In the war against ISIS the only constant is the prevalence of shifting alliances. None better exemplify this thorny reality than the group known as the Yazidi. Once on the verge of eradication by ISIS, the Yazidi escaped their fate on Mount Sinjar in Iraq with the help of a U.S. bombing campaign that marked America’s first foray into the ISIS conflict.
Yet thanks to a hesitant response by the Obama administration ISIS executed thousands of Yazidi men, and enslaved thousands of Yazidi women. After the airstrikes they were abandoned by Iraqi Kurds, as well as the U.S.-allied Peshmerga and their only hope to remain a people were when the Yazidis were offered a chance to train with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). After the savagery of ISIS the Yazidi were determined to both protect their own and fight back against ISIS militants, enlisting every last man, woman and child they could muster.
Representing a small religious minority in northern Iraq, the Yazidi religion is linked to ancient Mesopotamian religions, and has a history of persecution by the Ottoman Empire. They form part of the Kurdish ethnic group’s many religions, which helps to explain their recent alliance with the PKK against ISIS.
The Peshmerga represent the fighting force of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), one of the groups vying for control of Iraqi territory in the lead up to the ISIS offensive. They were one of the first to flee as ISIS entered Iraq, leaving the Yazidis defenseless. Yazidi fighters who survived the ISIS attack last year say that their children have been kidnapped and placed into ISIS re-education camps for brainwashing. The boys are to become future soldiers, and the girls to be brides to ISIS fighters.
Despite their escape from ISIS, the fact that the Yazidis are now fighting alongside the PKK makes them terrorists according to Turkey, NATO, and the United States. The PKK has its origins in the 70s as a group fighting for autonomy from Turkey, with attacks on civilians as part of its arsenal. It helps to illustrate just how radical ISIS is, when the U.S. finds itself allying with so-called “terrorist” groups.
There was a peace treaty signed between Turkey and the PKK in 2013, but as Turkey has stepped up its offensive against ISIS recently, it has also been staging attacks on the PKK.
Turkey fears a potential Kurdish state on its southern border just as much as it fears ISIS, and with reports of Iran-brokered deals with the Syrian and Iraqi governments for more autonomy to the Kurds in those regions, the fear seems warranted.
Lost in the shuffle of regional power struggles the Yazidi are but one more, near forgotten yet persevering, piece of the confusing and ever changing ISIS conflict.