Mount Sinjar crisis:
Last week, some 40,000 Yazidi refugees were forced to face the prospect of starvation as they took on the harsh conditions of Mount Sinjar after being driven from their homes by ISIS militants. On Sunday, the Kurds broke through the siege of Mount Sinjar and rescued 20,000 Yazidis. A look at the region, the location of the militants and possible escape routes:
The Yazidis are one of the world’s smallest and oldest monotheistic religious minorities. Yazidi translates into “worshippers of god”. Their religion is considered a pre-Islamic sect that draws from Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. The Yazidis believe in a supreme being named Yasdan, whose seven great spirits include the Peacock Angel named Malek Tawwus.
Yasdan cannot be worshipped directly, and is considered a passive force — the creator of the world, not the preserver. According to Yazidi belief, Malek Tawwus is a fallen angel, but unlike Satan, he was restored to grace. They have thus been misunderstood and persecuted across Middle East as ‘devil worshippers’.
They revere both the Bible and Quran, but much of their own tradition is oral. Children are baptised with consecrated water by a pir (priest). In December, Yazidis fast for three days, before drinking wine with the pir.
They practise animal sacrifice and circumcision, and do not believe in heaven or hell but reincarnation.
There are about 600,000 Yazidis worldwide. The Iraqi Yazidi population is thought to be 400,000-500,000.
A vast majority is concentrated in northern Iraq, in and around Sinjar.
The Sinjar mountains are known to be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark as per local legends.
Ethnically, Yazidis are often identified as Kurds as they speak Kurdish.
Under Ottoman rule in the 18th and 19th centuries alone, the Yazidis were subject to 72 genocidal massacres.
The Kurdish and the Yazidis have had a complicated past, but the Kurds have usually offered their protection.
During Saddam Hussein’s rule, many of their settlements were razed and their inhabitants forced into “collective villages” as a buffer against the Kurds.
When Saddam was ousted in 2003, it first benefited minorities like the Yazidis. But as al-Qaeda began to take control, the community was targeted.
In 2007, coordinated bomb blasts in a village killed 800 Yazidis.
For centuries, the Yazidis have hid from threats in the mountains. That’s why approximately 40,000 Yazidis fled to Mount Sinjar when the city of Sinjar was lost to ISIS.
ISIS has also captured many other Yazidi shrines.
Yazidis are organised around distinct norms. It’s often referred to as a caste system, but it is more based on religious duties.
Every Yazidi is born either into a clergy family or a layman family, the two major social groups. Among the clergy families, there are two sub-sets: the sheikhs and the pirs.
Sheikhs preside over major holidays and pirs take the lead on life-cycle events like birth.
Yazidis do not practise arranged marriage, but a system of ‘formal’ elopement where a man must kidnap his bride.
They never wear the colour blue or eat lettuce. The Yazidi culture has featured numerous bans related to speech, behaviour and food. The most universal of these is a ban on saying ‘Shaitan (Satan)’.
The bulk of the people from Sinjar fled north towards Irbil and other Kurdish-held areas. Those who remained climbed the mountain when armed clashes began. As many as 500 Yazidis are known to have been killed in the town.
Last Wednesday, ISIS forces shelled Christian towns north of the Sinjar Mountains, displacing thousands.
The food and water they took with them to the mountains depleted quickly. At least 60 children have died of dehydration.
Compiled by Aleesha Matharu