HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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ISIS releases 217 Yazidi prisoners.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015, ISIS released 217 Yazidi women, children, and elderly from some prison camps in Northern Iraq. The Peshmerga forces, or the Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq, accepted the ISIS release of 217 Yazidi’s in Himera, which is just south west of Kirkuk. These Yazidi’s were held in the prison city of Tal Afar after ISIS attacked the Yazidi city of Sinjar in August of 2014. “General Hiwa Abdullah, a Peshmerga commander in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, said most of the freed 216 prisoners were in poor health and bore signs of abuse and neglect.”


The Yazidi people are one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the Middle East where the beliefs are a combination of Christian, Judaism, and Islam, but its main derivative is from Zoroastrianism. The Yazidi have a high concentration in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq and speak predominately Kurdish. They believe that God created the world and named a Peacock Angel, named Melek Taus, as the world-ruler. Many other monotheist religions, namely ISIS, consider this angel to be the equivalent of Satan or Lucifer. Calling the Yazidi “devil worshipers” they have been under persecution by many Muslim factions over their entire existence. ISIS, however, has taken this persecution to a whole new level.


In August, ISIS attacked a predominately Yazidi city named Sinjar. In the process 50,000 to 60,000 Yazidi fled to the nearby mountain Mount Sinjar where they were forced to stay for a couple months. Starvation and malnutrition was rampant before relief forces could give them food and assist them to a new city. “The militants took all of our money and jewelry. We have been living under constant fear till our release,” said Jar-Allah Frensis, an 88-year-old Christian farmer. Unfortunately, this was not the only thing that ISIS took from the city.


During the August attack of Sinjar in August, ISIS committed many war crimes against the Yazidi’s of Sinjar. ISIS started the raid with its usual, “Convert to Islam or die” and then proceeded to murder or kidnap everybody anyway. ISIS deals with men and women separately. According to a UN report, ISIS, “gathered all the males older than 10 years of age at the local school, took them outside the village by pick-up trucks, and shot them.” This resulted in roughly 5,000 Yazidi men dead during the month of August. The women suffered a worse fate, though. The women and young children are kidnapped and detained in different prisoners around ISIS territory. They are then placed in the concubines of ISIS fighter’s or sold into slavery, namely sex slavery. “They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They’ve been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags,” said Nazand Begikhani, an adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government on gender issues. There are a confirmed 4,061 Yazidi women that are currently missing and an estimated 7,000 total. Islamic scholars sent a letter to ISIS claiming, “The reintroduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.” But ISIS retorted by saying that “Islamic Sharia law allows the enslavement of innocent ‘polytheists and pagans’ but not of those the militants regard as simply heretical”, and ISIS views the Yazidi as Pagans.


While no reasons for the release have been given yet, there are many different speculations on why the prisoners were released. One is that ISIS was much over its capacity to hold prisoners any longer. However, this is difficult to believe because ISIS would probably murder all these people before they decided to let them go. Another may be that these people were much to sick to be taken care of in the prison camps and ISIS was worried about the spread of disease. But the same reasoning for ISIS to not just kill these people applies. The only piece of information known about the release of the Yazibi is that Arab tribal leaders helped to coordinate it. This has been done once before for the release of similar subjects. These exchanges may be some monetary trade for the lives of the Yazidi at a great price. This theory is the most viable because ISIS knows that it will stay alive as long as it has the money to stay alive. The articles stated that jewelry and money was stolen from the Yazidi’s when ISIS attacked them. More than likely the jewelry was sold and added to fund the Islamic States regime, only supporting this theory.

-Sean Sweeny

Works Cited:
ISIS releases more than 200 Yazidis, Kurdish officials say –
Isis releases over 200 Iraqi Yazidis after eight months in captivity –
‘Treated like cattle’: Yazidi women sold, raped, enslaved by ISIS –
Islamic State committing ‘staggering’ crimes in Iraq: U.N. report –
Yazidis –
Persecution of Yazidis by ISIL –



  1. ashumway3 says:

    It’s horrible to see these atrocities committed in the name of a very peaceful religion. I think it’s important to keep in mind that ISIS recruits are largely illiterate and have never read the Quran. Instead, they are lured in by the desire for power and a greater purpose in life. Since they have no way of learning about Islam on their own, they believe what they are told by the extremists who are in charge. This is why they blatantly disregard laws against slavery, rape, and murder.

    • amiteichenbaum says:

      Good point! I’m sure there is a huge amount of brainwashing (not to negate the evil that these people simply have in them). I don’t think you’ll find any sane person not against ISIS. I wish that there would be an international solution to simply take them out, and I hope it happens soon so innocent people don’t have to suffer any more.

  2. lalaninatl says:

    I remember reading about the Yazidi prisoners and ISIS when I was researching for my blog entry a few months ago. I think that at this point basically everyone agrees ISIS is an organization that must be stopped. I also think that the prisoners’ freedom was bought like you mentioned. There is no way ISIS just let its prisoners go if they are turning a profit by selling them. It’s good to know that someone is willing to pay for the prisoners but on the other side you are still funding ISIS and it is not stopping the problem.

    • nsumi3 says:

      I was reading about the release of the prisoners a few days ago and wondered myself why ISIS would do such a thing, especially since a few hours later there was a story of the massacre of 51 people elsewhere in the region. I, too, think there was some sort of monetary exchange. It seems like a tragic double-edged sword.

  3. wcarter31 says:

    Whatever the reason for their release, it is nice to know that they have been released. It is horrible what they were forced to endure while in captivity and that will likely stick with them for the rest of their lives, but it is great that they have been released.

  4. Travis says:

    Even though ISIS claims to have reasoning behind the things that it does, most of the times I feel as if ISIS bends the rules to support whatever it is doing at the time. I’m glad that the prisoners were released, and I wish that there were some way to make ISIS accountable for all the wrongful actions it has committed. ISIS is such as radical organization that I believe some countries are unsure as to how to approach them due to fear of the result.

    • mdsmith910 says:

      Yeah I agree, even when the Islamic scholars told him specifically not to reintroduce slavery, he bent the rules to confirm that what he was doing was “ok”. I too wish that ISIS could be held accountable for their actions, but it’s hard to see a future with that happening.

  5. trevormcelhenny says:

    Wow, what a horrible story! But, at least it did not end terribly for those 217 prisoners. I agree that ISIS more than likely accepted monetary compensation for the release of the prisoners. And yes, ISIS seems to “bend” the rules whenever it suits them. Just the fact that they are willing to sell women into sex slavery for having what they view as pagan or polytheistic beliefs, shows the true character of these people.

  6. kimpgt says:

    It is a shame that these types of crimes are happening, especially to young children, women, and the elderly. The part about women being sold into slavery and kept as concubines is similar to the part in Persepolis where Marji’s mother says that it is a sin to kill virgin girls- perhaps that’s another reason young women were not killed. I cannot even image being attacked and hiding for my life, losing all my belongings, and receiving no food all because of my religious affiliation. Also, they claimed that the Yazidi are pagan, so they can be slaves- I feel that they will always make excuses like this to get away and justify their killings and attacks. It is awakening to think that while my largest struggles involve finish reading a textbook and not using watching too much tv, there are people who do not have food and hide in small rooms so no kills them.

  7. coreilly says:

    It is ridiculous that ISIS is starting to sell slaves. Even the Muslim community is telling them that slavery is not right, which is why it had been made illegal in Islamic law. ISIS seems to just be trying to continue to make their statement. They are instilling fear into the hearts of all Muslims and using that fear to get what they want. The innocent murder of men, women, and children are all against Islam but ISIS lives in their own sick and twisted world and believes that murder is allowed. It almost seems like they commit some of these acts just to get attention on a global scale. If they weren’t doing any of this no one would pay attention to them, but when they start murdering massive amounts of people the world cannot ignore that.

  8. khospedales3 says:

    As if we needed more evidence to totally dissociate ISIS from any sound religious principles… The notion that a bit of bribery is what it took to free these prisoners clearly demonstrates that ISIS is just seeking power and wealth. It’s also scary that ISIS has become large enough that such negotiations even need to happen to fight for the safety of the people.

  9. emartin36 says:

    To me, ISIS seems incredibly disorganized and I could see this release being in no way part of the original plan. This may be one of the things to exploit when dealing with such an organization, since they are especially grassroots. It is also another reason why they should not be associated with the Muslim faith, as they are constantly changing their rationale behind their actions.

  10. jackjenkins2015 says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. I am glad that the prisoners were released, but I agree with you that there was probably some other (financial) motive. It is tragic to see a people so heavily attacked, murdered and enslaved at the whim of a terrorist organization. The threat of ISIS is very scary and I hope it is something that the world will take seriously and deal with promptly. This is very sad.

  11. mlucchi says:

    It is most likely that ISIS would find justification to take in someone if they weren’t Zoroastrian. They are more interested in claiming territory and power than following religious ideals, even though they state that’s their goal. It most likely stopped being convenient for them to have religious prisoners. It is still good nevertheless that they released these people and is probably symptomatic of deeper problems with ISIS, perhaps logistical or monetary troubles.

  12. corypope6 says:

    My only question is that how exactly do you write a letter to ISIS? They don’t exactly have a public headquarters, so how would this occur? Other than that I thought that it was a very informative piece. I have never heard of the Yazidis, and it is truly awful what is happening to these people. However, as uncharacteristic is it is of ISIS to release prisoners like this, it is cause for celebration. However, like you pointed out, it is important to attempt to understand their motives for doing this. Money is probably the most likely and logical answer.

  13. cryan3232 says:

    It seems that ISIS is preying on people who are largely poor and illiterate and using religion in a way that almost brainwashes them into having similar beliefs. But having hostages released is a great step in the right direction after hearing about multiple public execution of its captives. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction for hostage negotiation with ISIS.

  14. jjacob7 says:

    ISIS seems to be making far more enemies than friends in the world. Their treatment of indigenous minority populations as well as Shia Muslims does not engender much sympathy for their cause in the region. I’m reminded of a chart from last summer detailing relationships between actors in the Middle East For as much conflict that exists between these countries, they all seem to stand in solidarity against ISIS.

  15. zhu64 says:

    Its hard to fathom the fact that ISIS could commit so much atrocity and the most of the world are still looking the other way. There should have been a coordinated effort between all the countries in the middle east to wipe out this evil. Yet, politics still gets in the way. United States should do a better job of coordinating the offensive against ISIS.

  16. jenglish7 says:

    I’d have to agree with the monetary theory, that ISIS was promised something meaningful for the exchange. By this point I almost refuse to believe ISIS is capable of doing anything in “good faith”, and as such there is no logical reason for them to preserve the lives of their prisoners unless some other bargaining chip was on the table.

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