Yazidis who were forced from their homes in and around Sinjar after the Islamic State conquered the region over the weekend are now stranded on surrounding mountains with no food or water. Somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 of them are now slowly dying on those mountains, unable to continue their flight but also facing likely execution if they should return to areas that are now under IS control. Yazidis are considered pagans (or, worse, devil worshipers) by Muslims, so unlike the Christians of Mosul they have no traditional legal protections under Islamic law, and IS would not be obliged to offer them the chance to submit or leave peaceably before putting them to the proverbial sword (those who didn’t flee have reportedly been offered the chance to save their own lives by converting to Islam, but given what we know of IS even that isn’t a sure thing). As it is, they are stranded on terrain so unforgiving that they can’t even properly bury their dead.
The Kurds are engaged in fighting with IS around the Sinjar area, but it’s far from a sure thing that they will be able to drive IS off at all, let alone that they will be able to do it in time to salvage something for the Yazidis from this terrible turn of events. The Iraqi military is supposedly offering air support to the Kurdish fighters, which will help but isn’t a guarantee of anything. Iraqi helicopters are reportedly trying to airlift supplies to the refugees stranded on the mountains, but because they have to fly high enough to avoid being shot down by IS, some of what they’re dropping is apparently being rendered useless once it hits the ground.
Estimates of the worldwide Yazidi population differ greatly, but it’s likely that this 700,000 figure cited by Wikipedia is on the high side of plausible, so even the loss of 10,000 of them would be almost unimaginable in terms of its impact on the overall community, to say nothing of the many Yazidi holy places in and around Sinjar that have probably already been destroyed by IS fighters. IS is not only killing people here, they’re strangling the life out of an entire, and very ancient, culture. It’s ethnic cleansing taken to new and even more horrifying levels.