Yazidis “are at the forefront of the representation of Kurdish identity. Indeed, we know that they are the ones who have faced the most oppression and displacement,” Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader, told his lawyers, warning of possible new attacks that threatened Yazidis before the Islamic State genocide in 2014.
Praising the Yazidis as the essential Kurdish community that preserves its historical origin in its purest form and thus best represents Kurdish identity, Öcalan addressed the renowned hero of the famous Yazidi epic, Dewrêşê Evdî, in a poem he wrote in late 2010 while in prison on İmralı Island.
Entitled “Dewrêş’e” (to Dewrêş), the poem expressed Öcalan’s longing to be in the Sinjar (Shengal) Mountains, the ancestral home of the Yazidis, and was released after one of his lawyers’ rare visits to the island in 2011.
I wish I were with Derwêşê Evdî
in the Sinjar Mountains!
That I dove into the Mosul Plains
on the back of white horses!
That I took Derweş on my shoulder
when he was shot
to Kurdistan’s mountains!
I wish I told him, “Look!
Edûlê is here by the thousands
The Twelve are here by the thousands!
Rest easy on these mountains
where thrones of goddesses lie!”
Wherever it comes from…
And however it comes
Grieve no more!
Sharpened Kurdishness and the life free
They are truth eternal, I wish I said!
One of the most famous Kurdish epics, the legend of Dewrêşê Evdî (Devreş, son of Evdi) revolves around the story of Dewrêş, a Yazidi youth, and his love for Edûlê, a Sunni Kurdish girl, amidst the historical enmity between the Kurdish tribes. Dewrêş defies the tribal conflicts and fights to protect his people against overwhelming odds. His love for Edûlê and his bravery in battle reflect themes of love, sacrifice and resilience in the face of adversity.
The PKK leader had also expressed the need for a reckoning with the events surrounding the 2014 massacre in Sinjar. “We were all those who were killed and raped,” he told the İmralı delegation during the short-lived peace talks between the Turkish government and the PKK on 15 August 2014, referring to the atrocities suffered by the Yazidis.
He also criticised the then-president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Masoud Barzani, and the late leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Jalal Talabani, for failing to take adequate measures to defend the Yazidis, attributing their lack of defence to the tragedy that had occurred.
In fact, Öcalan had been stressing the need to protect the Yazidis for a long time, and in a meeting with lawyers in İmralı Prison in August 2007, after 200 Yazidis were killed in three separate bombings in Kahtaniye in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) on 14 August 2007, he stated that he had repeatedly warned of the threat of annihilation against the Yazidis.
Aftermath of Yazidi Genocide
It has been nine years since the genocide of the Yazidis by the Islamic State (ISIS) took place in Sinjar (Shengal) in Iraq. The attacks, which began on 3 August 2014, killed over 2,200 Yazidis and forced around 4,000 Yazidi women into sexual slavery. The fate of thousands of Yazidi women sold by ISIS in slave markets remains unknown.
Following the ISIS attacks, while the forces of the KDP withdrew from the region, the military wing of the PKK, the People’s Defence Forces (HPG), the People’s Defence Units (YPG) and the Women’s Defence Units (YPJ) stepped in to defend the Yazidis. As a result of their efforts, hundreds of thousands of Yazidis sought refuge on Mount Sinjar and were rescued through a safe corridor.
In response to the continuing threats to Sinjar and the Yazidis, the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ) and the Yazidi Women’s Units (YJÊ) were formed. The Yazidis also established their own institutions, including women’s and educational organisations, autonomous councils and local administrations. The Democratic Autonomous Assembly of Sinjar (MXDŞ) became an important force in defence, security, culture and diplomacy.