Who are the Yazidis?

When "Reseba: The Dark Wind" premiered, the film was criticized for how it portrayed the Yazidi community during a time of IS atrocities. As it arrives in Germany, DW presents key facts on the religious minority.

Directed by Kurdish filmmaker Hussein Hassan, the 2016 film "Reseba: The Dark Wind" (above), has now been released in German cinemas. It depicts how a young Yazidi couple on the verge of marriage is torn apart by militants from the so-called "Islamic State," who carry out a massacre against the religious minority in northern Iraq's Shingal district. After Pero, the bride-to-be, is sold as a slave, her would-be husband, Reko, goes on a journey to Syria to find her. While reunited, the pair is traumatized and struggle upon their return to their community.

Politics | 19.11.2017

Read more: Missing Yazidi women and children hiding in plain sight

The film, a joint production between Iraq (and the Kurdistan Regional Government), Germany and Qatar, had kicked up a storm during its premiere at the Duhok International Film Festival, in Kurdistan Region, in September 2016. Some audiences reacted angrily to the film's plot which, while fictional, was inspired by the true events of genocide against the Yazidis in Sinjar, northwest Iraq, that IS undertook in August 2014.

Protesters complained that the film misrepresented the Yazidis' treatment of women in the aftermath of IS atrocities, a criticism that director Hassan refuted, arguing that many critics' impressions had been based on the trailer alone.

Who are the Yazidis?

The Yazidis are a Kurdish religious minority of some one million individuals worldwide. According to the German Central Council of Yazidis, some 750,000 live in northwest Iraq alone, with other communities in Syria, Turkey and Iran.

Yazidi communities have also grown in Armenia, Georgia and Russia, following the flight of many Yazidis from their Middle Eastern homelands. Nearly all Turkish, most Syrian, and many Iraqi Yazidis live today in Western Europe, primarily in Germany.

The native language of Yazidis is Kurmanji Kurdish.

Read more: From the Sinjar mountains to Germany's Rhineland: a Yazidi refugee's story

What is the religion of the Yazidis?

The Yazidis are syncretic monotheists who believe in an all-powerful god. The roots of their religion, Yazidism, can be traced back some 2,000 years before Christianity, though their belief practices combine elements of that religion with Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism and ancient Mesopotamian religions.

At the premiere of 'Reseba: The Dark Wind,' some believed that the female lead Pero (above) was actually killed in the film

The Yazidis do not believe in the existence of an evil being. God would have been weak to tolerate a second powerful alongside of him, and mention of the devil would be blasphemous. At the center point of Yazidi beliefs stands the archangel known in English as Melek Taus. He is revered as a representation of God on earth and is depicted as a peacock.

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Yazidis are born into their religion, meaning that conversion to Yazidism is impossible. Yazidis are only allowed to marry one another; one who marries outside the religion is considered an automatic convert to the spouse's religion.

The holiest temple of the Yazidi faith is located in Lalish, northern Iraq.

Why are Yazidis persecuted?

Beginning in 2014, the expanding control of the extremist "Islamic State" over much of Iraq spurred many Yazidis to flee. On August 3, IS militants attacked Sinjar, a large Yazidi town, and perpetrated genocide: The UN has estimated that around 5,000 Yazidi men were murdered and up to 7,000 women and children were kidnapped. At least 400,000 were driven out of their homeland. Both the UN and the European Parliament labeled the events genocide.

Fanatical Islamists have long regarded Yazidis as "non-believers" who should be converted or killed. The religious minority has also faced persecution as part of the Kurdish ethnic minority. Yazidis in the Middle East often have to disguise their identity.

Yazidi women who had been captured by IS were released in 2015

In particular, a lack of state protection during the 1980s caused many Yazidis to flee from Turkey to Germany, where over 100,000 live today according to estimates from the Central Council of Yazidi in Germany.

What is the Yazidi community in Germany like?

Yazidis in Germany have founded many cultural groups, in part to represent their interests but also to organize their religious and cultural affairs within the community. Many of these clubs have their own community centers.

Read more: EU human rights prize-winners: this brings 'honor and dignity' to the Yazidi women

The film "Reseba: The Dark Wind" will be screened in select cinemas across Germany from April 2-29.

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

Iraqi influx

According to the UNCHR Iraq has around 1 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). Most of them have found their way to the northern parts of the country.

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

On the run

Many of the Internally Displaced Persons in northern Iraq are Yazidis. When "Islamic State" fighters attacked the Sinjar Mountains, home to the Yazidis, many of them had to leave all their belongings behind to find security in northern Iraq.

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

Fending for themselves

It has been impossible for NGOs and the Kurdistan government to look after the huge numbers of people who fled to northern Iraq in early August. The ones who can't find space in refugee camps are forced to take care of themselves without any support.

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

Gimme shelter

The lack of space in refugee camps has forced many Yazidis to live in construction buildings, empty houses or school buildings all around northern Iraq.

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

'The Sinjar massacre'

Not everybody had time to escape when "IS" attacked the villages in Sinjar; many were either executed or died trying to fight off the militants. The bloody events have come to be known as the "Sinjar massacre."

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

Question of survival

The upcoming winter is likely to add to the hardship of many of the families living in the empty buildings, wondering how they will survive. The lack of money for food and blankets is a major concern that requires urgent international attention to prevent an even more desperate situation for the Yazidis.

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

Home from home

Around 40 families have made this construction building their home.

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

Waiting and hoping

A new refugee camp has been promised for the IDPs who are now without any support, but so far there has been no sign that it will happen anytime soon. "The only thing we can do is to wait for help and try to survive," says one refugee.

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

'Bomb my home'

Many Yazidis are urging the US-led coalition to launch airstrikes over their homes in the mountains where they have been attacked by IS extremists - so that they can return to their homes at some point. "Please, bomb my home first," says one of the Yazidis who thinks that the only way to defeat IS is from the air.

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

Giving them a future

One of the many Yazidi children playing in the construction building. Their future is a major concern for the international community.

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

Pack your bags

As if their current plight wasn't bad enough, the landlord of the construction building where the Yazidi families have lived for almost three months wants them to leave. "We have nowhere to go, so for us is it impossible to leave until a new refugee camp has been built for us," says one.

Desperate times for Iraq's Yazidis

Uprooted families

A young man posing in front of the camera. Many of the refugees left family members in Sinjar villages and have no idea whether they are still alive.