Armenia Speaks up for Yazidi Brethren in Pain

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

 

The former president of the Committee of Cultural Relations with Armenians Abroad, Vartkes Hamazaspian, a historian in his own right, once said, “Look at the irony of destiny; the survivors of a once all-powerful empire of Assyria are seeking shelter under the wings of tiny Armenia to preserve their identity in the Soviet Union.”

Armenia, as small as it is, has served as a haven for other minorities escaping persecution and genocide. One such minority group is the Kurds who had been persecuted — and continue to be — throughout the Middle East. The only country which had offered refuge was Armenia, where they enjoyed equal rights as individuals and as an ethnic minority practiced their own language, religion and customs, with their radio broadcasts in Kurdish as well as their own newspapers.

A less understood minority group is the Yazidis, with their syncretic language and brand of religion. They are defined as a Kurdish-speaking (Kurmanji dialect) ethno-religious group practicing a pre-Islamic Assyrian tradition mixing Sufiism and Shiite Islam, Nestorian Christianity and Zoroastrianism. That is exactly what it means to be syncretic, meaning combining diverse and sometimes contradictory concepts into a single faith. Their religion believes in seven fallen angels headed by the Peacock Angel Malek Taus. The latter symbol has been misinterpreted by other groups which label them as devil worshippers. These distinctions are sufficient characteristics to define them as “other” and persecute them.

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The Ottoman Turks persecuted and killed the Yazidis during World War I and many of them fled to Armenia and settled in the area of Aknalich, 22 miles from Yerevan. Some 50,000 Yazidis are now in Armenia, where they are awaiting the completion of the Quba Mere Diwane, their temple which will become the largest Yazidi religious structure in the world. As a minority, they are represented in the Armenian Parliament by Rustam Makhmudian.

The majority of the world’s 1.5 million Yazidis used to live in Northern Iraq, where they were also persecuted by Saddam Hussein’s government and recently they suffered genocide in their country.

Some 300,000 Yazidis live in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they enjoy relative safety, while the majority was left in the Sinjar mountain area, occupied by ISIS, which waged genocide against them.

As details of the atrocities emerge, one could see it as a repeat performance of the Armenian Genocide.

A full century later, the same exact actions were repeated. “Almost 10,000 Yazidis were killed or kidnapped in the ISIS genocide, but the true scale of the horror may never be known,” reports the Independent newspaper. While adult men were most likely to have been executed by the militants, almost all of the victims who died after going up Mount Sinjar were children under the age of 15, one study found.

Dr. Valeria Cetorelli, a research officer and postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said escapees documented torture, sex slavery, forced religious conversion and recruitment as child soldiers.

Topics: Yazidi

“We heard several accounts of girls being gifted or sold to ISIS fighters as sex slaves and the boys forced in training camps,” she added. “More than one third of the kidnapped are still missing and it was not possible to determine whether they are still alive or not. This is really an ongoing genocide because thousands of people are still in captivity.”

These accounts read as the memoirs of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

The United Nations formally recognized the ISIS genocidal campaign against the Yazidi population in June 2016. It also states in a communique that “there can be no impunity” for the crime, arguing for the Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court.

All the crimes and acts described in the convention on Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as defined by the General Assembly Resolution 260 adopted in 1948 have been perpetrated by ISIS.

There is worldwide revulsion against the crimes committed by ISIS. The UN and the International Court of Justice now seeking justice. But where are the criminals? Which party will be held accountable for these heinous crimes? Now that ISIS has been effectively wiped out in Raqqa, there is a very convenient copout that the criminals have been punished and no further action needs to be taken.

The Rwandan Genocide in the 1990s was the child of the Armenian Genocide and Jewish Holocaust and the precursor of the Yazidi Genocide. Political expediency forbade any intervention during the events which happened front of the eyes of the world community. The head of the UN Peacekeeping Force at the time warned of an impending genocide, but he was silenced. Thus, 800,000 Tutsis lost their lives in the ensuing massacres in Rwanda at the hands of the Hutu ethnic group. Belatedly, after he was out of office, President Bill Clinton visited the Rwandan capital, Kigali, to apologize for US inaction, an apology too late for the 800,000 victims.

In the Yazidi case, there may be an excuse that the ISIS leaders have been killed and that they cannot be brought to justice. But what about the countries that supported, armed, trained and logistically helped the group in the commission of their vile efforts? Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and several other neighboring countries created the monster and armed and unleashed it against unarmed civilians. Are those governments going to get off scot free because they are our “trusted allies” and there is always political expediency to absolve them.

Right at this moment, another crime is being committed by Turkey against the Kurds in Syria — Kurds who had been armed by the US. By all estimation of observers, Turkey would not have dared to invade the Kurdish enclaves of Afrin and Manbij without the tacit approval of the US and Russia, which have their military assets in the area.

“I have not seen the utter futility — perhaps insanity —of our Middle East policy laid bare in a clearer way than in this week’s breathtaking developments in Syria,” writes Dr. Ron Paul in describing the situation and the encouragement given to Turkey, the main architect of carnage in the region.

Armenians, as victims of genocide, have been extremely sensitive to the plight of other minorities experiencing the same fate. President Serzh Sargsyan had already condemned the mass killings of the Yazidis in Iraq in 2014 and had instructed the missions of the Foreign Ministry to “redouble their efforts to adequately raise the issue in the international arena.” That persistent policy came to fruition when Armenia’s Parliament unanimously passed a resolution on January 16 recognizing as genocide the 2014 mass killing of the Yazidis in Iraq committed by the Islamic State.

The Yazda organization and UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking Nadia Murad have welcomed the resolution.

“The recognition of the Yazidi Genocide by the Armenian parliament today is a historic moment for the entire Yazidi community worldwide and for the victims of this genocide. We welcome this important step, especially as it comes from a country which in its recent history, has suffered greatly from genocide,” reads the statement.

It was the right thing to do for Armenia. It would have been counterproductive to claim that our pain is greater than other people’s pain, as some of us are tempted to do.

Nor is there value in claiming that our experience was unique, since all genocides and human tragedies are part of universal pain.

As we demonstrate empathy toward other groups’ pain, we find empathy for our own.

 

 

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