Is It Genocide? ISIS’s violence against the Yazidis

Since taking power, the Islamic State has unleashed waves of violence against several minority groups in the region. One of these groups, the Yazidis, has made international news with calls the violence qualifies as genocide. CHGS analyzes these claims.

Who is ISIS?

NBC News

ISIS/ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, is a militant group once affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).  In February of 2014 Al Qaeda Central (AQC) officially severed ties with the group as they felt they were giving them a bad reputation. In an article for Foreign Affairs (2-14-2014), Harvard professor Barak Mendelsohn pointed out that the split came about from a lack of shared ideology. Before the attack of the Yazidis in Iraq, ISIS targets had largely seemed to be anyone who stood in their way to creating a caliphate. This was part of the reason AQC had disowned them since attacks on Muslim populations were seen as a step too far even for AQC. Their involvement in the Syrian war has seen them carry out untold violence on peaceful populations that have resisted their advances.

Who are the Yazidis?

Numbering approximately 700,000 world wide, the Yazidis are a largely Kurdish ethnic group whose religion is syncretic and are largely concentrated in northern Iraq. The Yazidi religion was founded by an 11th century Ummayyad Sheikh and is a mix of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam. This syncretic nature saw AQI label them as infidels sanctioning their killing.

Is it Genocide?

ISIS attacks in Syria have largely been indiscriminate. This has, also been the case in Iraq, as the group sought to take control of territories in the two countries and start a caliphate. All of this changed when they encountered the Yazidis living around the Sinjar Mountains. In early August of this year, ISIS specifically target this group for the fact that they were infidels and even sent the group members texts warning them that they were coming to kill them for being “enemies of God and refusing to repent .”

The UN office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that between 35,000- 50,000 Yazidis are seeking refuge up in the mountains, which are surrounded by ISIS fighters on every side ready to kill them. It is this incident that pushed the United States government to act in order to prevent a “potential act of genocide.” If we look at article 2c of the genocide convention then the current situation of the Yazidis can be seen as an on-going genocide with the express and stated intention to kill the members of the Yazidi religion. In this iteration of violence, ISIS has expressly stated that their intent is to kill every member of the religion. Intent is the key ingredient when trying to understand whether a situation is or is not a genocide and this time around, the intent of ISIS is not in question.

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