SEATTLE — The Yazidi people are a small Kurdish-speaking minority ethnic group residing in northern Iraq with a heritage steeped in a 4,000-year-old faith. Considered by many to be the oldest religion in the world, Yazidism blends elements from pre-Zoroastrian roots, Islam and Christianity as well.
Since the rise of the Islamic State in 2014, there has been a great persecution of minority groups in the region. The battle against the self-declared caliphate reached a height in 2017. Joint U.K. and U.S.-led coalition forces have made great headway in providing aid and liberating large swaths of previously IS-dominated territory. Though not widely known, the threat of mass displacement and the plight of the Yazidis are especially grave concerns. The death toll of this minority group passed 3,100 in 2017, with many individuals still either lost or unaccounted for.
Of the 700,000 Yazidis globally, there are an estimated 600,000 currently living in Iraq. Nearly 85 percent of them are refugees. Unfortunately, they face a long history of oppression in the region, as there are major constraints on their culture, language and practices. The unfortunate plight of the Yazidis is almost akin to a genocide.
Given the scale of the problem, the plight of the Yazidis remains serious. A majority of them are scattered across the Syrian-Iraqi border. The Iraq-Syria border and the cities of Dohuk and Sinjar are at the forefront of the Yazidi problem. Given its proximity to the Iraqi city of Mosul, Sinjar was left defenseless after falling to IS in 2014.
The enslavement of Yazidi women and children remains the biggest issue associated with the problem. Nearly 3,000 Yazidi women continue to be held captive by IS forces. The disturbing and egregious accounts of escaped victims highlight the presence of sex trafficking in Sinjar, Dohuk and other parts of Iraq. The Kurdistan and Sinjar Women’s Protection Units are realizing the importance of protecting Yazidi women. Women recruits are being trained to defend themselves better and participate in rescue initiatives.
The Turkish Red Crescent has played a pivotal role to combat the problem throughout the course of the conflict. As an important regional partner, Turkey’s management and access to the problem remains strategic. In 2014, Turkey built a refugee camp with the capacity to accommodate over 16,000 Yazidis. Turkey also provided humanitarian aid to cater to the immediate needs of the people. Over 20,000 blankets were given to homeless Yazidis.
Furthermore, USAID is also focusing its aid efforts on minority groups in the Middle East. USAID and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also jointly consented to concentrating on the recovery of minority groups. The UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilization was also reviewed.
As many Yazidi Muslims have fled the city of Sinjar, a majority of them are taking refuge in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. The restoration and reconstruction of the city of Sinjar can only begin with cooperation between the Kurdistan regional government, the Iraqi government, and the international community. Resettlement agendas should also continue to be a key objective in alleviating the effects of the conflict.
Given the sheer size of the growing humanitarian crisis facing key stakeholder groups in Iraq, it is vital to address the plight of the Yazidis. This will bring about a new and important phase in mitigating the impacts of the IS problem in the region as it focuses on the recovery and protection of important minority groups.
– Shivani Ekkanath