August 7, 2014 by Darius
In northern Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Yazidi refugees have fled the region of Sinjar, recently captured by ISIS fighters. Who are the Yazidis? And what do they have to fear from ISIS?
Yazidis are adherents of a unique monotheistic religion in the Middle East. Iraq has the world’s largest population of Yazidis, but significant populations of Yazidis also live in Armenia, Georgia, Syria, and Turkey, as well as a diaspora throughout the world. Almost all Yazidis are ethnically Kurdish.
Yazidism is neither Muslim nor Christian. Instead, Yazidism has roots in Zoroastrianism, an ancient monotheistic religion of Iran. Additionally, Yazidism is infused with later Sufi Islamic practices. According to Yazidis, there is one omnipotent God. Yazidis diverge from other modern monotheistic religions, though, in their beliefs that God does not take an active role in events on earth. Instead, God entrusted care of humanity to a group of seven angels, chief among which is Tawuse Melek, usually translated as the Peacock Angel.
The Peacock Angel is the center of where problems start between the Yazidis and neighboring religions, especially Christianity and Islam, because the Peacock Angel was the angel who refused to follow God’s instructions to bow to Adam. In the Christian and Islamic tradition, this angel was cast down by God and became Satan or Shaitan. According to Yazidis, though, God was impressed by the Peacock Angel’s defiance and made the Peacock Angel chief of the angels. Thus, many Muslims, especially conservative Salafists like ISIS, consider Yazidis to engage in devil worship and Satanism.
This week, ISIS captured Sinjar, home to one of the world’s largest populations of Yazidis. Quickly, reports of ISIS fighters executing Yazidis surfaced, and much of the Yazidi population soon fled. Yazidis are, unfortunately, no strangers to persecution. But ISIS has shown every inclination of being prepared to step up its campaign of atrocities against Yazidis, whom it regards as infidels, or worse. It’s another human rights disaster in the making.