The entire world is appalled at the tragedy that has befallen the Yazidis of northern Iraq. An ethnic group whose culture spans thousands of years and who survived a problematic history, is facing extermination at the hands of Islamic State, which has been murdering the men and selling the women, girls and children in the slave market.
The world watches and is for the most part silent; there are no words strong enough to describe the dismay and disgust that the world feels at the decimation of these people. But what is the world doing? Precious little: a rare article, a rarer news report, and here and there a demonstration. Very little effort is being made to give the Yazidis protection from the air, because the entire world trembles before the Islamic State Jihadists.
The only power located anywhere near the Yazidis is the Kurdish militia in Iraq, the Pesh-Merga, but the real tragedy is that in northern Iraq there is an understanding, perhaps even an agreement, between ISIS and the Pesh-Merga to the effect that as long as the Kurds do not defend the Yazidis, they can live in peace. The Yazidis relate that the Kurds are no less cruel to them than the Islamists. Two conclusions may be drawn from this: one, that we obviously cannot rely on the Kurdish militias to save the Yazidis, and second, that the Pesh-Merga are not going to be the ones to fight ISIS with enough will to destroy it, because they are incapable of and unwilling to do so.
Can anything be done to save the Yazidis? This question is just as applicable to all the other persecuted Christian groups in Iraq, such as the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Nestorians and Arameans, whose lot is the same as that of the Yazidis, except that many of them have managed to escape from Iraq. In addition, there are other non-Islamic groups in Iraq who are suffering Islamic persecution, such as the Saba’is,Mande’is, Zoroastrians, Bahais, all of them considered heretic and pagan idol worshippers whose fate is to be identical to that of the Yazidis and Christians.
It is worth noting that except for the Bahais, all these ethnic groups and religions are more ancient than Islam and have been in Iraq – as the Jews were – for hundreds and thousands of years, way before Iraq was conquered by Islam in the 7th century C.E.
Any solution to the problem of Iraq’s minority groups must be based on the premise that Iraq is incapable of protecting either its territory or citizens. A quarter of the country is in the hands of ISIS and another fifth is a nearly autonomous Kurdish region that does not obey dictates from the central government. The political paralysis that ailed Iraq from the minute it was freed from Sadam Hussein’s dictatorship in 2003 has been going on for 12 years, and no one sees a way to bring the country to the point where it can rule effectively over the territories to the north of Bagdad that are under Sunni Islamist and Kurdish control.
I would like to suggest a possible solution – and in my opinion, the only solution – for the persecuted ethnic groups in Iraq, one that may bring the suffering of all non-Muslim minorities in Iraq to an end. The solution is to establish a political entity in an area of northern Iraq, to which all the minorities can move, there to be protected by an international force.
For the purposes of this article, let us call the area “Mesopotamia”, the ancient name given by the Greeks to the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
Many questions may arise a a result of the establishment of “Mesopotamia”. Here is a list of some of them: what will its borders be and who will mark them? Will it be independent of Iraq or simply an autonomous region like that of the Kurds? What will its legal standing be in international law? What kind of government will it have? Will it have an army? What kind of relations will it have with the Kurdish region to its north and the Shiite region to its south? What will be the basis of its economy? Who will ensure its security?
In my opinion, the answers to these questions must be decided at a founding conference which should take place at the UN, and includes representatives of all the above-mentioned groups along with representatives from Europe, the US, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and any other country interested in founding “Mesopotamia.” Long and complex discussions will deal with diametrically opposed views. Iraq, Turkey and Iran will be against the idea, because establishing “Mesopotamia” means the continued dissolution of Iraq, with a possible domino effect on Iran and Turkey whose minorities may want to adopt the idea themselves.
There is no escaping a comparison between the current situation of Iraq’s minorities and that of of the Jews a hundred years ago when the Balfour Declaration was proclaimed. Iraq’s disintegration parallels the Ottoman Empire’s demise at that time, while the persecution of non-Islamic minorities in Iraq parallels what the Jews suffered during 2000 years of exile.
The solution for the Jews was an independent state in their historic homeland – the exact same solution can help Iraq’s persecuted peoples on their historic lands, exactly as the Kurds have finally succeeded in doing. This is a combination of historic justice and modern problem solving.
This week in Jerusalem, I met Juliana Taimoorazi, a Christian woman whose ethnic origin is Assyriac. She has established an organization named “The Iraqi Christian Relief Council” whose job it is to offer humanitarian aid to suffering Iraqi Christians. The ideas in this article were discussed with her, and it was decided to try to push for them in international forums.
The establishment of Mesopotamia is urgent due to the Islamist advance in Syria – that is, Jebhat al Nusra and Islamic State – who are getting close to the point where they will declare extremist Sharia rule over Syria’s ruins. It is possible that Christians and other groups will seek refuge in a more secure area, perhaps the buffer zone Turkey plans to create in northern Syria – or in long-needed, overdue “Mesopotamia”.
The world must make immediate decisions on this matter so as to deal with the catastrophes now taking place in the Middle East and those that are going to occur in the near future. Every delay in finding a solution adds to the number of men, women, children and young girls who will be murdered, wounded, attempt to reach Europe in flimsy rafts, be sold as slaves or forced to embrace Islam and join the death units of ISIS. The longer it takes to agree on a plan, the harder it will be to bring it to fruition and the higher the price paid for it will be.
In the Middle East, like everywhere else, if a problem isn’t treated while it is relatively small, it does not disappear; instead, it becomes an enormous problem. It is imperative that the world establish “Mesopotamia” as a refuge for persecuted minorities as soon as is humanly possible!
Reprinted with author’s permission from Israel National News