Activists have denounced a Syrian decision requiring Yazidis to use Islamic courts, which declares that their religion is part of Islam.
Murad Ismael, who co-founded the group Yazda, which advocates for the minority’s rights, said the ruling was tantamount to religious persecution and it was wrong to consider the Yazidi faith part of Islam.
“It [is] also sadly the same interpretation ISIS used to commit Yazidi genocide,” Ismael said in an email to The Media Line.
He said that while the minority’s beliefs share values with other religions, they are independent of them and the faith has existed for thousands of years.
We are a proud people; proud of our religious and moral codes as well as our culture and history; and we expect that our faith boundary will be respected
The New Arab reported on Wednesday that the Syrian Justice Ministry ruled Islamic personal status laws apply to members of the Yazidi community, some of whom earlier requested to have their own court for personal issues, such as family disputes.
Activist Mohamed Al Neser posted on Twitter what appeared to be the official letter detailing the decision.
The Syrian regime will treat Yazidis as a sect, not a religion after not including them in a new civil status law, Neser tweeted in response to the decision.
The Netherlands-based Free Yezidi Foundation, which operates in Iraq, also criticized the decision in a tweet: “Imagine having to go to a ‘court’ where you are already considered an infidel unworthy of human rights. Not surprise – there is nothing resembling justice in #Syria or #Iraq anyway.”
Thousands of Yazidis were killed, enslaved and trafficked by ISIS after it took over a part of northern Iraq in 2014. It also held some Yazidis in neighboring Syria.
After fleeing ISIS, many were trapped on Iraq’s Mount Sinjar without water or food amid searing temperatures. Hundreds died while others escaped after a corridor was created by Kurdish forces.
The UN has recognized the persecution of Yazidis by ISIS as a genocide.
A 2016 UN report on ISIS crimes against the Yazidis found that the extremist Islamic State believed Muslims should question the existence of Yazidis and considered them a “pagan minority.”
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Many have now returned to the Yazidi heartland of Sinjar, near the Syrian border, but the UN reports that nearly 3,000 women and girls are still missing after being kidnapped by ISIS.
Estimates vary of how many Yazidis there are in the Middle East, ranging from hundreds of thousands to up to a million.
According to Ismael, there are now less than 5,000 Yazidis in Syria, down from 80,000.
The community says its members have gone through dozens of genocides during their history and have been accused of being “devil worshippers.”
In 1962, Yazidis alongside other Kurds were deprived of their citizenship by Syria. Most Yazidis consider themselves to be ethnic Kurds.
The UN reports that Yazidis have gone through a “cycle of persecution” at least since the Ottoman Empire, and the minority has faced widespread discrimination during modern times.
Last December, Yazidis reportedly were targeted for arrest by Turkish-backed Islamist rebels in northwest Syria. The Voice of America reported that residents of Yazidi villages were put under curfew following an explosion targeting the leader of a rebel alliance.
Ismael, who is originally from Sinjar said Yazidis need to have their own court so they can follow their own rules or be allowed to work within regular civil law. He said that while all religions have shared rules and often texts, it is unacceptable to force them into a religion that is not theirs.
“We are a proud people; proud of our religious and moral codes as well as our culture and history; and we expect that our faith boundary will be respected,” he said.
The Yazidis’ religion is a combination of various beliefs, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Ismael said Damascus has been hostile towards the Yazidi faith for decades and that it is time for the country to treat those still there with respect.
“While I personally see no future for Yazidis in Syria and I believe the remaining Yazidis will migrate in [the] next few years, the legal rights remain important, if not for humans, for history,” he said.