Quem são os yazidis e por que foram continuamente perseguidos?

Quem são os yazidis e por que foram continuamente perseguidos?

Os Yazidis (também grafados como Yezidis) são uma minoria religiosa encontrada principalmente no norte do Iraque. Nos últimos anos, os Yazidis têm recebido a atenção da mídia internacional como resultado de sua perseguição brutal nas mãos do Daesh. Essa perseguição, no entanto, é apenas a mais recente desse tipo, já que os Yazidis enfrentaram inúmeras perseguições ao longo de sua história. A razão para isso é sua religião sincrética, que contém elementos do islamismo, do cristianismo e do zoroastrismo. Ao longo dos séculos, os yazidis foram considerados hereges como "adoradores do diabo" e, portanto, foram perseguidos pelos muçulmanos que governavam sua terra natal.

Entrada do templo em Lalish (MikaelF / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Uma nova religião surgiu do desencanto?

Embora a origem do nome ‘Yazidi’ não seja clara, alguns estudiosos propuseram que seja derivado da palavra persa / zoroastriana ‘Yazdan’, que significa ‘Deus’, e ‘Yazata’, que significa ‘divino’ ou ‘ser angelical’. Outros associaram o nome desta minoria religiosa ao de Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah, o segundo califa do califado omíada. Os yazidis acreditam que este califa, embora um muçulmano sunita, se desencantou com sua religião e se tornou um yazidi.

A população yazidi hoje foi estimada em cerca de 200.000 a 1.000.000. Embora os yazidis sejam um povo disperso, a maioria deles vive nas regiões montanhosas do Curdistão, nas fronteiras da Turquia, Síria e Iraque. A maior comunidade Yazidi está localizada nas Montanhas Sinjar, no noroeste do Iraque. Etnicamente falando, os yazidis são considerados curdos e falam curdo. No entanto, a distinção entre os yazidis e seus companheiros curdos reside na religião praticada pelos primeiros.

O Arcanjo Yezidi (YZD / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Quem é Melek Taus, o anjo pavão?

De acordo com a crença yazidi, sua religião é a mais antiga do mundo e seu calendário religioso remonta a 6.756 anos. Os Yazidis acreditam que quando Deus criou o mundo, ele foi confiado a sete anjos. O chefe era Melek Taus, também conhecido como Anjo Pavão. Este anjo é considerado semelhante a Lúcifer nas crenças cristãs e judaicas e, como Lúcifer, rebelou-se contra Deus. A rebelião falhou e Melek Taus foi lançado no fogo. Ao contrário de sua contraparte cristã e judia, o anjo pavão se arrependeu. Passando 40.000 anos chorando, suas lágrimas acabaram apagando as chamas. Satisfeito com seu ato de arrependimento, Deus colocou Melek Taus no comando dos assuntos diários do mundo. Os Yazidis também acreditam que foram criados por Melek Taus antes de qualquer outra raça do mundo.

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Homem yazidi em roupas tradicionais (Max Karl Tilke / Domínio público)

Como a religião yazidi se desenvolveu?

Alternativamente, a religião yazidi pode ser rastreada até o final do califado omíada. Em 750 DC, o califado omíada foi derrubado pelos abássidas, e o último califa, Marwan II (que era meio curdo), foi morto. Alguns dos descendentes e apoiadores da dinastia fugiram para as montanhas Sinjar. A religião yazidi continuou a se desenvolver ao longo dos séculos, absorvendo elementos de outras religiões, incluindo o islamismo sufi e xiita, o cristianismo nestoriano e o zoroastrismo. Foi durante o dia 13 º e 14 º séculos em que os yazidis começaram a chamar a atenção dos governantes muçulmanos vizinhos. As crenças religiosas dos yazidis desenvolveram-se cada vez mais longe das normas islâmicas, enquanto seu poder político e extensão geográfica continuaram a aumentar.

Bandeira Yazidis ( Frizio / Adobe)

A situação alarmou os muçulmanos ao redor, que consideravam os yazidis hereges e rivais pelo poder. Devido à adoração de Melek Taus pelos Yazidis, seus inimigos os consideravam "adoradores do demônio". Até os 15 º século, seguiram-se confrontos entre os yazidis e os muçulmanos, nos quais estes últimos saíram vitoriosos. O poder dos yazidis foi reduzido, enquanto seu número diminuiu como consequência de massacres e conversões voluntárias e forçadas.

Homens Yazidi (Bestoun94 / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Yazidis sofrem uma história sem fim de genocídio e perseguição

De acordo com os Yazidis, eles sofreram um total de 72 genocídios ao longo de sua história. A perseguição aos Yazidis continuou no período moderno. Durante o final de 19 º e 20 anos º séculos, por exemplo, os yazidis fugiram em grande número para o Cáucaso para evitar mais perseguições. Hoje, essa perseguição continua na forma de Daesh. Muitos temem que este seja o 73 rd genocídio cometido contra os Yazidis.


Quem, o quê, por quê: quem são os Yazidis?

Entre as muitas vítimas do avanço do Estado Islâmico (EI) no Oriente Médio está um grupo de até 50 mil yazidis, que estão presos nas montanhas do noroeste do Iraque sem comida ou água. A autora Diana Darke explica quem são esses misteriosos adeptos religiosos.

De repente, colocados no centro das atenções por sua situação, os yazidis não receberão o brilho da atenção internacional. Por causa de suas crenças incomuns, eles são muitas vezes injustamente chamados de & quotadoradores do demônio& quot, e tradicionalmente se mantêm separados em pequenas comunidades espalhadas principalmente pelo noroeste do Iraque, noroeste da Síria e sudeste da Turquia.

Estimar seus números atuais é difícil, com números variando de 70.000 a 500.000. Temida, vilipendiada e perseguida, não há dúvida de que a população diminuiu consideravelmente ao longo do século passado. Como outras religiões minoritárias da região, como os Drusos e os Alawis, não é possível se converter ao Yazidismo, apenas para nascer nele.

A perseguição contínua em seu coração na região do Monte Sinjar, a oeste de Mosul, é baseada em um mal-entendido sobre seu nome. Extremistas sunitas, como o EI, acreditam que deriva de Yazid ibn Muawiya (647-683), o segundo califa profundamente impopular da dinastia omíada. A pesquisa moderna, no entanto, esclareceu que o nome não tem nada a ver com Yazid, ou a cidade persa de Yazd, mas é tirado do persa moderno "quotized", que significa anjo ou divindade. O nome Izidis significa simplesmente & quotadoradores de deus& quot, que é como os yazidis se descrevem.

Seu próprio nome é Daasin (plural Dawaaseen), que vem do nome de uma antiga diocese Nestoriana - a Antiga Igreja do Oriente -, pois muitas de suas crenças são derivadas do Cristianismo. Eles reverenciam a Bíblia e o Alcorão, mas muito de sua própria tradição é oral. Devido em parte ao seu segredo, tem havido mal-entendidos de que a complexa fé Yazidi está ligada ao Zoroastrismo com uma dualidade claro / escuro e até mesmo adoração ao sol. Estudos recentes, entretanto, mostraram que, embora seus santuários sejam freqüentemente decorados com o sol e que os túmulos apontem para o leste em direção ao nascer do sol, eles compartilham muitos elementos com o Cristianismo e o Islã.

As crianças são batizadas com água consagrada por um pir (sacerdote). Nos casamentos, ele parte o pão e dá metade para a noiva e a outra metade para o noivo. A noiva, vestida de vermelho, visita igrejas cristãs. Em dezembro, os Yazidis jejuam por três dias, antes de beber vinho com o pir. De 15 a 20 de setembro, há uma peregrinação anual ao túmulo de Sheikh Adi em Lalesh, ao norte de Mosul, onde realizam abluções rituais no rio. Eles também praticam o sacrifício de animais e a circuncisão.

Seu ser supremo é conhecido como Yasdan. Ele é considerado em um nível tão elevado que não pode ser adorado diretamente. Ele é considerado uma força passiva, o Criador do mundo, não o preservador. Sete grandes espíritos emanam dele, dos quais o maior é o Anjo pavão conhecido como Malak Taus - executor ativo da vontade divina. O pavão no início do Cristianismo era um símbolo de imortalidade, porque sua carne não parece se deteriorar. Malak Taus é considerado o alter ego de Deus, inseparável Dele e, nessa medida, o Yazidismo é monoteísta.

Os yazidis rezam para Malak Taus cinco vezes ao dia. Seu outro nome é Shaytan, que é Árabe para diabo, e isso fez com que os yazidis fossem erroneamente rotulados como "adoradores do demônio". Os Yazidis acreditam que as almas passam por formas corporais sucessivas (transmigração) e que a purificação gradual é possível através do renascimento contínuo, tornando o Inferno redundante. O pior destino possível para um Yazidi é ser expulso de sua comunidade, pois isso significa que sua alma nunca poderá progredir. A conversão para outra religião está, portanto, fora de questão.

Em áreas remotas do sudeste da Turquia em direção às fronteiras da Síria e do Iraque, suas aldeias antes abandonadas estão começando a voltar à vida, com novas casas sendo construídas pelas próprias comunidades. Muitos yazidis estão voltando do exílio agora que o governo turco os deixa intactos. Apesar de séculos de perseguição, os Yazidis nunca abandonaram sua fé, testemunho de seu notável senso de identidade e força de caráter. Se eles forem expulsos do Iraque e da Síria por extremistas do EI, a probabilidade é que mais se assentem no sudeste da Turquia, onde serão deixados para viver suas crenças em paz.

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Perseguição incessante marca a história dos Yazidis

ARQUIVO - O sol se põe quando as mulheres visitam um santuário Yazidi com vista para o acampamento Kankhe para os deslocados internos em Dahuk, norte do Iraque, na foto de arquivo desta quarta-feira, 18 de maio de 2016. Nos últimos séculos, a comunidade yazidi, uma das minorias religiosas mais antigas do Iraque, foi repetidamente submetida a ataques brutais que deixaram milhares de seus membros mortos. Uma de suas piores subjugações ocorreu há quatro anos com a ascensão do grupo extremista do Estado Islâmico. (AP Photo / Maya Alleruzzo, Arquivo)

ARQUIVO - Roupa usada por uma menina Yazidi escravizada por militantes do Estado Islâmico, recolhida por um ativista Yazidi para documentar crimes de grupo do Estado Islâmico contra a comunidade, mostrada neste arquivo foto tirada em 22 de maio de 2016, em Dohuk, norte do Iraque. Nos últimos séculos, a comunidade yazidi, uma das minorias religiosas mais antigas do Iraque, foi repetidamente submetida a ataques brutais que deixaram milhares de seus membros mortos. Uma de suas piores subjugações ocorreu há quatro anos com a ascensão do grupo extremista do Estado Islâmico. (AP Photo / Maya Alleruzzo, Arquivo)

Beirute - Nos últimos séculos, a comunidade Yazidi, uma das mais antigas minorias religiosas do Iraque, foi repetidamente submetida a ataques brutais que deixaram milhares de seus membros mortos. Uma de suas piores subjugações ocorreu há quatro anos, com a ascensão do grupo extremista Estado Islâmico.

O EI cometeu genocídio e outros crimes contra a minoria Yazidi no Iraque quando seu poder no país atingiu o pico no verão de 2014.

Centenas de mulheres yazidis foram capturadas, tomadas como escravas sexuais e submetidas a terríveis abusos por parte dos extremistas. Alguns conseguiram fugir, incluindo a recém-laureada ganhadora do Prêmio Nobel da Paz, Nadia Murad, que contou ao mundo os horrores que ela e sua comunidade experimentaram.

Cerca de 5.000 homens yazidis foram mortos pelo EI quando o grupo militante sunita assumiu o controle do noroeste do Iraque há quatro anos.

Cerca de 3.000 yazidis ainda estão desaparecidos, a maioria supostamente morta na guerra que reverteu o controle do EI na Síria e no Iraque nos últimos três anos.

Uma minoria religiosa isolada, os yazidis são perseguidos há séculos. Muitas seitas muçulmanas os consideram infiéis, muitos iraquianos os vêem falsamente como adoradores de Satanás. Eles falam curdo e suas tradições são amalgamadas, emprestando do cristianismo, do islamismo e da antiga religião persa do zoroastrismo.

Em agosto de 2014, militantes do EI invadiram Sinjar, a pátria ancestral dos Yazidis perto da fronteira com a Síria, depois de capturar a cidade de Mosul no norte e declarar um califado islâmico em grandes áreas do Iraque e na vizinha Síria.

Dezenas de milhares de yazidis escaparam para o Monte Sinjar, onde a maioria foi resgatada por forças curdas apoiadas pelos EUA.

Em novembro de 2015, milícias curdas com apoio próximo a aeronaves da coalizão lideradas pelos EUA expulsaram o EI de Sinjar.

Antes de o EI chegar ao poder, os yazidis foram alvo de um dos ataques isolados mais mortíferos após a invasão do Iraque em 2003, liderada pelos EUA. Em 14 de agosto de 2007, quatro caminhões-bomba suicidas atingiram aldeias Yazidi ao norte do país, matando cerca de 400 pessoas e ferindo muitas outras. O ataque foi realizado pelo Estado Islâmico no Iraque, antecessor do EI.

Durante o Império Otomano, os Yazidis foram submetidos a vários massacres nos séculos XVIII e XIX.


Quem são os Yazidis?

As estimativas colocam o número global de yazidis em cerca de 700.000 pessoas, com a grande maioria deles concentrada no norte do Iraque, em e ao redor de Sinjar.

A região ao redor do Monte Sinjar. Fotografia: The Guardian

Um grupo historicamente incompreendido, os yazidis são predominantemente curdos de origem étnica, e mantiveram viva sua religião sincrética por séculos, apesar de muitos anos de opressão e ameaças de extermínio.

Há rumores de que a antiga religião foi fundada por um xeque Ummayyad do século 11 e é derivada do Zoroastrianismo (uma antiga fé persa fundada por um filósofo), do Cristianismo e do Islã. A religião tomou elementos de cada um, variando do batismo (Cristianismo) à circuncisão (Islã) à reverência ao fogo como uma manifestação de Deus (derivado do Zoroastrismo) e ainda assim permanece distintamente não-abraâmica. Essa qualidade derivada freqüentemente leva os yazidis a serem chamados de seita.

No centro da marginalização dos yazidis está a adoração a um anjo caído, Melek Tawwus, ou anjo pavão, um dos sete anjos que têm primazia em suas crenças. Ao contrário da queda da graça de Satanás, na tradição judaico-cristã, Melek Tawwus foi perdoado e devolvido ao céu por Deus. A importância de Melek Tawwus para os yazidis deu a eles uma reputação imerecida de adoradores do diabo - uma notoriedade que, no clima de extremismo que assola o Iraque, se tornou uma ameaça à vida.

Sob o domínio otomano apenas nos séculos 18 e 19, os yazidis foram sujeitos a 72 massacres genocidas. Mais recentemente, em 2007, centenas de yazidis foram mortos quando uma onda de carros-bomba atingiu seu reduto no norte do Iraque. Com um número de mortos próximo a 800, de acordo com o Crescente Vermelho Iraquiano, este foi um dos eventos mais mortais que ocorreram durante a invasão liderada pelos americanos.

Os yazidis foram denunciados como infiéis pela Al-Qaeda no Iraque, uma antecessora do Ísis, que sancionou sua matança indiscriminada.

Vian Dakhil, uma deputada Yazidi no Iraque, caiu em prantos na quarta-feira, enquanto apelava ao parlamento e à comunidade internacional para “Nos salvem! Salve-nos!" de Isis.

O pesquisador Cale Salih (@callysally) entrevistou o líder espiritual dos Yazidis, Baba Sheikh, para o New York Times no mês passado. Ela escreveu:

A ascensão do fundamentalismo islâmico de forma mais ampla levou milhares de yazidis a buscar asilo na Europa. De acordo com algumas estimativas, 70.000 pessoas, ou cerca de 15% da população yazidi no Iraque, fugiram do país. Para uma religião que não aceita convertidos e desestimula fortemente a exogamia, a assimilação da juventude Yazidi na Europa ameaça a continuidade da existência da fé. “As pessoas saíram com medo de ataques ou medo do racismo. Isso torna difícil proteger a fé ”, disse Baba Sheikh. [. ]

Nos últimos anos, Baba Sheikh, o líder espiritual dos Yazidis, me disse que cancelou a cerimônia religiosa anual oficial no templo Lalesh, o local sagrado dos Yazidis, por medo de ataques.

Lalesh foi transformado em um refúgio para yazidis deslocados internamente.


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A partir do século 11, essas crenças antigas assumiram novas formas. "Alguns dizem que essas mensagens se tornaram menos compreensíveis no século 11, quando um místico sufi buscava solidão nas montanhas [do norte do Iraque]. Ele era tão carismático que todas essas pessoas que seguiam religiões não islâmicas o seguiam", explicou Kreyenbroek. Este era o xeque Adi ibn Musafir, um praticante do islã místico, a quem os yazidis veneravam como uma figura sagrada.

Os yazidis começaram a "usar palavras e conceitos islâmicos para se referir às suas crenças antigas", disse Kreyenbroek. Eles também praticam ritos como o batismo na água, que pode ou não ser extraído de encontros culturais com os primeiros cristãos. Mas essas sobreposições são em grande parte superficiais - os muçulmanos não consideram os yazidis um "povo do livro" ou uma das religiões abraâmicas do cristianismo, judaísmo e islamismo.

Os yazidis também possuem muitas crenças que não são encontradas nas religiões abraâmicas. "Eles não deveriam usar a cor azul", disse Kreyenbroek. “Algumas pessoas dizem que não podem comer peixe, muitas pessoas dizem que não podem comer alface e algumas pessoas dizem que também abóboras.” Mas a maioria das pessoas não segue essas regras estritamente, ele acrescentou - elas se limitam principalmente aos sacerdotes, ou talvez yazidis mais ortodoxos, como os que vivem em Sinjar.

As origens dessas crenças não são claras. “A palavra para alface, por exemplo, em árabe - os curdos não falam árabe, naturalmente - mas quando falam árabe, eles não diferenciam os sons, e a palavra para maldição, que é tabu, e a palavra para alface , sao muito parecidos. Sempre suspeitei que isso tem algo a ver com isso ”, disse Kreyenbroek. Outros associaram essa crença à execução, no século 13, de um santo yazidi, que foi espancado com alface. (Vale a pena notar que Kreyenbroek é um dos poucos estudiosos no mundo que estuda os Yazidis, mas ele ainda se esforçou para dizer que muito se desconhece sobre a fé. Mesmo que a religião antiga esteja em extinção, ainda não não entendo muito bem.)

Visto que os yazidis não são um "povo do livro", "eles não são protegidos pela lei islâmica", apontou Kreyenbroek. E "eles [são] considerados adoradores do diabo - e não há nada tão horrível e impuro quanto os adoradores do diabo".

É por isso que o ISIS está tão empenhado em eliminar o grupo - e por que a comunidade internacional está tão preocupada com um genocídio contra eles, disse Birgül Açıkyıldız Şengül, professor da Universidade Artuklu da Turquia que estuda arte e cultura yazidi. "Não é o mesmo que. Com os cristãos ou os muçulmanos xiitas", disse ela. Os yazidis "não são considerados uma religião".

Isso não quer dizer que o ISIS não tenha como alvo os cristãos do Iraque e a maioria dos muçulmanos xiitas. Outras minorias religiosas no norte do Iraque, incluindo os Kaka'is, uma religião irmã do Yazidismo, e o Shabak, um grupo cultural que possui algumas qualidades religiosas distintas, também estão na mira do grupo jihadista. Em vez de fugir, alguns desses grupos escolheram um caminho diferente: se escondendo. "Os kaká às vezes dizem que são xiitas", disse Kreyenbroek.

Mas a perseguição aos yazidis nas últimas semanas foi particularmente aguda e está de acordo com a longa história da seita. Na verdade, o sofrimento se tornou parte integrante da autonarrativa do grupo. "Os yazidis dizem que foram perseguidos 72 vezes no passado, mas não sabemos. Não temos fontes até o século 13", disse Şengül. “Os yazidis se tornaram muito fortes no século 13 ... no norte do Iraque ao norte da Mesopotâmia, no Irã ligado aos turcos e até na Síria. Ao mesmo tempo, o Islã estava se tornando muito forte na região, então os líderes muçulmanos começaram a persegui-los ”.

Durante a era otomana, os yazidis enfrentaram pressão para se converter ao islamismo, de acordo com um texto do século XIX. Alguns acreditam que essa seja a origem do número simbólico "72", que representa o número de massacres cometidos por califas otomanos. Mas, novamente, como disse Şengül, "não sabemos".

No século 20, sob o governo do ex-presidente iraquiano Saddam Hussein, os Yazidis enfrentaram assassinatos e realocações por serem curdos de etnia. "[Eles] foram forçados a participar da guerra contra o Irã e sempre foram enviados para o front - foram os primeiros a morrer", disse Kreyenbroek.

Com o tempo, essas experiências levaram os yazidis a se separarem das comunidades muçulmanas do Iraque. "Essa memória, as más lembranças de ser perseguido por líderes muçulmanos - é uma reação, uma forma de se proteger", disse Şengül.

"Eles acreditam, como o povo judeu acredita, que há uma tendência histórica de persegui-los", observou Kreyenbroek.

Esse instinto de auto-isolamento pode ter contribuído para a terrível situação em Sinjar. "A área curda no Oriente Médio é uma área montanhosa em geral - e as montanhas protegem as pessoas quando são atacadas por estranhos", disse Şengül. Quando confrontados com a ameaça de morte nas mãos do ISIS, os Yazidis fugiram para terras mais altas.

Agora também estão fugindo de outras áreas do norte do Iraque. Além da região de Sinjar, muitos vivem ao redor de Dohuk, no Curdistão. Şengül disse que sua cidade na Turquia, Mardin, está tendo um fluxo de refugiados, e outros estão indo para a Síria. Ela ouviu falar de pelo menos três crianças que morreram na fronteira com a Turquia, esperando para sair do Iraque.

Essas migrações forçadas podem alterar ainda mais a identidade Yazidi. "Eles se identificam muito, muito fortemente com a terra", disse Kreyenbroek. "O Vale de Lalish, que é o coração dos Yazidi. É na fronteira da região autônoma curda e [é a localização] dos santuários de vários povos sagrados, dos anjos."

Aqui, "eles sempre se sentiram seguros. Sinjar, até recentemente, falava sobre a possibilidade de estabelecer uma república yazidi. Achei isso um absurdo", acrescentou ele, "mas entre a diáspora, isso foi discutido com bastante seriedade."

A população yazidi está fortemente concentrada no Iraque, mas existe uma espécie de diáspora em outros países - embora seja impossível saber o quão grande é. Kreyenbroek falou de comunidades na Alemanha, Turquia e Holanda, cerca de 200 famílias vivem nos Estados Unidos, metade delas em Nebraska. Recentemente, os yazidis na Armênia tentaram se estabelecer como um grupo étnico não curdo independente por razões políticas - os armênios ainda desconfiam dos muçulmanos curdos por causa das memórias da limpeza étnica dos armênios que ocorreu durante a Primeira Guerra Mundial.

Mesmo assim, entre os yazidis, "há uma ligação muito estreita com a terra", disse Kreyenbroek. "É muito difícil para as pessoas desistir, reinventar sua religião sem a presença física de santuários e poços sagrados e bosques sagrados."

Agora, "o medo é que o ISIS esteja tão perto, e a primeira coisa que fariam é destruir este local sagrado", disse Kreyenbroek. "Quando isso acabar, será praticamente o fim desta religião."


Escravos de Ísis: a longa caminhada das mulheres Yazidi

O dia anterior à chegada de Ísis foi um feriado no distrito de Sinjar, no norte do Iraque. Os yazidis se reuniram para celebrar o fim do período de jejum. Era 2 de agosto de 2014. Os campos de trigo colhidos pareciam curtos e duros sob o sol sem sombras. As pessoas abatiam ovelhas e se reuniam com seus parentes para comemorar o feriado, distribuindo doces e trocando notícias e fofocas. No passado, eles teriam convidado seus vizinhos muçulmanos para se juntar às comemorações, mas mais recentemente a distância entre eles cresceu, fazendo com que os aldeões ficassem principalmente sozinhos.

A atmosfera estava agitada e a temperatura atingiu o pico acima de 40 ° C (104 ° F). O topo do Monte Sinjar, ao norte da própria cidade de Sinjar, parecia brilhar com o calor, e as pessoas que viviam abaixo evitavam viajar até depois do pôr do sol, quando as ruas estavam cheias de vizinhos trocando rumores terríveis, e homens patrulhando com armas.

Ao anoitecer, veículos desconhecidos começaram a aparecer. As luzes dos carros podiam ser vistas movendo-se no deserto, além das aldeias periféricas. Uma sensação de mau presságio cresceu quando a escuridão caiu. Os homens yazidis pegaram suas armas e partiram para verificar o horizonte além dos campos de trigo, olhando na direção das aldeias.

No retorno, eles se reuniram no centro da cidade de Sinjar em pequenos grupos tensos. Comboios de carros, levantando poeira ao longe, haviam surgido dois meses antes, pouco antes da cidade de Mosul - capital da província de Nínive, da qual Sinjar faz parte - cair nas mãos do Estado Islâmico (Ísis). Mosul fica a 120 km (75 milhas) a leste de Sinjar, e sua captura foi rapidamente seguida pela queda de outras cidades. Quatro divisões do exército iraquiano entraram em colapso, incluindo a terceira divisão, que estava baseada em Sinjar e incluía muitos yazidis. A área estava quase completamente indefesa.

Quando eles apreenderam Mosul, Ísis libertou os muçulmanos sunitas da prisão de Badoush na cidade e executou 600 prisioneiros xiitas. O grupo saqueou armas e equipamentos de bases do exército iraquiano. Os soldados espalharam seus uniformes e meio milhão de civis fugiram para o norte e o leste. Em uma semana, um terço do Iraque estava sob controle do Ísis. O distrito de Sinjar, com uma população de cerca de 300.000 habitantes, foi cercado. Restava apenas uma estreita faixa da estrada contestada, ligando-os à relativa segurança do Curdistão iraquiano no norte - mas a jornada era perigosa.

A região do Curdistão no norte do Iraque é semi-autônoma e protegida pelo peshmerga, que agora tinha que defender as quatro províncias curdas contra Ísis. “Peshmerga” significa “aqueles que enfrentam a morte”, e a palavra carrega consigo a importância histórica da luta curda contra a opressão. No sudeste da região, na fronteira com o Irã, parte do peshmerga colidiu com Ísis, mas perto de Sinjar, uma quietude inquietante pairava no ar como uma dor de cabeça de tensão que vem antes de uma tempestade.

L eila vem de uma família de fazendeiros e pastores yazidis. Ela é pequena, com um rosto pálido de menina, embora tenha 25 anos, e exala um ar gentil e prático. Ela tem duas irmãs mais novas e três irmãos mais velhos. Quando criança, ela trabalhou na fazenda da família com seus irmãos, e depois de uma série de roubos de ovelhas em sua fazenda, eles decidiram se mudar para mais perto de Kojo, um vilarejo abaixo do Monte Sinjar.

Os irmãos de Leila se juntaram ao peshmerga após a invasão do Iraque liderada pelos EUA em 2003. Em 2 de agosto de 2014, seus colegas na vizinha Siba Sheikheder foram atacados por Ísis e pediram ajuda. Siba Sheikheder, ao sul de Sinjar, é a cidade yazidi mais próxima da fronteira com a Síria, uma coleção de algumas centenas de prédios atarracados. No meio da manhã de 3 de agosto de 2014, o peshmerga estacionado em Kojo havia fugido. Na confusão, a família de Leila e cerca de 100 outras pessoas decidiram fugir, mas a maioria das pessoas ficou, sem saber o que iria acontecer com elas.

A irmã mais nova de Leila estava morando em Siba Sheikheder com seu novo marido e ligou para seus pais naquela manhã: "Estamos fugindo - Ísis está chegando", disse ela. Leila e sua família dirigiram para o norte para Sinjar, deixando seu tio em casa para vigiar a casa. Chegando a Sinjar, perceberam que a cidade já estava sob ataque e sua população em fuga. Reunindo-se em um pedaço de mato próximo a Sinjar, eles telefonaram para o tio dela. Ele disse a eles que a área estava cercada e Ísis não deixaria ninguém sair.

Yazidis deslocados de Sinjar, fugindo de Ísis, caminham em direção à fronteira com a Síria, agosto de 2014. Foto: Rodi Said / Reuters

Eles estavam presos. Pouco depois do telefonema, um grupo de combatentes Ísis se aproximou deles e lhes disse para entregar dinheiro, armas, ouro e telefones. Leila lembra que o líder tinha barba e rosto ruivo e era chamado de “emir” (“príncipe”) pelos demais. Os combatentes levaram sua família a um dos escritórios centrais do governo em Sinjar, onde as carteiras de identidade costumavam ser emitidas. O que parecia ser milhares de mulheres e meninas estavam reunidas dentro dos escritórios do prédio, com os homens amontoados no segundo andar. Por volta das 21h, os guardas Ísis trouxeram lanternas para dentro e começaram a inspecionar os rostos das mulheres e meninas. As mulheres se amontoaram em busca de proteção e, quando os homens se aproximaram de Leila, ela ficou com tanto medo que desmaiou. Isso a salvou de ser levada embora naquela noite. Cinco de suas primas não tiveram tanta sorte.

As mulheres Yazidi em Sinjar ainda não perceberam, mas os combatentes do Ísis estavam realizando um sequestro em massa pré-planejado para fins de estupro institucionalizado. Inicialmente, procuravam mulheres solteiras e meninas com mais de oito anos.

Quando o distrito de Sinjar foi atacado por Ísis, mais de 100.000 pessoas fugiram para se refugiar no Monte Sinjar. Aqueles que não puderam fugir foram presos. Muitos dos homens foram massacrados. Milhares de yazidis foram executados e jogados em poços ou morreram de desidratação, ferimentos ou exaustão na montanha. Tantas pessoas estavam faltando que a escravidão das mulheres não chamou a atenção internacional imediatamente.

De acordo com a parlamentar iraquiana Vian Dakhil, ela própria uma yazidi de Sinjar, cerca de 6.383 yazidis - a maioria mulheres e crianças - foram escravizados e transportados para prisões de Ísis, campos de treinamento militar e casas de combatentes no leste da Síria e oeste do Iraque, onde estavam estuprada, espancada, vendida e trancada. Em meados de 2016, 2.590 mulheres e crianças escaparam ou foram contrabandeadas para fora do califado e 3.793 permaneceram em cativeiro.

Os yazidis são um grupo religioso de língua curda que vive principalmente no norte do Iraque. São menos de um milhão em todo o mundo. Os Yazidis, ao longo de sua história, foram perseguidos como infiéis por governantes muçulmanos que exigiam que eles se convertessem. Em vez de cerimônias formais, sua prática religiosa envolve a visita a lugares sagrados. Yazidis participam de batismos e festas, cantam hinos e recitam histórias. Algumas das histórias são sobre batalhas históricas e míticas travadas em defesa da religião. Outros, contados ao longo dos séculos por gerações de mulheres, detalham métodos de resistência às mesmas ameaças que as mulheres yazidis enfrentam hoje.

Os yazidis já haviam se tornado vulneráveis ​​devido ao deslocamento forçado sob Saddam Hussein, ao colapso econômico sob as sanções da ONU, ao colapso do Estado e da segurança após a invasão liderada pelos Estados Unidos em 2003 e aos fracassos políticos que se seguiram. No Iraque existem agora cerca de 500.000 Yazidis, principalmente da região de Sinjar, na província de Nínive, no norte do país. Os yazidis da Síria e da Turquia, em sua maioria, fugiram para países vizinhos ou para a Europa. Na Alemanha, seus números são estimados em 25.000.

“Nem toda violência é quente. Também há violência fria, que leva seu tempo e finalmente consegue o que quer ”, escreveu Teju Cole em um ensaio de 2015 sobre a Palestina. Em todo o mundo, um tipo mais amplo de violência fria continua. É a violência da indignidade, do esquecimento, do descuido e do não ouvir. It’s there in the way politicians talk about refugees, and in the way the stateless are sometimes written about and photographed by the western media. It’s there in the fear of outsiders. It’s there in the way humans dismiss other humans as less worthy of protection or care. When cold violence and hot violence merge, we get mass killings inflicted on the most vulnerable.

Yazidis have suffered massacres and oppression for generations. But there was something different about the Isis attack that took place in the late summer of 2014. This time the media took notice.

Many of the stories about the abduction and enslavement of Yazidi women and children described them as “sex slaves” and featured graphic, sometimes lurid, accounts by newly escaped survivors. The female fighters of Kurdish militias helping to free Yazidis from Mount Sinjar became fodder for often novelty coverage. The Yazidis became the embodiment of embattled, exotic minorities set against the evil of Isis. This narrative has stereotyped Yazidi women as passive victims of mass rape at the hands of perpetrators presented as the epitome of pure evil.

It was only much later in my reporting on how some Yazidi women managed to escape and return that I became aware of how important stories of captivity and resistance were to dealing with trauma, both historically and in relation to Isis. Yazidism is a closed religion and identity, one that is passed down through generations by stories and music. These practices have been extended to dealing with the traumas of their treatment at the hands of Isis.

Many of the women and children captured in Sinjar had seen or heard their male relatives being killed by the armed Isis fighters who now surrounded them. In jails across Iraq and Syria, where the women were held, they felt a sense of “abject terror on hearing footsteps in the corridor outside and keys opening the locks”, said a report by the UN commission on Syria that designated the Isis crimes against the Yazidis as genocide. “The first 12 hours of capture were filled with sharply mounting terror. The selection of any girl was accompanied by screaming as she was forcibly pulled from the room, with her mother and any other women who tried to keep hold of her being brutally beaten by fighters. [Yazidi] women and girls began to scratch and bloody themselves in an attempt to make themselves unattractive to potential buyers.”

At first, the women and girls were taken to prearranged locations in Iraq where they were handed out to the Isis fighters who took part in the attack on Sinjar. To avoid being raped, some of the girls killed themselves by slitting their wrists or throats, or hanging themselves, or throwing themselves from buildings.

Amid the panic in the Sinjar ID office, Leila decided to pose as a mother to her small niece and nephew after she saw the other women being taken away, and correctly assumed that being unmarried was dangerous. The following day, the Yazidi men on the second floor disappeared.

Leila was transported 50km east to a school-turned-prison in Tel Afar, where the women were crowded into classrooms functioning as cells, guarded by fighters who continued to pick out beautiful girls to serve as slaves. Each time they were moved, their names and ages were noted down on a list.

In the coming weeks, some Yazidis managed to escape by walking through the night across muddy fields, keeping to the valleys to avoid Isis checkpoints and reach the peshmerga. It was in those first few days that the Yazidis could most feasibly have been rescued. The captives were held together and some still had mobile phones hidden under their clothes to call relatives back in Kurdistan and tell them exactly where they were. But with little by way of rapid international or governmental support materialising, a sense of abandonment soon grew among the families waiting for their loved ones.

“Within days of what happened to the Yazidis on the mountain, the phone calls went from ‘help us survive’ to ‘they’ve kidnapped these women and can you help us to rescue them,’” said Tom Malinowski, then the US assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labour, when interviewed in February 2016 during a visit to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region. “Hostage rescues are one of the most dangerous things to do, but when they [the women] were still being held in large groups this was discussed, but tragically they were then dispersed … It is still very much on our minds and something we know has to be considered.”

To date there have been no known, large-scale rescue missions to free the Yazidi captives in Iraq and Syria, by either the US, Iraqi or Kurdistan regional governments.

A ccording to Isis, it has no choice but to attack and kill disbelieving men. Flowing from this, it justifies the enslaving of their women as an act of protection, a way of replacing the men who previously looked after them. This idea is crucial to the role of slavery in Isis’s conception of how a caliphate should function.

Implicit in the goal of eliminating the Yazidi community is the idea that society would be better without them, which is common to all genocides, said former UN investigator Sareta Ashraph. The enslavement, for Isis, is meant to eventually bring the women to Islam, and is part of their ideology of conquest. “[It is] among the greatest forms of the honour of Islam and its sharia [Islamic law], as it is a clear affirmation showing the supremacy of the people of sharia, and the greatness of their affairs, and the dominance of their state, and the power of their might,” according to an Isis pamphlet on slavery.

Isis describes its own use of enslavement through a mix of clumsy metaphors about sex, war and power. Dividing up the captive women and children among the Isis mujahideen [holy warriors] and “sanctioning their genitals” is described as a sign of “realisation and dominance by the sword”.

Katherine E Brown, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Birmingham, explained that Isis mainly justifies its use of slavery through selective interpretations of the hadith, the reported accounts of the life and sayings of Muhammad and his companions: “They justify it on the basis that it is a reward for carrying out services for the community – slaves are presented as compensation for fighters. However, they chose particular ways of seeing these hadith, and selectively choose them so as to ignore, for example, the requirement not to kill your prisoners by focusing on the requirement to make sure they ‘don’t escape’ by being ‘secured at the neck’ until negotiations have taken place.”

A Yazidi woman in the northern Iraqi town of Dohuk, May 2015. Photograph: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images

The promise of sexual slavery is used as a sweetener when recruiting disaffected young men to Isis. At the same time, media stories about sex and violence involving non-Muslim women being enslaved by Muslim men feed stereotypes about Muslim men that create divisions that Isis can then exploit.

“Slavery serves to increase the Isis community because Yazidi women will give birth and the children will be brought up among its fighters,” writes the author of the Isis pamphlet.

The same document calls on fighters to treat their slaves well, citing words from the Qur’an calling for them to be good to “those whom your right hand possess” – a euphemism for a female captive – and cites Islamic texts with instructions not to hit the slave’s face, and to emancipate the slave who becomes a believer, for which the master will be rewarded by God.

But, as with other strictures, there is a gap between Isis proclamations and an abusive, often violent reality. Isis used gang rape as punishment for women and girls who tried to escape to further degrade and control them physically and psychologically. Despite this, many of the women continued to fight back against their captors, risking punishment and death in pursuit of freedom.

After the women were captured, they didn’t immediately become slaves to the fighters, but were held for a period while their details were recorded. The process was systematised. Women were then sold in markets, either electronically over a mobile phone messenger app where their photos and slave numbers were exchanged, or in market halls and prisons at prearranged times.

Away from the main markets, women and girls, supplied by fighters or Isis members who acted as middlemen, were sold by local brokers in smaller numbers. At the beginning, they were given mainly to Iraqi fighters who took part in the battle for Sinjar. Subsequently, the remaining captives were taken to Syria, and sold there, often to fighters who had arrived from around the world.

In late 2014, a group of young, bearded men sat on long sofas lining the walls of a living room somewhere in the caliphate, wearing ammunition-packed vests. They joked with one another. “Today is distribution day, God willing,” said one of the men, as he flashed a grin at his companions. “You can sell your slave, or give her as a gift … You can do whatever you want with your share,” said another fighter in view of the cameraman who was recording the exchange. The men didn’t seem to notice and continued discussing buying women for “three banknotes or a pistol”.

B y the summer of 2013, Raqqa, 370km west of Mosul in northern Syria, became Isis’s de facto capital, and supporters from all over the world flocked there to join the group. It was also the destination for other women from Sinjar.

“When we got to the farm [near Raqqa], we saw four or five buses full of Isis members with long hair and beards,” said Zahra, a farmer’s daughter from Kojo. “They were like animals. On the first day they came among us and started picking girls for themselves. Two or three of them would catch the girls, blindfold them and take them by force into a car. The girls were crying and shouting but they didn’t care.”

From the second floor of the building, the girls could see the Euphrates river, but they were hidden from view by the surrounding trees and fences.

“We were just like sheep, when the shepherd goes toward them and the sheep disperse that’s how we were, running away from them,” said Zahra. She fled when the men came, but she was blocked by a fence at the edge of the farm. On the first day the men took 20-40 girls. Food was delivered from a local restaurant for those who remained, but they were too scared to eat. They covered their faces with ash to try and look unattractive in the hope that they wouldn’t be picked.

After two days, Zahra and her sister were taken to an underground Isis prison in Raqqa. Hundreds of women were crammed into three rooms in what was just one of several similar structures that were used for holding women in Raqqa. The girls arrived at night and weren’t allowed to see the outside of the building – a tactic similar to that used by the Syrian government in its jails, said Sareta Ashraph.

A Yazidi woman abducted by Isis is carried to safety near Mount Sinjar. Photograph: Channel 4

Inside the prison, the women had to share a few filthy, overflowing toilets, forcing them to stand in raw sewage. Their bodies were crawling with sand flies. The only light came from two solar-powered lamps hanging from the ceiling, one prisoner recalled. Each morning the guards would give them a small piece of bread and cheese to share between two, and in the evening some rice and soup.

Some women sat on bags or clothes to try and avoid touching the filthy ground. Children cried constantly with hunger. The women waited under the constant fear of rape or death. “They were always beating us and we had diarrhea because of the fear,” said a woman I shall call Khulka, who is 30 years old and comes from the town of Tel Qasab. She had arrived at the prison with her four children, inside a refrigerator truck normally used for ice-cream. “We didn’t have a shower for one month and we always had lice in our hair. After two months they took us outside, but we couldn’t stand because we hadn’t seen the sun for so long,” she said.

While in the jail, Khulka tattooed herself with the names of her husband and father, so that her body could be recognised and returned to them if she was killed. She mixed breast milk from a lactating woman with ash, and used a needle she had smuggled into the jail. With the same needle and some thread, she began embroidering her underwear with the names and numbers listed in her phone in case Isis found it and took it away. Khulka had been to school, and unlike many of the women there, she knew how to read and write. She also sewed other women’s clothes with their loved ones’ names and numbers so that they would not be forgotten.

Historically, Yazidis associated formal education with repressive state authorities, the suppression of their language, and the threat of religious conversion. In the years before 2014, literacy rates had been improving in Sinjar, but many women and girls worked in the fields to support their families while their brothers went to school. Illiteracy made it harder for women to escape after they were taken into captivity, because they couldn’t read the signs on unfamiliar buildings in Isis-held towns and cities.

Khulka was taken to a side room in the prison with her children and photographed by the Isis guards who gave her the slave number 16, which was then printed above her photo. There were around 500 women in the jail, she recalls, and all of them had to pose with their children and were given slave numbers. Before the picture was taken, she cut her daughter’s hair to make her look like a boy and stop them being separated. If the guards recognised her daughter as a young girl, there was more chance she’d be taken. The other imprisoned women envied Khulka’s grey hair, thinking it might save her from being seized. They tried to imitate it using ash.

“Some of these women and girls resisted forced conversion, protected themselves against violence, or at least tried to, and protected their children. How they resisted really shows incredible intelligence, courage and strength,” said human rights lawyer and gender justice advocate Sherizaan Minwalla.

Yazidi women who fled what is now Turkey during the first world war and the chaos that followed passed down stories that are repeated among Sinjaris today. Among them are accounts of how they did as Khulka was now doing: covering their daughters’ faces with ash and cutting their hair.

In the same prison, Zahra and her sisters were put together into small rooms. They heard screaming and crying as Isis guards came in the middle of the night to drag away the girls. The guards came for Zahra’s middle sister first. When Zahra pleaded with them not to take them separately, one of the guards whipped her with a cable.

After her sister was taken from the cell, the door opened again. This time Zahra was grabbed by two large men and shoved into a car. “I won’t go until you give me my sister!” she cried out. The men drove her to a house in Raqqa belonging to an Isis member who kept her as his slave, then sold her on after four months to another Isis fighter. He found her disobedient and sold her on straight away to a fighter of only 18, who lived at a compound for Libyan fighters near Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria.

Many Yazidi girls were by being held in the same compound of 100 to 200 caravans where the Libyan fighters lived. The women and girls were chained, beaten, raped and passed around like animals between the men. At the edge of the compound, a barbed-wire fence prevented them from escaping. The stories of privation and torture suffered by Yezidi women in this compound are some of the worst in a long catalogue of abuses.

A fter a little more than a month at the farm, Leila and three other girls from Kojo were taken back to Iraq and kept in a military base near the Iraq–Syria border, more than 200km south of Sinjar in Anbar province. The military base was in Al-Qa’im, a border crossing between Iraq and Syria, but by that time, under the caliphate, it was merely a pitstop between Isis-held stretches of desert. It was also a common crossing point for slaves passing between markets in Isis towns and cities. Leila was sold to a man called Muhammad, who looked familiar to her. Then she remembered who he was: his family were like godparents to her family.

When Leila recognised Muhammad, she was relieved: she thought he would rescue her, and maybe sell her back to her family. Instead, he sold her on. Three days later, Leila was taken to a military base near Ramadi and sold to an Isis military commander. Later, after she had escaped and was in Baghdad, someone asked her what she would do if she saw Muhammad again. “I would burn him alive,” she said.

The Isis commander who bought Leila in Ramadi was a notorious sadist known as Shakir Wahib, who had been terribly wounded in fighting, and was now trafficking women for sex and organising gang rapes. When one woman arrived in early 2016, having held on to a mobile phone, Leila managed to call her brother in Kurdistan and told him he needed to send someone to rescue her before the woman was moved on, and her phone with her. For two days, calls went back and forth between Leila and a smuggler called Abdullah, who eventually helped her to escape. Abdullah used to work in Aleppo and had a wide network of business contacts in Syria and Iraq. He had become a smuggler after 50 members of his family were kidnapped by Isis.

Most of the smugglers working to rescue Yazidi women are Yazidi businessmen. Some of the women are bought back from the Isis fighters holding them, or from the slave markets or online auctions. The cost of smuggling is reflective of the danger involved. It’s not clear how much of the cash ends up with Isis, and how much goes to middlemen or the smugglers.

This black market thrives because families are left with no other options. The war against Isis continues to win back territory from the militants, but Yazidis told me that they would prefer the focus to be on saving their captive women and children, rather than winning back terrain.

Yazidis displaced by Isis in a camp near Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, January 2015. Photograph: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images

After reaching Baghdad, Leila and her niece travelled north by plane to the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, and then by road to the camps where many Yazidis from Sinjar had taken refuge, and where their families were waiting. When Leila arrived, she collapsed sobbing into the arms of her female relatives. She was in such a state of shock that, for the first few weeks, she had trouble understanding what her family were saying when they tried to talk to her.

“Sometimes I watch the TV and I see the news of the army taking more land and villages, but it’s not this that we are worried about – it is our people who are still imprisoned,” Leila said. “We know most of them are in Raqqa, so why are [the army] not going to save them there?”

The failures have been broad and deep. Earlier this month, Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air cover, declared victory over Isis in Mosul. But for many, the price of that victory was high: civilians were killed by Isis as they tried to flee, as well as being bombarded by Iraqi forces and the coalition. In March 2017 a US airstrike on a house where families were sheltering in western Mosul killed more than 100 civilians.

Attention has now moved from Iraq to the presence of Isis in Syria, and the battle for Raqqa. As Iraq’s politicians and their military patrons prepare to congratulate themselves, the Yazidi community looks on from displacement camps, rented homes or forced asylum overseas. Almost two years after it was cleared of Isis by Kurdish forces, Sinjar town remains in ruins. A new wave of fighting for Sinjar district is under way, with Turkey eyeing a violent incursion after bombing the area in April. The idea that this represents “liberation” is seen by Yazidis as a bad joke. The UN and others have tried to recognise and document the genocide, but justice looks a long way off. Meanwhile, the battle for survival of the women and girls who were taken by Isis continues long after their return.

Sinjar was recaptured from Isis by Kurdish forces, led by the peshmerga, in November 2015. Since then the peshmerga and other Kurdish armed groups have been in a hostile standoff with each other, with rival groups providing arms, training and patronage to local Yazidis. Brightly coloured flags of the various groups flutter above their respective checkpoints, which are sometimes only metres apart along roads that were recently controlled by Isis.

Yazidis now fear renewed attacks not just from Isis, but also from their Kurdish liberators. Yazidis themselves are not politically homogenous, and many distrust the rival Kurdish groups. By May 2016, despite the liberation, only 3,220 families had returned to Sinjar district.

While the infighting goes on, Isis stands only to gain. Yazidis are stuck in a complex series of client-patron relationships with Kurdish leaders, in which ethnic identification is used in exchange for promises of safety. Meanwhile, the Yazidis remain unable to define their future, militarily or politically. While military clashes continue, any political settlement to the rivalry between liberating forces looks a long way off.

Main photograph: Rodi Said/Reuters

This is an edited extract from With Ash On Their Faces: Yazidi Women and the Islamic State by Cathy Otten, which will be published by Or Books in October.

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The Plight of the Yazidis and their Hope for the Future

Yazidi refugees seeking refuge in the Sinjar Mountains as they fled ISIS in the summer of 2014. (Photo: en.qantara.de)

Two years ago, I went to Kurdistan and the Nineveh region in northern Iraq to visit the persecuted Christians. Driving through the war torn areas with a Catholic priest, I noticed some buildings with conical spires, something I had never seen before. I asked my confrere about them and he told me it was a Yazidi place of worship. Not knowing much about Yazidis, I came to the grappling truth that they too suffered the worst of atrocities under the ISIS onslaught.

Yazidis, an ancient religious minority, number anywhere from 400,000 to 600,000. Most of them are found in the Nineveh and Dohuk provinces with large communities in Sinjar and Shekhan, where a number of their holy sites are located. Like Christians, they too underwent brutal torments by the so-called Islamic State, yet their stories hardly get the necessary coverage in the West.

Genocide of Yazidis by ISIS

At the height of ISIS’ rampage through Iraq in the summer of 2014, over 5,000 Yazidis were massacred. Yazidi children were forcibly converted to Islam and taught Arabic, banned from speaking their native Kurdish. Thousands of Yazidi boys were starved, tortured and forced to fight for ISIS. Many former child soldiers today live with missing arms or legs.

As many as 10,000 women and girls were forced into sexual slavery by the Islamic State. Of notable mention, is the account of Layla Talu, who had been betrayed by her neighbors as they told the Islamic jihadists where she had fled with her family.

At 7 am on the morning of August 3, 2014, Layla, her husband, Marwan Khalil, and their two children, who were aged four and 18 months, left their home. Like tens of thousands of other Yazidis, they hoped to take shelter on Mount Sinjar, but were captured.

Layla hopes that by sharing her story, she can help other women in a similar position. (Photo: Salah Hassan Baban/Al Jazeer)

After her husband was separated from her, Layla and her children were transported with others to Baaj district, southwest of Mosul, where they were held for four days. From there, they moved to Tal Afar, where they were detained in a school before being transferred again a week later to Badush prison. When the prison was bombed by coalition aircraft, they were sent back to Tal Afar.

Layla says that the women and children were beaten, insulted, threatened and starved. Then, after eight months of this, when many were exhausted by illness, they were transferred to the Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS’ stronghold. She was continually moved from one place to another, raped and whipped by both Iraqi and Saudi Muslims faithful to the Islamic State.

Roshi Qasimas in her home. (Photo: skynewsarab.com)

Stories like these bring back to mind the Islamic jihad carried out by the Ottoman Turks to an Iraqi woman who vividly remembers them. Born on July 1, 1887, Roshi Qasimas,oldest person alive according to the Guinness Book of world recordsas her family says, she witnessed the Islamic “holy war” carried out during the Ottoman era. As early as 1890, the Ottomans set them an ultimatum to convert to Islam, when they refused, their homelands in Sinjar and Shekhan were occupied and the inhabitants massacred. Roshi witnessed 7 massacres committed by the Turks against her community, as the Ottomans killed thousands of Yazidis, though for her, the one carried out by ISIS is the most terrible.

ISIS Ousted but the Struggle Continues

While the threat of ISIS has been contained, like so many Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities, the Yazidis’ troubles are not over.

As personally told to me by a young Yazidi student, Basma Alali, who studies English at the Catholic University of Erbil (CUE)founded in December 2015 by Archbishop Bashar Warda, of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbilthe Kurdish ruling party is “secular and does not tolerate Islamic extremism which in turn has brought some stability in Kurdistan whereby all religions and ethnicities can live together. On the other hand, Arabs Islamists still see Yazidis as infidels, even some official members of the Iraqi government see us as infidels. Some of the ruling parties in the Iraqi government are Islamic extremists and they neglect Yazidis on a continuous basis.”

“Unlike the Christian minority,” Basma says, “who may have support from the outside world because of shared beliefs and religion, we as Yazidis have little to no support, except for humanitarian help by NGOs and some governments. Therefore, rebuilding our lives has been very challenging, not only for my family but more for all Yazidis.”

Fortunately, the Kurdish people tend to welcoming of the Yazidis, making them feel safe. There is also the aforementioned Catholic University of Erbil, providing young Yazidis (and those of other faiths) opportunities they would not find elsewhere in the country.

CUE students at an orientation session. (Photo: cue.edu.krd)

As recounted by another Yazidi, Safwan, who studies Computer Science at CUE, the university offers scholarships to Yazidi students “who have no possibilities to study at the universities of Mosul and Dohuk.”

For him, CUE has become his “family” because, as he recounts, “before I came to CUE, I had no idea who I was and what my life meant, but eventually I realized it with CUE.”

Yet students such as Basma and Safwan are just a handful of the fortunate ones.

Despite being within a minority among Iraqis, Yazidis are an integral part of the inclusive system of direct, local democracy with which the autonomous administration in Kurdistan is enfranchising Kurdish, Arabic, Yazidi, Syriac and Turkman people alike all seeking to be seen as equals within the reconstruction of infrastructure and civil society. It is this which marks the Yazidis out for attack once again.

Como Patrick Cockburn has reported, when ISIS fighters were re-armed under the Turkish flag for the invasion of Afrin in 2018, they immediately targeted Yazidi villages in a campaign of forced conversions, cultural genocide and the destruction of sacred shrines and temples. Further and systematic persecution of Yazidis.

There is great hope, however, for the Yazidi community in Iraq, though much still has to be done. Basma states:

“I think it is important that Yazidis build a bridge with other communities, especially, the International community to gain support to improve their status. But more crucially, we as Yazidis have to be dependent and rely on ourselves which will require us to develop further and reach positions of authority and power where we can provide help and support to the community to prosper.”

These are tasks, that some Yazidis, such as Safwan, have undertaken. Having the opportunity to develop “a strong background on computers,” Safwan says, “I’m working hard to use my skills to help my community and my country.”

Youngsters like these offer much hope for their brethren and fellow Iraqis, but they cannot do it alone, neither can institutions like the Catholic University of Erbil.

Almost 200,000 Yazidis are still living in displacement camps in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. Pictured here is Bajed Kandala in 2019.
(Photo: Andrea DiCenzo for NPR)

It has been six years since ISIS launched a genocide against the Yazidi people. Although ISIS was altogether driven out in 2016, nearly 200,000 Yazidis still live in displacement camps in the Kurdistan region. In a July report, Amnesty International warned that nearly 2,000 Yazidi children who were subjected to horrendous human rights abuses at the hands of ISIS were not getting the help they need to deal with lasting physical and mental trauma. Like the persecuted Christians and other religious minorities at the hands of Muslim jihadists, Yazidis have barely received significant attention by the international community, thereby making their burdens heavier.

Let us pray and hope that the stories of those like Layla, one of many, are not in vain. And that those, like Basma and Safwan, who have taken it upon themselves to pursue a higher level education will not only motivate others to do likewise, but will ultimately encourage others to come to the aid of a people that desperately need help.

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Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.

Book available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble ou WestBow Press.


Displaced Yazidi children who fled Sinjar pose for photographer at a refugee camp on the outskirt of Duhok province. Reuters

Mirza Haj Mirza Qirani, chieftain of one of the Sinjar tribes, remembers the night Islamic State invaded on August 3, 2014. At about 2:20am, he received word that the jihadists had advanced and were attacking his village. Men immediately went out to fight, but had only light weapons – they were almost defenceless against ISIS' sophisticated weaponry. The battle continued for about five hours, when it became apparent that the only option was to flee. Militants captured and slaughtered around 350 of the villagers, while the rest – Qirani among them – were able to escape. He recalls the tens of thousands of people he saw on foot on their way to Sinjar mountain. The elderly, the disabled and children struggling to keep up, but having no choice but to push on.

Qirani was part of the most senior delegation of Yazidi religious leaders ever to visit the UK last week. Speaking at the Amar Foundation offices in Westminster, they told Christian Today that it's time for the world to wake up to the plight of their people.

Qirani's story is one of hundreds of thousands of similar testimonies. Harrowing scenes unfolded in Northern Iraq two years ago as Sinjar town and its surrounding villages were overrun, hundreds of civilians were slaughtered and more than 400,000 forced to flee. Some 5,000 were taken captive, 3,000 of whom remain hostage, and disturbing accounts of their treatment at the hands of militants have emerged from those who have since been smuggled out or managed to escape. Women and children have been brutally raped and abused bartered and sold among jihadists for as little as a packet of cigarettes. Men were rounded up and killed. Mass graves have been found, as well as underground dungeons where women were kept as sex slaves.

Kurdish forces discovered more than six mass graves in Sinjar after recapturing the Iraqi town from Islamic State last year. Reuters

In the weeks following the insurgency, the world watched in horror as 40,000 members of religious minority groups were stranded on the Sinjar mountainside without food, water or sanitation. Some were Christians and Shia Muslims, but the majority were followers of Yazidism – an offshoot of Zoroastrianism, which blends ancient religious traditions with both Christianity and Islam. Yazidis, native to the northern Mesopotamian region where they have worshipped for millennia, have been targeted relentlessly by ISIS, who consider them to be "devil-worshippers".

Food and water drops were made by international agencies, but at least 300 people, most of them children, perished in the blistering temperatures. And two years on, the Yazidi community remains vulnerable to ISIS' advance. There were once more than 600,000 Yazidis in Northern Iraq, but there are now believed to be fewer than half that number. Thousands have been killed, and many more are forced to live hand-to-mouth in Iraqi refugee camps, or have fled further afield to Europe.

The European Parliament and the US administration has declared ISIS' atrocities against Yazidis, Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East to be genocide. The UK has failed to follow suit, though MPs voted unanimously in favour of the label in the House of Commons last month. Prime Minister David Cameron has said he hopes that the word 'genocide' will be used, but maintains that it is a matter for the International Criminal Court.

This isn't the first time the Yazidi community has been persecuted – staggeringly, they say this is the 74th time they have been the target of genocide. But despite a troubled history, none believed they could suffer to the extent they have under ISIS.

"We are a peaceful religion. We have no intention to take power, and we would prefer to be killed than converted," Qirani said, speaking through an interpreter. "The attack by ISIS was unexpected, unpredictable, and we thought that if such a thing would happen, there are foreign forces – the United States and the UK – who would intervene directly and stop such atrocities. But they came too late."

The religious council insisted that forgiveness is the only way forward for Iraq. Amar Foundation

The delegation insisted they were thankful for the eventual intervention of Western forces, however. Without the US-led coalition air strikes, they said, the entire Yazidi and Christian community in Iraq may have been wiped out. But they called for stronger action: "We thank God that finally the air strikes came. Not only for Yazidis, but for Christians the same. Their [ISIS'] plan was to eliminate all minorities. It's time for this evil to be eliminated and stopped in its place."

Amar Foundation

Revenge, though, remarkably isn't on their radar. In the aftermath of the Sinjar massacre, there were some reports of Yazidis extracting revenge on local Arab villages, but the senior religious leaders insisted that reconciliation is the only way forward for Iraq.

"We must learn from each other how to forgive, and remove the darkness which is prevailing on this earth," Farooq Khalil Basheer, a member of the Yazidian religious council, said. "We must accept each other, and forgive, like brothers. That's the most important thing – how to live peacefully with each other."

There was some discussion, and disagreement, about whether this was possible, given the scale of the atrocities against Yazidis, Christians and others. "This is our dream, but it's not possible. Not possible," Jameel Sulaiman Haider, an advisor to the religious council, said.

"God is there to punish the evil deeds of human beings," Basheer added, but he emphasised the importance of forgiveness. Without it, he suggested, there is no hope for Iraq's future.

Part of the reason the delegation were in London, supported by the Amar Foundation, was because the Yazidi leaders want to urge the international community to create a "marshal plan" for when ISIS is eventually defeated. The council has already begun to make changes in its own community. Reports surfaced last year that claimed women and girls taken captive and used as sex slaves by ISIS militants were having secret abortions and vaginal surgery to avoid being ostracised by their own communities when they escaped and returned home. Yazidi leaders therefore issued an official law which said women who had been raped and abused by ISIS must be welcomed back without fear of discrimination.

"They were raped, enslaved, assauted. Why should we treat them like them [ISIS]?" Basheer said.

"They are members of our community and we respect them. nobody is an outsider."

"We want the UK to acknowledge these attacks as genocide against the Yazidis, but [also] to move beyond that border," added Dr Mamou Othman, a former Iraqi minister and now director of the European Studies Centre at the University of Dohuk. "When ISIS is defeated, and Iraq is liberated, how do we let people go back? And more than that, how to give them a feeling of security that they can continue living there. We don't want our people to leave the country."

The delegation were adamant that it be made possible for Yazidis, Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East to live there in peace without fear of persecution. Yazidism, Basheer explained, holds connection with the land highly. It is therefore vital that Yazidis remain living in their Mesopotamian homeland. "We are hoping that the UK government will be involved more and try to do more for the indigenous of Mesopotamia to let them continue their lives and practise their festivals, their rituals, their religions, because we are connected with the land," Basheer said.

"Our shrines are there, our festivals, our rights and rituals, everything. If we go abroad, we are afraid they will be lost.

"It's just like a tree without roots, it will die."

The religious council were in the UK supported by the AMAR International Charitable Foundation. For more information on their latest appeal on behalf of persecuted communitues in Iraq, click here.


She escaped Islamic State captivity. Now, Nadia Murad is giving a voice to persecuted Yazidis

Yazidi activist Nadia Murad has written a new memoir called The Last Girl.

This article was published more than 3 years ago. Algumas informações podem não ser mais atuais.

It's time for Nadia Murad to figure out what comes next.

Ms. Murad, 24, is the United Nations' first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. She's also a survivor herself: In 2014, she was kidnapped during an Islamic State attack on Sinjar, the northern Iraq region that is the ancestral home of her people, the Yazidis.

The Yazidi faith combines elements of the Abrahamic religions and Zoroastrianism, and has long made them targets – they count themselves the victims of 74 genocidal attacks over the last eight centuries. This last one obliterated the community: of the 400,000 Yazidis estimated to live in the area at the time, only about 1,000 families remain.

A história continua abaixo do anúncio

Some refugees have been placed internationally, including about 800 in Canada, but most survivors now live hand-to-mouth in camps. That's still a better fate than that met by those murdered and dumped in mass graves, the thousands still missing, or the boys raised to be child soldiers. Ms. Murad was one of thousands of Yazidi women and girls sold as "sabaya," or sex slaves.

In a new memoir, The Last Girl, Ms. Murad recounts enduring sickening humiliation and violence before escaping out of an open window and sneaking into Kurdish-held territory with the help of a poor Sunni Muslim family. These are horrors she has been reliving continually since they first happened as she has travelled the world trying to convince politicians, diplomats and regular people to help the Yazidis.

"This book, that can be a conclusion for telling her story in detail," said Abid Shamdeen, Ms. Murad's translator, during a phone call from New York. "She's thought about taking a little break after this and just slowing down from this work."

Her book comes out this week, just as the IS caliphate appears to be defeated in most of Iraq and Syria. Even so, to consider a life beyond relentless advocacy is a turning point for Ms. Murad. She writes that her drive came both out of a desire to see justice for her people and a sense of hopelessness after shattering loss. Six of her brothers and her mother were murdered. A niece was killed by an IED while trying to escape.

Family members are still unaccounted for and one of Ms. Murad's nephews has been brainwashed into becoming an IS soldier himself. "He said he was happy where he was," Ms. Murad said about the last time he called the family. Unable to imagine happiness again for herself, she became an unceasing advocate for her people's survival.

Her work has had results. Last spring, she testified at the United Nations and in September, the Security Council directed its investigators to collect evidence about crimes against the Yazidi perpetrated by IS, in order to build a case for genocide and war crimes.

But human-rights awards (she has been given the Vaclav Havel and Sakharov prizes, and was nominated for a Nobel) are small recognition of just how brave it was for Ms. Murad to tell her story. Centuries of persecution have made the Yazidis insular. They are a rural, modest people who don't accept converts and consider premarital sex a great shame.