MESOP : MUTLU CIVIROGLU’S COMMENTARY : Kurds denounce ISIL’s attacks on Yezidis

Iraq’s Yezidi population is facing a humanitarian disaster following ISIL’s advances, monitoring groups say.

By Mutlu Civiroglu for SES Türkiye — 08/08/14 – SES Turkiye – ISIL took control of the predominantly Yezidi town of Sinjar in Iraq following brief clashes with Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces on August 3rd. Upwards of 200,000 civilians fled, many of them without sufficient food, water, or medicine, the UN said in a statement. Journalists and citizens in the area have accused ISIL of massacring Yezidi civilians and destroying Yezidi holy sites.

“We’re extremely concerned about ISIL’s attacks on our Yezidi people,” Diyarbakir Bar Association chairman Tahir Elci told SES Türkiye. “We hope the occupation of Sinjar and other Yezidi areas will end as soon as possible. This is a problem for all of humanity, not only the Kurds. That’s why everyone must be conscientious, and the international community must immediately demand an end to this massacre.” Tens of thousands of Yezidi civilians have escaped to Sinjar Mountain, where they are now reportedly surrounded by ISIL and running short on basic supplies. Peshmerga forces as well as fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and People’s Defence Forces (HPG) have mobilised to expel ISIL from the area, according to the Firat News Agency, but the humanitarian crisis on Sinjar Mountain continues to deteriorate. Yezidi children have started to die “as a direct consequence of violence, displacement and dehydration,” the UN children’s fund (UNICEF) said in a statement, citing official reports.  “The reported deaths of 40 children from minority groups who were displaced from Sinjar city and district by armed violence are of extreme concern,” UNICEF said. “Families who fled the area are in immediate need of urgent assistance, including up to 25,000 children who are now stranded in mountains surrounding Sinjar and are in dire need of humanitarian aid including drinking water and sanitation services.”Amnesty International (AI) also issued a statement calling for humanitarian assistance for Yezidi civilians, saying hundreds are missing and are feared to be dead or abducted. “The civilians trapped in the mountain area are not only at risk of being killed or abducted by [ISIL], they are also suffering from a lack of water, food and medical care. They are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance,” said Donatella Rovera, AI’s senior crisis response adviser, who is currently in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

The Yezidis, who refer to themselves as Ezidis, are a Kurdish non-Muslim population living predominantly in the Sinjar (Şengal) region near Mosul. A sizable Yezidi population also lives in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Lales, where the most important Yezidi holy site is located. In Turkey, small numbers of Yezidis live in Batman, Sanliurfa, Mardin, and Diyarbakir. Others live in Syria, Armenia, and Georgia, as well as Europe and the United States.  Yezidi religious traditions, including prayers and holy books, are administered in the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish. In recent years especially, the Yezidis have been accepted as an important element of the broader Kurdish identity. Civil society groups and political parties marched through the streets of Diyarbakir on Tuesday to denounce ISIL’s attacks on Sinjar. Wednesday saw mass demonstrations in Sanliurfa’s Viransehir county, which is home to Yezidi villages, as well as Istanbul and Van.

Temure Xelil, a Yezidi historian and writer living in Sweden, called on Kurds to support their Yezidi brethren. “The tragic situation the Yezidis find themselves in shows that they definitely need a force to defend themselves,” he told SES Türkiye. “The Iraq Kurdistan Region and all Kurds must support this force. In co-operation with Kurdish forces, they must forestall the danger posed by ISIL.”  ISIL is disgracing Islam by assaulting different religious communities in Iraq and Syria, said Diyarbakir Journalists’ Society chairman Veysi Ipek. “Now ISIL is attacking the Yezidis. It’s also unfortunate that they’re debasing Islam by disrespecting human values and stirring up fear,” he told SES Türkiye. “These ISIL attacks on Yezidis are totally unacceptable. Yezidism is a culture that the world needs to protect.”  Kurds are not the only ones concerned about ISIL. Mim Yavuz Binbay, president of the Arabic Aramean-Syriac Union of Diyarbakir, said ISIL must not be conflated with the Arab people. “It’d be erroneous to see ISIL as an Arab organisation, because ISIL was not established in accordance with the dynamics of Arab society. They’re parallel soldiers assembled by those who wish to interfere in this region,” he told SES Türkiye.  “We see ISIL as the enemy of Arabs, Armenians, Syriac Christians, Kurds, Turkmen, and everyone else who lives there. The fact that they emerged in the Middle East and fight in the name of Islam doesn’t make them an Arab organisation.”

What should regional governments and organisations do to protect the Yezidis and confront ISIL? Share your thoughts in the comments area.