By Rebecca Hanks
The Yazidi people, most of whom live in the mountainous Nineveh province of Northeastern Iraq, are an ethnic and religious minority that is widely unknown despite its almost 700,000 followers worldwide. The group, which began in the early eleventh century and combines influences of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, has drawn harsh allegations of devil-worshipping; they believe that fallen angel Melek Taus, often perceived by those not of the religion as an embodiment of Satan, was able to rise back to heaven after God had forgiven his actions. As a result, the Yazidi people have faced hundreds of years of persecution at the hands of not only Muslim extremists, but also more tolerant Islamic governments and groups. And because this long standing history of persecution has been, until very recently, coupled with a resounding lack of action, one has to question whether religious and cultural bias has played a role in perpetuating the oppression of these people.
This pattern seemed to change in 2014, when members of the Islamic State (ISIS) launched what can only be described as a massacre on the Yazidi living in Mount Sinjar, Iraq. Almost all of those living in the area that ISIS attacked were killed, abducted, or tortured – according to Telegraph News, there were around 5,000 men murdered and anywhere between 5,000-7,000 women captured. Even those who were not directly attacked were unable to leave the mountainside and died anyway, falling prey to malnutrition and thirst.
The global community was horrified by the cold-bloodedness of what happened on the mountain. However, they soon seemed to forget two things: one, that this incident was not isolated, that Yazidi people have been brutally oppressed for hundreds of years; and two, that this persecution left behind millions of Yazidi refugees in need of assistance. Similarly, shocking stories have spread in recent months about multitudes of Yazidi women serving as sex slaves to the Islamic State, and yet, action taken to save these women has been minimal at best.
The United Nations took a step in the right direction this past June, when it declared that “genocide has occurred and is ongoing” against the Yazidi people at the hands of the Islamic State. It recognized the Islamic State’s occupation of Mount Sinjar, as well as the sexual enslavement of Yazidi women, as the horrible atrocities that they were. However, although the UN continually emphasized future actions towards justice and punishment against ISIS (actions which they deferred, rather ambiguously, to the “States” of the Middle East), they did not outline how they would help any refugees displaced by this ongoing genocide. It was just this past September that the UN named Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who survived ISIS’ human trafficking ring, as the Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon praised Murad tirelessly, commenting that “Nadia is a fierce and tireless advocate for the Yazidi people and victims of human trafficking everywhere,” but yet again, did not mention the needs of the refugees.
Even the website for the UN Refugee Agency fails to mention any assistance they are giving to the Yazidi population directly. Although the website does say that the United Nations is helping refugees in Syria and Iraq (where many Yazidi refugees are currently located), it does not offer any information on who they are helping or how, but rather directs the user to a large, orange button that says “Donate!”
The Yazidi people require more than just words of comfort and support. They need assistance in two main areas: resources and protection against ISIS. “Resources” in this context means not only food, water, and shelter, but education, counseling, and medical services. Up until now, these services have been provided mainly by non-governmental organizations such as the Free Yezidi Organization, but it is crucial that the United Nations not only take steps towards providing direct aid to Yazidi refugees themselves, but also to encourage individual countries to provide assistance as well. Only a few countries – Iraq, Turkey, and Canada being the most prominent – have taken the initiative themselves, but these refugees need the help of many more if they are to escape the horror, tragedy, and instability of their current lifestyle.