Up to a quarter of Iraq's Christians are reported to be fleeing after Islamic militants seized the minority group's biggest town. The Islamic State (IS) group captured Qaraqosh overnight after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces.
IS has been gaining ground in northern Iraq since June, and also controls some of Syria.
The Yazidi community is another minority group in northern Iraq that has been targeted by IS. About 50,000 Yazidis are thought to have been trapped in the mountains after fleeing the town of Sinjar - although the UN says some of them have now been rescued.
I had not heard of the Yazidi before these news reports. According to Wikipedia
“The Yazidi (also Yezidi, Êzidî, Yazdani) are a Kurdish ethno-religious community, representing an ancient religion that is linked to Zoroastrianism. They live primarily in the Nineveh Province of northern Iraq.”
Islam tolerates the Abrahamic faiths. There is toleration (in their sacred texts) for Christians and Jews. But the brutality of the Islamic State has meant many Christians have fled the region, as they fear that ancient practice will not be honoured, and they may be right. The snatching of school girls which has occurred in Africa violates that. Brutal Islamic regimes are tribalist and totalitarian, and the evidence to date is that the Islamic State falls into that category. Forget about “there is no compulsion in religion”.
But the plight of the Yazidi is even worse. The Economist notes:
“Yazidis consider themselves a distinct ethnic and religious group from the Kurds with whom they live (and who consider them Kurdish). Their religion, which combines elements of Zoroastrianism with Sufi Islam and beliefs dating back to ancient Mesopotamia, says God and seven angels safeguard the world."
"One called Malak Tawous, represented on earth in peacock form, was flung out of paradise for refusing to bow down to Adam. While the Yazidis see that as a sign of goodness, many Muslims view the figure as a fallen angel and regard the Yazidis as devil-worshippers. Given the Yazidi belief in reincarnation, even moderate Muslims have a difficult time accepting the faith of their compatriots.”
Now, forced to flee to the mountains, they face starvation, while those trapped are killed and the women taken as “war booty”. As Aljazeera reports:
A Yazidi politician broke down in tears during a parliament session as she urged the government and the international community to save her community from Islamic State fighters who have overrun the region, AFP news agency reported. "Over the past 48 hours, 30,000 families have been besieged in the Sinjar mountains, with no water and no food," Vian Dakhil said. "Seventy children have already died of thirst and 30 elderly people have also died."
Dakhil said 500 Yazidi men had been killed by the fighters since they took over Sinjar and surrounding villages on Sunday. Their women were enslaved as "war booty", she said. "We are being slaughtered, our entire religion is being wiped off the face of the earth. I am begging you, in the name of humanity."
For the soldiers of the Islamic State, these ancient communities are infidels to be slaughtered. Indeed, this is nothing new. In August 2007 jihadists attacked Yazidi villages in Nineveh, killing between 400 and 700 people. But as IS begins to grab territority, the brutality and the killings are not merely sporadic incursions, but a permanent part of their evil regime.
According to their traditions, in the past, their god Tawsi Melek became manifest to a Muslim Turk, and “bid the bewildered man to go and tell the people that a big war was brewing, but that no harm would come on the heads of his people, the Yezidis, who would emerge from the conflagration unscathed.”
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that many of them will emerge unscathed from this conflagration.
Will the West stand by and watch the slaughter of Yazidis, and cleansing of Christians, in Iraq?