Several months ago I was contacted about doing a story on the Ezidi, the ancient people in Iraq. Other than some brief reports I’d seen and heard, I really did not know very much about them. Right away, I discovered they were called Ezidi, Yezidi, and Yazidi*. It seems to me the reason for this is simple: they are a simple, peaceful people who keep to themselves.
The Ezidi are an ancient indigenous people who have endured centuries of oppression and attempted genocide. My series on the Ezidi people can be viewed here here.
The latest push against them was August 3, 2014. However, the attacks on them and others in the area have never really ended. The Islamic State (ISIS) is just the latest, but certainly not the last, and while the Ezidi are certainly not their only target, they are certainly the prime one.
- Photo Credit: CNN
We have seen pictures and videos in the news of houses in Iraq marked with the “symbol of The Nazarene.” In reality, all houses of those who do not support Islam (non-believers) are marked. If you are Ezidi, Christian, Turkmen or any other group, you MUST convert or be subject to slavery, death or being driven out of your homes. Even Muslims who do not subscribe to the Islamist's Caliphate are persona non grata. In most cases, the houses have either been destroyed or taken over by ISIS and their sympathizers. In many cases, these are not spartan shacks, but modern homes with modern appliances. The Ezidi have been driven out and their possessions have been stolen; they are left only with what they can carry and wear.
Nearly 400,000 Ezidi, have been made homeless. Living in tents, (as many as 10 per tent), with freezing weather, many are without blankets, shoes, or heat. To get a 'morsel' of food, they must submit and raise the Kurdish KRG flag.
After more than two years, there is still little help. What has happened to this world? To humanity?
On Monday, I had the pleasure to speak with Prince Naif through his interpreter. The Prince is living in exile until sufficient security can be arranged, not just for him, but the Ezidi, in general, in northern Iraq. The Prince wanted me to convey some important information and “correct the record” regarding much of the information that is currently taken as fact.
The current hereditary secular leader of the Ezidi is Prince Tahseen Saeed Ali. However, Prince Tahseen is in his mid-80s, and there is a need for a new leader who will stand up for the Ezidi- a leader who is willing to do what it takes against the threat of death. Prince Naif, a cousin of Prince Tahseen, is such a man.
There is a major “bone of contention” that exists within the Ezidi over the world wide belief that they are Kurds. The Ezidi are not Kurds; the Kurds were the result of conquest by the Ottoman Empire. As we know from current events, the Islamists do not allow other religions. People who live under their rule are typically under the order to convert to Islam, pay an impossibly high tax, or die.
At the time, of course, the present-day national borders did not exist. The Ezidi lived peacefully along with Christians and other faiths in the area of northern Iraq, eastern Syria and southern Turkey. One is Ezidi only by birth; they do not convert from other religions. Under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, the Ezidi were ordered to convert to Islam. As a matter of survival, many did. These are the Kurds.
The Ezidi want this distinction made very clear - they are not Kurds.
The Prince told me that the word "Ezid" means “Right Path.” Some believe the Ezedi are sun worshipers; however, I have been told that they believe they are "children of the light," that "God is the light" (as Christians believe), therefore, they pray facing the sun. They believe that God created seven archangels, the leader of which is Tawsi Melek, the Peacock “King,” or Peacock “Angel.” Pictures of the Peacock and light play an important part in their worship and lives.
The Prince tells me there is a distinct reason for the misinformation regarding their religion and their ethnic origin. The KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) have a financial stake in these lies. Some say they are devil worshipers. Is this not the tactic of those who wish to destroy? If one can be made to appear “bad,” then sympathy is easily withheld.
If the Ezidi are the same as the Kurds, then helping the Kurds is equivalent to helping the Ezidi. Neither of these beliefs could be further from the truth. It is essential to the KRG and their goals that the Ezidi not be thought of as a separate people. It is vital to the Ezidi that they are recognized as separate and distinct from the Kurds
Masoud Barzani has been the president of the Kurdish region of Iraq since 2005, and the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) since 1979. It is in the Kurd's best interests to blur the lines to include the Ezidi as being Kurdish for their own selfish purposes. Money and equipment that has been given to help the Ezidi goes to the Kurds, who then keep most for themselves. The Ezidi had their own militias for their protection, however, when the US recognized the Kurds as a provincial power, Barzani disarmed these militias saying the Kurds would take care of security for the area.
On August 3, 2014, ISIS attacked the Sinjar region. There were an estimated 10,000 Peshmerga troops tasked with protecting the Ezidi cities. Witnesses reported that not only did they not fight ISIS, but they pulled back and blocked the main path of escape. The result was a devastating toll on these peaceful people. They were slaughtered, enslaved, and displaced. As many as 400,000 are still displaced, and while some escaped to Europe and other countries, tens of thousands are still trapped in refugee camps in the region. As we enter the winter months, many are without blankets, coats, and even shoes. Food and clean water are scarce; many are still struggling to survive hiding in the Sinjar Mountains.
- Photo Credit: Reuters
To date, 56 mass graves have been found. In many cases, wild animals have drug away bones. Identification is essentially impossible leaving survivors uncertain of the fate of loved ones, or their resting places. There has been no investigation to help these people have closure and hold those responsible accountable.
Kurdish leaders also capitalize on the sympathies of the world as the reaction to the Ezidi genocide brings in donations, the Kurds take in the funds on the premise that Ezidi equals Kurd. I was told that an estimated 75% of all donations are kept by the Kurds. While there are two Ezidi in the Iraq Parliament, I was told there is currently pressure and fear put on them by Kurdish leadership.
As one might guess, there is no love lost between the Ezidi and the Kurdish leadership. The Ezidi live in constant fear that they will be “found out,” especially fighting-age males and younger women. One never knows who might betray them.
Prince Naif asked me to relay this message to the public.
“The Ezidi people have endured 74 genocides over the centuries. The Ottoman Empire tried to erase them. ISIS has tried to destroy them. Ezidi have always fought to survive, and they will continue to fight. Some Ezidi have converted to save their lives, making enemies out of relatives. No one knows who they can trust; betrayal is a constant fear. The Kurds control the Ezidi in the parliament. The Kurds are preventing the UN from seeing conditions in the camps. Most of the money sent to aid the Ezidi is stolen by the Kurds.”
It is imperative that people know the truth.
Our government has fallen for lies, lies told for power and money. While aid is needed to help the Ezidi, it needs to reach the people in need, not those in power. The US and other world leaderships need to understand who the Kurds really are, and that the Ezidis are not Kurds. Helping the Kurds does not help the Ezidi. $900 million of our tax dollars have gone to Barzani and the Kurds this year alone, ostensibly to train and arm the Peshmerga. In the past few days, there have been calls from Barzani for more funds.
It is important to note that the presidential term for Barzani ended August 20, 2015, but he refused to step down. In reality, his term ended in 2013, but was extended two years on the condition he could never run again. Why would he step down now? He commands a significant military force equipped and paid for by our tax dollars. His salary is a reported $1 million per month. His nephew is the Prime Minister, his uncle is the Finance Minister, one son leads the intelligence services, another is a general, and yet another nephew owns a cell phone company. Some of his grandchildren were born in the United States, making them US citizens. It’s a sweet deal - for him.
There are two factions within the Kurds, Barzani’s KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) which is a more left leaning democratic socialistic philosophy led by Jalal Talabani. It appears Barzani made deals with ISIS to take out the PUK and the Ezidis. I have seen documents of such an alliance, however, I have been unable to obtain a certain guarantee of their authenticity. I would note that Barzani’s actions do dovetail nicely with the documents.
Spread the word, make sure your Senators and Congressman know and understand the truth. The Ezidi need direct recognition as a unique group of people, instead of being thrown in a big pot where their sworn enemy controls the fire and the spoon.
*In prior articles, I have used the term "Yezidi," however, since my contacts use the term "Ezidi," I want to honor them and be as authentic as possible, and will refer to them as the "Ezidi" in all future articles.