Sunday, August 10, 2014

Saddam Hussein and the Yezidis

Lately I've been both traveling and working through a complex part of my book manuscript, which means I haven't been thinking original thoughts about contemporary Middle Eastern events or passing on interesting scholarship about Middle Eastern history and culture.  I still read, though!  Here is some interesting information on Saddam Hussein's policy towards the Yezidis:
Ethnically, Yazidis are often identified as Kurds, the minority group that semi-autonomously governs a chunk of northeastern Iraq (most other Iraqis are ethnically Arab). Most Yazidis do consider themselves Kurds, according to Sebastian Maisel, a professor at Grand Valley State University who has conducted extensive fieldwork among Yazidis.
But Iraq's Ba'athist government disagreed. Beginning around 1975, they labeled them an Arab offshoot, according to Maisel, in order to "distance them from the Kurdish population." The Ba'athist government decreed that Yazidis were descendants of Yazid bin Mu'awiya, the ancient caliph whom Shia Muslims remember ruefully as the murderer of the (in their view) rightful Caliph Husayn bin'Ali after Muhammed's death. This would make the Yazidis ethnically Arab — it would also alienate them from Shia Muslims, who are the Iraqi majority, and perhaps make Yazidis more reliant on the Sunni Ba'athist government.
The goal, according to Maisel, was to separate the Yazidis from the Kurds, who wanted political autonomy, and make them loyal to Arab Iraq. But it did this in a truly heavy-handed and brutal way. During the '70s and '80s, Saddam Hussein forcefully relocated Yazidis from their traditional home near the Sinjar mountains to cinderblock villages in poorly-resourced areas, gave them Arabic names, and forced them to speak Arabic and not Kurdish.

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