Last Wednesday (April 15) marked the beginning of the Yazidi New Year. Thirty-six miles northeast of Mosul, Iraq is the small village of Lalish, the most sacred place on Earth to the Yazidi religion. Followers of the faith believe the village, surrounded on all sides by mountains lined with oak trees, to be the center of the universe: the only place on Earth to be saved during the biblical floods. Twelve cone-shaped domes are scattered across the valley as shrines to the Yazidi saints. Each year on this day thousands of Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious group located in northern Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, gather on what they call Red Wednesday for a time of feasting, repentance, and performing ancient rituals set amid the temple grounds. Worshipers take off their shoes to walk the hallowed grounds and perform fire-based prayer rites. In accordance with tradition, worshipers leave colored eggs outside of their homes on the New Year hoping they will help God identify them.
This New Year, however, is eerily different. When fighters for the Islamic State invaded northern Iraq last summer, they destroyed the villages of the Yazidi people along with the homes of Christians and other Kurdish groups. In a storm of murder, torture, and sexual violence, Islamic State fighters executed and buried in mass graves young Yazidi men. They simultaneously displayed their unimaginable violent ways by capturing young girls and women who were to be used as both sex slaves and pieces of property by the militants. Hala Rasho Hamo, a worshiper at the Lalish temple this New Year said, “We did not paint eggs or hang red tulips on our doors this year: our heart is in pain. We came here to pray to God and the [Yazidi saint] Sheikh Adi to end our misery and bring back our women and children.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report earlier this week revealing some of the most heinous war crimes committed by Islamic State forces against the Yazidi women captured. The detailed report reveals that one girl as young as 12 was abducted from her village and handed over to seven Islamic State fighters who would trade and rape her. The victim recounts her story: “Sometimes I was sold. Sometimes I was given as a gift. The last man was the most abusive; he used to tie my arms and legs.” Many of the women have suffered unimaginable trauma and abuse. Many have attempted suicide only to be further physically assaulted when the fighters caught them attempting to hang themselves or cut their wrists. Various reports claim that an estimated 5,000 Yazidis have been killed, abducted, or remain missing.
The United Nations is currently investigating reports from Yazidi men and women who have escaped in an effort to judge whether or not the Islamic State is committing genocide. Iraq currently is not a member of the International Criminal Court in The Hague and therefore any crimes cannot be investigated and tried under international law until the nation joins.
It is almost too overwhelming to comprehend the magnitude of horror that this population has endured. It is even more difficult to comprehend how the United Nations or other international peace keeping institutions have not intervened for these people. It is understandable that these organizations are often just as terrified about the threat that the Islamic State poses in the region. However, I cannot comprehend how the world is able to stand by and watch as this militant organization commits genocide in a similar fashion to that of every other mass killing movement in history. Reminiscent of the Bosnian and Rwandan genocide, the mass killing and capture of the Yazidi people has for almost a year gone unnoticed by most of the world’s population. As a more integrated world, we must not stand by and watch as a minority population is massacred for their beliefs and identity. They too should enjoy the ability to worship in peace on this New Year’s celebration without the grief of reflecting for the thousands that have been massacred or abducted from their friends and families.