Yazidis facing forced conversion to Islam after capture of Afrin - analysis

Yazidis, a Kurdish religious minority who were in 2014 the target of massacre by ISIS, now face forcible conversion to Islam under the threat of death from Turkish-backed forces which captured the Kurdish enclave of Afrin on 18 March, Patrick Cockburn says, writing for the Independent.

For the Yazidi Kurds the fear of the slaughter and enslavement they suffered at the hands of ISIS in Sinjar in 2014 is all too fresh. They are pessimistic about the future, expecting Turkey to invade the rest of Rojava, the Independent article shares.

Turkey's ongoing Operation Olive Branch, which began on Jan. 20 and is supported by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), saw the capture of Afrin on Mar. 18. Turkey plans to push further in the region.

Cockburn shares the experience of a local Yazidi he calls Mr Qamber in Afrin, where even the names of Yazidi villages are reportedly being changed.

Some Yazidis are being brought to a mosque by Islamists to be converted, while others are being lured there by offers of food and medical attention, the Independent article says.

One Yazidi who lived near the town of Azaz, when he was trying to escape, was asked by his interrogator where he was from and he replied that he was from Qastel Jindo.

‘’The Islamist, whose groups often describe themselves as belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said: “it’s no more Qastel Jindo. It’s al-Quds now. We will give it the name of Palestine’s capital. These areas were occupied by the infidels and now it is [going] back to their original owners and original names ... We came here to regain our lands and behead you,” Cockburn writes.

Reports indicate that many of the Sunni Arab fighters in the FSA, who are under the command of the Turkish military, are former members of Isis and al-Qaeda, Cockburn says.

The FSA, in their videos, describe the existing Kurdish population as infidels, using slogans and phrases normally associated with al-Qaeda.

Many Yazidis are scattered in refugee camps in northern Syria and Iraq.

‘’Mr Qamber said that after the defeat of Isis as a territorial entity they “expected that the Turks will attack us, either directly as they did before in Turkey in the 1970s, or indirectly using their allied Islamist Jihadi groups, like Daesh [Isis] or other groups like the so-called Free Syrian Army,’’ Cockburn writes while citing the latest UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report on the Afrin crisis published on 16 April which says that ‘’137,000 individuals have been displaced from Afrin, while 150,000 remain there, of whom 50,000 are in Afrin City and 100,000 in the countryside.’’

The Yazidis have suffered centuries of religious persecution. In 2014, more than 3,000 members of this Kurdish religious minority group were executed out of a total of 10,000 killed in matter of days in Iraq while young women were turned into sex slaves, sparking international outrage and aid campaigns.