(AFP) -- The Yazidi minority faces a struggle for survival in Iraq after their bastion Sinjar was taken over Sunday by Islamic State jihadists, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee.
The existence of the small Kurdish-speaking community on its ancestral land is now critically endangered. Here are a few facts about the Yazidis:
- The largest community is in Iraq -- 600,000 people according to the highest Yazidi estimates, but barely 100,000 according to others -- while a few thousand are also found in Syria, Turkey, Armenia and Georgia. They are mostly impoverished farmers and herders.
- They follow a faith born in Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago. It is rooted in Zoroastrianism but has over time blended in elements of Islam and Christianity. Yazidis pray to God three times a day facing the sun and worship his seven angels -- the most important of which is Melek Taus, or Peacock Angel.
- Yazidis discourage marriage outside the community and even across their caste system. Their unique beliefs and practices -- some are known to refrain from eating lettuce and wearing the colour blue -- have often been misconstrued as satanic. Orthodox Muslims consider the Peacock a demon figure and refer to Yazidis as devil-worshippers.
- As non-Arab and non-Muslim Iraqis, they have long been one of the country's most vulnerable minorities. Persecution under Saddam Hussein forced thousands of families to flee the country. Germany is home to the largest community abroad, with an estimated 40,000.
- Massive truck bombs almost entirely destroyed two small Yazidi villages in northern Iraq on August 14, 2007. More than 400 people died in the explosions, the single deadliest attack since the 2003 US-led invasion.