Prospect magazine explains…
Who are the Yazidi?
An ancient religious sect, with less than 1m followers worldwide, largely concentrated in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and parts of Iran. Since Sunday, around 40,000 Yazidi from the north of Iraq have been trapped in the Sinjar Mountains in the northwest of the country, having fled their homes in the nearby town of Sinjar after it was attacked by militants from the Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS). A further 200,000 have reportedly fled the area. The Guardian reports that Kurdish troops stationed nearby have been forced to withdraw, and that at least 500 Yazidis, including 40 children, have been killed in the past week. The Yazidi have suffered violence throughout the recent fighting in Iraq; according to al-Jazeera, IS were accused of killing six Yazidi in May, and a group claiming to be part of IS kidnapped 24 Yazidi border guards in June.
What is their religion?
Linked to the ancient faith Zoroastrianism, the Yazidi religion revolves around the worship of seven angels, of whom Malak Ṭāʾūs (“peacock angel”) is the most important. Above all of these is a supreme God, who created the universe, but the Yazidi god no longer has any direct interest in the world. Yazidi deny the existence of evil, rejecting the notion of sin, the devil and hell—this makes them “antidualists.” They believe in a form of reincarnation, whereby the spirit is purified as it migrates through different bodily forms until it achieves divinity. Shaykh ʿAdī, a 12th century mystic and chief Yazidi saint, is believed by followers to have managed this.
Why are they being persecuted?
The Yazidi are reported to believe that they are descended from Adam, rather than Adam and Eve, and are distinct from the rest of mankind. Consequently, they separate themselves out from whatever community they live in. The Yazidi have been persecuted by Sunni militants in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, and historically have faced persecution from nearby Muslim communities, as Malak Ṭāʾūs is often misidentified as the Judeo-Christian devil. This has led to Yazidi throughout the world being derided as “devil worshippers.”
This is the BBC’s account of the religion and its followers.