GREATER understanding of the Yazidi faith, maligned by the “ludicrous” claim of devil worship, is part of the solution to ensuring its survival, a discussion on religious persecution and migration heard on Tuesday.
Resettlement, prosecutions, and investment in preserving Yazidi culture, specifically its music, were among the recommendations discussed at the launch of Religious Persecution: The drive for forced migration. Its subject was the Windsor Conference held in September by the AMAR Foundation, a charity delivering emergency aid, healthcare, and education in Iraq and Lebanon.
The conference, a response to atrocities perpetrated by Islamic State (IS), met with the aim of identifying the triggers for religious persecution through the ages and producing “a new kind of Marshall Plan” for the Yazidis. Present was the leader of the Yazidis, Prince Tahseen Saeed Ali, in addition to faith leaders, academics, and British and Iraqi government officials.
Among the conference’s recommendations was a demand for “long-overdue recognition by all faiths and each nation of the Yazifi religion”, ensuring that it was given “the highest respect and honour” and “an assured place in the historic pantheon of great religions”.
Canon Edmund Newell, Principal of Cumberland Lodge, an educational charity devoted to “more peaceful, tolerant and inclusive societies”, spoke on Monday of the need to counter the “rather ludicrous claim and pretext for persecution that they are devil-worshippers”.
It was not only IS that propagated this, he said. There was a need to try to understand Yazidi theology, but this was made difficult by the fact that it was not a faith that sought to win converts. The Yazidis had “never been part of interfaith dialogue”.
The report notes that the conference discussed the danger of asking people to make their religion “more palatable”, and thus depriving them of their “true inheritance”.
“The problem is not whether the Yazidis are monotheists or not,” Dr Peter Petkoff, a law lecturer at Brunel Law School, told the conference. “The problem is that they should be respected regardless.”
He described how Mormons, persecuted in the 19th century, had not won a theological argument but appealed to the US constitution; this was an “important and positive case for persecuted communities”.
He also warned against putting “too much pressure on people to change their heritage at times of crisis”. On Monday, Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond, who founded the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, spoke about the possibility of resettling Yazidis outside Iraq, and questioned whether it would be “such a bad thing” if they had to “adjust their religion” to suit a new context.
Prince Ali has called for an international effort to establish a Yazidi province with self-rule, around the city of Sinjar, in northern Iraq. AMAR is making practical efforts to re-establish the Yazidis. Its plans include building a new health centre and school in a village close to Sinjar, and running a Combating Religious Discrimination programme, involving training for primary-school and university-age students to help them understand their peers, and targeting religious and community leaders.