The Yezidi religion is one of the oldest religions in Iraq. It dates back centuries. Its ancient beliefs, customs and even alphabet have all influenced several other religions and cultures within Iraq, including Chaldean, Assyrian and Sumerian civilizations. Yezidis have never opposed or attempted to persecute any other ethnic or religious group. They have never attempted to undermine or destabilize any regime that has ruled over Iraq. Indeed, they shy away from even supporting one political party over another.
Despite their peaceful existence in Iraq, different regimes would always attempt to persecute them. They were regarded as a second-class citizens. However after fall of Saddam Hussein, Yezidis were forbidden from maintaining a seat in parliament. They were prohibited from expressing their opinions or participating in the formation of the Iraqi government or constitution. They were banned from obtaining government jobs within the Iraqi system – and all simply because they were a different religious minority with a different culture. Iraq continues the same trend of depriving Yezidi people from both their constitutional and basic human rights – and, worse, leaving them vulnerable to genocide.
For centuries, Yezidis have been the target of religious persecution and mass extermination, starting with Mongols and running through Ottomans; Hashemites; Saddam; and then, of course, the Islamic State – a genocide that continues to this day. Despite their shared Iraqi heritage, today’s government continues the historic and systematic trend of ignoring the plight of its proud Iraqi brothers and sisters who just happen to be Yezidi. Instead, it is stripping them from their equal rights and putting them in the crosshairs of ISIS, leaving a peaceful people in harm’s way to defend themselves. When the black flag-bearing hordes of the Islamic State arrived at Shingal like Mongols before them, no other Iraqi came to our defense. And all because Yezidis practice a different religion, wear different clothes, and adhere to different cultural norms.
Successive Iraqi regimes have made it a matter of policy to destroy the culture and language (Kurmanji) of the Yezidi. Iraqi authorities have banned the teaching of Kurmanji in predominantly Yezidi schools and forced generations of Yezidi children to learn only in Arabic, which has led to many Arabic words becoming part of modern Kurmanji. It is one thing when languages organically mix and adopt each other’s vocabularies – due to natural cultural interaction or migration. It is quite another when it comes as a result of policies designed to oppress and destroy. “Arabization” in Iraq, like Russification programs of the former USSR, is one of these policies. Even worse than the repression by the sword is the suppression of the intellect.
By 1975, Ba’athist regime had banished Yezidi people from the villages, towns and cities of ordinary Iraqis, forcing them to live in the area around Shingal Mountain without the electricity or water projects that the government provided to everyone else. Despite all the oppression and humiliation, Yezidis have never harmed anyone and have remained a peace-loving people as loyal and patriotic as any other Iraqi. Several Islamic conquests throughout history – including the current one of ISIS – have attempted to convert them by force; but centuries of religious persecution have only strengthened their faith.
Saddam Hussein was no different than any previous Iraqi ruler in his treatment of Yezidi.
Still, with the fall of his regime, nothing has changed for Yezidi. The current democratic administration has barred the Yezidi from any participation in government – if not by law, then certainly in fact. Worse than that, they have allowed Kurdish authorities to seize land belonging to their Yezidi neighbors. Despite being allies of the United States in the fight against ISIS, Kurdish government in northern Iraq continues to oppress Yezidis. The Kurdish secret police continue to har ass and threaten any Yezidi who raises his or her voice in pursuit of the most basic.
In Iraq, Kurdish government works overtime to prevent any Yezidi from standing for provincial or national parliament. While fighting the Islamic State, many Kurds have left Yezidi for dead inside ISIS-occupied areas. In fact, there have been many instances of Kurds assisting ISIS in genocide of their Yezidi neighbors, identifying them to Islamic State death squads. No direct help has ever come from Baghdad – just the general forces fighting ISIS. But Yezidis have been left for dead throughout the conflict, their plight has been ignored: the kidnapping and sex-enslavement of tens of thousands Yezidi females, some as young as nine-years-old; the torture and wholesale slaughter of thousands of innocent men, women and children. A genocide that has lasted for four years and continues to this day – one in which not a single perpetrator has yet been charged, stood for trial, or been brought to any form of justice.