Harrowing history of an often overlooked, often targeted group in the ongoing struggle between Islamic State militants and other forces in the Middle East.
It is an irony of sorts that the Yezidis, who live in the Iraqi highlands in territory contested among Kurds, Arabs, and other actors, were safer during the regime of Saddam Hussein than in the years since the American invasion. Not that circumstances were ideal then; observes Otten, a British journalist who has been working in Kurdistan for the last few years, some Yezidi communities had been forcibly resettled during the Hussein years. But then came “economic meltdown under UN sanctions, the breakdown of the state and security after the US-led invasion of 2003, and political failures that followed,” onto which a long siege by the Islamic State group and the wholesale rape and enslavement of other communities layered additional injuries. As the author writes, the Yezidis are Islamist targets for religious reasons; the Islamic State “describes the Yezidis as pagans and devil worshippers who are not entitled to pay a tax and live in the caliphate,” less desirable even than Christians and scarcely human. By Otten’s account, the Yezidis have been fighting back, though they are not well-served by infighting among various Peshmerga and other anti–IS forces in Kurdistan, and they thus “remain unable to define their future militarily or politically, as many, if not most, would prefer.” The author’s careful account is based on significant on-the-ground reporting that often finds her in dangerous situations—e.g., hunched down on a rooftop with fighters trying to take back a Yezidi city from IS occupiers, in the field with young warriors, even children, who are not easily distinguished from the adults fighting all around them. Of some cause for optimism are the Yezidis’ efforts to reintegrate the women who were stolen away, one of whom meaningfully says, “even if we marry or fall in love there will still be this thing inside that is broken.”
Otten’s solid work deepens our understanding of a complex clash of ethnicities and religions.