The Yezidis, 'esotericism' and the global struggle
In Episode 156 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses Peter Lamborn Wilson's last book, Peacock Angel: The Esoteric Tradition of the Yezidis. One of the persecuted minorities of Iraq, the Yezidis are related to the indigenous Gnostics of the Middle East such as the Mandeans. But Wilson interprets the "esoteric" tradition of the Yezidis as an antinomian form of Adawiyya sufism with roots in pre-Islamic "paganism." Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel, the divine being revered by the Yezidis as Lord of This World, is foremost among a pantheon that ultimately traces back to the Indo-European gods. Wilson conceives this as a conscious resistance to authoritarianism, orthodoxy and monotheism—which has won the Yezidis harsh persecution over the centuries. They were targeted for genocide along with the Armenians by Ottoman authorities in World War I—and more recently at the hands of ISIS. They are still fighting for cultural survival and facing the threat of extinction today. Weinberg elaborates on the paradox of militant mysticism and what it means for the contemporary world, with examples of "heretical" Gnostic sects from the Balkan labyrinth. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Podcast: Rojava and Ezidikhan in the Great Game
In Episode 127 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes that the Kurdish-controlled Syrian city of Kobani, which became a global icon of resistance to ISIS in 2014, is now under threat of Turkish aggression. The Syrian Kurds were betrayed in 2019, when their autonomous zone of Rojava was greatly reduced by Turkey's first thrust into their territory. Erdogan is now threatening to extinguish it altogether, and incorporate all of Rojava into his "security zone." There is growing speculation that the US could "green light" this aggression in exchange for Turkey dropping its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Meanwhile, the Yazidis of northern Iraq, who were subjected to genocide and slavery at the hands of ISIS in 2014, are facing extermination of their hard-won autonomous zone Ezidikhan at the hands of Baghdad's military—acting under pressure from Turkey. Great Power meddling in Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan alike is pitting the peoples of the region against each other, portending a potentially disastrous Arab-Kurdish ethnic war. How can activists in the West help break this trajectory? Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Iraq: thousands displaced in new battle for Sinjar
Clashes between the Iraqi military and a local Yazidi militia have forced more than 3,000 people to flee the northern town of Sinjar. Fighting erupted May 1, when the military launched an operation to clear the area of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia with ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Many of those displaced are Yazidis who survived the 2014 Islamic State genocide against the ethnicity. They are now distributed in camps across Iraq's Kurdish region. In 2020, Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) signed a pact to restore their joint control to the autonomous Yazidi enclave, known as Ezidikhan. The deal has not been implemented until now, despite growing pressure from Turkey, which has carried out intermittent air-strikes on the Sinjar area. (WaPo, AP, TNH)
UN team delivers report on ISIS atrocities in Iraq
The head of the United Nations team investigating Islamic State crimes in Iraq on Dec. 2 delivered his report to the Security Council, accusing Islamic State (ISIS) actors of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Christian Ritscher, special adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/Islamic State in Iraq & the Levant (UNITAD), reported that his team had uncovered evidence of the deaths of at least 1,000 Shi'ite prisoners at a prison in Mosul in June 2014. The executions had been planned in detail by senior ISIS members. The team also carried out an analysis of battlefield evidence that showed ISIS developed and deployed chemical weapons as part of a long-term strategic plan. The team identified more than 3,000 victims of ISIS chemical attacks to date.
Podcast: Afghanistan and the politics of withdrawal
In Episode 82 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg calls out the Orwellian pronouncements from media and politicians that Biden is "ending the war" in Afghanistan—as the war is actually escalating. This is the same imperial narcissism we heard with the much-hyped US "withdrawal" from Afghanistan in 2014, and the "withdrawal" from Iraq in 2011. In both cases, the war went on—and actually got worse, with the emergence of ISIS and the genocide of the Yazidis. Weinberg recalls with grim vindication that he similarly called out the glib optimism about a US withdrawal from Iraq in CounterVortex commentaries during the occupation 15 years ago. Meanwhile, Hazara women—who face the threat of genocide if the Taliban re-take power—are arming to resist the Taliban advance. The critical task now is to loan what solidarity and visibility we can to such efforts—not to engage in hubristic crowing about the "end of the war." Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
'Clear and convincing' evidence of Yazidi genocide
The head of a UN team investigating the atrocities by the Islamic State in Iraq & the Levant (ISIL), Special Advisor Karim Khan, reported to the UN Security Council May 10 that the team has established "clear and convincing" evidence of genocide against the Yazidi religious minority. The UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/ISIL (UNITAD) has finalized preliminary case briefs on two key priorities: the attacks against the Yazidi community in the Sinjar region of Iraq starting in June 2014, and the mass killing that month of predominantly Shia unarmed cadets and military personnel at Iraq's Tikrit Air Academy.
Yazidis betrayed in Kurdish-Baghdad deal
The leadership of Ezidikhan, the Yazidi autonomous territory, are protesting a deal reached between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on the political future of northern Iraq, saying they were not consulted. Ezidikhan Prime Minister Barjis Soso Khalaf said in a statement: "Without the consent of the Yezidi people of Ezidikhan, the Baghdad-Erbil deal is illegitimate and illegal. It tramples upon the right of Yezidis to govern themselves as they see fit." The statement noted that the UN special representative for Iraq, Jeanie Hennis-Plasschaert, had called for Ezidikhan authorities to be consulted in any deal over the region's status. The Oct. 9 pact between Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al–Kadhimi and the KRG administration at Erbil calls for creation of a jointly controlled company to exploit the region's oil resources, ending years of conflict over the question.
Yazidis call Middle East indigenous alliance
In a meeting hosted by the Yazidi autonomous territory of Ezidikhan in northern Iraq last month, representatives of tribal peoples and ethnic minorities from across the Middle East and North Africa agreed on a framework for a region-wide alliance of stateless nations struggling for self-determination and autonomy. The meeting at the Ezidikhan seat of Shingal (also rendered Sinjar) was attended by representatives of the Mandaeans and Zoroastrians as well as Yazidis. Messages of support were also sent by the Shabaks of Iraq, Ahwazi Arabs of Iran, Berbers of Libya, and Palestinian Bedouins residing in the state of Israel. Delegates announced formation of a Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Middle East open to all stateless peoples of the region. "We are are expecting even more indigenous nations to sign on," said Ezidikhan Minister of Justice Nallein Sowilo. She noted that the Kawliya and Yarsanis, whose territory is divided between Iraq and Iran, have also expressed interest in joining. "We are all natural allies. That is why we call this an alliance of First Peoples. We represent the Middle East's ancient heritage of ethnic and religious diversity."
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