BAGHDAD, Iraq — Approximately 20,000 Yazidis in Iraq were rescued from ISIS last week after they had been trapped on a mountain top fighting for survival. The victims were led to a safe location, close to the Syrian boarder, and were assisted by Kurdish rebels who crossed from Syria to rescue them.
ISIS, the terror-inspiring militant group also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is continuing to gain control in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has been wreaking havoc since the group flourished during the civil war in Syria, violently targeting religious minority groups with the intention of creating an independent Islamic state.
The refugees walked over a mountain range into Syria and then continued through the Peshkabour, ending their long journey north-west of Irbil. Kurdish officials met the weary travelers with food and shelter.
Apart from the brave assistance from the YPG, the rebel Syrian Kurdish group that came to the rescue, Yazidis were also able to escape due to strategic U.S. air strikes on ISIS positions. Air strikes caused ISIS to withdraw from the area for six hours that day.
Another 20,000 Yazidis remain stranded on Mount Sinjar, trapped and lacking food, water and shelter. The innocent people that remain are thought to be on the southern side of the 60-mile long ridge, unable to reach the passage that Kurdish fighters secured for the recently rescued.
Yazidis are not the only religious minority to be targeted. Christians, Turkmen and Shabaj Shias have all ben forced to abandon the homes and land they have occupied for thousands of years.
Nearly 50,000 Yazidis, half of them children, were forced to either flee the town of Sinjar or face death by the knife. Religious minorities have been ordered by ISIS to flee, convert to Islam or be slaughtered.
Even when families do convert to Islam at the hand of ISIS, the men are forced to join the fighters while their wives are handed over to the Jihadists for disposal.
Yazidis are one of the world’s oldest religious groups. Considered to be a pre-Islamist sect, the Yazidi religion draws from Christianity, Judaism and the ancient monotheistic religion of Zoroastrianism. ISIS accuses the religious community of worshipping the devil.
Faced with starvation, thirst and extreme temperatures, the Yazidis who remain on the mountain are dying by the day.
According to Kamil Amin, the spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights, estimates predict that as many as 500 Yazidis have been killed–some rumored to have been buried alive. Amin explained the grim situation stating, “We have heard reports from activists and local journalists that some families were buried alive.”
The United States has been launching airstrikes on ISIS militants since last Sunday, destroying ISIS vehicles. Humanitarian aid, including food, water and first aid supplies from the U.S., Turkey and the U.K., is being delivered via airdrop to assist those stranded on the mountain.
It is difficult to imagine that others could have it worse than the Yazidis starving on the mountainside. However, some are not lucky enough to flee.
Last week, hundreds of Yazidi women were abducted, a separate incident from those facing death on the mountain top. Women are being held in schools in the city of Mosul while others are being forced into slavery.
Mark Arabo, national spokesman for Iraqi Christians and Chaldean-American businessmen, recently stated that the “evil” actions carried out by ISIS now includes the horrific beheading of children.
In an interview with CNN, Arbo elaborated on the nightmarish scene stating, “They are systematically beheading children, and mothers and fathers. The world hasn’t seen an evil like this for a generation. There’s actually a park in Mosul that they’ve actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick.”
Risalah Shirkani, a Yazidi woman who escaped to Duhok in Iraq’s Kurdish north, described her religion’s persecution, noting that this discrimination is not new. Shirkani observed that “This is not the first time this has happened to us. History is a witness to that. After this ordeal, Yazidis don’t feel safe in Iraq, or even in Kurdistan any more.”
She explained the sickening situation for her people stating, “some of my relatives were kidnapped by ISIS. Others were beheaded and yet more fell off the mountain. There were pregnant women giving birth and children dying from dehydration, diarrhea and fever.”
While the situation remains dreadful, after more than a week of losing ground and facing accusations that they had left the Yazidis to die, Kurdish forces seized three villages 25 miles southwest of Irbil yesterday, which ISIS fighters had been attempting to take over.
Although it is difficult to appreciate good news given the horror and innocent bloodshed, the Kurdish forces, with the help of U.S. airstrikes, provide religious minorities hope in midst of tragedy.
– Caroline Logan
Sources: CNN 1, BBC, CNN 2, Christian Examiner, The Guardian
Photo: Huffington Post