texts literally, and they are intolerant toward other faiths. As they belong to the Wahabisme (3), they refuse other Islamic religious lines and faith.

In fact, the Yezidi faith is more exposed than the Christian and Jewish faiths because their religion is smaller and does not have the same international support. Furthermore, the Islam religion has never accepted the Yezidi faith as a true religion. It is expected that the ISIS will not show any mercy toward them as they believe that the annihilation of the Yezidi religion and its followers is a duty of the Jihadists.

The ISIS have a genocidal conviction against the Yezidis and, consequently, the expected crimes against them will go beyond ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity. They attack them with the intent to destroy the Yezidis as a community and a religion. The genocidal acts are already taking place. According to the Human Rights Commission, the Jihadists have killed the men and boys of the captured families and have taken the women and girls as war slaves. This is physical destruction with a determined intent to destroy. The ISIS let the Christians leave the city of Mosul if they do not convert to Islam, but they treat the Yezidis differently. They kill the men and take the women as slaves. For the Jihadists, the members of the Yezidi community are not human beings worthy of life; they are devil worshipers against Allah and Islam. The dehumanization of the Yezidis is legitimatized by the intolerant Islamic faith of ISIS. Thus, the killing of them is a necessity that frees the Islamic State of these unwanted elements.

The treatment of the western and international media of the Yezidi catastrophic situation is disappointing. As we can see their attention is mainly on the Hamas–Israel conflict. The western coverage of the Shengal massacre and tragedy is pretty frail. In the first three days of the catastrophic situation of the Yezidis, none of the main news agencies reported the tragic event. It was important for them to focus on Gaza, but was it not also important to use five minutes to tell the world the story of the massacre of a defenseless people that is on the verge of genocide? Where is the objectivity of the professional press?

President Barack Obama’s speech mentioning the present threats of genocide against the Yezidi people is probably the first important international recognition of the rights of the Yezidi people. However, President Obama’s speech was influenced by the US Iraq policy and the importance of keeping Iraq united, which is not pleasing to the Kurds. The current military and humanitarian assistance from the US and other western countries to the Kurdish government are important. There is also a hope that the Yezidi’s tragedy will be over soon, but we should not take become complacent because they need urgent help and protection right now.


[1] The Yazidi (also Yezidi, Êzidî, Yazdani, ایزدیان, Եզդիներ, Езиды) are a Kurdish-speaking ethno-religious community who practice an ancient syncretic religion linked to Zoroastrianism and early Mesopotamian religions. They live primarily in the Nineveh Province of northern Iraq, a region once part of ancient Assyria. Additional communities in Armenia, Georgia and Syria have been in decline since the 1990s, their members having migrated to Europe, especially to Germany. Source:

[2] A caliphate (in Arabic: خلافة‎khilāfa, meaning “succession”) is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph – i.e. “successor” – to Muhammad. The succession of Muslim empires that have existed in the Muslim world are usually described as “caliphates”. Conceptually, a caliphate represents a sovereignstate of the entire Muslim faithful or the Ummah, ruled by a caliph under Islamic law (sharia). Source:

[3] Wahhabism (Arabic: وهابية‎, Wahhābiyyah) is a radical religious movement or offshoot branch of Islam variously described as “orthodox”, “ultraconservative”, “austere”, “fundamentalist“, “puritanical” (or “puritan”), an Islamic “reform movement” to restore “pure monotheistic worship”, or an “extremist movement”. It aspires to return to the earliest fundamental Islamic sources of the Quran and Hadith with different interpretation from mainstream Islam, inspired by the teachings of medieval theologian Ibn Taymiyyah and early jurist Ahmad ibn Hanbal. The majority of the world’s Wahhabis are from Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. 22.9% of all Saudis are Wahhabis (concentrated in Najd). 46.87% of Qatarisand 44.8% of Emiratis are Wahhabis. 5.7% of Bahrainis are Wahhabis and 2.17% of Kuwaitis are Wahhabis. Source:

Shakhawan Shorash was born in Hawler in Southern Kurdistan. He is a freelance writer with a BA in political science from Southern University of Denmark (Odense) and a Masters degree in political science from the University of Copenhagen.


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