The Sinjar Massacre is a clear reminder of the plight the Yazidis face.
For centuries, they faced hatred and 72 attempts of genocide. The reason behind their plight is their faith and beliefs.
To this day, they continue to be strong in their beliefs and traditions with no sign of conversion.
The Yazidis follow a syncretic religion. Their religion encompasses aspects of ancient Iranian religions, Judaism, Nestorian, Christianity, and Islam.
Their followers are across the world, predominately in the Middle East, with Iraq being their original location.
A chief sheikh acts as the supreme religious leader.
An emir, or prince, is the secular head.
The origin of the Yazidis, just like their numbers, is unknown, but there are many theories.
One states that the religion was founded by an Umayyad sheikh. Another is that the religion derived from Zoroastrianism (an ancient Persian faith founded by a philosopher), Christianity and Islam.
The Yazidis believe in God creating mankind. However, He isn’t active in maintaining mankind, and instead, He delegates his powers. He manifests himself in three different forms known as the Holy Trinity.
The first is Tawûsî Melek, the Peacock Angel, the main representative.
The second is a young man, Sultan Êzi.
The third is an old man, Sheikh ‘Adī, the reformed prophet of the Yazidi religion.
Along with Tawûsî Melek are six other angels: Fexreddin, Shex Shems, Nasirdin, Sijadin, Şêxobekir, and Shex Hesen.
God delegates His powers to the seven angels. These angles created the planets and animals.
The angels regularly come down to bring new rules to the nations. The sheikh’s families are said to be descendants of the angels.
The Yazidis believe in the transmigration of souls. Seven individuals of high spiritual rank are incarnations of the seven holy beings.
After death, the souls must pass into successive bodily forms. The Yazidis believe that gradual purification is possible through continual rebirth. Therefore, Hell is redundant.
The worst fate is expulsion from the community because they will never progress. Conversion to another religion isn’t an option.
The Holy Trinity of the Yazidi
The first of seven angles created is Azrael, embodied as Tawûsî Melek. His position is the most important in directing worldly affairs. He dominates all deities and is the mediator between God and the Yazidis.
As God’s alter ego, the Yazidis pray to Azrael through banners of the Peacock Angel. The banners are in the form of a peacock. While carried through Yazidi territory, the followers sing his hymn, Qewle Tawûsî Melek (‘Hymn of Tawûsî Melek’).
The symbology of the peacock varies across religions.
For the Yazidis, it symbolizes immortality, rebirth, and the unification of opposites.
In Christianity, it means eternal life.
In Islam, the peacock represents architecture, textiles, metalwork, and ceramics of the early and medieval Islamic periods.
During the Ottoman period, it was the bird of Paradise.
Also known as caliph Yazidi, Sultan Êzi is the second embodiment of God. His position, however, in Yazidi history is unclear.
He’s worshipped as a divine spirit. His birthday is also one of the most important festivals. It gives divine permission for the Yazidis to drink wine and liquor attributed to him.
Sheikh ‘Adī bin Musafir
The third embodiment, and a great prophet, is Sheikh ‘Adī bin Musafir.
At 15 years old, he left home to seek his destiny in Baghdad, the center of culture, education, and politics in the Islamic faith. There, he met Sufi mystics and studied with them.
Five years later, he rode across a plain at night and an apparition appeared in front of him in the form of a camel, with traits of other animals. Then, the apparition turned into a boy with a peacock tail. The boy claimed to be Tawûsî Melek and named the young man a prophet in his own word.
The new prophet settled in Lalish and chose the Kurdish mountains for peace and quiet.
One percept of his way against books. It led the Yazidis to illiteracy until several decades ago.
At Lalish, he found zawaiya (sanctuary) for himself and his disciples to follow a contemplative life.
He died in 1162-63 and his tomb in Lalish is the holiest shrine.
Religious Practices of the Yazidis
Wednesdays and Fridays are their Holy Days.
There aren’t specific rituals, but the Yazidis do go to Holy places, mainly sacred buildings, to pray to the saints.
Their rituals and ceremonies are focused on becoming a Yazidi.
Biska para is the rite of the haircut for boys. A sheikh or pîr cuts a piece of the forelock when the boy is six months to one year old. The preserved cut forelock marks the boy as a Yazidi.
Mor kirin is a baptism done in the baptistery of Kanîya Spî of Lalish. Like Christian baptisms, a sheikh or pîr officiates the ceremony.
Accompanied by their godfather, a boy’s circumcision is 20 days after his baptism.
The fathers arranged the wedding (dawet). The young couple must both be of the Yazidi faith. The father escorted the bride from his house to the groom. During the wedding, a sheikh accompanies the groom.
Sheva dethineyê is the hen’s night.
A funeral is a mirin. They vary across regions, but certain practices remain the same.
First, the sheikh washes the body of the deceased. Then, they wrap it in a white shroud (kifin) and lay the deceased in the sarcophagus. Blessed oils are put in the mouth and the procession is accompanied by hymns.
Later, the family of the deceased consults a visionary about the deceased’s destiny. The visionary goes into a trance and then describes the vision. If the vision is negative, the family offers a sacrifice. If it’s positive, there’s a feast.
The Misconception of Yazidi Religion
The combining of various beliefs in the Yazidi religion marks them as non-conformists to Muslims. As a result, Islamic militant groups target the Yazidis, even though their practices resemble those of Islam.
From the 16th century, they were accused of devil worship. Tawûsî Melek has many names and one of them is Shaytan, which is also Arabic for ‘devil’. Hence the mislabelling of the Yazidis as devil worshippers.
In the 19th century, The Yazidis were targets of Ottoman and local Kurdish leaders. Brutal campaigns of religious violence followed.
Due to the attacks, the Yazidis remained concentrated in strongholds in remote mountain regions, a way for them to escape further religious persecution.
The Sinjar Massacre
August 3, 2014
The ISIS attack started at the foot of Mount Sinjar, the heartland of the Yazidi community. They regard the Yazidis as infidels, pagans, that aren’t welcomed in ISIS’s political-religious state.
Although this wasn’t the first attempt at genocide, it’s deemed the most successful.
ISIS fighters seized the towns and villages. Lightly armed Yazidi men stood as a defense in a last attempt for their families to flee. Their only escape was towards the upper slope of the mountain.
ISIS took control of all main roads and junctions. Checkpoints and mobile patrols were in search of fleeing Yazidi families. Those unable to flee were surrounded by ISIS fighters.
Within 72 hours of the attack, all villages were empty.
However, there was one village that lasted 12 days after the attack, on Kocho.
The residents of Kocho, a Yazidi village south of Sinjar, heard gunfire from the nearby villages. Some of their men stood to watch for unusual movements. If there were any, they reported it to the Peshmerga soldiers centered at the village school.
As ISIS advanced, the Peshmerga left Kocho to reinforce other units but didn’t return.
Hundreds of Yazidis with access to cars fled to the other slopes of the mountain. Some were rescued and others were captured.
ISIS entered Kocho with heavily armed men in cars and trucks, waving black flags around the village.
The senior commander of ISIS met with the village muktar (the headman), Sheikh Ahmad Jasso. The senior commander demanded villagers give up all weapons in their possession and remain in their homes.
The initial demand was for the village to convert to Islam or face execution. The Yazidi community leaders sought negotiations to avoid this, which they hoped would allow the Yazidis to leave safely. Thus, the 12-day negotiations began.
Kocho is the only Yazidi village known for this intense negotiation. It’s unknown why the ISIS senior commander agreed to this.
A possible resolution was for the Yazidis to give up their possessions for safe passage out of ISIS-controlled territory.
August 15, 2014
The attempts for the resolution failed through negotiations.
The senior commander ordered all remaining Yazidis to gather in the village school. Women and children were on the first floor. Men and adolescent boys remained on the ground floor.
This was the first stem to end the last intact Yazidi community in Sinjar.
The ISIS senior commander berated the men and boys for not converting to Islam. They surrendered all possessions and valuables.
Afterward, the ISIS fighters took the groups of men and boys to separate locations and executed them.
One site was close enough for the women and remaining children to hear the gunfire.
Women and children went to the underground floor. They added their jewelry and valuables to the pile left by their husbands.
ISIS fighters selected unmarried girls between the ages of 13 and 16 and separated them. The remaining Yazidis went to another village and were housed in the village school: married women and children were on the first floor and unmarried women and older girls remained on the ground floor.
Fighters continued to arrive, selecting and taking women from the ground floor.
Boys went to training camps and were given Muslim names as they were indoctrinated.
August 16, 2014
Women and girls were taken to the yard. Women who passed childbearing age were led away. Gunshots came first and then the screams of those that remained.
The remaining Yazidis were taken to ISIS-controlled holding sites. Soon, they joined other Yazidi women and children captured in Sinjar.
The Kurdish Peshmerga forces, with US-led air strikes, forced ISIS out of Sinjar. They found the mass graves after and realized the true nature of the massacre.
Three parties came together to excavate the graves: the Government of Iraq, the International Commission of Missing Persons, and the United Nations Investigative Team for the Promotion of Accountability.
Together, they forensically analyzed and identified the remains.
There is no confirmed body count.
The Aftermath of the Sinjar Massacre
Women and young girls are sold to ISIS fighters, forced into labor and sexual slavery, and beaten and starved.
There have been attempts to rescue them, but the challenge is bringing them to safety outside of ISIS-controlled territory.
200,000 Yazidis are still missing years after the Sinjar Massacre. It’s unclear if they are indeed missing or dead and the hope of returning to Sinjar is nearly impossible. The conflict with ISIS in 2017, and the destruction from 2014, made living conditions unbearable.
The lack of basic services, infrastructure, and aid prevented original residents from returning home. For years, they resided in camps.
Those rescued were reunited with their children. Various organizations and agencies are working with the Iraqi Government, such as the International Organizations of Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Support is provided for vital services to returnees and vulnerable populations in Sinjar.
Rescued women came forward, Layla Taloo, Kocher, and Goleh* about their experiences in ISIS camps and spread awareness of the fate that awaits many.
Additionally, Yazidi women are now fighting back to take Sinjar.
When identified, the deceased can return to Iraq. 104 returned.
Iraq’s parliament passed a law that recognizes the mass killings of Yazidis and other minority groups and promises compensation and other forms of support.
Drafted in 2020, the October Agreement addresses the issues preventing people from resuming their lives in Sinjar.
The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the Central Iraqi government signed the agreement that promises to strengthen the rebuilding and security of Sinjar, along with removing all armed groups.
However, the agreement proved inefficient. The residents, authorities, and activists weren’t widely consulted and there were various setbacks.
Firstly, there weren’t any clear timelines.
Secondly, guaranteed funding wasn’t stated.
Thirdly, it’s unknown who’s empowered to do what task.
The Yazidis continue to suffer from the Sinjar Massacre. Women and young girls are taken and sold and men and boys have their lives forcibly changed.
They wait for the day they can return home.
Nevertheless, after 72 attempts of annihilation over the centuries, they thrive. They continue to hold strongly to their beliefs.
Families are being reunited. Women and young girls are being saved. The violence and hatred shown towards them have never made them feel any less than who they are.
“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”
Johnathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects.