Special for the Armenian Weekly
PARIS, France (A.W.)—On Aug. 2, Yazidis in Paris observed the first year anniversary of the start of the Yazidi Genocide on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis of Human Rights.
Around 80 people gathered on the esplanade at 2 p.m. The event was organized by the Association of the Yazidis of France (AYE). A year ago, thousands of Yazidis were forced to leave their homes in Iraq to escape the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In August 2014, ISIS won against the Peshmerga (the military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan), forcing an estimated 40,000 Yazidis to escape to the Sinjar Mountain without water and food, and in scorching heat.
Sofiane is 18 and remembers that day vividly: “We had to run away. We went to the Sinjar Mountain. We had no water, no food. We stayed on the mountain for seven days before going to Syria and then Kurdistan. I arrived in France a month ago.”
On Aug. 5, 2014, Vian Dakhil, the only Yazidi in the Iraqi Parliament, drew the world’s attention to the horrors Yazidis were facing in a speech she gave in front of the Iraqi Parliament. Through tears, she asked for help. And she kept talking, despite attempts by the speaker of the parliament to stop her plea. “Our women are being taken as slaves and sold in the slave market. There is now a campaign of genocide being waged on the Yazidi people. Brothers, away from all political disputes, we want humanitarian solidarity. I speak in the name of humanity. Save Us!”
“For 48 hours, 30,000 families are besieged in the Sinjar Mountain without water and food,” she continued. “They are dying. Seventy babies have died so far from thirst and suffocation. Fifty old people have died from the deteriorating conditions. … There have been 72 genocide campaigns on the Yazidis, and now it is being repeated in the 21st century.”
On Aug. 9, the European Union denounced these crimes against humanity, while U.S. President Barack Obama said it was obvious that ISIS’s aim was the complete destruction of the Yazidis.
The fate of the Yazidi women worried Vian Dakhil, but also international organizations. Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser, in a report published in December 2014 by Amnesty International reported that “Many of those held as sexual slaves are children—girls aged 14, 15 or even younger. IS fighters are using rape as a weapon in attacks amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
This is one of the reasons why Nursel Kilic, from the International Representation of the Kurdish Women’s Movement, was at the Parvis of Human Rights last Sunday in support of the AYE. “We are here to denounce the genocide of the Yazidis but also what we call a feminicide [massacre of women]. Girls who have been kidnapped are from 8 years old to 70 years old. If they don’t want to accept the Islamist laws, they are killed. They are raped and tortured every day. Most of them kill themselves to escape these conditions. We have a project to build women centers in Sinjar to help these women rehabilitate themselves.”
Darvish, 56, was also at the esplanade; he had arrived in Paris in November 2014. “I could not stay over there. It will always be my home but I can’t go back. No one would go back if the destination is death.”
Hundreds of Yazidi men have been killed, and countless have been forced to convert to Islam under the threat of death. People have been put in common graves, sometimes still alive. Young girls have been separated from their parents and sold and forced to marry ISIS fighters.
Daniel Auguste, vice president of the Committee for the Support of Iraqi Christians, a French NGO, and deputy mayor of the city Villiers-le-Bel, a Parisian suburb, was also there. “My grandfather was Armenian. I don’t forget who I am and where I come from. My speech is a speech of disappointment with the international community, with Europe, with France. In France, there is an ambiguous discourse. There is no condemnation and it seems complicated to denounce atrocities—becoming accomplices in a certain way,” he said.
“I did not know that economic interests had more value than humanity. Turkey is attacking ISIS—an alibi to attack the Kurds, its primary enemy. Kurds are doing what Europeans should do: They fight ISIS. And today, it is important to be here to show my support and denounce the genocide of the Yazidis. Minorities should stand up together.”
But why are the Yazidis a target for ISIS?
The Yazidi religion believes in one god, Xewede, who entrusted the world to seven angels, including the Peacock angel Malek Taous, who is mistakenly viewed by Muslims as being Satan (Shaitan in Arabic). Yazidis have been victims of massacres since the 13th century. They were also victims of one of the most murderous attacks after the departure of American soldiers from Iraq in 2007. In fact, in August 2007, four coordinated explosions in the northwest of Iraq caused approximately 800 deaths among the population. The reason given for these attacks was the stoning of young Du’a Kahlil Aswad—a young Yazidi who converted to Islam to marry a young Muslim—by her own community.
In December 2014, the Kurds and Yazidis took back parts of their territory from ISIS. But, says Vian Dakil, that doesn’t mean we should pay any less attention to the situation. Most of the 500,000 Yazidis from Iraq today are living as refugees in camps in Kurdistan. In February 2015, in La Chronique, a magazine of Amnesty International, Dakil reported that the sanitary conditions in these camps are hazardous; for example, there is 1 shower for 50 families.