Why we help Iraq's Yazidis

Why we help Iraq's Yazidis
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The tragic situation of the Yazidi people of northern Iraq has garnered worldwide attention in recent years. 

In 2014, the Yazidis in the northern Iraqi province of Sinjar were subject to a forced conversion campaign at the hands of the Islamic State (IS). In the process, IS kidnapped over 7,000 women and children and many of them were conscripted as sex slaves. They also  murdered over 10,000 Yazidi men and boys and expelled over half a million from their ancestral homelands. Nearly 3,000 of them are still missing. To date, there have been 74 reported genocides perpetrated against the Yazidis. 

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While the volunteers have have gone to great lengths to provide aid and counseling to the Yazidi survivors and to persecuted Christian and Shia populations, their precarious situation continues. Many currently live in limbo in refugee camps in northern Iraq. During my visit to the refugee camps, I have personally witnessed the difficult living conditions that Yazidis are living through. Many in the camps are at risk of exploitation and all of them suffer from a lack of basic supplies. There are also those refugees who live in unfinished buildings outside the camps where they are exposed to unhygienic conditions and lack access to food, medicines, blankets, toilets and other basic necessities.



I want to state unequivocally that the persecution of the Yazidis is unacceptable. There is no role for prejudice in any faith or civic tradition, and our work to help the Yazidis must continue. 

Along these lines, let me be clear: The Yazidis have been attacked because of their different belief system, not because of any fault of their own. This must not stand in the 21st century. 

So, who are the Yazidis? 

The Yazidis number approximately 700,000 worldwide, most of them tracing their ancestral lands to northern Iraq. Their name means “worshippers of God” and the Yazidi faith dates from 11th century Zoroastrianism, Islam and Christianity. 

The Yazidis’ faith includes the worship of a fallen angel, Melek Tawwus, a belief that has caused IS to label the Yazidis as devil-worshippers and has been the justification for their persecution over centuries. 

To this end, al Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to IS, denounced the Yazidis as infidels and endorsed their killing, and the Yazidis suffered countless massacres under 18th and 19th century Ottoman rule.

Some may ask themselves, why help the Yazidis, and why help religious minorities in general?

Protecting religious minorities and their religious freedom is one of both America’s and my own country, India’s, most fundamental ideals upon which our nations were founded. 

President George Washington helped articulate this principle when he wrote to the Jewish community in Newport, Rhode Island in August 1790, sharing that as a religious minority, they are welcome in the United States and ought not to fear maltreatment. He wrote, “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship … for, happily, the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”. 

India too welcomed Jewish as well as Parsi communities when they escaped persecution in their respective countries. The early immigrants of both communities were given land to settle down along with their places of worship and their businesses. They were free to follow their faith and had equal opportunities in every field. 

In this spirit, we should be proud of the volunteers who bring relief to the Yazidi refugee camps in the form of food, water and hygiene products. Through working with the Iraqi national government, they have made a difference in the lives of Yazidi refugees who survived the brutal onslaught of IS. 

Happily, other charitable organizations and governments have also become involved with relief for the Yazidis. Together, their efforts have helped improve the Yazidis’ situation and prospects.

Although four years have already passed since IS began its campaign of abuse against the Yazidis, we musn’t become complacent in our responsibility to help them. Our obligation to help vulnerable Yazidi, Christian and Shia populations remains, and the world must not look the other way when crimes against humanity are committed. 

We need to stand with those who are targeted and tormented for their beliefs, whether they’re Yazidi, Hindu, Christian, Muslim or of any other faith. It is important that actors of goodwill advocate on behalf of the Yazidis and all religious minorities to protect them from attacks and preserve their heritage. 

To this end, we must provide protective environments where people of all backgrounds can enjoy their freedoms, and we must emphasize and repeat the universal importance of the fundamental freedom of worship. 

By standing up and vigilantly promoting our core values, we can make a difference and continue to be a shining light in the world. 

I urge the world community to continue to protect religious liberty and religious minorities. The Yazidis still need our help and must not be abandoned.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the founder of the Art of Living Foundation and the International Association for Human Values which collaborate on humanitarian initiatives worldwide. Sri Sri’s work includes armed conflict resolution, U.S. Veteran PTSD reliefprisoner rehabilitation, addiction treatment, poverty alleviation and human rights advocacy. His programs have reached an estimated 370 million people in 155 countries.