Image 1 of 16: The Yazidi might practice the world's oldest religion. Derived from ancient Persian Zoroastrianism (think Freddy Mecury) this Sufi-like esoteric faith predates Judaism, Christianity & Islam, taking elements from each (think baptism, circumcision, & 5 daily prayers). It’s a closed sect that forbids interfaith marriage & doesn’t accept converts.
Image 1 of 16: Despite centuries of persecution, Yazidis have kept the faith alive via “Talkers”, men who memorize their holy text (known as the Black Book) and then pass it on to their sons. They believe that the long-missing Black Book (not to be confused with a little black book) was stolen by the colonial British.
Image 1 of 16: Falsely described as "devil-worshippers", Yadizis revere a rebel archangel who refused to bow before God. Muslims regard Malek Tawwus (or Peacock Angel, 1 of 7 angels that figure in their faith) as Satan, but Yadizis don’t go in for devils. They believe that evil exists only in the hearts of men.
Image 1 of 16: Yazidi customs highlight their “otherness” in Iraq. They believe the souls of their dead pass into new Yadizis (described as "changing clothes") & reject the idea of heaven or hell. Men sport long braids; don’t eat lettuce or pumpkins; or wear the color blue. They eschew arranged marriages, & follow a system where a groom "kidnaps" his bride.
Image 1 of 16: Yazidis believe their land is the sacred home of the Garden of Eden. They believe they are the direct descendants of Adam, but not Eve, because Adam birthed mankind on his own. Local legend also names the Sinjar mountains as the resting place of Noah’s ark and it is to these mountains that the Yazidis have fled to escape ISIS’s bloody hunt.
Image 1 of 16: The Yazidis have a make-a-wish religion: toss a silk rag atop a lit candle on a “wishing rock” in the lowest cavern at Sheikh Adi’s tomb (the shrine of the Peacock Angel) and your wishes come true. Chances are these guys are going to need more than a wishing rock to help them out of this sticky mess.
Image 1 of 16: Their communities once disperesed across Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia. Driven from these homelands, a diaspora followed to Australia, Canada, Germany, Norway, and the Americas. Against all the odds, Iraq is the one place in the Middle East where a sizable community remains. How long will this last?
Image 1 of 16: Perennially persecuted, Asyan resident Dilshad Sluyman told LiveLink, “This attack is not new for us. It has happened 72 times already" referring to past and recent history. In the 19th century, Yazidis were nearly wiped out by massacres committed by Ottoman Turks and Muslim Kurds. If unchecked, the ISIS offensive could be the final blow.
Image 1 of 16: At one stage there were as many as 50,000 Yazidis trapped on barren mountains surrounded by ISIS; scores died from starvation and thirst. Before the U.S. launched air strikes, the Kurdish peshmerga fighters broke through ISIS attacks and created a corridor for some Yazidis to escape. This teamwork may be the best solution for Yazidi salvation.
Image 1 of 16: Gruesome images of brutal murders emerged last week, with local officials citing at least 500 Yazidis killed, including 40 children, and many more threatened with death. Some were allegedly burned alive and buried in mass graves. Roughly 130,000 residents of the Yazidi stronghold of Sinjar have fled to Dohuk or Irbil.
Image 1 of 16: Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry said hundreds of Yazidi women are being held in Mosul schools as sex slaves to sell or marry off to extremist fighters. He told Associated Press, “These women are going to be used in demeaning ways by those terrorists to satisfy their animalistic urges in a way that contradicts all human and Islamic values.”
Image 1 of 16: On the Iraqi homefront, Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of parliament, made an impassioned plea for support. "There is a collective attempt to exterminate the Yazidi people," she said in Baghdad last Tuesday before collapsing in tears. A real life horror story, as phone batteries die, those in mountain hideaways become increasingly difficult to find.
Image 1 of 16: Meanwhile internationally, large pro-Yazidi rallies were held this week in Germany, the UK, and the U.S. Opposition is also active, especially in North Rhine-Westphalia, the German state with the largest Muslim population, as Islamic State supporters clashed with Kurdish Yazidis. How likely is this battle to remain exclusively within Iraq?
Image 1 of 16: Now the U.S. has taken decisive action to protect its own people in the area and stem humanitarian atrocities. Air drops of food and water for the besieged Sinjar Mountain began on August 7th, and two 500-pound bombs dropped on IS artillery stockpiles outside Irbil.
Image 1 of 16: A second wave of air strikes included a drone strike on a mortar position and an attack by four F/A-18 jets on a jihadist convoy.“For anyone who needs a wakeup call, this is it,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The IS responded by capturing hundreds of women from Mosul, allegedly to be “gifted” as wives to young fighters.
Image 1 of 16: Humanitarian drops are critical, but who will break the siege? The American public has no appetite for another Iraq war. Kurdish military forces, known as peshmerga, may be best poised for the job. as U.S. airstrikes can supplement a Kurdish military push, providing cover for strategic ground assault. Will it happen? Who will save the Yazidis?
Right now approximately 20,000 men, women and children from Iraq’s minority Yazidi community are trapped atop mountains in Iraq’s north, penned in by Sunni militants for days on end without food or water. U.S. military planes dropped in basic supplies last night, but not before dozens of Yazidi children died of dehydration. Kurdish troops recently helped escort thousands to safety, but thousands more remain marooned.
With Gaza still fending off Israeli shelling and Syria battling barrel bombs, why has America’s military might moved to help these persecuted peoples in particular? Consider that there are only 700,000 Yazidis worldwide (versus 1.8 million in Gaza and 22.4 million in Syria). It’s not the worst looming genocidal massacre—given the unfortunate alternative neighborly tragedies to pick from in the region—so why the rush to intercede?
Is it because the terrorists now going by “Islamic State” (IS) have ruthlessly hunted the vulnerable Yazidis, burning men alive and enslaving women for sex, or is it because they are simply too close to American interests (um, we mean personnel) based in Iraq? Iraq’s recently ousted Prime Minister Maliki unsuccessfully sought U.S. assistance against IS in the past, so why has the U.S. chosen to act now?
The diabolically brutal IS is a force growing in tactical sophistication as it acquires money, armaments and support from trained mercenaries. They threaten U.S. interests in Iraq, but perhaps also the safety of American citizens on home soil and abroad. Moreover, the situation is bleeding beyond the Middle East, inciting violent public demonstrations by Muslims in non-Arab nations such as Germany and France.
Considering American sentiment about another Middle Eastern incursion, what power do the Yazidi have to lure the U.S. military back to Iraq?
Enter our world of mystical exploration as we uncover peacock angels, black books and devil-worshippers. Who are the Yazidis and why is IS so bent on smoking them out of their mountain caves to visit horrific fates on these Kurdish folk?