Early on the morning of August 3rd, 2014, the Islamic State began a coordinated assault on the Yezidi people of northern Iraq. Scores of villages on the west and northwest plains of Mosul were simultaneously attacked, leading to a unique humanitarian situation which briefly grabbed the attention of the world. However, while global news coverage quickly moved on to other issues and crises, the position of the Yezidi people remains precarious and their outlook dire.
Practicing an ancient monotheistic religion closely linked with Zoroastrianism, the Yezidi people are distinct from other groups in the region. Ethnically Kurds, they are religiously and politically disconnected from the larger Kurdish minority.
Setting the stage for the pre-planned attack, on August 2nd, the Islamic State captured a number of villages north of the isolated single ridge that makes up Sinjar Mountain, and more importantly, they also took control of the Syrian border town of Rabia. These moves effectively eliminated the only two escape options that were available to the Yezidi people of the northwest Mosul plain, and the next morning the assault began.
Within twelve hours of the initial attack, tens of thousands had fled to the rugged and inhospitable slopes of the mountain until the capture of Sinjar town eliminated even this questionable refuge as a possibility. For those who had fled to the mountain, the nightmare was only beginning. They spent days climbing the mountain on foot in the burning August sun without food, water or shelter. Children were left in piles to die, babies were dropped from cliffs with some mothers following them down. International humanitarian aid was eventually air dropped to the starving people below, but only after four days of exposure and extreme deprivation.
While having dropped almost completely out of the international spotlight, the Yezidi people remain one of the most vulnerable groups in the world’s greatest current area of instability.
While having dropped almost completely out of the international spotlight, the Yezidi people remain one of the most vulnerable groups in the world’s greatest current area of instability. Despite their ancient heritage and pacific lifestyle, they are at the top of the Islamic State’s terrorist and genocide hit list, and their lands remain divided by one of the principle battle lines with this seemingly indomitable force. Thousands of young Yezidi women continue to be traded in the Islamic State’s sex markets while their remaining living relatives languish in overcrowded refugee camps just behind the battle lines.
The international community should be doing more to assist this vulnerable community. However, with economies already over-stretched, and so many refugees pouring out of the broader region, it is difficult to mobilize further support. This being said, we as individuals can make a difference. Official decisions are often predicated on public outcry and support. If each of us will reach out to our foreign office or local government to notify them of this specific need, our united voices can make a difference.
Whether it be to support the ICC’s recognition of the Islamic State’s assault on the Yezidi people as genocide or to assist in providing material support to those who have lost everything at their hands, I hope you’ll join me in raising awareness about these vulnerable people and in helping to thwart the Islamic State’s plans for their future.