Saturday, August 18, 2007

Yazidis fear annihilation

Members of the Yazidi sect fear they face annihilation after Tuesday’s attacks which killed over 400 people in Northern Iraq. The attack was the deadliest suicide bomb attack of the four-year conflict. The attacks were carried out by garbage trucks packed with explosives which flattened entire neighbourhoods in the northern Iraqi town of Kahtaniya. An Iraqi interior ministry spokesman said that the blast used 2 tons of explosives to crumbled buildings, trapping entire families beneath mud bricks and other wreckage. Rescuers dug through the rubble throughout Wednesday in scenes reminiscent of an earthquake zone.

The attacks left the community without power and water. "Their aim is to annihilate us, to create trouble and kill all the Yazidis because we are not Muslims," said Abu Saeed told visiting Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih that he had lost 51 members of his family in the attack. About 100 angry Yazidi men gathered as Salih met local officials. “It’s like a nuclear site, the site of a nuclear bomb,” one of the men told Reuters. Al-Qaeda wants to kill all the Yazidis,” said another villager. “Another bomb like this and there will be no more Yazidis left.”

The Yazidis, who call themselves the Dawasin, are a minority sect regarded by Sunni militants as infidels. This obscure and secretive religious sect is now the victims of the second-worst terrorist attack of modern times after 9/11. Yazidism has about 700,000 members worldwide. Yazidis are mostly ethnic Kurds who live in northern Iraq, near Mosul, but there are also small communities in Syria, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, and Armenia. Smaller Diaspora communities exist in the west, mainly in Germany and the Netherlands.

The word Yazidi or sometimes Yezidi comes from the Persian “yazdan” meaning God. Yazidis regard Mohammed as a prophet, and Jesus Christ as an angel in human form. The religion’s origins are shrouded in Middle Eastern prehistory. The Yazidis speak Kurdish but their syncretistic religion also shows strong Christian, Islam and ancient Zoroastrian and Assyrian influences. Similar to Muslims, Yazidis have five daily prayers and a three-day fast in December. The most important ritual is the annual six-day pilgrimage to the tomb of Sheikh Adi in Lalish, north of Mosul, Iraq. The principal feature of worship, is Muluk-Taus a hundred- or thousand-eyed incarnation of cosmic wisdom, pictured as a peacock.

Muluk-Taus is sometimes called “Shaytan” or Satan which has led to Muslim accusations that the Yazidis are devil worshippers. The Yazidis and Muslims have had grievances against each other for centuries. In recent times their fraught relationship has escalated into outright violence. In April video footage captured the stoning to death of a Yazidi woman who converted to Islam after marrying a Muslim. The video was seen widely and angry Muslims gunned down 23 Yazidis in reprisal.

The latest atrocity comes as the area is due to vote on whether to come under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government later this year. The area is half Arab and half Kurdish. Neighbouring Arab villages had been threatening Yazidis, trying to stop them voting for Kurdistan in forthcoming polls. While the region is currently managed by Iraqi government security forces due to the nearness of the Syrian border, it is likely the impact of the bombing will strengthen Yazidi resolve to join the Kurdistan Regional Government.

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