Yazidis in Iraq Facing Difficulties

The Economist – 13-11-2013 – SINCE far back in time Yazidis have gathered every year at Lalish, a village in Iraqi Kurdistan, to celebrate the Feast of Assembly, their faith’s most important annual rite. Yet this year the minority’s conical temples and tombs stood empty. Even Baba Sheikh, the Yazidis’ leader, was too afraid to attend the seven-day festival.

A recent upswing in violence has pushed Iraq’s monthly death toll close to 1,000. The region around the capital, Baghdad, has borne the brunt of the carnage. But attacks have also increased in the relatively peaceful Kurdish autonomous region in the north, where much of Iraq’s Yazidi community of 70,000-300,000 lives.They have reason to be fearful. In bordering districts of Iraq proper, such as the city of Mosul and the Sinjar region to the west, armed Islamist groups have often singled out Yazidis as targets. On August 14th 2007, nearly 800 people perished when four massive car bombs flattened two Yazidi villages, the bloodiest single incident since the American invasion in 2003.

The Kurdish-speaking Yazidis are a double minority in Iraq; they are both non-Arab and non-Muslim. Their esoteric faith dates back 4000 years and incorporates Sufi practices and more recently Christian baptism. Its central belief is in seven angels, the most controversial of which is Melek Taus, a fallen angel. This has led some Muslims to accuse them of being devil-worshippers and infidels.

Persecution under Saddam Hussein drove thousands of Iraqi Yazidis to Europe. Many more have fled since the dictator’s fall, as surrounding communities of Sunni Muslims have radicalised and spawned groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an al-Qaeda affiliate. With the central government in Baghdad now losing its grip across a swathe of Sunni-majority territory, such groups have increasingly free rein to impose their will. On September 29th a series of explosions shook Erbil, the Iraqi Kurds’ capital.The civil war in neighbouring Syria is now having a similar effect, with fighting in the country’s north-east pitting Kurds against Islamist radicals. Over the past year nearly all of Syria’s small Yazidi community has streamed across the border to Iraqi Kurdistan. “I don’t think I’ll go back,” says Ahmed Suleiman Rasho, a former local official from Hasaka in north-east Syria, some of whose relatives drowned while trying to make it across the sea to Europe. “There is nothing left here for us.” http://www.economist.com