Show­ing re­silience

The Yazidis and their future at home

Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By GLENN FIELD

The Yazidis are the one of the old­est mi­nor­ity groups in Iraq and through­out the Mid­dle East. They do not just have their own eth­nic clas­si­fi­ca­tion but their own religion as well, which dates back be­fore Is­lam and Chris­tian­ity. Although they are monothe­ists, the dif­fer­ences be­tween their religion and Is­lam has been a cause of ten­sion be­tween them and their Mus­lim neigh­bors for cen­turies. Num­ber­ing ap­prox­i­mately 700,000 peo­ple, through­out their his­tory the Yazidis have been cen­tral­ized in North­ern Iraq and more specif­i­cally, in and around the Sin­jar re­gion.

Tra­di­tion­ally, mi­nor­ity groups have had a his­tory of am­bi­gu­ity in terms of se­cu­rity through­out the Mid­dle East. For the past two years, due to the rise of Is­lamic State (ISIS), the Yazidis are fac­ing po­ten­tial an­ni­hi­la­tion or ex­pul­sion of their en­tire com­mu­nity. The pos­si­ble dec­i­ma­tion of the Yazidis has been termed a geno­cide by the United Na­tions be­cause it is not just a mat­ter of num­bers of those who have been mur­dered; the en­tire com­mu­nity might be de­stroyed as well. ISIS’s ter­ri­tory con­sists of Syria and Iraq. Ninety per­cent of the his­toric Yazidi ter­ri­tory is based in the Mo­sul prov­ince, while the city of Mo­sul has been one of the most sig­nif­i­cant ISIS strongholds. Parts of the Sin­jar re­gion for ex­am­ple have only re­cently been re­cov­ered by the Pesh­merga forces (Iraqi Kur­dis­tan’s mil­i­tary forces) af­ter be­ing con­quered by ISIS in Au­gust of 2014. With such on­go­ing con­tested land-grab­bing, one of the few Yazidi sites which was never un­der ISIS is the city of Lalesh, per­haps their most sa­cred holy site.

De­spite such vic­to­ries, 25% of the Sin­jar re­gion is still un­der ISIS con­trol. For the ar­eas which have been lib­er­ated, much of it has been deemed a mil­i­tary zone. Also, much of the in­fra­struc­ture of these his­toric Yazidi vil­lages has been de­stroyed by fight­ing. To make the lo­gis­tics of re­turn­ing even more com­pli­cated, when the ISIS fight­ers fled, many left be­hind shrewdly-made mines hid­den through­out the vil­lages. Now, in ad­di­tion to re­build­ing, the Pesh­merga have to dem­ine the vil­lages as well. The Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Gov­ern­ment (KRG) has de­clared re­build­ing the Yazidi com­mu­nity a pri­or­ity, par­tic­u­larly its holy places. Un­for­tu­nately for the Yazidis how­ever, the KRG is cur­rently strug­gling to pro­duce the fund­ing needed and the Iraqi central gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad has re­fused to as­sist, on top of con­tin­u­ing to with­hold the 17% of the con­sti­tu­tional bud­get the KRG is en­ti­tled to.

In ad­di­tion to the ob­sta­cles that comes with re­gain­ing Yazidi ter­ri­tory as men­tioned above, the com­mu­nity faces an­other predica­ment. The com­mu­nity at large is fear­ful of such a threat re­turn­ing. Many from the com­mu­nity sought refuge else­where, such as Europe, Canada and the United States. A re­ported 75,000 peo­ple have al­ready fled abroad since ISIS’s es­tab­lish­ment. Ac­cord­ing to KRG mem­ber Khari Bozani, the Yazidi com­mu­nity as­so­ci­ates its neigh­bors, pre­dom­i­nantly Sunni Arabs, with re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism.

In places such as Lalesh how­ever, the Yazidis have found both spir­i­tual so­lace and se­cu­rity dur­ing times of per­se­cu­tion. The fo­cal point of Lalesh is the sanc­tu­ary and the shrine-tomb of the great Yazidi re­former Sheikh Adi. Lalesh also has the tombs ded­i­cated to six of the Great An­gels who took in­car­na­tion with Sheikh Adi.

Ev­ery year, there is a pil­grim­age in Lalesh for the Yazidi New Year, which takes place in spring. It is called “Char­shama Sur” which means “Red Wed­nes­day.” The hol­i­day is a joy­ous event. Along the way, en­tire fam­i­lies gather along the road set­ting up pic­nics and smoking shisha (hookah). In the heart of the city it­self, which is only about 200 me­ters in di­am­e­ter, peo­ple are jammed to­gether, rub­bing shoul­der to shoul­der. There is no main ac­tiv­ity; no one danc­ing or singing. Peo­ple just hang out and en­joy each other’s com­pany.

What was sig­nif­i­cant about this year how­ever, de­spite the com­mu­nity’s dis­per­sion in the past two years, was that Lalesh had a record-break­ing turnout. KRG mem­ber Bowzani’s ra­tio­nale for the high at­ten­dance was the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of a few fac­tors. The first be­ing that since ISIS, many of the Yazidis who did not flee abroad were forced to move into dis­place­ment camps lo­cated near Duhok, which is con­ve­niently near Lalesh. In the be­gin­ning, most of the camps were poorly or­ga­nized and lacked ba­sic services such as ac­cess to elec­tric­ity and water. The camps were also un­clean and plagued with in­ces­sant dust and garbage. Most im­por­tantly, the camps lacked ba­sic health services which re­sulted in com­pli­ca­tions such ram­pant skin disease.

The sec­ond rea­son for the high turnout dur­ing Char­shama Sur is the re­main­ing com­mu­nity’s ded­i­ca­tion to re­vival. Mak­ing the an­nual pil­grim­age to Lalesh has be­come a sym­bol of re­silience which many feel is part of their na­tional iden­tity. Yazidi lead­ers are try­ing to do sev­eral things si­mul­ta­ne­ously, and par­tic­u­larly to re­unite the com­mu­nity and pre­pare against future threats. “Not the first time... not the last” is com­mon phrase used among the com­mu­nity with re­gards to their per­se­cu­tion. The num­ber 74 is an­other sym­bol of sig­nif­i­cance in the com­mu­nity, rep­re­sent­ing the ap­prox­i­mately 74 times they have had to flee and then re­turn. For such rea­sons, 7,500 Yazidis have joined the Pesh­merga. These mea­sures to take con­trol of their future are small in com­par­i­son to the chal­lenges they face. When asked if the Yazidis could ever feel safe in their home­land, KRG mem­ber Bowzani an­swered, “In the near future, no.”

The au­thor is a writer and teacher work­ing in Erbil, Iraqi Kur­dis­tan. He has a bach­e­lors in psy­chol­ogy and a masters in con­flict res­o­lu­tion and me­di­a­tion from Tel Aviv Univer­sity.

(Reuters)

WHERE WILL she re­turn to? Yazidi fe­male fighter Asema Dahir, 21, poses with a teddy bear in a bedroom at a site near the front­line of the fight against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in Nawaran near Mo­sul, Iraq, in April.

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