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Yazidis are an endogamous and mostly Kurmanji-speaking group of contested ethnic origin, indigenous to Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The majority of Yazidis remaining in the Middle East today live in Iraq, primarily in the Nineveh and Dohuk governorates.
Iraq: 500,000 (2018 estimate)
Syria: 10,000 (2017 estimate)
Australia: 2,738 (2019 estimate)
Armenia: 35,272 (2011 census)
Turkey: 5,000 (2010 estimate)
United States: >10,000 (2017 estimate)
Historically, the Yazidis lived primarily in communities located in present-day Iraq, Turkey, and Syria and also had significant numbers in Armenia and Georgia. However, events since the end of the 20th century have resulted in considerable demographic shift in these areas as well as mass emigration. As a result, population estimates are unclear in many regions, and estimates of the size of the total population vary.
The majority of the Yazidi population lives in Iraq, where they make up an important minority community. Estimates of the size of these communities vary significantly, between 70,000 and 500,000. They are particularly concentrated in northern Iraq in Nineveh Governorate. The two biggest communities are in Shekhan, northeast of Mosul and in Sinjar, at the Syrian border 80 kilometres (50 mi) west of Mosul. In Shekhan is the shrine of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir at Lalish. In the early 1900s most of the settled population of the Syrian Desert were Yazidi. During the 20th century, the Shekhan community struggled for dominance with the more conservative Sinjar community. The demographic profile has probably changed considerably since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government.
Traditionally, Yazidis in Iraq lived in isolation and had their own villages. However, many of their villages were destroyed by the Saddam regime. The Ba’athists created collective villages and forcibly relocated the Yazidis from their historical villages which would be destroyed.
Yazidi new year celebrations in Lalish, 18 April 2017
Two Yazidi men at the new year celebrations in Lalish, 18 April 2017
According to the Human Rights Watch, Yazidis were under the Arabisation process of Saddam Hussein between 1970 and 2003. In 2009, some Yazidis who had previously lived under the Arabisation process of Saddam Hussein complained about the political tactics of the Kurdistan Region that were intended to make Yazidis identify themselves as Kurds. A report from Human Rights Watch (HRW), in 2009, declares that to incorporate disputed territories in northern Iraq—particularly the Nineveh province—into the Kurdish region, the KDP authorities had used KRG’s political and economical resources to make Yazidis identify themselves as Kurds. The HRW report also criticises heavy-handed tactics.”
Under the Ottoman Empire
A large Yazidi community existed in Syria, but it declined due to persecution by the Ottoman Empire. Several punitive expeditions were organized against the Yazidis by the Ottoman governors (Wāli) of Diyarbakır, Mosul and Baghdad. The objective of these persecutions was the forced conversion of Yazidis to the Sunni Hanafi Islam of the Ottoman Empire.