Pope Francis Receives Delegation of Persecuted Yazidis in Vatican

Pope Francis today received a delegation of the community of the Yazidi, led by their world leader, Tahsin Said Ali Beg, and their supreme spiritual leader, the Skeikh Kato, both of whom are residents of Iraqi Kurdistan.

One of the delegates referred to the Pope as “father of the poor” as the delegation thanked him for his support for the Yazidi in this time of persecution and suffering, as well as speaking of some 5,000 women Yazidis who have been enslaved by ISIS.

In what is now being described as genocide, in August 2014, Islamic State jihadists seized control of several villages in Sinjar, northern Iraq, where many members of the minority Yazidi sect were living. Soldiers enslaved women and children, distributing them as booty or selling them in markets throughout IS territory. As happened with the Christians, Yazidis were given an ultimatum to convert to Islam or be executed. According to reports, in some areas, men were simply lined up and shot in the head.

The Islamic State considers the Yazidis to be “infidels” and has persecuted them ruthlessly. Many Muslims believe that a key figure in the Yazidi religion, the Malak Taus or “Peacock Angel” is a personification of the devil.

The Yazidis are an ancient Kurdish ethno-religious community whose syncretic religion is tied  to Zoroastrianism and ancient Mesopotamian religions. Yazidis number about 1.5 million worldwide, of whom about half a million live in Iraq, primarily in the Nineveh Province. Others live in Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and other countries.

The Yazidi community is indigenous to Iraq, with religious practice dating back to the Sumerian period in Mesopotamia. Their religion, language, and culture are distinct from the Arab and Kurdish cultures among whom they live.

The Yazidis are, together with Christians, among the chief minorities in Iraq forced out of the Nineveh Plain by the violence of the jihadists of the Islamic State.

Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican press office, said that the Pope “assured the delegates of his spiritual closeness and his support in this time of trial, hoping that justice may soon be restored along with the conditions for a free and peaceful life for the Yazidis, and for all minorities facing discrimination and violence.”

The meeting lasted over half an hour and took place in the private library in the Apostolic Palace.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome

 


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