Chicago (AINA) -- Prince Hazim Tahseen Bek, Yazidi prince in Iraq and around the world, and the head of the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council, met with Assyrians in Chicago on Friday, August 25. The Prince is on tour to visit the Yazidi communities in America. The largest community is in Lincoln, Nebraska with a population of 6,000. A smaller community of 300 lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
The meeting focused on the shared experience of the two communities under ISIS, which committed genocide against Assyrians and Yazidis, and future cooperation initiatives for addressing issues facing the two communities in Iraq.
After an introduction by Mr. Glenn Younan, the President of the Assyrian American Association, Mr. Robert DeKelaita, the Director of the Assyrian American Chamber of Commerce and an advisor of the Nineveh Project of the Chaldean Community Foundation, stated that both the Assyrians and Yazidis had endured much pain. He mentioned that the Assyrian people have deep sympathy for Yazidi suffering, particularly since 2014 when ISIS invaded the Nineveh Plain. Mr. DeKelaita pointed out that, more importantly, the two communities need to come together to form a stronger lobby by sharing information and advocating for the recognition of their rights. Specifically, he highlighted the need to gather support for Article 125 of the Iraqi constitution, which grants minorities the right to administer their affairs within a legal framework in Iraq.
Mr. Peter BetBasoo, the head of the Assyrian International News Agency, delivered his welcoming remarks and focused on the shared tragedies the two communities have endured, stating:
On June 10, 2014, a day that shall live in infamy, ISIS captured the city of Mosul and set off a chain reaction of events that would have devastating consequences for Assyrians and Yazidis:
- Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) fled Mosul.
- 45 Assyrian institutions in Mosul, churches, monasteries and cemeteries, were destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered.
- Non-Sunni Muslim groups in Mosul -- primarily Yazidis and also Shabaks and Turkmen -- were targeted by ISIS. Most fled.
- Water and electricity to the Nineveh Plain were cut off by ISIS.
- Mosul fell under Sharia law.
- 200,000 Assyrian fled from Baghdede (Qaraqosh), Bartella, Karamles and dozens of Assyrian villages and towns in the Nineveh Plain north of Mosul. Most have not returned.
- 150,000 Yazidis fled from Sinjar and Zumar. 40,000 were trapped on Shingal mountain. Thousands died from exposure. Thousands were killed by ISIS and sold into slavery.
- Assyrian and Yazidi women were violated and sold into sexual slavery.
Related: Timeline of ISIS in Iraq
Related: Attacks on Assyrians in Syria By ISIS and Other Muslim Groups
Dr. John Michael urged the Prince to work for the cause of his people by also supporting the rights of the Assyrians. He stressed the need for both communities to swiftly assert their rights, particularly by supporting administrative rights under Article 125 of the Iraqi constitution.
Prince Hazem had previously visited the Chaldean Community Foundation and met with its President, Mr. Martin Manna, under whose leadership the Foundation has engaged the community in Iraq. They have also pushed for genocide legislation currently pending in the US Congress and explored partnership opportunities to aid Iraq's minority communities.
The Prince highlighted the effects of the genocide on the Yazidis:
- 200,000 still living in refugee camps in Iraq
- 160,000 emigrated to Europe
- 1,268 murdered
- 68 cultural sites destroyed
- 2,700 orphans
- 2,760 women and girls still missing
- 3,548 women and girls forced into sexual slavery
Of the one million Yazidis who were living in Iraq before the ISIS genocide only about 650,000 remain. Significant emigration has occurred to the West. The Yazidi population in various countries is:
Highlighting the genocide and its lingering effects, the Prince's wife, princess Mayan Khairy Bek, said of the 6,400 Yazidi women that were captured by ISIS, 3,000 have been released by payment of ransom, but there is no money to ransom out the others. According to the Princess, women suffered the greatest brunt of the ISIS genocide. She also said the Iraqi government has done nothing to help the Yazidis and other internally displaced minorities, with NGOs shouldering the brunt of the aid.
The Princess strongly emphasized that Yazidis, Assyrians and other groups must not lose their ancestral lands. This is an ongoing issue which AINA has covered extensively.
An issue of mutual concern to Assyrians and Yazidis is the forced conversion to Islam of children of mixed religious marriages. Children are forcefully converted to the religion of the Muslim parent -- father or mother. This law is based on Islamic law.
On a positive note, the Prince stated that Assyrians and Yazidis and other non-Muslim groups are no longer categorized as religious groups under Iraqi law but as ethnic minorities ("components").
Yazidis and Assyrians have always lived in peace, harmony and cordial friendship. In fact, genetic studies show they are the only indigenous peoples in Iraq and the only two groups in Iraq who are related, "Northern Iraq [Syriac] and Northern Iraq [Yazidi] clustered together, but away from the other Northern Iraqi populations analyzed in the current study."
The meeting concluded with pledges from both communities to forge stronger relations and work cooperatively for the rights of their communities.