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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions