Experts warn that Syria’s Yezidi minority is close to extinction
VIENNA (Kurdistan 24) – Experts on the Yezidi (Ezidi) religious minority warned in interviews with Kurdistan 24 on Friday that there is a serious risk that the group’s small community in Syria could go extinct as a result of years of victimization by the Islamic State, the Syrian civil war, and ongoing Turkish threats.
Dr. Sebastian Maisel, professor at Leipzig University and author of the book Yezidis in Syria, said during a conference on the future of northern Syria held in Vienna that whether or not the group would survive in Syria at all was in question.
“Since the 1990s, we can say that the Ezidi community is extinct in Turkey. There was a small attempt to move back by some who immigrated,” Dr. Maisel said, “but the Ezidis from Turkey are gone and it seems an irreversible process. And now we see that in Syria there is a similar process.”
In Iraq, Ezidi’s suffered under the Islamic State’s invasion and genocide, especially in the city of Sinjar (Shingal), beginning in August 2014, but now those in Syria continue to suffer from multiple angles.
“Although there is an Afrin community that goes back to almost thousands of years, this is now erased [due to Turkey’s attack there in 2018] with the removal of all Ezidis from Afrin, “ Dr. Maisel said.
Thousands of residents from twenty Ezidi villages surrounding Afrin fled to camps in northern Aleppo after Turkey attacked the area in January 2018, with only a very small number of them returning.
Islamist rebels took over the region with Turkish support on March 18, desecrating Ezidi shrines and other holy places.
In October 2019, the situation worsened when Turkey launched a new cross border offensive, displacing hundreds of Ezidi families near Ras al-Ain (Serekaniye).
Many have since been forced to take refuge in the Kurdistan Region, other areas in Syria, and some are hoping to get into Europe.
In a report on Monday, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria confirmed that the threat of the Turkish-backed groups led to the displacement of Ezidis near Serekaniye.
“Anticipating attacks on their community, Yazidi women, men and children, who populated some 13 villages across Ra’s al-Ayn District, also left,” the report said.
The report also said that videos published on the internet, purportedly by Turkish-backed fighters, used language comparing their “enemies” to “infidels,” “atheists” and “pigs” when referring to civilians, detainees, and property, which further amplified fears among Ezidis and Kurds and created an environment conducive to abuse.
Austrian expert on Kurdish and Ezidi affairs, Dr. Thomas Schmidinger, told Kurdistan 24 that there were three regions with an Ezidi population left in Hasakah province near the cities of Hasakah, Qamishlo, and Serekaniye.
However, after Turkey’s operation in October, he said, the “whole cluster of Ezidi villages [near Serekaniye] were emptied."
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Commander-in-Chief Mazlum Abdi told Al Monitor in February 2020 that there could be another Turkish attack on Qahtaniya (Tirbespi), where there still exists a small number of Ezidi villages.
According to Dr. Schmidinger, all the remaining Ezidi villages are located along the Turkish border, an area that would be under threat if Turkey launches new attacks on the Kurdish-led-SDF, as it has threatened.
But, he added, even if Turkey does not invade, most Ezidis will try to leave. Many from Syria already live in Germany, which has become a safe-haven for Ezidis from both Syria and Iraq.
“Maybe if there is a safe zone [not under Turkish control], those who still remain might decide to stay, but as long if there is the sword of Damocles [of a possible Turkish invasion] still there, people are unsure about the future.”
According to Professor Maisel, even prior to the Turkish invasion in October, Ezidis left in masses due to political developments, leaving many Ezidi villages empty or populated only by elderly residents.
“This mass exodus is detrimental for them. They are so weak and fragile,” he said. “There is a brain drain and all the religious people and successful young people left.”
“It does not need another Turkish invasion for [other] Syrian Ezidis to leave as well. They are ready.”
According to the local Kurdish-led self-administration, only 15,000 of a total of 50,000 Ezidis in northeastern Syria now remain. There is a fear that eventually most or all of those remaining will flee.
“I am very pessimistic. This could lead to a second country, in the near future, with a complete expulsion and extinction of the community. Few might stay as caretakers or being members of the self-administration,” Maisel concluded.
“The majority don’t see a future in Syria.”
Editing by John J. Catherine