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The Yazidi Firmans (Pogroms, Genocides, and Ethnic Cleansing): A Historical Perspective

Written by Majid Hassan Ali.

The Yazidis are an ethno-religious minority with ancestral roots in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran. Today, the majority of Yazidis live in the disputed territories—between the Central Government of Iraq (CGI) and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI)—in Northern Iraq, with smaller communities present in Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Georgia, and Russia, as well as a significant diaspora in the West.

Historically, the Yazidi religious minority have long been persecuted as devil worshippers across the region. They have also endured many genocidal campaigns, called firmans (pogroms or genocides) in Yazidi oral tradition during the Ottoman Empire (1514-1918). Although the number of firmans against the Yazidis is immeasurable, Yazidi tradition asserts that the minority has endured seventy-two firmans throughout history. The firmans are recognized by Yazidis as genocides and massacres, and thus the number seventy-two acquired symbolic meaning.

The inclusion of recent events, such as the 2007 terrorist attack on the centres of Til-Izir and Siba-Shikhdir that killed around 800 Yazidis, seen as a firman itself, has led to a discrepancy in their numbering. In light of that, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attack of August 2014 would be considered the seventy-fourth firman.

Researching the firmans, themselves, remains a challenge. It is difficult to obtain documents, studies or deep academic research on the Yazidi during the historical periods from the beginning of the Arab and Islamic occupation of Yazidi areas until the first quarter of the twentieth century. There are many reasons for this difficulty, but the most important is governments withholding historical documents on the firmans. The lack of access to the archives of the Ottoman Empire, because of the Armenian genocide case, is especially noteworthy.

Therefore, what is currently known about the firmans can be found in the books of Western travellers to the Yazidi regions in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, and on some local historical sources, as well as existing stories of extermination in Yazidi oral tradition.

In my other researches and studies, I have touched on genocide against Yazidis. In this article, entitled “Genocidal Campaigns during the Ottoman Era: The Firmān of Mīr-i-Kura against the Yazidi Religious Minority in 1832–1834 ”, to be published in Genocide Studies International (GSI), I tried to create space for deep historical studies on genocide against the Yazidis for the first time globally because the Yazidi genocide has not been discussed in international journals or studies in the past.

In this article, for example, I addressed and focused on one of the major campaigns of genocide that took place in 1832-1834, but many similar attacks have yet to be addressed in academic research.

Therefore, I tried to discuss the firmans objectively to confirm that the attack of ISIS in 2014 was not the first of its kind. Rather, I believe that when viewed at the historical level, the stories of massacre and genocide preserved in Yazidi oral tradition can be proven as authentic.

Majid Hassan Ali completed his doctorate with a focus on religious minorities in Iraq at the University of Bamberg, Germany. He lectures at Duhok University in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and sits on the board of the International Yezidi Theological Academy (IYTA) in Tbilisi, Georgia. His research includes the challenges faced by religious minorities in Muslim majority countries. He has published several articles on Yazidi identity, Religious Extremism, Migration, Captivity and Slaves of Yazidi Women, and a monograph related to Kurdish Movements. Email: [email protected]

This article was first published by University of Toronto

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