Plight of the Yazidis

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has designated December 9 as the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime. The UN adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on December 9, 1948. Today, 100 years after the Armenian Genocide and 67 years after the convention was passed, a full-scale Genocide is underway on territories occupied by ISIS.
By Irina Lamp
The Armenian Genocide was not the last mass massacre to take place in the history of humankind. Many more were to follow, including the Holocaust, the Indonesian killings, the Cambodian and the Rwandan Genocides. It seems that humanity has learned little from all of these tragedies: 100 years after the Armenian Genocide, the Yazidis are being exterminated with the same resolve and in the same brutal manner as Armenians at the dawn of the last century. Television journalist Düzen Tekkal witnessed the atrocities first-hand and captured them on camera during her journey from northern Iraq to southeastern Turkey.
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                                   Düzen Tekkal, photo by Markus Tedeskino


“As a German journalist, I would never have expected my life to take such a dramatic turn. When the barbaric followers of ISIS entered the Yazidi town of Sinjar on April 3, the lives of every Yazidi man, woman and child changed, including mine. Both my Yazidi origins and my profession left me no choice but to set out to northern Iraq and report that a Genocide was underway at the dawn of the 21st century, with everybody watching from the sidelines,” says Düzen Tekkal, who has been a freelance journalist since 2014. In order to help the Yazidi people she founded the Hawar Association. In Kurdish, “hawar” means “cry for help” and is synonymous with Genocide.  
Entirely cut off from the outside world, approximately 10,000 Yazidis were encircled by ISIS militants in the Sinjar Mountains, the highest and largest segment of which lies east of the Syrian border and west of Mosul in northern Iraq. All in all, as many as 50,000 had fled into the mountains to a Yazidi shrine in pursuit of safety. A high number of those refugees died of starvation and dehydration.

              Refugees fleeing to the Sinjar Mountains after the invasion of ISIS militants


“The Yazidi Genocide didn’t come as a surprise: early warning signs were ignored because there is no support group for the Yazidis. They have no lobby. I reproach the international community for bearing a share of the responsibility, because it wouldn’t listen to the cautionary words of many Yazidis,” the 36-year old journalist says. Because the Yazidis were not allowed to possess firearms, they faced execution when the Peshmerga fighters, responsible for their protection, fled advancing ISIS troops. A former pacifist, Düzen says, “A survival strategy must consist of the Yazidis being given the ability to defend themselves by arming them. Moreover, they need a safety zone, blue helmets and education. Being denied self-defense and left without protection is what led to the fatal repercussions.”
ISIS militants are persecuting the Yazidis for having a different faith, which the latter refuse to give up. “Seldom have I met seven-year-old girls who say with deep conviction that they would rather die than convert. These words impressed me enormously,” Düzen says. The Yazidis are an independent monotheistic religious group, which bears considerable similarities to Christianity. Considered devil worshippers, those who had fallen into the hands of ISIS during the invasion of their settlements were brutally mistreated, murdered and abused. The number of atrocities committed runs into the thousands.

Defense units of YPG (People's Protection Units), back from the Sinjar Mountains, gather at the military Base of Peshmerga in Dayrabun


There are about one million Yazidis in the world, half of whom are on the run today. Originally, they mainly settled in northern Iraq and Syria, but also in southeastern Turkey, where Armenians once used to live. Today, most of the Yazidi areas are controlled by ISIS.
“The history of both Armenians and Yazidis is a sad one: the two people share the same suffering due to persecution. I remember my grandmother telling me that she took in Armenians back in the days, around the year 1914, when they were being persecuted. Yazidis and Armenians offered each other protection. Unfortunately, our ancestors couldn’t live in dignity because of the constant threat in the Muslim countries that were their homes. My grandmother also told me that she preferred to do her shopping in places owned by Armenians,” Düzen recalls. 
Unlike the Armenians, the Yazidis were largely spared genocidal massacres 100 years ago. “I suppose it can be attributed to the fact that they have always lived in total seclusion, keeping their religious life a secret. They have always shied away from public life or education. For 1,000 years, the Yazidis have been practicing their apolitical religion, passed down orally from generation to generation. They preferred not to send their children to school for fear of Islamization, whereas Armenians always attached great importance to education and insisted on living their religion openly and being proud of their heritage. This was their undoing,” Düzen says. Although the Yazidis have kept a low profile, harm has been inflicted upon them time and again: up to 72 massacres have been carried out against the religious minority in the course of human history. “The world has just been made aware of the barbaric, terrorist tactics used by ISIS, but the Yazidis have been accustomed to them for a long time,” Düzen says.
“The only difference between the Yazidi and the Armenian Genocides are the numbers: while the former may have claimed relatively few victims, the latter cost the lives of one and a half million people. How does one explain the rape of eight-year-old girls? How does one look into the eyes of children who lost both parents within minutes, for no reason other than being Yazidi, as I am? I captured the horror on camera so that no one could plead ignorance in the future. It’s my firm conviction that we all have a responsibility for what we see,” Düzen explains.

Düzen at a refugee camp in the northern Iraqi of region Kurdistan with children, most of them orphans


Today, Düzen tries to raise global awareness about massacres and Genocides through Hawar: she appears on television, addresses the German Parliament and speaks to high school students. Her documentary film will soon be shown in movie theaters. “I don’t want the Yazidi Genocide to be nothing but a trivial item of breaking news that slides into oblivion the very moment another item on the agenda takes over the news cycle. I want it to be engraved in everybody’s memory, I don’t want people to ever forget that it was the Yazidis who were struck by misfortune, and that it can easily be everybody else next time. We must be a constant and powerful reminder of how important it is to intervene wherever injustice is being done.”


Header image: a Yezidian girl at a refugee camp in Diyarbakir, southeastern Anatolia.

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A Genocide underway at the dawn of the 21st century