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On June 15, the UN Human Rights Council released the report “‘They came to destroy’. ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis”. The report assesses ISIS’s carnage against the Yazidi religious minority, determining that it fulfills the requirements to be categorized as genocide.  Daesh’s constant expression of their decision to annihilate the Yazidi community stirs doubt on whether the massacre could be given any other name.

Drawing elements from the Assyrian, Babylonian and Judeo-Christian traditions, and some from Islamic Sufism, the ancient faith is accused by some Muslims of devil worship. One of the main figures of their devotion, Tawusî Melek, a fallen angel that repents and returns to heaven, is often misguidedly compared to the Quranic image of Satan, hence igniting periodic persecutions. Because of this component of their belief, they have been regarded by ISIS as “pagans” (mushrikin). Under the group’s interpretation of Islam, those identified as pagans should be treated brutally.

Most Yazidi are ethnically Kurdish, and were mainly clustered around the mountainous northeastern Iraqi district of Shinjal, a region long disputed between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad. The Peshmerga Kurds surrendered the area to ISIS in 2014 (remaining, however, the only force to fight for the Yazidi’s protection on the field), and seized the capital of Sinjar again in late 2015. By then, Yazidi commanders had joined KDP fighters, after the largest Yazidi militia was deemed “illegitimate” by the Kurdish Government and its leader was temporarily arrested.


Yezidi YBS Resistance fighters in Shengal. Source: Kurdishstruggle via Flickr
Yazidi YBS Resistance fighters in Shengal. Source: Kurdishstruggle via Flickr


The official account of the genocide appears roughly two years after the beginning of the massacre, in August 2014, that’s still ongoing. It was in the first days of its outbreak that Iraqi Yazidi MP Vian Dakhil  burst into tears in Parliament, as she desperately invoked the weight of the word to beg her fellow incumbents:

“Please, brothers… There is now a campaign of genocide being waged on the Yazidi constituent. Brothers, away from all political disputes we want humanitarian solidarity. I speak here in the name of humanity. Save us! Save us!”

The Yazidi rights advocacy group Yazda compiled a report last January revealing the sites of 35 mass graves in Iraqi ground where Dawaseen (the appellative Yazidis give themselves) had been slaughtered. According to “Iskander” (pseudonym given by NBC to the curator that chronicles the names and stories of the dead amongst the Yazidi), nearly 6,000 men, women, and children have been killed by IS.  Some 3,100 remain in captivity in the hands of IS sympathizers.

The UN’s findings expose the systematization of the butchery. Upon invasion, men and women were separated. The  most ideal fate for the men was to become recruits or to be used as labor. Most of the women, some as young as 9 years old, were sold for sexual enslavement, since IS’s creed permits and encourages the practice on pagans. The sexual slave market remains one of the organization’s main pillars and tools to recruit its fighters.


Yazidi refugee kids in Kurd territory. Source: Defend International via Flickr
Yazidi refugee kids in Kurd territory. Source: Defend International via Flickr

Human nature sometimes compels each one of us to consider other’s existence only in relation to our own. The UN report gives the Yazidi faces, names, and a story, connecting their reality with the reality of mankind. The intensity of their suffering has come to signify an offense to our collective heart. An act of genocide.

What remains unclear is the course of action that the international community will follow. While a first evaluation of the barbary may suggest the urgency of a military blitz, a more tempered reflection is imperative. This is the first registered genocide to be perpetrated exclusively by a non-state actor, that politically is not clearly backed or influenced by any national entity. IS is the offspring of the war, the rapacious conflict of interests in the Middle East. It breeds war, it breastfeeds from war. Further gunpowder from the stakeholders of the battle may simply nurture the spiral of violence and grief.

The Human Rights Council’s recommendations promote less charismatic responses like prosecution, rescue, protection, care. They shift the conversation from the quarrel to the victims.  Humanity is the victim when it comes to a genocide. This approach should guide any policy strategy that calls itself humane.


Demonstrators in front of the White House call for greater US intervention to save Iraqi minorities in Aug 2014. Source: Robert Lyle Bolton via Flickr
Demonstrators in front of the White House call for greater US intervention to save Iraqi minorities in August 2014. Source: Robert Lyle Bolton via Flickr

-Paula Peñacoba


United Nations Human Rights Council:

National Geographic:

Ekurd :

The Guardian:

Hands Off Syria:



The Daily Beast:

The New York Times:

The Guardian:


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