Iraq's Yazidis: Who are they – and why are these 'devil worshippers' being persecuted by Isis?

Hundreds of Yazidis have been killed or kidnapped, thousands have fled their homes

Little is known about the religious minority Yazidi group, tens of thousands of whom are trapped on a mountain near Sinjar in northern Iraq.

They are have been driven there by Islamic militants and are relying on humanitarian aid relief drops, though the range of the mountain is difficult to travel, meaning it has taken days for the thousands of people to receive food or water.

Though the US is considering a full-scale rescue of the mountain-trapped Yazidis, Kurdish rebels are thought to have helped rescue around 20,000 from the mountain - but the same number is thought to still be trapped there.

But who are the Yazidi, and why are they being persecuted?

Video: Desperate Yazidis mob aid helicopter

Who are the Yazidis?

The Yazidis are a mainly Kurdish-speaking religious group who for centuries have lived in the northern mountains of Iraq. They are a strong community of around 500,000, though the exact number of the people is not officially known.

The Yazidi religion is a minority religion, and is a closed set: it is not possible for a person to convert to the religion; a person must be born into it.

The Yazidi’s own story of their religion carries a history of persecution from outsiders, and the most recent – until now – was seen under the reign of Saddam Hussein. Since the 1970s they have mainly lived in the city of Sinjar, near Mosul, which was created by during Hussein’s dictatorship and which they were forced into from their rural homes.  

Yazidi people make their way towards the Syrian border What has happened to the Yazidis in the current Iraq crisis?

The Islamic State considers the Yazidi to be apostates and its militants are killing those who refuse to leave their homes or convert to Islam.

Tens of thousands of Yazidis have fled to Mount Sinjar, where they are in desperate need of food, water, and medical supplies, all of which are coming, but reports suggest not quickly enough.

Iraq’s minister for human rights has alleged that Islamic militants had buried Yazidi women and children alive in an offensive against the religious group that saw 500 of its population killed. A further 300 Yazidi women are claimed to have been kidnapped as slaves.

Yazidi people re-enter Iraq from Syria Who is Vian Dakhil?

Vian Dakhil is the only Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament.

Last week she was filmed crying while calling on the government and the international community to save the Yazidis from the threat of the Islamic State fighters, who had placed the ultimatum on all minority groups and religious people to convert to Islam, flee, or die, causing thousands of the tribe to seek refuge in the mountain near Sinjar.

She reportedly told the government: “Over the past 48 hours, 30,000 families have been besieged in the Sinjar mountains, with no water and no food.

“Seventy children have already died of thirst and elderly people have also died.

“Women are being slaughtered, our entire religion is being wiped off the face of the Earth. I am begging you, in the name of humanity.”

A refugee Yazidi family A refugee Yazidi family Why are they called devil worshippers?

Yazidis have been branded “devil worshippers” by Muslims for centuries because of a similarity in the name of a spirit they worship, and the Arabic word for “devil”.

In truth, the ancient Yazidi religion has elements of both Christianity and Islam at its roots, while it is also linked to one of the world’s oldest monotheistic – the belief in one god – religions, called Zoroastrianism.

The Yazidis believe in one god, though they worship seven other “angels” or “spirits”, the most important of which is Malak Taus, or Tausi Melek, whom Yazidis worship five times a day.

This figure is said to be the Yazidi god’s favourite, and is supposed to act as a mediator between god and man. The figure’s name is also known in Arabic as “Shaytan,” meaning devil, supposedly because of the closeness of the pronunciation of Malak Taus’ name in Arabic.

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