“We stand here, today, in front of the UN office in Tbilisi, to send a message to the world to stand with us. We are delivering a letter to UN Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) asking to make every effort to stop the persecution of Yezidis and Christians,” Mirzoev said. Photo by author
By Teimuraz Shamoian
TBILISI, Georgia — Yezidis, Christian and civic leaders in Georgia staged a protest on Wednesday calling on the United Nations and the international community to protect Yezidis from threats by Islamic extremists in Iraq.
The protest in front of the United Nations building in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, was organized by Yezidi community organizations but also drew many prominent figures including human rights defenders, lawyers, MPs and representatives from the Assyrian, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Apostolic and other Christian churches.
Yezidi leaders say upwards of 30,000 Yezidis from Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh province are facing life threatening conditions after they fled to nearby Shingal mountain, which is surrounded by the Islamic State (IS/formerly ISIS). At least 60 people, mostly children and the elderly, have already died of starvation and thirst.
IS seized the capital of Nineveh, Mosul, in June and have since taken Sinjar. They are trying to control resources such as Mosul’s massive dam and nearby oil fields, and are driving minority Christians and Yezidis out of the province.
Yezidis are ethnic Kurds who practice an ancient religious and are considered devil-worshipers by Islamic extremists.
An estimated 20,000 Yezidis live in Georgia, and the vast majority resides in the capital. Georgia is home to one of the largest Yezidi communities in the region.
Agit Mirzoev, executive director of the House of Yezidis, a community organization, called on the international community to act to help persecuted Christians and Yezidis, who have been stranded on a mountaintop.
“We stand here, today, in front of the UN office in Tbilisi, to send a message to the world to stand with us. We are delivering a letter to UN Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) asking to make every effort to stop the persecution of Yezidis and Christians,” Mirzoev said.
Yezidi cleric Dmitri Pirbari was one of several activists who compared the threats against Yezidis in Iraq to the persecution of Yezidis in the Ottoman Empire a century ago. He called on the government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Kurdish military, Peshmarga, to save Yezidis.
Around 10,000 Peshmarga are being deployed to Nineveh province to battle the extremists, who seized Mosul and other Sunni-dominated areas after the Iraqi army fled.
Community leader Kereme Anqosi called on Kurds and Yezidis around the world to advocate for Shingal.
“Today Shingal is washed in blood,” he said. “The followers of one of the oldest religions whose faith and traditions have survived through the 21st century could disappear.”
“I call on you as human beings to protect us. I call on you, politicians of democratic nations, to take action for us. I call on you, the Georgian government, to support Yezidis, because we always stand with Georgia,” he said.
Assyrian community leader David Adamov said as minority communities, Yezidis and Assyrians have been oppressed for centuries. Both communities came to Georgia 99 years ago, seeking refuge from Ottoman persecution.
“ISIS is repeating the genocide that was carried out a century ago. Now we as brothers stand together, because they are exterminating us today as well,” he said.