“WE are not alone.” This is the message that a group of leaders from Iraq’s Yazidi community will take back to their embattled and displaced people from a visit to the UK last week.
The high-profile delegation from the Supreme Yazidi Religious Council met the Prince of Wales, MPs, and peers during their trip to London, organised by the charity Amar Foundation, and Baroness Nicholson.
Professor Mamou Farhan Othman, an academic and former Kurdistan and Iraqi government minister, said that Yazidis desperately wanted to keep in touch with the international community.
“We wish to stay in contact with all foreign decision-makers to maintain these relationships with the Church, the House of Lords, the Government,” he said last Friday, “to transfer this message to our community that we are not alone, and there are people who are going to support us.”
Hazem Tahsin Saeed, the son and deputy of the Prince of the Yazidis, said that he had gone on the trip not just to raise awareness of who the Yazidis were, but also to call for help.
British politicians needed to know that humanitarian assistance to the Yazidis and other religious minorities being attacked by Islamic State (IS), or Daesh, was no longer sufficient, he said.
“There should be steps to rescue the minorities in Iraq from the atrocities they are experiencing at the hands of Islamic extremists. The time has come now that it should take not only humanitarian assistance but some political decisions to intervene and make a commitment that minorities — Christians and Yazidis — should feel secure that they can continue their life where they have lived for hundreds and thousands of years.”
The group were united in praising the airstrikes that British warplanes are conducting against IS, but bombing alone was not enough.
“Airstrikes were a wonderful action that was taken by the UK and other foreign forces,” Professor Othman said. “But now the time has come that after the era of Daesh more political steps should be taken to secure the lives of the minorities.”
Thousands of Yazidis who fled an onslaught from IS two years ago remain in refugee camps in Iraq.
Mirza Haji Mirza, the chieftain of the Qairany tribe, who lived in Sinjar when it was attacked by IS and joined the battle against the extremists, wanted to know how long his people were expected to live in tents.
“They are getting some food, they are not starving, but they are living in tents. Until when?” he asked. “[They need to] go back, to build infrastructure.”
But this prospect was so remote that many Yazidis were leaving Iraq for good, believing that they would never be able to live in peace, Mr Mirza said. Minorities in Iraq had no heavy weaponry to protect themselves, and needed the international community to guarantee their safety.
“We are against immigration,” he said. “We belong to territory where we have lived. If we leave there, it’s like planting a tree without roots somewhere else. It will die. We lose the characteristics which are essential for keeping the identity of each religion.”
Farooq Khaleel Basheer, the peshimam of the Supreme Yazidi Religious Council, agreed and said that those who fled Iraq would swiftly lose their identity as Yazidis.
“After Daesh attacks, all the religious ceremonies were cancelled because we believed that if we gathered together we would be easy prey for the terrorists,” he explained. “But we cannot do this forever.
“There should come a point that we should be sure that we can practise our rites and rituals and festivals, because we cannot go on continuing without that. Otherwise there will be no Yazidi community, just individuals everywhere with no feelings of belonging.”
The problem went far beyond defeating IS in battle. For those from Sinjar, it was their Muslim neighbours who turned against them, raping their women and stealing their property.
And with both local and central government in Iraq too weak to restrain such sectarianism, only international help could keep the Yazidis, and all religious minorities, safe, the delegation insisted.
“For the last hundreds of years, the minorities, especially Christians and Yazidis, were living together, visiting each other, having fellowship with each other. We are in the same boat, all us minorities,” Mr Basheer said. “Any attack against one minority is an attack against all minorities.”
Baroness Nicholson said that her Anglican colleagues who met the Yazidi group, including the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, and the Archdeacon of Westminster, Canon Andrew Tremlett, “saw immediately the plight of these victims and those that they represented”.
“My guests are heartened and new plans are in the making to save and preserve their faith, their music, and their futures.”
After their meeting, Bishop Redfern said that he had agreed to initiate the process by which Yazidism could be formally recognised by the Church of England as a world faith, and thus the Yazidis designated a “persecuted religious group”.