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Situation of the Yezidis in Iraq

von Ali Rascho

The Yezidis are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia, presently Iraq. Today’s, Iraq is our ancestral homeland. We have lived in the region for the past 6,000 years. We are deeply rooted in the region and have managed to maintain our identity for centuries despite massacres, political, historical and geographical changes throughout the centuries. 
Since the beginning of Iraq invasion in 2003, the Yezidis have been under siege, facing far greater danger than the average Muslims and even other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraqi. As a minority Yezidis living in Iraq, not only have we been denied and deprived of our most basic human rights, but Islamic extremists have been forcing us out of Iraq through various tactics such as deliberate and systematic attacks(1), and continuous abductions(2), by merciless kidnappers who leave Yezidi families mourning their loved ones even when a ransom is paid. Yezidi territories and property are confiscated and families were evicted out of their homes. 

As the indigenous people born in the cradle of civilization, the Yezidi identity must be recognized and preserved and, therefore, Yezidi demand representation in the Iraqi Parliament, and provisional as an integral part of Iraq’s future. 
Regardless of their numbers, the Yezidis will always remain in the region and will continue to call the Iraq their homeland. The Yezidis are entitled to fundamental rights and to representation in the government of which they are citizens. 
Democracy in Iraq will fail if it does not treat all members of its society equally before the law. The removal of Article (50) ensured the failure of democracy in Iraq and will ensure not only discrimination against Yezidis and other minorities in their ancient homeland, but will treat them as 2nd class citizens. 
With the removal of Article 50, „democratic“ Iraq will shift back to being a conservative Islamic Taliban State that will no longer recognize the rights of its minorities, particularly the Christians, Yezidis and Sabaeans. And the reconstruction of Iraq cannot succeed when the rights of the country’s minorities are stripped from them. It also will not erase the diversity of cultures, religions and ethnicities that make up Iraq. 
Yezidis have already paid a heavy price since the beginning of the Iraq War(3). The liberation of Iraqis must encompass all its citizens, including the religious and ethnic minorities, and not just the Sunni, the Shiites and the Kurds. 
Though the Iraqi presidential council had stated in various interviews in the past few occasions that they will do their best make change in the law immediately. But, one cannot always count on the promise of politicians. The Yezidis are counting on them to do the right thing in order to ensure that the law protects the rights of Yezidis, Assyrians and all minorities. 
On September 24, 2008, Iraq’s 275-member Parliament passed the Provincial Election Law but in a move that has stunned the minority citizens of Iraq, and has drawn criticism from the United Nations, members of the Iraqi Parliament removed Article 50, a key clause that would have reserved seats on Provincial Councils for the minorities. 
On September 26th, the American presidential candidate Barack Obama reacted to these developments and sent a letter to the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking what the American government is planning to do to stop the persecution and oppression of Assyrians and other minorities in Iraq.

On Thursday October 2, 2008 Staffan de Mistura, a UN special representative, disapproved of the removal of Article 50 and called for it to be reinstated by October 15. Despite the fact that this bill is now effectively a law, the Iraqi Parliament can amend the legislation. 
The new law allows a fixed quota of 25% for women, but other Iraqi minorities, such as Christians and Yezidis, have been omitted with the removal of Article 50. We are calling on Iraq’s Presidency Council, UN representative, European Union and members of the Iraqi Parliament and lawmakers to immediately reinstate Article 50. 
The voting (majority with 191 votes), was sneaked in anyway instead of being postponed to a later stage and all the MPs from the three majority groups voted against it. „Now Christians, Mandaeans, Yezidis, Shaback and others will never trust in any democracy in Iraq. Both the Iraqi national and the Kurdish provincial governments disappoint, both have promised to protect the minorities, but both have now shown that it was all just empty promises“.

Through the war time, our villages destroyed because they represent Yezidis. Our workers have been brutally dismembered and murdered. Our children have been victims of hate crimes. Our women have been kidnapped and raped. Our men have been kidnapped and killed. Our professors and university students have been fled and stopped their higher studies. The educational system is facing real challenges. There are no municipal services. There is significant increase in social, political and finance corruption. Our agriculture farms, investment means, businesses and homes have been destroyed. Our ethnicity and traditional culture is in risk.

The Yezidi society in Iraq and Turkey in particular suffered from peerless dark periods during the history, starting from genocide campaigns, women capturing, forcible displacement, villages burning, confiscating of public assets and properties, obligatory conversion of creed and religion, and burning religious symbols for being accused as apostates, unbelievers and evil worshipers. All these names from extremists’ point of view give them the right to punish those peoples. As a result, many military campaigns supported by legal opinions (Fatwa) from religious people were committed against this sector who believes in the Creator, allowing them to kill, destroy, loot and capturing women. Therefore they were unable to protect their continuity and vitality.

We have been paying ransom to our captors since the beginning of the war. Our community has been dispersed but our spirit is still not broken. We will not be severed. Our 700,000 population before the Iraq War has now been dwindled down to less than 450,000. Yezidis still living in Iraq, are subjected to violent hate crimes, religious and social discrimination and their human rights are disregarded. But we have not given up hope. We are still standing and have not sought revenge. We have not fought violence with violence, and we will fight for peace and justice.

Yezidi refugees, as well as the refugees of other minorities, who are living right now in Syria and other countries are living in squalor conditions. More than 100,000 Yezidis especially intellectuals and productive members have fled out of Iraq and this, of course, will create cultural, economical and social challenges while thousands of female will remain with out marriage. They are now reduced to living as refugees in poverty and neglect.

The Swedish cabinet members were promised that the returning minority refugees would be protected. The Swedish Migration Board will no longer be able to deport Assyrians, Mandaeans and Yezidis to Iraq since that would violate Swedish laws stating that anyone who as an individual is subject to persecution has the right to asylum in Sweden. All non-Muslims in Iraq are as individuals being persecuted. Though we strongly urge our people to stay in Iraq, but we also thank the Holland government to approve the Iraqi minority’s rights for asylum on their land. 
We as human rights defenders are requesting the Human Rights Agencies, Amnesty International, Minority’s Rights Group, Human Rights Watch, Equal Rights Trusts, Canadian Peacemaker Team, International Human Rights Network, Arab Human Rights Institute, Equitas, Fronts Rights, European Union, UN, NGOs in KRG and US to apply more pressure on Iraqi government to respect minorities and ethnic groups‘ survival as humans in their country. Yes, they can do much more for these indigenous people and ethnic and religious minorities through planned mechanism and improve their daily and future life. Thank you for time.

(1): On August 14, 2007 four horrendous blasts were happened in Al-Qahtania and Al-Jazeerah of Yezidi villages. Approximately 400 of them were killed and injured at least twice as many, and more than 700 houses were grounded to the earth. 
(2): On April 22, 2007. 24 Yezidis‘ textile workers were murdered in Mosul. 
(3): The Yezidis were threatened and forced to leave their villages and agricultural farms near the Arab boarders and became an internally displaced people (IDPs).

Ali Seedo Rasho 
President of Yezidi Cultural Association in Iraq 
Human Rights Activist 
American University in Cairo 
Cairo; October 10, 2008