Kay: The Yazidis of today are the Jews of yesterday

Defend International and its supporters provided humanitarian aid to Yazidi refugees in Kurdistan region, Iraq. (Flickr photo)

Khawla is a Yazidi woman from Dugri, Iraq. I interviewed her a few weeks ago, in the company of Mirza Ismail, the chairman of Yezidi Human Rights Organization-International, who acted as our interpreter.

Khawla, the eldest of four daughters, was 14 when, in August 2014, her girlhood and happiness ended with an ISIS assault on her community. The Kurdish Peshmerga, which was tasked with protecting them, fled, leaving them utterly defenceless.

Khawla’s story is long and gruesome. She was held as a sex slave for three years. Twice she tried to kill herself: once by pulling the emergency brake of a car and flipping it; and once by eating rat poison.

Now, Khawla is physically safe in Canada, but she may never be psychologically whole.

There are 60 million refugees worldwide, so moral triage is inevitable. Who should Jews choose to help? I choose the Yazidis. Unlike persecuted Christians, they have no worldwide network of co-religionists. They are a fragile people – perhaps a million altogether – whose history stretches back 6,000 years. Their religion – monotheistic, non-proselytizing, peace-loving, with enmity toward none – contains elements of all the Abrahamic faiths.

The Yazidi are enduring a genocide – both the UN and the Canadian government have officially acknowledged that the Yazidi’s horror story meets the UN’s criteria for a genocide. And this is not the first. According to Ismail, today’s disaster is the 74th genocide the Yazidi people have suffered throughout their long history, including having lost 350,000, alongside the Armenians, at the hands of the Turks 1914-18. And yet, the Canadian government has not bestirred itself on their behalf. The government  did not even meet its meagre target of bringing in 1,000 Yazidi refugees in 2017, and has no plans to bring more in 2018.

Many people think the threat to Yazidis has receded in Iraq and Syria, but it hasn’t. Many of them languish in refugee camps, and they have no status with the UN group that’s tasked with processing claims. Some Yazidi have been told that they will have to wait until 2022 just to go through the interview phase of the process.

Syrian Muslim refugees can go back to their homes when the dust settles. The Yazidi cannot. Sinjar, their ancestral home, is still a war zone and is uninhabitable. They have nowhere to go and the Iraqi government doesn’t care about them. Yazidis living here in Canada, like Khawla, still have family in captivity there. There are 3,200 girls like Khawla who are still “owned” by jihadists, many of whom have by now been forcibly converted to Islam. Canada has a military presence in Kurdistan and could easily help them, but there is no political will to do so.

Hearing their stories, I am naturally appalled, but I’m also reminded of my own history. Here is this small people, surrounded by militant Islamists who hate them for no reason other than that they are different. I think of the 800,000 Jews who were ethnically cleansed from Arab countries in the 1940s. If they had stayed, they would certainly have suffered the same fate as the Yazidis.

The Jews of the Middle East had Israel to flee to. Let anti-Zionists ponder that ineluctable fact. The Yazidis have no Israel, no IDF, no prosperous Diaspora with Yazidis in high places to plead their case. In 1977, then-Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin welcomed 300 Vietnamese boat people to Israel. He said: “We never have forgotten the boat with 900 Jews, the St. Louis, having left Germany in the last weeks before the Second World War … traveling from harbour to harbour, from country to country, crying out for refuge. They were refused.… Therefore, it was natural … to give those people a haven in the Land of Israel.”

How ironic it is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau only recently apologized for Canada’s refusal to accept those very refugees. Words are good. Saving people is better. The Yazidis of today are the European Jews of yesterday.