The Yazidis have become ISIS’ new target, but who are they?
by Yusuf Selman İnanç
ISTANBULAug 08, 2014 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Yusuf Selman İnanç
Aug 08, 2014 12:00 am
The Yazidi community, which has become endangered in Iraq due to the threat posed by ISIS, is an authentic minority with a complex belief system
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an offshoot of al-Qaeda, has launched a violent genocide against the ancient Yazidi community in Iraq, causing another humanitarian crisis in the country. While some Yazidi villages near Sincar have been emptied, some of the Yazidis have fled to the Kurdish region, while others have come to Turkey.
ISIS, after capturing the Iraqi city of Mosul as well as other cities from the central Iraqi government, has now started targeting Yazidis. ISIS has called on the Yazidi community to either convert to Islam or accept being killed. Yazidis who were unable to flee to safer areas have sought refuge in the mountains. Initial reports say that hundreds of Yazidis have been killed by ISIS and that dozens of children have died of thirst. ISIS, which has previously captured Christian areas, has forced Christians to pay a tax. Yet, the tax is not applicable for Yazidis, as their belief is not categorized as an acceptable one, according to ISIS. While the world turns its attention away from the small religious community, the question of whom the Yazidis are has become important.
Yazidis are ethnically Kurdish, and their religion includes elements of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism. The center of their belief is in the Nineveh province of Iraq. Yazidis live in Armenia, Georgia, Turkey and Iraq. Yet, the number of Yazidis in Turkey, Armenia and Georgia has dramatically decreased after members of the community preferred migrating to European countries due to the religious discrimination they faced in the aforementioned countries. Yazidi beliefs distinguish themselves from the mainstream monotheistic religions insofar that Satan plays a different role in their faith. Contrary to the satanic understanding of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which view Satan as the main source of evil, Yazidis say that Satan repented after his big sin, refusing Adam's superiority. Following the repentance, God authorized him as the world's administrator.
Explaining Yazidi belief, a German scholar, Wolfgang Menzel, in his book, one of the earliest published books in 1941, wrote: "God is just the creator of the world but not responsible for governing it. God is not active and not concerned with what happens in the world. God's representative who is responsible for providing order in the world is MelekTaus (Angel Taus), which is believed to be God's ego." Sabiha Banu Yalkut, a researcher of the Yazidi diaspora located in Europe, in her book says that Yazidis do not believe in the existence of evil and claim that there is no figure such as Satan who challenges God and its subjects. "In Yazidi belief there is only God, and there is no other existence which is against God's power," says Yalkut. The belief, which sees everything as part of God, is similar to Sufism in Islam.
Contrary to other researchers who date Yazidi belief to ancient times, a researcher, specializing on Sufism and Sufi belief among Kurds, Müfit Yüksel, claims that Yazidi belief was derived from a Sufi order established by Sheikh Adeey Sharaf al-Din Abu al-Fazaeel ben Musafeer al-Umawi. Yüksel says that Adeey Sharaf, who died in 1162, was a strong Sunni scholar and was opposed to the heterodox Sufi understandings, Shia sects. The Sufi order was named Adawiyye and was appreciated by hundreds of people, especially by Kurdish people, as the Sheikh was located in Hakkari, a Kurdish city now within the borders of Turkey. According to Yüksel, Yazidi belief lasted as a Sunni Sufi order until the second half of the 14th century but then changed. He claims that Sheikh Hassan, who was leading the Sufi order in the second half of the 14th century, turned the belief into an esoteric, heterodox belief. Yet Yüksel's explanation of how the change became possible is not clear. Nevertheless, every scholar and researcher, as well as Yazidi faith leaders, admit that Sufism appears as one of the biggest elements within Yazidi belief.
Like the three major monotheistic religions, Yazidis also have a book, which is called the "Black Book." Yet, the book is lost, and the beliefs are taught to new generations orally by the sheiks, the masters.
Although Yazidis were able to continue their belief in the era of the Ottoman Empire and were able to establish good relations with Muslims, ISIS is not tolerant of them and is actively trying to wipe out this regional ethno-religious community.