Members of the Yazidi religious minority have asked the Iraqi government and international NGOs to protect them after gunmen on Sunday killed 23 Yazidis in Mosul, northern Iraq.
“It is unacceptable because Yazidis, in addition to being a minority in Iraq, have been discriminated against for their beliefs and are forced to isolate themselves to stay alive,” Hebert Yegorova, a spokesman for Yazidi Peace Association, said.
“The [Sunday] attack against the sect was clear after the gunmen asked Christians to leave the bus in which the Yazidi workers were, shooting to death only people from our community,” he added.
Yazidis are members of a culturally Kurdish, syncretistic religious group, which is neither Christian nor Muslim, who worship an angelic figure considered by some Muslims and Christians to be the devil. The group is pre-Islamic. While most of its adherents live in northern Iraq, smaller communities live in Syria, Iran, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and Russia.
“Whatever we worship doesn’t affect the normal lives of Iraqis and as we respect their beliefs, we have to have ours respected too,” Yegorova said. “We don’t worship the devil but they are confusing terminologies and this is unfair.”
Sunday’s victims were from the small town of Bashika, near Mosul, some 390 km north of Baghdad. Hundreds of Christians and Yazidis have been taking refuge in the area, fleeing from religious violence in other parts of Iraq.
According to the Yazidi Peace Association, 204 Yazidis have been killed since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
There are about 600,000 Yazidis remaining in Iraq with roughly 80 percent of them living in the towns of Bashika and Sinjar, which are under the control of the Kurdistan regional government, specialists say. Yazidis can also be found in other Kurdish cities and a small number remain in the capital, Baghdad.
|Our community has been forgotten and has been threatened on a daily basis. We don’t have anywhere to go and if things continue as they are, the only thing we can do is to wait for someone to kill us in the coming months.|
“There have been demonstrations for the past two days in Bashika and the few Muslims living in the city have received threats and are afraid to leave their homes,” said Lt. Col. Barak Muhammad, a senior official of Ninevah province. “Shops have been closed and Muslims have asked the central government for protection as they are afraid of reprisal by the Yazidis.”
“We do not know the real reason for [Sunday’s] massacre but probably it was a response to the killing by Yazidis, two weeks ago, of a Yazidi woman who had recently converted to Islam to marry a Sunni Muslim. Yazidis stoned her to death in Bashika. Some unofficial sources said that the killings were preceded by threats by Sunni extremists against Yazidis,” Muhammad added.
Yegorova has asked neighbouring countries and European nations to help members of their community flee Iraq.
“We’re desperate and with this massacre we’re sure that soon there’ll be more killings. Dozens of Yazidis have been individually killed over the past four years [since the US occupation of Iraq] and we have to save the remaining ones,” he said. “Today, our organisation received a threatening letter saying that the massacre was just the beginning of the fate of all Yazidis.”
Yazidis have long claimed discrimination in Iraq for matters such as employment and education. But now, with sectarian violence escalating over the past year, the threat of death hangs over them.
“We don’t have schools near our towns that can cater for our children’s education and our children cannot go to university in Mosul or in Baghdad after the constant reprisals. We are a minority but we are human beings too and have the same rights as any other Iraqi,” said Hanan Quewal, 43, a resident of Sinjar who is desperately looking for a school for her grandsons.
“Our community has been forgotten and has been threatened on a daily basis. We don’t have anywhere to go and if things continue as they are, the only thing we can do is to wait for someone to kill us in the coming months,” Hanan added.