The Yazidi of the Greek Refugee Crisis

Mahamud Murad and his family live in a small caravan under the shadows of shipping containers and barbed wire fences. His family and many others were placed at the far end of the Scaramagas refugee camp for the group’s safety. But this has not prevented numerous knife attacks.

Now, in this humble home, they wait until they can finally relocate to the prize of every refugee in Greece: Germany. But even though this would be a cause for celebration, it is not what they want.

For one thing, Mahamud’s daughter is still missing. And for another, their culture that is thousands of years in the making – supposedly older than Judaism and Zoroastrianism – is in peril.

Mahamud said there are around 400 Yazidi in the Scaramagas refugee camp. Some are going to Germany, but many are either going elsewhere or have not yet been promised to even leave the camp. When one accounts for the fact that there are more than 4,000 Yazidi refugees in Greece and 700,000 in total, there is no promise that this intensely unique culture will ever be the same.

Yazidi are a Kurdish-speaking religious group from Northern Iraq. Instead of the Judeochristian God, they worship a forgiven dissenter as a symbol of God’s benevolence. This fallen angel, named Melek Taus, or the Peacock angel, follows a similar mythological story to the Christian Satan and Muslim Shayton.

When this is paired with the relatively peaceful nature of their religion, they became an easy target for ISIS, known in Iraq under its Arabic acronym, Daesh.

Many have compared what is happening to them to the WWII Holocaust. It was a result of ISIS’ spiritual leader Turki al-Binali’s Fatwa, or religious commandment, that the ninevah province of Northern Iraq  where the Yazidi primarily live has been the target of systematic killings of men and children. While the women, some as young as 9 years old, are being sold in ISIS sex slave markets.

There are only a few individuals speaking out against these atrocities. One such voice, Nadia Murad, who was held captive and regularly raped until she became unconscious, is the leading witness, telling the story of what happened to her and what is currently happening to more than 3,000 other women and girls.

In Mahamud’s home of Shengal, or in English Sinjar, few have returned. Most believe the former home of the Yazidi will never be populated again.

When an entire religion is forced to scatter across the world, it may not survive. Especially when the Yazidi religion is endogamous, meaning that if one marries outside the Yazidi religion, they are forced to convert to the religion of their spouse. Yazidi do not accept outside converts either.

“We don’t want the money or anything,” Mahamud said, with his nephew translating. “Just to save. To save the Yazidi people. We want to live like any people. Save anyone.”

In that small caravan next to barbed-wire fences and precariously stacked shipping containers, there is a small group that is not only scared or traumatized, but desperate. They are clinging to their way of life, their beliefs and their culture in a world that will never be the same for them.