Yazidi genocide

The West has a moral obligation to learn from previous genocides and do everything in its power to stop the one going on right now, before it is too late.

August 7, 2016 22:00
3 minute read.
Yazidi refugees near the Syrian border

Yazidi refugees flee for their lives from Islamic State forces near the Syrian border, August 11.. (photo credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS)


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In early August 2013 Islamic State managed to overcome Kurdish forces and conquer the town of Sinjar, near Mosul in northern Iraq, where one of the largest concentrations of Yazidis in the world was located.

What happened next – massacres, sex slavery and forced enlistment in Islamic State ranks – has been recognized since by the UN as a full-fledged genocide.

Two years later, the Yazidis, who number around 400,000 in northern Iraq and Syria, remain in danger of systemic murder at the hands of Islamic State jihadists.

The designation of genocide is rare under international law. And in the case of the Yazidis it marks the first recognized genocide carried out by non-state actors – Islamic State – not by a state or a military force acting on behalf of a state.

The Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Holocaust, the massacre of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 and the systematic destruction of the Bosnian-Muslim population in Srebrenica in 1995 are the only other cases of recognized genocide.

As noted by Yale University Holocaust scholar Timothy Snyder, author of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, the systematic killing of the Yazidis – and indigenous Christian communities – followed the pattern of past genocides. A small group, ethnically and religiously different from the majority, is deemed to be not just less than human but an obstacle to the ushering in of a better world. Men are led away from women to be killed first. Whole communities are stripped of valuables before being systematically destroyed.

Like in previous genocides, evil is ascribed to an identifiable group, a war for resources is launched in the part of the world where this group lives, and states that at one time maintained a semblance of stability and security are destroyed, thus stripping the Yazidis (and other minority groups, such as the Middle East’s indigenous Christians) of protection.

Islamic State’s apocalyptic ideas are based on the Koran and hadith, which are not treated as general spiritual guides, rather as literal blueprints for bringing about the end of times and the ushering in of a new, more morally pure era. Islamic State has used – mainstream Muslims would say “distorted” – these texts to justify many of its actions, including seizing territory and aspiring to establish what it calls a caliphate, as well as taking war booty and enslaving women.

Ecological panic has also exacerbated the situation. The US decision to remove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 drove more than a million Iraqi refugees to Syrian cities. The drought in the entire Fertile Crescent in the four years before the Syrian uprising was the worst in recorded history. Between 2009 and 2011, small and then large farmers went bankrupt, food prices skyrocketed, and some 1.5 million people moved from the countryside to Syria’s overpopulated cities. This created a further opening for Islamic State.

Finally, the destruction of Iraq by the US – originally intended to bring to an end Saddam’s murderous regime – has had unintended consequences that have aggravated the plight of the Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq that lack protection. The disintegration of Syria has likewise created the backdrop for the wholesale massacre of ethnic minorities. Autocracies and dictatorships, it turns out, are preferable to complete anarchy.

And the genocide being committed against the Yazidis continues.

True, in August when the genocide began, the US, UK, France, Australia and other western countries launched air strikes against IS forces and made airdrops of water and food to the Yazidis. Kurdish forces fighting IS have received arms and logistical support.

This laudable action did not halt the genocide. While the Obama administration and the governments of other Western countries have vowed to defeat Islamic State, they have shown limited capacity to follow through.

A year ago Murad Ismael, the cofounder of Yazda, a US-based organization set up after the 2014 massacre of the Yazidis to raise awareness of their plight and support the victims told Newsweek that he had little hope of seeing thousands of hostages being released.

A year later, the situation is no better.

All the conditions for genocide exist in the Middle East. The West has a moral obligation to learn from previous genocides and do everything in its power to stop the one going on right now, before it is too late.

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