The following is an article I wrote for my journalism class on Nov 21st. It has been posted here for your viewing pleasure. If you wish to use any information or quotes from my article please contact me.
National Council of Jewish Women of Canada (NCJWC) with Project Abraham held an information night on Nov. 21 called “Save the Yazidis” to raise awareness of the genocide against the Yazidi people at the NCJWC Council Centre in North York.
Geoffrey Clarfield, executive director of Mozuud Freedom Foundation and Mirza Ismail, founder and chair of the Yazidi Human Rights Organization International spoke about the genocide and how Canadians could act to help the Yazidi people.
“Behind the CNN reports, behind the Fox News reports there’s a very well-articulated, calmly expressed ideology of the religious leaders of Iraq that the Yazidi at best are good for conquest and slavery and at worse you have the right to wipe them out,” said Clarfield.
The Yazidis are an ethnically Kurdish religious community primarily found in Iraq, near Mosul but also have smaller communities in Syria, Georgia and Armenia. They practice a religion called “Yazidism,” a monotheistic religion that believes that God is the creator of the world, and that he has placed the world under the care of seven holy beings, the chief of whom is named Melek Taus or the “Peacock Angel”.
According to a June 15, 2016 UN Human Rights Council report, the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Levant or ISIL viewed the religion as “pagan”. This view led to an incident in August 2014, where 300 Yazidi families were threatened and forced to convert to Sunni Islam or die.
On October 2014, the United Nations confirmed that 5,000 men were executed and 7,000 women are being kept as sexual slaves in makeshift detention centres in ISIL territory.
The same UN Human Rights Council report said that numerous atrocities were committed against the Yazidi people including forced conversion, mass execution, sexual slavery of women and forced conversion of children into child soldiers. This report, which focuses on violations occurring in Syria, is based on 45 interviews with survivors, religious leaders, smugglers, activists, lawyers, medical personnel, and journalists. The day after releasing the report, the United Nations declared the event a genocide.
The audience was silent as Ismail painted a vivid picture of the persecution of the Yazidi people. He spoke of forced conversions, female sexual slavery and the creation of child soldiers while a slideshow displayed pictures of women, children and men in relief camps or in cities in Iraq. One of the images showed Yazidi children and women who held a single sign that said “I want to go home.”
“Sometimes people ask me: ‘Why do the Muslims hate the Yazidis so much?’” He said. “I answer ‘because the Yazidi don’t hate.’”
Ismail, a Yazidi himself described the ethnic group as a “peaceful community that lived alongside the Jewish people for thousands of years.” He called on the Jewish community to help his people, explaining that their own history of persecution in the Middle East made them empathetic to the genocide in Iraq and Syria.
He also criticized world leaders, calling them “mute, deaf and blind” to the suffering of his people.
“They don’t want to see what’s happening,” he said, “because once they see, they become a part of the crime because they don’t do anything.”
The audience listened attentively as Clarfield said that this was not the first time the Yazidi people were persecuted, citing the rule of Sadam Hussein, under which the Yazidi people were cut off from their homeland following a campaign in Iraq against the Kurdish people.
A question and answer period followed the speakers. Hands shot up into the air at every opportunity as the audience asked about the genocide and what they could do to help this minority.
“It’s important that people know what’s going on in the Middle East,” said Zuhut Avahim, who attended the event, “especially with minorities being killed and slaughtered every day. The media should focus on that.”
A representative for local Liberal MP Michael Levitt was present at the event. He confirmed that the Canadian government sent an envoy to northern Iraq regarding the issue, but could not comment on the specific actions of the government presently.
Debbie Rose, the coordinator for Project Abraham, said there are many things that Canadians could do to help these people like joining Project Abraham, spreading the word through their social networks, talking to their MPs or donating towards the cause.
Project Abraham is based out of the Mozuud Freedom Foundation, a human rights organization which according to their website, aims to speak out about “important issues, whether they are local, regional, national or international.” According to Rose, Project Abraham is a campaign that aims to help the Yazidi people, specifically through family reunification as refugees in Canada.
“These people are facing genocide and they don’t have anyone in the world to help them,” she said, “if we don’t step up they are going to be massacred into extinction.”