http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/facts-on-iraq-s-yazidi-minority/article/478228

Facts on Iraq's Yazidi minority

Posted Oct 27, 2016 by AFP
Iraq's Yazidi minority is in the spotlight Thursday after two women from the community won the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights prize.
Nadia Murad (C) and Lamia Haji Bashar spearheaded a movement to protect Yazidis
Nadia Murad (C) and Lamia Haji Bashar spearheaded a movement to protect Yazidis
Mark Wilson, GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

Iraq's Yazidi minority is in the spotlight Thursday after two women from the community won the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights prize.

Nadia Murad and Lamia Haji Bashar have spearheaded a movement to protect Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion with more than half a million Kurdish-speaking believers concentrated in northern Iraq.

Here are some facts about the Yazidis:

- Ancient faith -

Mainly living in remote corners of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Yazidis adhere to a faith that emerged in Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago. It is rooted in Zoroastrianism but has over time integrated elements of Islam and Christianity. Yazidis pray to God facing the sun and worship his seven angels -- the most important of which is Melek Taus, or Peacock Angel.

- Forced to flee -

Of the world's 1.5 million Yazidis, the largest community is in Iraq -- comprising 550,000 people according to the Iraqi Kurdistan government. Of these, some 400,000 have been displaced by fighting with the jihadist Islamic State. Around 1,500 have been killed and nearly 4,000 are in captivity.

Women hold placards reading "Please save Yazidi people from genocide" as Pope Francis gree...
Women hold placards reading "Please save Yazidi people from genocide" as Pope Francis greets migrants at the Moria refugee camp on April 16, 2016
Filippo Monteforte, POOL/AFP/File

A few thousand more are in Syria, Turkey, Armenia and Georgia. They are mostly impoverished farmers and herders. The United Nations has estimated that around 3,200 Yazidis are currently in the hands of the Islamic State, mainly in Syria.

- Unique beliefs -

Yazidis discourage marriage outside the community and even across their caste system. Their unique beliefs and practices -- some are known to refrain from eating lettuce and wearing the colour blue -- have often been misconstrued as satanic. Orthodox Muslims consider the Peacock a demon figure and refer to Yazidis as devil-worshippers.

- Persecuted minority -

As non-Arab and non-Muslim Iraqis, Yazidis have long been one of Iraq's most vulnerable minorities. Persecution by Saddam Hussein forced thousands of families to flee the country. Germany is home to the largest community abroad, with an estimated 40,000.

On August 14, 2007, massive truck bombs almost entirely destroyed two small Yazidi villages in northern Iraq. More than 400 people died in the single deadliest attack since the 2003 US-led invasion.

- The fall of Sinjar -

In August 2014, Yazidis struggled to survive after their bastion Sinjar was seized by the Islamic State, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee. The IS then pursued a brutal crackdown on the minority that included massacres, enslavement and rape.

Iraqi autonomous Kurdish region's peshmerga forces and fighters from the Yazidi minority enter ...
Iraqi autonomous Kurdish region's peshmerga forces and fighters from the Yazidi minority enter Sinjar in November 2015 after ousting Islamic State group fighters
Safin Hamed, AFP/File

UN investigators have said the IS assault on the Yazidis was a premeditated effort to exterminate an entire community -- crimes that amount to genocide.

Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by US-led coalition air strikes recaptured Sinjar in November 2015.