The head of Iraq’s religious Yazidi minority, Tahseen Saeed Bek, spoke to NIQASH about why his people will continue to support the government in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Numbering over half a million, they make up a sizeable proportion of the local population. Yet many members of the community live in poverty, young Yazidis have recently been in the news because of a rash of suicides amongst them and many Yazidis are still seeking asylum outside of Iraq due to religious persecution.
NIQASH met Bek, the emir (or prince) of Iraq’s Yazidi in his home in the Shikhan area, near the city of Dohuk in northern Iraq.
NIQASH: Traditionally the Yazidi people have allied themselves with the Kurdish people and considered themselves part of the Kurdish political movement. Do you think this has been in your people’s best interests?
Tahseen Saeed Bek: We consider ourselves a part of the Kurdish people and we do not intend to separate from the Kurdish political parties or from the Kurdish region. However we do want the region to re-consider some of the laws concerning Yazidis that we consider to be unjust.
NIQASH: So have the authorities in the semi-autonomous region of Iraq Kurdistan paid you back for your support in an appropriate way?
Bek: We haven’t yet achieved everything we wanted. But we will continue to insist that we are Kurds and that the Kurdish language is our own language. We simply want the Kurdish region to acknowledge our rights and to pay us more attention. Most Yazidis prefer to stand with the Kurdish political parties and 80 percent of our people belong to Kurdish political parties.
NIQASH: Yet the services provided to mainly Yazidi areas are still bad. Why haven’t they improved?
Bek: This is because Yazidis live in two adjoining areas. Most – 90 percent – live in the Mosul area and 10 percent live in the Dohuk area. Mosul authorities have stopped handing out funds allocated to the Yazidis; we should be compensated for this by the Iraqi government.
[Editor’s note: because of the ethnic makeup of the city’s residents, Mosul remains one of the most conflicted cities in Iraq. As a result, the Mosul authorities, answering to the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad, only partially rule the area. No doubt, this is a part of the reason why federal funds are not reaching the Yazidi minority.]
NIQASH: Rumour has it that some Yazidi shrines were attacked recently. Do you think the Iraqi Kurdish government does enough to protect your holy places?
Bek: It is true that there have been attempts to destroy one of our shrines near Dohuk. But we were able to prevent these attempts.
The Iraqi Kurdish government allocates huge amounts of money for the restoration and maintenance of religious minorities’ places of worship, including those that belong to Christians, Sabeans and Yazidis. However during this process we Yazidis were marginalized and most of the allocated funds were given to the Christians. After exerting political pressure we’ve been able to get a fair share of the funding. We should have a separate budget determined according to the size of our population and we hope that we can get our fair share.
NIQASH: How would you describe the Yazidi relationship with the current Iraqi government?
Bek: There is no enmity between us and Baghdad and there are no disputes between us and any other Iraqi political component. It is just our distance from the federal government in Baghdad that brings us closer to the government in Iraqi Kurdistan.
NIQASH: So where do the Yazidis stand when it comes to the current bad blood between the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan and the authorities in Baghdad?
Bek: We want the conflicts between the two regimes resolved though dialogue, understanding and consensus. We are against the use of violence – this can only have a negative impact.
NIQASH: Let’s turn now to social issues in your community. You must be happy that elements of the Yazidi religion are now being taught in local schools?
Bek: I am very happy. A number of scholars have written about elements of the Yazidi religion and that is now being taught in schools Yazidis attend. But I would love to see these books translated into other languages, like Arabic, as well as taught in other than Kurdish-language schools.
NIQASH: And how do you feel about the migration of Yazidis to Europe – especially young Yazidis? After all the second biggest population of emigrant Yazidis in the world now resides in Germany.
Bek: We are against immigration because it has a negative impact on Yazidis in Iraq. Most Yazidis from here who immigrate to Iraq do so because of poor economic conditions. There are also some social problems. Many of them go to Germany because Germany grants them asylum more readily than other countries.
[Editor’s note: Yazidis have experienced persecution from other ethnic and religious groups in the past because their religion involves a mixture of elements from, for example, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. This means that some Muslims regard them as devil worshippers].
NIQASH: You talk about social problems. In the recent past, suicide among young Yazidis seems to have been a major issue. What could be making these young Yazidi people so unhappy that they want to take their own lives?
Bek: Suicide exists even in affluent societies. In the area you’re talking about, Sinjar, poverty and forced marriage are some of the most common reasons. Many young Yazidis also dream of leaving the country but they don’t have enough money to travel. They may kill themselves because of this.