The 2014 Genocide and its impact on the Yazidi Diaspora

The 2014 Genocide and its impact on the Yazidi Diaspora

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  • 25 Mart 2021 Perşembe
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This paper argues that the 2014 Genocide had resulted in forming a Yazidi diaspora because they lost their security and safety feeling in their homeland. Therefore, they have established a communal responsibility and purpose to seek justice, demand jurisdiction over perpetrators, prevent another genocide, and protect their culture.

İrem Dumlu

Migration Studies


Yazidi community is one of the ancient and long-surviving ethnoreligious sects in the world. However, their survival was challenging, and their population significantly decreased throughout history as they suffered from discrimination, marginalization, even persecution, and genocide. This ancient community states that they were persecuted several times in their history, that most of them can derive from their oral traditions. Some of the hatred and massacres they had encountered were caused by misperceptions about their ethnicity, religious beliefs, and culture. Unfortunately, their tragedy did not remain in the old pages of history, and in 2014 they suffered from a genocide at the hands of the so-called Islamic State. This terrorist organization killed and kidnapped them while destroying their livelihood. However, the Yazidis did not receive collective help from the international community. Later, many governments and international institutions, including the United Nations, acknowledged that the 2014 attack was a genocide. Therefore, Yazidis who achieved to escape from that terrifying genocide spread worldwide, and they have established transnational networks and organizations. This paper argues that the 2014 Genocide had resulted in forming a Yazidi diaspora because they lost their security and safety feeling in their homeland. Therefore, they have established a communal responsibility and purpose to seek justice, demand jurisdiction over perpetrators, prevent another genocide, and protect their culture.

Keywords: victim diaspora, genocide, crimes against humanity, justice, the United Nations



     The Yazidis are one of the most mysterious ethnoreligious communities of the Middle East. Historically, their population spread different parts of the world, but their largest settlements located mainly in Iraq, particularly in Sheikhan where has several villages and towns in the northeast part of Mosul, and Sinjar where is a mountainous area located to the northwest, close to the Syrian border including their holy places, shrines, and ancestral villages. There are controversial perceptions about the origins and ethnicities of Yazidis. For instance, in terms of their ethnicity, some regard them as Kurdish, but although the Yazidis mainly speak Kurmanji, a particular Kurdish dialect, it is not accurate to categorize them as Kurdish. On the other hand, in terms of their religion, some regard them as a continuation of the shamanist religion of ancient Turks, derivation of Zoroastrianism, a different version of Islam or Christianity. However, these are just common mistakes because the Yazidis have their religion called Yazidism or Sharfadin, one of the oldest monotheistic religions, believing in one creator God called Xwede. (Gokcen,2014) Therefore, in this paper, Yazidis are accepted as a special indigenous ethnoreligious group, and the term Yazidi will be used for ethnicity, race, and religious affiliation.

     The name of 'Yazidi' given to them by outsiders, the community prefers to be called as Êzîdî, and this confusion in terminology is one reason behind the misperceptions and prejudices towards Yazidis. For instance, Shiites associate them with the murder of the grandson of Prophet Muhammed, Hussein, by the armies of II. Umayyad Caliph Yezid. (Gokcen,2014). Another significant prejudice of the Muslim community is caused by the Yazidis' religious beliefs' complicated details. Unfortunately, Yazidis are regarded as devil worshippers because of the importance of Melek Tawus or as English known name 'the Peacock Angel' in their religion. Many Muslims have a confusion about the Melek Tawus as similar to Satan. However, even with some similar concepts and stories, these two do not refer to the same meaning, and regarding them as interchangeable is a widespread mistake that causes the creation of prejudice towards the Yezidi community.

     Throughout history, the Yazidis lived under the rules of others rather than forming their central states. Even the fact that the Yazidis did not play any role in the ongoing conflicts of Iraq back in 2014, and they did not form any particular alliance with regional or local power groups, recently, they suffered from one of the bloodiest and most terrifying massacres in their long history at the center of global attention because of their religion. While scholars have focused on the culture and history of Yazidis', little attention has been paid to the 2014 Genocide and its aftermath impacts. The case study on the 2014 Yazidi Genocide is crucial to understanding one of the recent forces behind forming a Yazidi diaspora. The following research question will guide this paper; What was the impact of the 2014 Genocide on forming a Yazidi diaspora in several countries, particularly in Germany?

     Although this research paper's nature is limited, several primary and secondary data sources are used to diversify data and findings for providing a base behind the concept of the Yazidi diaspora. For that purpose, citations from multiple sources will be used, such as the Yazidi victims' acknowledgments to the press, previous interviews, published books written by Yazidis, previously published studies, and other researchers' analysis and media sources, including reports and news. Hence, this article investigates the 2014 Genocide as a case study to discover its implications on the formation of the Yazidi Diaspora. The data and material will be analyzed from a theoretical perspective given in the following section.

     The remaining part of this paper is structured as follows. Firstly, the literature review part reveals the established features of a diaspora. Secondly, there will be a brief explanation about the history and ideology of the terrorist organization ISIS to understand their violent actions against the Yazidi Community. Then, the 2014 Genocide will be explained in detail. Next, the international community's response will be investigated to found out the reasons behind the lack of intervention and jurisdiction over perpetrators. In the last part, the current available demographic data will be interpreted to look at the Yazidi community's spread after the 2014 Genocide and their establishment of the bound around shared purposes.  In the end, the argument presented in this research paper is that after the 2014 Genocide, the Yazidi community that resettled to Germany have started to carry the characteristics of a diaspora because they have established a notion of a co-responsibility within the members of the Yazidi community around their ethnic identity. They started to carry common purposes that avoid another massacre, seeking justice while demanding jurisdiction over perpetrators and preventing the Yazidis' assimilation who live abroad from their culture, history, and traditions. Therefore, the current Yazidi community in Germany can be defined as a diaspora.


 Literature Review and Theoretical Lens


     The term diaspora has experienced evaluation in its meaning due to social construction and shift in dynamics over time. Throughout decades, the diaspora had a precise meaning: the exile of Jews from their ancestral homeland and their dispersion from many lands. However, it went beyond the classical meaning and described people from different categories, including ethnic and racial minority groups. (Safran 1991) Therefore, a varied diasporas cluster is based on their historical experiences, collective narratives, and relations with home and host lands. This is called the second phase of diaspora, and then it is mostly criticized by social constructivists. Safran (1991), who is one of the first scholars who established criteria on the classical diaspora theory, argued that if the following features applied to an 'expatriate minority community,' then it can be included within the concept of diaspora. Firstly, the community or their ancestors have been dispersed from their original homeland towards more than two foreign regions. Secondly, the community members share a collective memory, vision, or myth in their ancestral center. Thirdly, a thought on the members of their community will never fully adopt the host land. Next, their original center is idealized for them, so when conditions are favorable to become liveable again, either they or their descendants should resettle there. Moreover, the community should have retained an ethnic-communal consciousness and solidarity about their homeland. Also, the community members should commit to the restoration of their original home's security and prosperity.

     Later, Cohen (2008) added additional features, and he has argued that dispersal from ancestral homeland often connected with the memory of a traumatic incident such as a threat of ethnic cleansing that creates folk memory, and this historic injustice brings the group together. He defines original prototypical diaspora as victim diaspora and classical diaspora such as Jews. Additionally, as he has included, diasporas usually mobilizing around a collective identity with other members in several countries. They bound together with the shared language, religion, and culture to create the transnational relationship, so this sentiment called co-responsibility for the diaspora members.

     On the other hand, scholars categorize diasporas mostly from several perspectives. Cohen (2008) categorize them as victim/refugee, imperial/colonial, labour/service, trade/business, cultural/hybrid/postmodern. According to Brubaker (2005), victim diaspora can also be called catastrophic diaspora as it is widely considered as forcedly dispersed from their ancestral land because of political oppression, persecution, ethnic, or racial violence. As mentioned before, the term of victim diaspora first used the describe Jewish case, but by the time the Palestinian, African, Irish diasporas are considered within that concept, and this paper will demonstrate that the Yazidi community can be defined as a victim diaspora similar to them. 


The 2014 Genocide and forming a diaspora


1.     Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

     Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and Daesh as its Arabic name. Although there is no agreed definition of terrorism and terrorist groups classified differently for states, ISIS is defined as a terrorist organization by the United Nations. According to Cragin (2008), the story of Da’esh starts with the 2003 Iraq War when the US-led coalition invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. Thousands of Sunni soldiers and officials who supported Saddam’s rule became part of a rebel and were supported by a jihadist terrorist organization: Al-Qaida, which was mainly responsible for the 9/11 attacks. In Iraq, Al-Qaida fought against the US troops with other Sunni soldiers, and one name appeared among them: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Later, he became the leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq, and he started to be known as the sheik of the slaughterers. (Byman, 2016) Although Zarqawi was killed in 2006: his legacy still exists among the brutal actions of ISIS.

     In 2006, the Islamic State of Iraq declared itself and Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi became the leader of the terrorist organization. Later, in 2013, Baghdadi proclaimed that all forces of Al-Qaida taken under his control, the name of the organization changed to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Even though the terrorist group is often called different names: some things remain the same—for instance, the methods of a terrorist organization; targeting the non-military population.

     The ideology of Islamic States’ can be seen behind their actions. It is based on a radical understanding of Islam. Both followers, and leaders of the Islamic State against the innovation in religion, regard the influence of other religions and outside cultures as threats and argue that only a small number of Muslims remained true believers of Islam. (McCants, 2015) There is a clear and sharp hatred towards any kind of mysticism, saint worship, or other alternatives rather their ideology. That is why they accept the concept of Jihad as a holy war that has a heroic value and enables them to use all means for that purpose, and by doing that, ISIS had justified its brutal and inhuman actions. The terrorist group argues that they are fighting against the enemies of Islam, and their main aim is the creation of a unified Muslim community under the rule of so-called the Islamic State. In 2014, when Baghdadi declared his caliphate, he proclaimed as “Syria is not for the Syrians, and Iraq is not for the Iraqis,” and his announcement showed that they had adopted a new radical political identity rather than old-school nation-state identification.


2.     The 2014 Genocide


     In June 2014, when ISIS captured Mosul, one of the largest cities in Iraq, the number of Peshmerga forces increased the number of Yazidi villages and promised to keep them safe. However, the Yazidis' suffering started on 3rd August 2014 when Islamic State jihadists left out their bases in Iraq and Syria to move towards Yazidi villages. The terrorist group targeted them because, in jihadists' eyes, Yazidis were infidels and pagans, and their existence under the caliphate of ISIS was unacceptable. Back then, Mosul was already captured by the terrorist organization, and they did not face strong resistance when the last chance and hope of the Yezidis, the Kurdish Peshmergas, withdrew.

     Some Yazidi men showed a limited local resistance for a while to give their families some time to escape, but they were lightly armed, so it created only a small defense. According to Cetorelli and Ashraph (2019), only a small amount of people, who used to live relatively close to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, achieved to escape from the massacre. However, other unlucky ones tried to move the upper slopes of Mount Sinjar, captured by Islamic State fighters. Tragically, babies and children had no chance to survive when captured; most of them lost their lives because of dehydration and burning sun. (Murad, 2014)

      On the 7th August 2014, after the Iraqi government's request, the United States decided to take action against a potential genocide and rescue Yezidis on Mount Sinjar. On the same day, the US started to drop food and water supply to the mountain through airstrikes. During the operation on Mount Sinjar, airstrikes were used for pushing back the terrorists while evacuating people. The United States officials stated that they could not involve through American troops in Iraq because it would become a political problem for Washington. (Raben, 2018)

On 9th August, the United States made the third humanitarian aid, including food and water, with France and the UK's contributions. In addition to them, Greece, Italy, and Sweden send humanitarian help, and Denmark, Germany, and Australia send humanitarian aid, money, and transport aircraft to support rescue operations. However, except for President Barack Obama's statement, any other states did not indicate that if their actions were guided by preventing a potential genocide by Islamic State. However, in the following days, precisely on 13th August, Pentagon announced that the US had miscalculated the Sinjar Mountain situation, so they decided not to take further actions to evacuate civilians from there. 

      Two days after this announcement, hundreds of men and boys were persecuted in the Kocho village, many women enslaved, sold, raped, and tortured. According to the 2016 report of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, before the attack on Kocho village, more or less 1,700 Yazidis were living there, but only 400-500 of them were able to leave the village before the arrival of ISIS. Yazidis who did not find time to escape or got caught while trying found themselves surrounded by jihadists. 

     In the village of Kocho, ISIS first collected every Yazidi in one of the schools in the village; they separated men, including boys over the age of 12, from women, then ISIS first killed those men and boys without any mercy. (Murad, 2018) Later, they separated unmarried women, married women girls younger than 9, and little survival boys. These little boys were taken by force from their mothers and renamed by jihadists to train them as terrorists. In the following days, the older women of the Kocho, who were older than the childbearing age, executed. ISIS relocated remained survival Yazidi women to other areas where they had more robust control. Following weeks and days after the attack, many women and children were sold, slaved, and tortured. 

     The attacks of ISIS may remain six years ago, but the Yazidi community's suffering did not reach an end. Yazidis, still looking for their family members and loved ones who were captured by the jihadists. It had been estimated that more than 3,000 Yazidis were killed, and the Islamic State kidnaped more than 6,000 women and children. Unfortunately, 3,000 of them still could not be found. (Murad,2020) Approximately 2.5% of the Yazidi population murdered or captured within days in August 2014. According to Yazda (2018), when the village was saved from ISIS, at least eleven mass graves of several hundred men, boys, and older women founded Kocho.

     In the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide defined as "any of the following actions committed with the purpose of destroying, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, by, killing members of the community; causing serious physical or psychological harm; imposing conditions on the group to cause its physical destruction in whole or in part; taking measures to prevent an increase of population within the group; relocating children of the group by force." 

According to the statute of the Genocide Convention, signing state parties are obliged not to commit genocide themselves and prevent genocide if others commit it. This obligation confirmed by the International Court of Justice in 2007, and it added a state's obligation to prevent and the corresponding duty to act starts at the moment that the state learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a significant risk that genocide will be committed.

Moreover, in 2005, an international norm called Responsibility to Protect was adopted by the United Nations. According to Article 138, each state has the responsibility to protect its citizens from crimes against humanity, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes. Third pillar highlights that if the states fail to protect their citizens, then the international community should fulfill this responsibility by taking an appropriate collective action, which is in line with the UN Charter. 

     In the report of 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council investigated the crimes of the Islamic State against the Yazidi community, and they decided to ISIS forced Yazidis to leave their own beliefs, practices, cultures and punished them with destroying their population. Therefore, many states and institutions such as the European Parliament, US House of Representatives, United Kingdom, France, the Canadian government, and a UN Independent Commission Inquiry, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum have acknowledged that the attacks against the Yazidis were constituted a genocide. 

     According to Article I of the Genocide Convention, there is an obligation to punish the crime of genocide. However, the problem is that, to date, there had not an international jurisdiction hold over the crimes against humanity committed by ISIS perpetrators over Yazidis. This is because the only international criminal tribunal that could have given jurisdiction over the crimes of Islamic State is the International Criminal Court, but Iraq and Syria are not parties to the Rome Statute. Therefore, the ICC has no territorial jurisdiction over crimes committed there. On the other hand, the Court still can apply personal jurisdiction over-involved perpetrators if they are citizens of any other member State Party, and it has been known that there were foreigners who were fighting within the Islamic State such as from Tunisia, Jordan, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Australia. Some of these foreign individuals were identified from their social media publications, but the Office indicated ISIS as a military and political organization mostly led by Iraqi and Syrian nationals. In 2016, the ICC's prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, acknowledged that prospects were limited to prosecution on the Yazidi cause. Therefore, the Office concluded that the jurisdictional basis was too narrow and stated that the United Nations Security Council's decision to offer jurisdiction on the ICC was independent of that situation. Thus, a referral from the United Nations Security Council is still required to be undertaken the case by the ICC. 

     In 2017, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution unanimously to create a team to investigate and collect evidence of ISIS's war crimes on the Yazidi Community (Clooney, 2017). This resolution was a significant glory for all victims who suffered from the actions of the terrorist organization because collected evidence may result in putting ISIS members to put on trial and punished. It was an essential step for seeking justice. The Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Islamic State, established in 2018 by the United Nations, is also known as UNITAD, responsible for collecting evidence and working with Iraqi authorities to understand criminal networks involved. In June 2020, the head of the team, Karim Khan, stated to the UNSC that UNITAD identified seven categories of crimes and 344 perpetrators of Islamic State that involved the 2014 massacre in the Sinjar district. 

     On the other hand, Germany alleged one suspected ISIS militant with multiple criminal charges, including crime against humanity and war crimes on Frankfurt's Higher Regional Court in April 2020. It became the first trial addressing the crimes against Yazidis, so in that trial, Germany exercised universal jurisdiction over international crimes, and by doing that, Germany made a crucial contribution to international justice. 


3.     Forming a diaspora


     In terms of the Yazidi community's population in Iraq, their homeland, the last concrete statistical data that provides the Yazidi share of population provided by the 1965 census, during that time, approximately 70,000 Yazidis were living there (Ohering, 2017). Following this, in 2012, the Freedom of Religion Report was revealed by the US State Department, and according to that report, 500.000-700.000 Yazidis existed in northern Iraq, mostly in the Governorates of Dohuk Ninawa. According to Müller (2019), after the 2014 mass murder, approximately 360.000 Yazidis have been forced to leave their homes in 2014.

     Approximately 150.000 thousand Yazidi escaped from the mass violence and moved towards Mount Sinjar (Acikyildiz, 2015), and the combination of both Kurdish and American forces achieved to evacuate of 35,000 to 45,000 Yazidis from mount Sinjar into Syria between the 9th and 13th of August. Back the time of 2016, there were more than 1,500 Yazidis in Greek camps, waiting to apply for asylum. For the year 2017, there were lots of Internally Displaced Person who lives in the governorate of Dohuk, and they were mainly Yazidis who escaped from the Ninawa governate (Oehring,2017). In 2020, there is still a considerable number of Yazidis remaining in the camps (Murad, 2020), and German Minister Müller (2019) stated that conditions in Greek camps were far away than being sufficient.

     The International Organization for Migration (IOM) assumes that up to 200,000 Yazidis remain displaced after the 2014 attacks. According to Gökçen (2014), 30.000-40.000 of the Yazidis moved to Syria, 100.000 of them went to Duhok and Zaho, and 30.000 people came to Turkey. In 2017, it had been estimated that almost 200.000 Yazidis were resettled to Europe (Gökcen, 2017) and, approximately 96.000 Yezidis went to Germany since 2014 (Murad, 2019). According to the Human Rights Council Report of 2016, in Germany, there have been more than 1000 Yazidi women and children who receive medical treatment for both their physical and mental health, and the largest population exists in Germany, between 60.000-150,000 members. (Acikyildiz, 2019).

     The Yazidi refugees had around 83% protection rate in Germany for 2017 (Bathke, 2019). However, in 2018, the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper reporter wrote that Germany approved dramatically fewer asylum applications than previous years, it dropped to 60%. One possible reason behind this decline is that, in 2015, the city of Sinjar has liberated from jihadists, and after the defeat of ISIS, northern Iraq is not considering an unsafe place for Yazidis.  However, today, Sinjar is considering a ghost town because more than half of the city had been destroyed. According to Miara (2017), some villages require investments and efforts to become liveable again. It has been estimated that almost 100,000 Yazidis resettled again to Sinjar, but they face a lack of vital public services such as education and healthcare. (Murad,2020). Today, it is essential to ensure security and safety and food, medicine, and other needs of the Yazidi community to return to their homeland.

     The Yazidi Community formed several transnational networks that work in more than three continents. For instance, the Global Yazidi Organization, often called YAZDA, aims to prevent another genocide and establish a platform to create solidarity within Yazidis. It has offices in the United States, Australia, Germany, Iraq, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Canada. Likewise, Yezidis International works with the same purpose, and its headquarters located in Nebraska, US. Yazidi Legal Network is formed in Amsterdam by a diverse group of students, human rights activists, lawyers, and they united to protect the rights, empowerment, and seek justice for Yazidis. 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Nadia Murad; in 2020, she stated that although ISIS is defeated, the 3000 Yazidis who were kidnapped by ISIS is still missing, and no collective action had been taken to search and rescue those women and children. To work on that purpose, she established Nadia's Initiative as working on helping and assisting victims of the genocide and rebuilding the Yazidi homeland, which is one example among many others.




     Yazidis have been forced to leave their home after the 2014 Genocide because they have lost their safety feeling in their homeland. It has been estimated that half of the total Yazidi population were living in the Sinjar district before the 2014 massacre and, the majority of them resettled again in other countries to find security. Many states and institutions acknowledged that, Under Article II of the UN Genocide Convention of 1948, the actions of ISIS constituted a clear case of genocide.

     While most Yazidis stated that they demand justice against Islamic State crimes, only a small amount of them believes that international criminal justice is possible because of their memories of historical attacks towards their community, so among the Yazidi community, there is little trust in the international community’s willingness to protect the Yazidis’ existence in their ancestral home, and this is one of the reasons for their hesitation behind going back to their homeland because they do not believe that they would live in peace in there. Therefore, Yazidis ask for restoration of their homeland and feeling the confidence to return there. It can be achieved if the necessary conditions such as security, safety, education, and healthcare would provide to them. However, three years after the military defeat of ISIS, Sinjar continues to suffer from insecurity, lack of unified administration, and adequate services.

     It can be argued that since Yazidis did not protect by the international community during the genocide, after 2014, they decided to act collectively. Yazidis ask for acknowledgment of their rights because they think that what happened to them was unfair, and they have established a co-responsibility over the other members of their community. Firstly, through established organizations and institutions, they push for jurisdiction over perpetrators even that some international justice mechanisms have blocked, their effort is continuing. Secondly, Yazidis argue that the goal of Islamic States as eradication of Yazidis will be achieved if Yazidis are not protected because their population decreases continuously. To protect their existence, they show solidarity over recovery and prevention of another future genocide. Also, since they have resettled several countries again to protect their culture and tradition, they have created a bond within their community members over their history to avoid alienation from their culture.

     Their cooperation and common purpose moved on another level after the 2014 Genocide, and it can be stated that the Yazidi community is carrying on a co-responsibility over other members of their community. They have been under the burden of the traumatic massacre that they faced. Therefore, this paper has argued that while looking at the history, population, purpose, and practice of the Yazidi community in Germany, they can be defined as a diaspora. Additionally, it is essential to note that further research is needed to reach more concrete data, current dynamics, and conditions.

İrem Dumlu

Migration Studies




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