Syrian Kurds express concerns over forced conversions of Yezidi’s

“We affirm that the Yezidis, brothers of the Kurdish people, have the right to protection and freedom of religion, like any other peoples.”

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Syrian Kurdish parties have expressed concerns over a video released on April 1, showing the apparent forced conversions of two Yezidis to Islam by a religious leader named Ahmad Al-Zayouk. 

Local Kurdish activists claim the two men were earlier harassed and threatened by Turkish-armed groups.

"Transgressions committed against the people of Afrin at the hands of armed groups belonging to particular factions have reached new levels. Attacks against the religious beliefs of the population, the unregulated dissemination of weapons and the absence of any legal or moral code have all led to setting a dangerous precedent," the Kurdish National Council (KNC) said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Since the footage of the April 1 video, showing the forced conversion of two Yazidi men, has been circulated, there has been a public outcry regarding the treatment of the people of Afrin." 

“The KNC condemns all forms of (human rights) violations, and strongly condemns attacks on freedom of religion," according to the statement. 

“We affirm that the Yezidis, brothers of the Kurdish people, have the right to protection and freedom of religion, like any other peoples. Any attack on them is also a violation against the tolerant Islamic religion, which acknowledges other religions and respects their beliefs.”

The KNC also called on international organizations for the “need to deter this conduct that goes against all values and principles of human rights.”

Also, the General Council of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) released a statement condemning the video, and appealed to international human rights organizations, like Amnesty International, to expose crimes committed against Yezidis.

Nadine Maenza, a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center, and the President of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Secretariat, told Kurdistan 24 that “Turkey and its Islamist militias, like ISIS, are continuing to commit genocide against the Yazidis. This is simply unacceptable. It is important to hold Turkey and these militias accountable.”

Turkish-backed factions have controlled Afrin since March 2018, when the Turkish Army launched a cross-border offensive against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

Despite repeated claims of abuse against civilians in Afrin, the Turkish government has consistently denied them, stating that its military operations exclusively target the YPG.

Turkish state media has also claimed that members of the minority group say now they feel safer with the presence of Turkish forces.

Before 2018, there were approximately 25,000 Yezidis residing in 22 villages in Afrin; however, the majority of them have since departed from the area amidst claims of human rights abuses, including sexual abuse, kidnapping and forced conversions.

The US Embassy in Syria on Saturday also expressed concerns over the violence in Afrin’s Jindires district on March 20, after four civilian Kurds were killed by a Turkish-backed group during Newroz.

“Violence like that witnessed in Jinderes on March 20 threatens Syria’s stability.  We urge all parties to halt civilian attacks and call for accountability,” the US Embassy in Syria said.

Shalal Gedo, the representative of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) in the Syrian opposition, told Kurdistan 24 on Saturday that the KNC in a meeting with the Turkish Foreign Ministry asked for an end to human right violations in Afrin and prosecution of  those who killed the four Kurdish civilians during Newroz in Jinderes.

"We also want Turkey to draw a line against acts committed by armed groups against the people of Afrin and Jinderes,” he said.