Addressing Challenges and Improving Conditions for Ethnic and Religious Minorities Worldwide

Members of minority communities in Iraq, long subject to persecution, have faced an existential threat from the rise of Da’esh. These terrorists overran the once-diverse city of Mosul, the ancestral Assyrian towns of the Ninewa plain, and the Yezidi homeland of Sinjar, and other areas, driving minorities out, killing, raping, and kidnapping as they went. They have targeted Yezidi, Shabak, Turkmen, Shia Muslims, Kurds, Kaka’i, and other minorities for particular brutality, while also committing daily violence against Sunni Muslims. Da’esh has not only killed, raped, and enslaved, its members also have sought to erase the identity of those that they’ve killed -- to supplant centuries of culture and history with their own ideology of nihilism and murder.

As we contend with the ongoing humanitarian crisis and look forward to the day when Da’esh is finally defeated, we also are preparing for the immense challenges that will follow, including the vulnerabilities minority communities will face in the aftermath of this struggle. At the recent Conference on Threats to Religious and Ethnic Minorities under Da’esh, the United States and our international partners discussed how to repair the rich cultural, religious, and social mosaic of northern Iraq. The event focused on finding ways to do what is needed to ensure Iraq and Syria’s historic religious and ethnic pluralism remains, and to see that the human rights of all of these diverse peoples are respected, that they are treated as equals, and that they are able to determine the future of their communities.

In advance of the conference, representatives of more than 30 governments and international organizations heard from local civil society and human rights heroes about their experiences. We spoke with two of these heroes, Dr. Ali Akram and Murad Ismael. In 2014, Da’esh abducted thousands of women and girls, including Yezidi, Turkmen, and Christian, and has kept many in sexual slavery. Dr. Ali and Ismael are among those fighting for their freedom. Dr. Ali is a neurologist and chief of the Turkmen Rescue Foundation, which documents human rights violations and abuses against Iraqi Turkmen and advocates for their protection. Ismael founded Yazda, a U.S.-based, global Yezidi humanitarian and advocacy organization, when Da’esh attacked on the Yezidi community, including his family, in Ninewa. He serves as the organization’s executive director.

Listen to their stories here:


About the Author: Knox Thames serves as Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia at the U.S. Department of State.

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Posted by Knox Thames
August 11, 2016


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