What is Happening to the Yezidi People?

After the Holocaust, the world vowed “never again” would we allow a population to suffer genocide. Shockingly, it is happening. The victims are Yezidis1 and the perpetrators pledge allegiance to the terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria known as Daesh or ISIS2 .

The terrorists have executed untold numbers of Yezidi men and boys solely because they are members of the Yezidi religion. Thousands of Yezidi women and girls, right this very minute, are being held captive by these terrorists and are being sold or gifted as sex slaves among terrorists. Yezidi boys are being forced to convert to Islam and train as jihadists or suicide bombers. Men are forced to convert to Islam, though many of them are executed anyway. There are countless orphaned children. Many Yezidis do not even know whether their family members are even alive, as many are still held by the terrorists.

These and other atrocities committed by these ISIS terrorists against the Yezidi population fit squarely within the United Nations’ definition of genocide.3 The situation is clearly very urgent. The ISIS jihadists are making a clear and publicized effort to eradicate an entire religion from the face of the earth. Furthermore, in addition to Yezidis, they have attacked and continue to attack Iraqi Christians, Turkmen, Shabaks, and others. All of these atrocities and war crimes are being committed while ISIS terrorists, who have successfully recruited fighters from several countries and occupy large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria, strive to attain the stated goal of creating, maintaining, and expanding a self-proclaimed caliphate (though the terrorists’ reasoning has been soundly rejected by nearly all Islamic scholars). The terrorists seek, at some point, to defeat the army of “Rome” in Dabiq, Syria.4 This dire situation is very much real, and it is affecting millions of people throughout the Middle East.

Though thousands of Yezidis remain enslaved, many others have either been rescued from the hands of ISIS or have been able to escape from their brutal captivity. However, these women, and even the children, have been subject to the most unimaginable abuse and torture, and are therefore, understandably, severely traumatized. Many have committed or attempted to commit suicide. The Free Yezidi Foundation, a humanitarian organization, exists to help these vulnerable individuals by establishing women’s centres and children’s centres in Duhok province in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and by giving Post Trauma Training to health-care professionals. As the Iraqi Army, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and nearly the entire world align to fight against and destroy the terrorists militarily, the struggle to address the traumatic effects of the terrorists’ actions has just begun. The need for such centers and for care and protection of the traumatized Yezidi population is dire and will extend well into the foreseeable future.

Who are the Yezidis?

The Yezidis are a peaceful religious group living in Northern Iraq, mostly in the Nineveh and Duhok governorates. They have lived in this part of the world for thousands of years. Followers of an ancient religion that pre-dates Islam and Christianity, the Yezidis have historically faced persecution. However, the Yezidis are determined to persevere and maintain their ancient and rich religious and cultural identity despite the atrocities perpetrated against them by terrorists today.

The Beginning of ISIS’ Genocidal Campaign against the Yezidis, August 2014

In August 2014 ISIS terrorists began coordinated attacks against the populations of numerous towns located in the Nineveh and Duhok governorates in Northern Iraq. Of these towns, there were Yezidi majorities or significant populations in Sinjar, Zummar, Wana, Bashiqa, Kocho, Kawju, and Wardi. During the attacks on these towns, thousands of Yezidis fled for their lives to Mount Sinjar or to safe parts of Duhok province.

The terrorists’ modus operandi when conducting attacks against religious minorities is usually to separate men from women and children. Then, eventually, children are separated from their mothers. Men are sometimes executed immediately or given a choice to convert to Islam or face execution. There are reports that even after converting, men have still been executed. In the town of Kocho, ISIS summarily killed an estimated 700 men.5 In the town of Qani in Sinjar district, at least 80 men were executed in a single incident.6 According to various estimates, between 3,000 to over 5,000 Yezidis, including mostly women and children, remain captive of the terrorist group.

Drawing by Yezidi child

Trapped on Mount Sinjar

During the attack on Sinjar, approximately 40,000 people initially fled to and became stranded on Mount Sinjar, surrounded by terrorists. They did not have food, water, or shelter to sustain themselves in the merciless summer heat. Scores of people died, including newborn babies, children and elderly due to dehydration and the scorching heat. It was this heart-wrenching tragedy, among other considerations, that led the United States to commence humanitarian airdrops to the mountain and military strikes against the terrorist group.

The survivors later made their way from the mountain to a safe region of Duhok, but they have lost everything, including, in most cases, family members. They now live in refugee camps. This is why and where the Free Yezidi Foundation’s women’s centres and children’s centres will be established.

Mass Grave Sites of Yezidi victims

According to media reports, executed Yezidi victims have been found in mass graves in many towns including Zummar, Khanasoor, Snuny, Hardan, and Bardiyan. There is little doubt that more will be discovered.

What Happened to the Captured Women and Children?

In fall of 2014, the terrorists released a pamphlet entitled, “Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves.” The following are excerpts:

Question 4: Is it permissible to have sexual intercourse with a female captive?
It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive. Allah the almighty said: ‘[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame [Koran 23:5-6]’…

Question 5: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive immediately after taking possession [of her]?
If she is a virgin, he [her master] can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of her. However, is she isn’t, her uterus must be purified [first]…

Question 6: Is it permissible to sell a female captive?
It is permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of [as long as that doesn’t cause the Muslim ummah] any harm or damage.

Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?
It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.10

The women and girls who have managed to escape from ISIS captivity have all recounted similar experiences. Generally, they are subject to rape, horrific torture, abuse, and are bought and sold as property (ISIS jihadists consider these girls as spoils of war). At the beginning of their captivity, they are further separated into groups:

Following the systematic separation of men, women and young children, Yezidi women were further divided into three groups: married women with children, married women without children, and unmarried women and young girls. Each of these groups was transferred to different locations in ISIL-controlled territory, with some victims transferred to more than 10 different locations during a four-month period. These repeated transfers and displacement were apparently aimed at reinforcing ISIL control over the victims by instilling feelings of fear, insecurity and disorientation.7

ISIS is very matter-of-fact in justifying their inhuman treatment of Yezidi women and girls:

After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the Sharī’ah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations, after one fifth of the slaves were transferred to the Islamic State’s authority to be divided as khums.8

There are even credible reports of very young girls being raped, girls as young as six or nine years old.9

The terrorists are also forcing male Yezidi children to become terrorists. Children between the ages of eight and 15 have been forced to convert to Islam and have been taken to different places in Iraq and Syria, where they are forced to attend centers for religious and military indoctrination.11 In an ISIS video that has surfaced, it shows children undergoing such training. ISIS generally refers to child ‘fighters’ as “cubs of the caliphate.”12

In the Middle East, it can sometimes be difficult to determine which side is acting in self defense, which side is the aggressor, and which side is behaving in line with international law. In this case, the determination is strikingly simple. ISIS terrorists have the simple and declared goal of using brute force to rule over everyone in the Middle East, literally, and to eradicate those groups they decide do not have the right to live.

The Yezidis are proud and resilient with an ancient heritage. Right now they desperately need the international community and the people of the world to come to their defense and to their aid. The fight against ISIS terrorists and the provision of assistance to innocent victims transcends religion, ethnicity, gender, nationality, and political considerations. The United States has led a military coalition that also include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, and a number of other countries from the Middle East and from the international community. These and many other states are also working to provide humanitarian assistance to the millions of refugees and internally displaced people who have lost everything due to the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq.

The number of Yezidi women and girls abducted has been estimated at around 5,000, and more than 2,000 are still unaccounted for, probably still held by ISIS terrorists. However, a growing number have escaped or have been rescued and returned to their families. They are in desperate need of post-trauma treatment in order to rebuild their lives.
Please consider donating to the Free Yezidi Foundation, and please spread the word about what is happening to the Yezidi people. This cannot wait. NEVER AGAIN!

– Free Yezidi Foundation

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1 Yezidis are followers of an ancient religion that pre-dates Christianity. They are Kurds who live predominantly in Northern Iraq.
2 Known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), these terrorists refer to themselves as the Islamic State (IS).
3 Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) provides the following definition: Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
4 “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dābiq.” – Abū Mus’ab az-Zarqāwī, Dabiq magazine (magazine issued by ISIS), Issue 4, p. 2, http://media.clarionproject.org/files/islamic-state/islamic-state-isis-magazine-Issue-4-the-failed-crusade.pdf; See also, Wood, Graeme, “What ISIS Really Wants.” The Atlantic, Mar. 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/ features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/.
5 Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Iraq in the light of abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups, p. 6, note 19, Mar. 2015, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/A_HRC_28_18_AUV_0.pdf.
6 Id.
7 Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Iraq in the light of abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups, p. 9, note 36, Mar. 2015, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/A_HRC_28_18_AUV_0.pdf.
8 “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour,” Dabiq magazine, Issue 4, p. 15, http://media.clarionproject.org/files/islamic-state/islamic-state-isis-magazine-Issue-4-the-failed-crusade.pdf.
9 Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Iraq in the light of abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups, p. 10, note 40, Mar. 2015, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/A_HRC_28_18_AUV_0.pdf.
10 “Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves,” October/November 2014, http://www.memrijttm.org/islamic-state-isis-releases-pamphlet-on-female-slaves.html#_edn1.
11 Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Iraq in the light of abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups, p. 10, note 45, Mar. 2015, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/A_HRC_28_18_AUV_0.pdf.
12 Id. at p. 11, note 46.