It is estimated that in the ISIS-occupied areas over 4 million women are subjugated and enslaved. Several thousand of these are Yezidis, captured last August and held as concubines, sold as slaves, humiliated, raped and tortured. The world has stood by and done nothing to help these women, leaving it to local Yezidis to take the initiative to rescue them. This invariably involves dangerous undercover operations in ISIS-controlled territory. Sometimes the women escape, others are snatched from ISIS; some taken back by paying ransom money. It’s a slow business, but the Yezidis are determined to get every woman back, no matter how long it takes. Khaleel al-Dakhi, a Yezidi lawyer, has personally organised the liberation of over 500 Yezidi women: he is surely another Oskar Schindler. Meanwhile those forces that created the conditions for ISIS to thrive in do little to help except bomb ISIS strongholds, often killing scores of civilians in the process. Indeed, if thousands of women had been similarly captured in Europe, you can bet their liberation by a modern day ‘international brigade’ would have happened long, long ago.
Note 1: In the above video a young Yezidi woman, who was kidnapped and raped by ISIS gangs but who managed to flee, tells the story of her terrifying ordeal, her escape and her fears for her mother ISIS still holds. Her name is Besma, age just 15, who was kept in a village and used as a sex slave by extremists. Her brother was gunned down by extremists in Sinjar, but she, her mother and surviving brother were taken by ISIS. They were loaded onto buses and taken to Tal Afar with some 500 other Yezidis. Young girls were taken; the older ones forced to convert to Islam. Besma and five others were taken to a village and there were systematically raped. One day, she and another girl stole a mobile phone and decided to escape.
Note 2: In the video at the end of the article you can see the moment when female and male Kurdish forces from all four parts of Kurdistan helped rescued more than 20,000 people from the Sinjar mountains. Many of the fighters were anarchist YPG/YPJ from Rojava of Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) and HPG from North Kurdistan (Turkey’s Kurdistan). These guerrilla fighters came down from the mountains in Qandil and joined forces with the (Syrian) Kurdish Peshmerga against ISIS.
Note 3: In section B (after the second video) a chronology of the more than 70 attacks on the Yezidis, over a 1500 year period, and which has seen more than 20 million Yezidis massacred, is given. In section C, the long history of Yezidi civilisation is summarised.
A. The kidnapped women
Almost a year after ISIS overtook the Yezidi area of Sinjar and kidnapped thousands, the main way to free those still in the jihadists’ clutches is by buying them back through middlemen. Since they were taken by ISIS last August as slaves and forced to convert to Islam, some 1,700 Yezidis have managed to escape. Many of them were able to run away, and with the help of locals, found their way out of the caliphate. Some were helped by Kurdish aid workers, who paid locals to help the girls escape. But in the past months, fewer and fewer women and girls were able to escape in this way. More and more, they have had to be rescued, or their freedom has had to be bought.
Some of those bought into freedom are those of the family of Jamal—not his real name—a Yezidi from Sinjar. Jamal was away when ISIS entered Sinjar on August 3. Part of his family managed to escape, but dozens fell into the hands of ISIS. His is one of the families hit hardest, with 26 people kidnapped and 18 dead. In their tent in one of the refugee camps in the Kurdistan region, some of the family members came together to talk about their losses and their hopes. Pictures of victims change hands—taken during weddings and in happier times.
Some of the younger girls that were kidnapped were for some time able to keep in contact, Jamal said, and for that reason he knows they are in ISIS’ main cities Mosul and Raqqa. Apart from being among the hardest hit, the family has also been among the most active in trying to get back their loved ones, as Jamal so far has been able to secure the release of 14 of the family’s captives. Three children, five women and six young girls were able to return to the family because Jamal found them through middlemen, and was able to offer money to buy their freedom.
Jamal does not want to tell much about the process, as 12 of his family members still remain with ISIS. “I have good contacts with members of Arab tribes living in Sinjar province, and they helped me with my search,” he said. Sometimes he is told that ISIS fighters have put a slave girl, who is his family member, on sale. That is why he received the portrait of three young Yezidi girls, all completely dressed in black, and one of them a captured niece. This picture was shared digitally, as the girls are for sale. “The problem now is that my contacts do not know who the seller is, so the search goes on,” he said.
Prices for buying back a Yezidi girl have been said to differ, from a few thousand dollars to as much as $13,000. The amounts are high to buy her from her last owner in ISIS, and also middlemen have to be paid. Paying for all those family members is not easy; Jamal has had a full time job arranging the money. Some organizations have helped him, some friends have lent money. The total amount he can never pay back.
While Jamal has freed only his family members, Yezidi lawyer Khaleel al-Dakhi from Sinjar has been able to save as many as 530 women and children from the hands of ISIS, or so he has told Channel 4. He carried out many rescue missions after informants from inside ISIS territory leaked information, and next to that, escaped girls described the territory. That helped him carry out his first rescue mission of five young girls. He works with a network of men who are gathering information. Allies living inside ISIS get smuggled phones so girls can tell Dakhi where they are living and how many guards are present. Eventually his contacts smuggle the women to a safe house inside ISIS territory. They make false ID cards and hide until it is safe, then guide the women on foot across ISIS land and towards Sinjar, sometimes walking for two days and nights. In this way hundreds of women and girls have been saved, without having to pay their captors for their freedom. But three men who helped the women have been captured and killed by ISIS, according to Dhaki.
That would be Dakhi’s fate too if he were captured. “Of course my life is in danger, but I have to rescue our girls and our women,” he told Channel 4 Dispatches. “I try to protect myself because there are many of my people in ISIS jails waiting for me to rescue them. When I rescue one person from ISIS, I feel that I’ve had one victory against the terrorists.”
It has been estimated that 23 million Yezidis have been killed by Muslims and their other self-proclaimed enemies during the past 700 years. And the Yezidi population continues to decrease. Just 200 years ago it was 2 million, but it is now estimated to be less than one million worldwide.
So, will the Yezidis be helped in their plight? Probably not. They have no strategic value, no oil, no other mineral wealth. They are neither Christian or Muslim (their religion predates both and possibly Judaism too). They do not have a state, so are not recognised by the United Nations. They do not have, nor ever had, an army to protect them. Their neighbours despise them, see them as a nuisance. Yet they, like the Kurds who sometimes come to their aid, stand out in the region as a beacon of light, of colour, of peace.
In ignoring their plight, we – all of us – abandon our soul.
B. A history of genocide
The following is a chronology of many of the 72 major attacks on the Yezidi civilization…
637 AD A major war was instigated against the Yezidis, and then Muslims burned and destroyed much of their territory.
980-81 AD Kurdish armies surrounded the Yezidis living in the Hakkar region. They promised the Yezidis mercy if they surrendered to them, but failed to keep their promise. Instead, most of the Yezidis were massacred. Those who survived were forced to convert to Islam.
1107 AD About 50,000 Yezidi families were destroyed during a period of Moslem expansionism.
1218 AD The Mongols under the leadership of Hulagu Khan reached the Yezidis and slaughtered many of them, but the Mongols met strong resistance from the Yezidi warriors and eventually retreated.
1245-52 AD Hulagu Khan’s armies resumed their battle against the Yezidis and slaughtered thousands of them.
1254 AD A conflict occurred between the Moslem Bader al-Din Lolo, the “Mayor of Mosul,” and a Yezidi leader named Sheikh Hassan. Bader al-Din’s men captured Sheikh Hassan, executed him, and then hung his naked body on a Mosul gate, where it could be seen by many other Yezidis. This event led to a war, which the Yezidis lost, forcing them to flee to the mountains and leave behind their lands, villages, and temples. Everything the Yezidis left behind was destroyed. Even their most sacred shrine at Lalish was desecrated, with the bones of their greatest saint, Sheikh Adi, being taken from his tomb and burned in front of the unbelieving Yezidis.
1414 AD A Persian leader named Jalal al-Din Mohammed bin izidin yousif al-Halawani, led an armed force against the Yezidis who were living in the Hakkar Mountains. His raid was supported by Kurds in the area. Most of the Yezidis descended from Sheikh Adi’s followers were killed, and the remaining bones of Sheikh Adi were taken from his tomb and burned in front of Yezidi hostages.
1585 AD A Kurdish leader named Ali Saidi Beg, from Botan province, attacked Yezidis living in Sinjar and killed more than 600 of them. The Yezidi women were abducted and raped by the conquerors in front of the Yezidis’ captured soldiers.
1640-41 AD Yezidi villages near Mosul were looted and other Yezidi villages were attacked by Ahmed Pasha, a Turkish Ottoman governor, along with 70,000 armed soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of Yezidis were killed.
1648 AD The Yezidi Sheikh Merza revolted against the Ottomans controlling Mosul, who had previously beheaded his two brothers. The Ottoman general Shamsi Pasha was then summoned from Turkey to attack the Yezidis. Many Yezidis lost their lives and Sheikh Merza was beheaded.
1715 AD Hassan Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Baghdad, attacked the Yezidis with a huge army in order to punish them. Those Yezidis who were not killed were forced to flee into Syria. Pasha made an alliance with the local Arabs and then continued to attack the Yezidi unmercifully.
1733 AD The Ottoman Ahmed Pasha destroyed the Yezidi villages in the Zab river area and committed mass killings. This raid was followed by another one under the leadership of Hussein Pasha that completely destroyed the Yezidi villages and forced 3000 Yezidis to convert to Islam.
1743 AD The Persian leader Nadir Shah guided his troops into Yezidi territory near the Zab River, about 30 kms west of Mosul. They looted the villages and captured most of the Yezidis as hostages. Those that refused to obey were instantly killed.
1752 AD An Ottoman pasha named Sulaiman Pasha attacked the Yezidis in Sinjar. His campaign of killing and looting lasted two years. Three thousand Yezidis were killed and 500 women were taken as hostages.
1767 AD An Ottoman pasha and mayor of Mosul, Amin Pasha, had his son lead troops against the Yezidis living in Sinjar. He demanded the Yezidis bring him 1000 sheep. When they brought only 800 he ordered his men to slay a large number of Yezidis.
1771 AD Bedagh Beg, one of the Yezidi leaders from Sheikhan, revolted against the Ottoman mayor of Mosul because he sought to convert the Yezidis to Islam. The Mosul Mayor allied with Bairam Beg, a Kurdish leader, to kill Bedagh Beg and most of his men.
1774 AD The Ottoman Mayor of Mosul, Sulaiman Oash, attacked the Yezidis in the Sinjar area. The Yezidi villages were looted and destroyed.
1779 AD The Ottoman Mayor of Mosul sent more military units into Yezidi territory of Sinjar. They looted and destroyed the villages and killed many Yezidi.
1785 AD The Ottoman Mayor of Mosul, Abdel Bagi, attacked the Yezidis in Sinjar to punish them. The Muslim soldiers were at first defeated, but then they allied with some Arab forces and routed the Yezidis.
1786-87 AD Yezidi ruler Cholo Beg and his forces went to war with the Kurdish leader of Imadiyah. Cholo Beg lost the battle and many Yezidis were killed.
1789-90 AD Ismael Beg, the Prince of Imadiyah, killed Cholo Beg and replaced him on the Yezidi throne with one of his relatives, Khanger Beg. When Khanger Beg retired soon afterwards, Hassan Beg, the son of Cholo Beg, was crowned in his stead. Hassan continued the rebellion of his father by revolting against the Imadiyah Prince Kifbad, during which soldiers from both sides were killed in great numbers.
1792-93 AD The Ottoman Mayor of Mosul, Mohammed Pasha Al-Jalili, destroyed and burned eight Yezidi villages in the Sinjar area.
1794 AD The Ottoman Mayor of Mosul resumed the attack on a village in Sinjar called Mehrcan to punish the Yezidis. But he failed and lost the ensuing battle.
1795 AD The Ottomans sent Sulaiman Pasha to Sinjar’s Yezidi villages. With the help of the Kurd Prince Abdullah Beg Kahin and the Abdulrahman Pasha Prince of the Sulaimania Kurdish government, he looted, incinerated, and completely destroyed the Yezidi villages. He also abducted and kidnapped 60 Yezidi women and 650 domestic animals.
1799-1800 AD The Mayor of Baghdad, Abdul Aziz Beg Al-Shawi, destroyed 25 Yezidi villages in the Sheikhan region. Both women and children were abducted and 45 Yezidis were executed. Their heads were then brought to Baghdad as symbols of victory.
1802-3 AD The Mayor of Mosul, Ali Pasha, brought the administration of the Yezidis in the Sinjar region under his strict control. In doing so he found it necessary to attack some rebellious Yezidis from the north while overseeing an Arab raid on them from the south. The attack lasted for several months, during which several Yezidi villages were razed. The surviving Yezidis agreed to accept the rule of Ali Pasha, even though they were forced to convert to Islam. When more Yezidis rebelled in 1807 the battle was resumed and 50 Yezidi villages were destroyed.
1809-10 AD The Ottoman Mayor of Baghda attacked the Yezidis in Sinjar. His army looted Sinjar, Mehrkan, and other Yezidi villages. Many Yezidis lost their lives.
1832 AD Bader Khan Beg, the Kurdish Prince of Botan, tortured and killed the Yezidi leader Ali Beg. The Kurds then committed an unprecedented massacre of thousands of Yezidis while destroying their villages. Many Yezidis tried to escape by traveling across the Tigris River. Most of them could not swim and were either drowned or captured. Those that were captured were given the option of converting to Islam or dying as martyrs.
1833 AD The Kurdish ruler of Rawandez attacked the Yezidis at Aqra, in accordance with a religious mandate from Mulla Yahya Al-Muzuri, a Kurdish leader. Five hundred Yezidis were killed in the upper Zab region. The Sinjar area was also attacked with many Yezidi lives lost.
1838 AD The Ottoman Mayor of Diarbeker attacked the Yezidis in the Sinjar region and killed many of them. In the same year, the Ottoman Mayor of Mosul Tayar Pasha attacked the Jaddala area of Sinjar and ordered the Yezidis to pay taxes. When Tayar Pash sent envoys to the Yezidis in Mehrkan village to hear the complaints of the Yezidis, the envoys were killed. Tayar Pasha sought vengeance and invaded the Yezidi villages. In order to protect themselves, the Yezidis withdrew to caves and tried to fight back by ambushing their enemy. Tayar Pasha had lost many men and he eventually retired back to Mosul. Peace was resumed in the Sinjar area.
1892 AD The Yezidis were attacked by the Ottoman leader Omer Wahbi Pasha. He gave the Yezidis the choice of converting to Islam or paying higher taxes, or death. The Yezidis resisted and Omar Pasha, in alliance with the Kurds, attacked the Yezidis in the Sinjar and Sheikhan regions. About 15,000 Yezidis were either killed or forced to accept Islam. The Pasha then attacked Lalish and the tomb of Sheikh Adi, carrying away to Mosul the sacred relics of the Yezidis. For seven years following this time the Lalish pilgrimage sanctuary was used as a Muslim school.
1906 AD The Mayor of Mezory, Mr. Saddeq Al-Dammalogi, received an order from the Mayor of Mosul to remove all Yezidis from Lalish and use the temple there as a Muslim school. The Yezidis were persuaded to leave Lalish for one year.
1914-17 AD During the First World War the Yezidis assisted more than 20,000 Armenian people who fled from the Ottoman Turks.
C. Possibly the oldest civilisation in the world
The Yezidis or Yazidis are a Kurdish speaking people who live principally in northern Iraq. They number approximately 800,000. They are mostly a poor and oppressed people, but have a rich spiritual tradition that they contend is the world’s oldest.
They claim to be the first people to be created in the Garden of Eden, which they say is a large area centered in what is now known as Lalish in Iraq. A vestige of the Yezidis’ Garden of Eden era is reputed to be Gobekli Tepe, a recently discovered archeological excavation in southern Turkey that has been dated to approximately 12,000 BCE.
During and after a great flood around 4000 BCE, the Yezidis dispersed to many countries in Africa and Asia, including India, Afghanistan, Armenia, and Morocco. Returning from their adoptive countries around 2000 BCE the Yezidis played an important role in the development of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Jewish civilizations of the Middle East.
Ultimately, the Yezidis amalgamated elements of all these civilizations into Yezidism, including certain features of the Zoroastrian religion of Persia and some from Islamic Sufism, which were integrated into the Yezidi culture by the great 11th century reformer and Sufi Master, Sheik Adi.
The Yezidis claim to have the oldest religion in the world, contending that the truth of this is reflected in the antiquity of their calendar. They can trace back their religious calendar 6756 years, thus making 2008 CE the Yezidi year of 6757. In relation to some of the other major religions, the Yezidi Calendar is 4,750 years older than the Christian or Gregorian Calendar, 990 years older than the Jewish Calendar, and it is 5329 years older than the Muslim Calendar.