Islamic State fighters, who have beheaded and crucified captives in Iraq in their drive to eradicate non-believers, have driven thousands of people of the Yazidi religious sect into the Sinjar mountain range in northern Iraq. Who are the Yazidis and and what do they believe in? Here are some answers.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Reuters/ SOURCES: Minority Rights Group, UNHCR, Reuters, Cale Salih/New York Times
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE YAZIDIS?
Threatened with death by Islamic State (IS) militants, tens of thousands of Yazidis are still trapped on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, where they are in desperate need of food, water and medical supplies. As many as 35,000 managed to escape from the mountain and reach northern Kurdistan via Syria this week. Some aid has been airdropped to those still trapped but reports suggest help is not coming quickly enough. Iraq’s minister for human rights has alleged that Islamic militants buried Yazidi women and children alive in an offensive against the religious group in which 500 of them were killed. A further 300 Yazidi women are said to have been kidnapped and enslaved. The photo shows Yazidis, who have fled the violence, walking towards the Syrian border near the border town of Elierbeh August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Rodi Said
WHO ARE THE YAZIDIS?
Yazidis are ethnic Kurds and speak Kurdish but their religion and social structure sets them apart from the rest of Iraq's Kurds, who are mostly Sunni Muslims. They live in tribes in the mountains of northern Iraq, mostly in Jabal Sinjar. Most of the estimated 550,000-strong community are poor peasants and herdsmen. It is not possible to convert to or from their religion and marriage outside the sect is forbidden. The current violence is just one example of a history of persecution of Yazidis in Iraq. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Islamist groups have declared Yazidis "impure" due to their beliefs and have persecuted them. The Yazidis say they suffered army massacres in their villages during the secular rule of Saddam Hussein. In 2007, an IS predecessor issued a fatwa — a religious decree — ordering followers to kill Yazidis. Later that year, numerous coordinated truck bombs went off in Yazidi areas, killing more than 500 people and injuring 1,500. The photo shows Yazidis, who fled violence in Sinjar, re-enter Iraq from Syria at the border crossing in Fishkhabour August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
WHY ARE THE YAZIDIS CALLED "DEVIL WORSHIPPERS"?
Other faiths have branded the Yazidis “devil worshippers” for centuries because the chief angel they venerate as a manifestation of God is often identified as the fallen angel Satan in biblical terminology. They also believe God created good and evil in the world and that they are descended from Adam but not Eve. The Yazidi religion, which dates back some 4,000 years, is thought to be an offshoot of Zoroastrianism and includes elements of Christianity and Islam among other religions. The photo shows a Yazidi famiy taking refuge in Dohuk province after fleeing violence in Sinjar Aug 4, 2014. REUTERS/Ari JalalREUTERS/
CAUGHT BETWEEN ARABS AND KURDS
TheYazidis have always been on the fringes of Iraqi society, being caught between Arabs and Kurds for ethnic reasons. Because of Jabal Sinjar's strategic position, Saddam’s government tried to “Arabize” the area and to persuade Yazidis that they were Arabs. Many of them suffered in Saddam’s Anfal campaign, also known as the Kurdish genocide, in 1987-88 alongside the Kurds and were forced to define themselves as Arabs. Some Yezidis support the Kurdish national movement. The photo shows a Yazidi child displaced by violence resting on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Rodi Said
YAZIDI WOMEN ABDUCTED
Even before the latest surge of violence against their community, Yazidi women have suffered particularly badly. Eyewitnesses have reported seeing Muslim militants abduct Yazidi women from the fields they were working and force them to convert to Islam. This is seen as a double affront to the Yazidi faith as it perverts one of the courtship and marriage rituals of its culture. The photo shows a displaced Yazidi woman and child who are fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, resting as they make their way towards the Syrian border near the town of Elierbeh August 10, 2014.
YAZIDIS PUSHED ABROAD
The broader rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq has forced thousands of Yazidis to seek asylum in Europe over the past decade. According to some estimates, 70,000 of them have fled the country. Germany hosts most of them, an estimated 60,000. For a religion that does not accept converts and strongly discourages marriage outside its community, the assimilation of Yazidi youth in Europe threatens the faith’s existence, according to experts. The photo shows a Yazidi protester holding a placard "We are all Yazidis" during a demonstration in Frankfurt, Germany August 9, 2014. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski