Thousands of Yazidis trapped in Iraqi villages controlled by Islamic State militants face imminent slaughter unless they convert to Islam, a leading U.K. member of the minority sect has warned.
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Although humanitarian air drops have eased conditions for thousands of Yazidi refugees on Mount Sinjar, three nearby villages face destruction and the whereabouts of hundreds of kidnapped Yazidi women remains unknown, warned Breen Tahseen, an Iraqi diplomat based at the consulate in Manchester, northern England.
His father, the leader of the Yazidi people Prince Tahseen Saeed Bek, is currently in Germany receiving medical treatment.
The 33-year-old diplomat told Haaretz that Yazidi villagers in Hatimiya, Tel Kucho and Tel Qasab, now controlled by Islamic State (formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) fighters, have been warned to convert to Islam or face execution. The deadline they were given was August 13.
Tahseen also said there was grave concern over the situation of some 600 women kidnapped by Islamic State. Initially held at the Badoush prison in Mosul, they have since been moved to an unknown location, he said, adding that he had heard reports of widespread sexual abuses.
The Yazidi, who follow an ancient religion with ties to Zoroastrianism, have a long history of persecution in the region and have been denounced as infidels by radical Islamists.
“ISIS say we worship devils. We don’t, we worship God. The Yazidi are peaceful people, we have done nothing wrong, we just want to live in our homes and work,” Tahseen said.
He described days of frantic political lobbying by Yazidi leaders. “All the people are angry with my father, asking ‘Why don’t you do anything for us?’ But what can we do? My father has written to Obama, Cameron, Ban Ki-moon, all the countries, asking for help.”
Iraq, the U.S. and other countries have delivered supplies to the remote Sinjar mountains in northwestern Iraq, but although conditions were slightly better there, Tahseen said his people needed far more than food and international sympathy.
He called on the West to arm the Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, and to give the Yazidi small arms “just to protect themselves until they can leave.”
“The British have helped us by sending food, but we don’t need just food. We need weapons,” he continued, adding, “If the U.S. or U.K. don’t help the Kurds or Yazidi, ISIS will just take more and more [territory].”
He said he was in constant contact with friends left behind, and had heard of numerous atrocities.
“One woman told me the story of her sister who had been taken by ISIS and gang-raped,” he said. “She got to the mountain but was physically and psychologically damaged. She killed herself.”
Then there were the thousands of Yazidi who had fled to the Kurdish city of Dohuk, numbers he feared would double in coming days. With the city overwhelmed by the influx, refugees are being forced to sleep in the streets, he added.
As for Iraq’s central government, “Baghdad is not doing anything,” he said with a bitter laugh. “Baghdad doesn’t care about genocide. We appealed for them to help the people in the north, but they don’t do anything. Four months ago, all the Christians left Mosul, but no-one talked about it.”
Tahseen said he feared the ancient history of the Yazidi community in Iraq was now over, and called on the international community to open their borders to the displaced.
“The Yazidi want refugee status if they come to Europe, and the prince has appealed to every country to allow some refugees in. Each country could take 10,000 people, or how many they can,” he said. “People don’t want to go home. They say ‘my neighbor might kill me, or rape my wife.’ We can’t come back. We are no longer safe in Iraq.”