May 2, 2007

Yazidi leaders voice concern over repercussions of Dua's death

The Globe - By Khidhr Domle

Reprisal attacks by Muslims on Yazidi workers in Erbil and elsewhere ratchet up the consequences of the stoning death of a young Yazidi girl.

A Yazidi girl's death by stoning because of her love for a Muslim boy has resulted in mounting tensions in the Yazidi areas of Bashiqa town and Bhazani village northeast of Mosul. Yazidi religious authorities have formally and publicly condemned the killing.

Du'a, the victim, was a 17-year-old Yazidi girl from Bahzani village. Dozens of members of her community stoned her to death in late April after her relationship with a Muslim boy was discovered.

Yazidis are Kurds who live mainly in Duhok and Mosul provinces and have adopted the religion of Yazidism, which combines Islamic teachings with Zoroastrianism.

An official source from Bashiqa who requested anonymity said that after testimony from both Du'a and the Muslim boy's side, investigators could not say with certainty whether the girl intended to become a Muslim. The boy is now under arrest pending the outcome of the investigation.

After Du'a's relationship was discovered, her relatives threatened her. She took shelter, but someone in the area turned her over to Suleman Qawali, president of Qawalis, a Yazidi religious sector in Bahzani.

"The stoning occurred the next day when a number of youths and extremists intent on causing trouble between Yazidis and Muslims surrounded the house," said Abdul-Aziz, son of Suleman Qawali, explaining how the girl was taken from his father's custody. He said the mob gathered in front of his father's house, ultimately forcing the senior Qawali to surrender the girl to her relatives. Abdul-Aziz said her relatives and members of her community killed her with stones in front of the crowd amid furious shouting; people dared not interfere after seeing authorities take no action to stop the killing.

"We couldn't interfere as we thought the issue would be settled according to tribal and social measures. We didn't imagine she would be killed in this way," said an official source from Bashiqa. He added that police on the scene did nothing to stop the crime because they were afraid their interference would lead to a bigger problem that they could not control. The killing was videoed by cell phones and circulated to media outlets.

Yazidis condemned the girl's killing.

"In Yazidism, there is no religious text that calls for stoning. There is nothing that refers to punishing a person with stones, whatever the accusation is. According to Yazidi religious texts, God has chosen human beings over all other creatures. How then could a very young girl be killed with stones?" stated Sheikh Alo Khalf, a prominent Yazidi cleric. He said that stoning is not of the Yazidis' habits but the event was exploited by some extremists.

Meanwhile, the murder was denounced by the Yazidis' spiritual leader, Baba Sheikh Khato, and by the spiritual High Council of the Yazidi religion, led by Meer Tahseen Sa'eed Ali, leader of Yazidis in Iraq and around the world. They insisted that the girl didn't convert to Islam and asked that the criminals be judged.

"The reason for Du'a's murder was not because she wanted to convert to a Muslim as it was interpreted by people, but because she was in love with a Muslim youth," said a relative of Du'aa.

Several incidents have occurred since the girl's murder. A group attacked a number of Yazidi workers in the center of town in Zakho, believing they had stoned a Muslim girl. Police interfered, but a stone injured one Yazidi worker.

Local media reported that a number of Yazidi workers at restaurants and hotels in Erbil were threatened by a mob of youths described as "anarchists" by police. The workers have since gone back to the Mosul area, fearing further attacks in Erbil.

Keying up Muslims in the area, the event also lead to the murders of 24 Yazidi factory workers in Mosul and the deaths of two Yazidi policemen on April 28. Additionally, many other Yazidi youths have been threatened and insulted.

Yazidis who regarded the event as a crime said they didn't believe insurgent groups in Mosul turned it into a religious conflict, resulting in the killings of the Yazidi workers and policemen.

Khairi Bahzani, a journalist and activist of Yazidi rights, believes these events will only manufacture bigger troubles area-wide. "The area is waiting for several changes, especially the application of Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. Meanwhile, there are groups that look for any reason to cause problems among people in the area, which consist of several components of Yazidi Kurds, Muslim Kurds, Christians, and Shiite and Sunni Arabs," said Bahzani.

The northern parts of Mosul province constitute part of the disputable areas. In the Iraqi constitution, the implementation of Article 140 in those areas will begin before a referendum takes place there. The referendum would have given the people the right to decide whether they want to be a part of Kurdistan Region.

In a bid to control the situation, the leaders of both Muslim and Yazidi communities in the area have called for calm and the authorities have pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice despite their initial failure to take action to prevent the murder.


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