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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 January 2019

Syria's Yazidis will suffer the consequences of US withdrawal: activist 

The ancient monotheistic faith has long been a victim of violence and religious misinterpretation

The sun sets as women visit a Yazidi shrine overlooking at Kankhe Camp for the internally displaced in Dahuk, northern Iraq, 2016. AP, file
The sun sets as women visit a Yazidi shrine overlooking at Kankhe Camp for the internally displaced in Dahuk, northern Iraq, 2016. AP, file

Syria's Yazidi and other minority groups could become a target for Turkish-backed militias like elements of the Free Syrian Army, US-based human rights group Yazda has warned.

Yazda co-founder and former US army translator Hadi Pir said on Friday that extremists are likely to take advantage of the imminent withdrawal of American forces from Syria and attack persecuted minorities like the Yazidis.

"They persecute Yazidis and they change their temples to mosques and force them to convert to Islam," Mr Pir said about the Turkish backed brigades of the FSA. "Most of them run away."

This ancient monotheistic faith has long been a victim of violence and religious misinterpretation. Their highest religious figure, Malak Taus – a peacock angel – is viewed by many as the devil and its followers as "devil worshipers".

In both Christianity and Islam, the devil is presented as a fallen angel, which has led Yazidis to be perceived as "devil-worshippers". This perception was used by ISIS to justify atrocities against the minority group after 2014 in Iraq, non-profit Norwegian Refugee Council said in a recent report.

Yazidi folklore often refers to the 74 genocides they suffered throughout history, including ISIS' attack in Iraq’s Sinjar, which killed and displaced tens of thousands.

There are less than 1 million Yazidis worldwide and while it's almost impossible to find accurate numbers, some 10,000 are estimated to live in Syria.

Mr Pir says the presence of American troops in minority areas has kept vulnerable groups safe, but President Donald Trump's decision to pull out US forces could change this.

Although Mr Pir acknowledges that ISIS remains a threat, Turkish-backed forces have quickly become a prime concern.

Turkey backs dozens of brigades and armed factions in Syria. The largest among them are the Syrian National Army and the National Front for Liberation, both part of the FSA, a coalition of opposition militias fighting against the regime of Bashar Al Assad.

In some northern towns under control of Turkish-backed groups in the Free Syrian Army, residents have spoken out against forced conversions to Islam, The Independent recently reported. The names of Yazidi villages changed to Arabic names, and residents branded as infidels.

President Trump in December signed legislation to ensure humanitarian relief reaches religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria, in a bid to investigate ISIS' violence toward these communities. But going forward it is unlikely that a bill agreed upon in the White House will offer the same kind of safety that the presence of American troops has offered the Yazidis.

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Updated: December 29, 2018 05:33 PM

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