Turkey Uncensored: Yazidis – A History of Persecution
Uzay Bulut | November 4, 2016
Many nations have been victimized by Islamic supremacism and jihadist campaigns, but Yazidis – an ancient ethno-religious community indigenous to northern Mesopotamia – seem to be one of the main and continued victims of this genocidal ideology.
Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking, non-Muslim minority with their own unique culture.
The recent invasions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have finally brought this persecuted people to the world’s attention. But genocidal massacres, ethnic cleansings and forced conversions against Yazidis by Muslims did not start with the advent of the Islamic State. Yazidis, a peaceful community opposed to violence and bloodshed, have for centuries been exposed to these crimes and more − simply for being Yazidis.
Yazidis say they have been subjected to 72 attempts at extermination, or attempted genocide. Today, they are the victims of yet another attempted genocide in Iraq − at the hands of ISIS jihadists.
Yazidi scholar Khanna Omarkhali wrote:
Being Kurds and Yazidis, they have suffered greatly from both ethnic and religious persecution throughout history. Yazidi oral history claims that they suffered from 72 massacres [ferman], counting the genocide of Yazidis in Iraq in 2014 as the 73rd one. Partly due to the vast number of religious persecutions, the Yazidis became a closed community, which has led to the many incorrect accounts on them. Their religion was often misunderstood, and Yazidis were described as devil worshipers, both in early Arabic sources and travel notes.
Turkish sociologist İsmail Beşikçi, a prominent expert on Kurdistan, explained how Yazidis have been persecuted by Arab, Kurdish and Turkish Muslims:
Yazidis do not invite anyone to the Yazidi faith. They do not have a problem like making Muslims, Christians or Jews Yazidis. This is actually against the Yazidi faith. All that the Yazidis want is to freely live their faith among their Muslim, Christian and Jewish neighbors.
But Yazidis have been persecuted enormously − particularly at the hands of Muslims − throughout history. Islam has grown and spread since the mid-seventh century. In this process, the Arab conquerors have tremendously persecuted Yazidis in Iraq, Syria and Iran. They took all kinds of measures to Islamize them and implemented those measures. They massacred those who wanted to remain Yazidis in masses, and seized their properties.
In the early 19th century, Mir Mohammad Pasha, the commander of Rawandiz in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Mir Bedr Khan Pasha, the commander of Bohtan, in the 1830s, and 1840s, persecuted Yazidis enormously to Islamize them.
During the 1912-13 Pontic Greek deportations and the 1915 Armenian genocide, Yazidis were also driven out from their lands. Throughout the history of republican Turkey, all methods have been tried to Islamize the Yazidis. Before 1915, for instance, Suruç was an entirely Yazidi town. So was the town of Viranşehir. Today, there is not a single Yazidi family left in Suruç. Furthermore, the Islamized Yazidis can be seen exhibiting insulting behaviors toward those who remain Yazidis.
World-renowned Kurdish novelist Yaşar Kemal wrote in his book Look, the Firat River is Flowing with Blood, that during the Yazidi genocide,
Some gangs entered Yazidi villages. They slaughtered them with bullets and bayonets – from little children to the elderly – until there were no more living Yazidis. All of the Yazidi fighters were killed. The dead were stripped bare naked and thrown to the Dicle River. Then it was the turn of the unarmed. First, they killed men; then, they killed boys. They stripped them bare naked and threw them to the river. Then they killed women and girls. Then they raided many Yazidi villages and slaughtered many Yazidis. These Yazidis have been suffering for centuries. They are being killed; they are becoming extinct. Then they [the Muslims] are celebrating that there are no Yazidis left.
What is it that has united so many Muslims from different ethnic backgrounds – Arabs, Kurds, Turks and Turkmens – in their hatred and aggression against Yazidis?
Not Even “People of the Book”
Islamic theology distinguishes two types of non-Muslims:
- Ahl al-Kitab (“People of the Book”), a euphemism for Jews and Christians
- All others
The common assertion that the “People of the Book” are protected in Islamic law is actually false. “People of the Book” are actually dhimmis – second-class subjects − who are forced to buy their lives from the Islamic State with a “dhimmi pact.” According to Islamic theology, the “People of the Book” must be fought against until they either convert to Islam or pay the “jizya” tax to Muslim rulers.
The jizya tax appears to be a symbol of non-Muslim submission to Islamic hegemony. Only conversion to Islam can make “the People of the Book” equal to Muslims. Otherwise, they are exploited, humiliated and impoverished. The Yazidis are not even a “People of the Book.” So they are not given the opportunity to submit; instead, they are often given two “choices” − conversion to Islam or death.
Ottoman Persecution of Yazidis
The Yazidis say that many of the genocides or attempts to annihilate them took place during the Ottoman Empire. As a result, millions of Yazidis were killed, kidnapped or Islamized, according to a report by the Yazidi Community in Europe Organization. Apparently, the religious community that suffered the most at the hands of the Ottomans was the Yazidis.
Yazidis were neither Muslims nor the “People of the Book.” Hence, they “had no legal status vis-à-vis the local Ottoman administration,” wrote historian Nelida Fuccaro. “The Ottoman religious and military establishments placed heterodox groups like the Yazidis on the lowest rung within the ideological order of Ottoman society.”
Professor Philip Kreyenbroek, who studies Yazidi history, agreed. “Under the Ottoman Empire, the Yazidis were never recognized as a millet [i.e. a community in its own right, such as Jews or Christians], and did not enjoy any protection by the state,” Kreyenbroek wrote.
According to historian Amed Gökçen, who researches the subject, the Ottoman policy on Yazidis was slaughter and forced conversion:
The Ottomans thought of Yazidis like that: “Let’s kill them. Let’s build mosques so that they could become Muslim. Let’s try to bring them to the true path and give salaries to those who would bring them to the true path.”
Very serious Yazidi massacres were carried out by the Ottoman Empire. They did unspeakable things to Yazidis. They sent the cut-off tongues of Yazidis to Ottoman sultans, they sold Yazidi women, and so on. There is not a positive thing in the Ottoman archives regarding the Yazidis. After a while, Yazidi people did not want to live there. That was very natural and right.
Mass Immigration from Turkey
According to Kreyenbroek, “Yazidis were not much better protected by the law of the [Turkish] republic than they had been before, and prejudice against them seems to have increased in Turkey in the latter half of the 20th century.”
Both in the Ottoman Empire and republican Turkey, the state made intense efforts to Islamize the Yazidis. During this process, widespread state terror was used, according to Beşikçi. “As a result, many Yazidis took refuge in other countries such as Armenia and Georgia,” he said. “Many of them immigrated to Europe. Those who stayed in Turkey had to convert to Islam and led a half-Yazidi, half-Muslim lifestyle.”
Approximately 80,000 Yazidis lived in Turkey until the 1970s. But the majority of Yazidis migrated from Turkey to Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, due to the continued persecution and pressures they faced. “After they moved to Europe, even their private registered lands were invaded. Their trees were ripped off. The Yazidi owners of those lands were threatened, and some of their villages were abandoned and became uninhabitable places,” read a 2014 parliamentary motion.
There is not a single Yazidi resident in most of the Yazidi villages in Turkey today. The estimated population of Yazidis in the country is currently approximately 350 – excluding the recent asylum-seekers from Iraq and Syria.
The Turkish government still does not recognize Yazidism as a separate religion, and the religion box on the ID papers of a few hundred Yazidis in Turkey is either left blank or marked with an “X.”
The Islamic State: The Latest Persecutor
In August 2014, when Islamic State jihadists invaded the Yazidi-populated Sinjar region, a part of the ancient Yazidi homeland in Iraq, some Yazidis managed to flee for their lives. But those who couldn’t were murdered. Yazidi women were raped and sold as sex slaves.
One victim was Zinab, a 31-year-old Yazidi who was captured by the Islamic State in Kocho, a village in Kurdistan, Iraq, on Aug. 3, 2014. “She was made a sex slave, endured constant rapes and beatings; she escaped her captors three times, was caught and sold again four times. On March 21, 2016, she was sold to a man who turned out to be a rescuer sent by her family,” reported Maclean’s, a Canadian weekly news magazine. “Her uncle’s two daughters, ages 12 and 15, are still in the hands of ISIS.”
The Yazidis, one of the most peaceful people on earth, have been suffering enormously since the advent of Islam and have been largely forgotten by world governments and the international community. The world should finally pay attention to them in their moments of greatest suffering, at least in the 21st century.