Leader of world's Yazidis dies in Germany at the age of 85

Prince Tahseen Said Ali's death leaves the group in a 'critical situation'

This handout picture released on January 8, 2015 by the Vatican press office shows Pope Francis meeting with Mir Takhsin-Beg (Tahseen Saeed Ali), leader of the Yazidi, today at the Vatican.  AFP PHOTO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO/HO  RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo by - / OSSERVATORE ROMANO / AFP)
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The head of the world's Yazidi community died in Germany on Monday at the age of 85 after a lengthy illness.

Prince Tahseen Said Ali had led the Yazidi community since the age of 11, following the death of his father. Born in the Yazidi homeland in northern Iraq in 1933, the prince later moved to Germany, which is home to the religious minority's largest expatriate community.

He appointed his son, Hazem, to succeed him, according to Yazidi Iraqi parliamentarian Vian Dakhil.

The Yazidi faith combines elements of various ancient Middle Eastern religions. Its followers pray to God facing the sun and worship seven angels – first among them Melek Taus, or Peacock Angel. They do not have a holy book.

The final years the Prince Tahseen's life saw his people brutally persecuted by ISIS after the extremist militants overran northern Iraq in 2014 and attacked the Sinjar region where about 550,000 of the nearly 1.5 million Yazidis worldwide lived. The extremists killed thousands of Yazidis and captured thousands of women who were forced into sexual slavery.

"Today marks yet another sad day for our people," Murad Ismael, executive director of Yazda, a global Yazidi organisation, told The National. "Mir Tahseen took on the leadership role since he was 11 years old in 1944 and managed Yazidi affairs under difficult and changing circumstances, from the royal regime in Iraq to Baath to the post-2003 era."

The death of Prince Tahseen left a space that no individual can fill, said Faris Keti, who served as an adviser to the prince and the Highest Yazidi Spiritual Council.

"His passing comes during a time where the Yazidi community is in a critical situation. He had a huge influence on decision makers and leaders in the region with a long-term strategic vision," Mr Keti told The National.

Iraqi officials, including Finance Minister Fuad Hussein and the Kurdistan region's prime minister Nechirvan Barzani, sent condolences to the prince's family.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, chair of the AMAR International Charitable Association which has provided health and education support to the Yazidis, said she visited the prince in hospital on Friday.

"It was a sombre moment of prayer and respectful meditation on the multiple services this great individual had given throughout his life to his people. As we prayed for his soul, outside in the hospital enclave thousands of the prince’s people from all over the world were flying in and gathering nearby to support him in his final hours."

Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who escaped ISIS captivity and won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for her activism against sexual violence, tweeted a message of condolence describing the prince as a "wise leader".

"During challenging times, Prince Tahseen Beg led the Yazidi community with grace and dignity. He was a wise leader and a firm believer in peace. He will be greatly missed. May his soul Rest in Peace today and always," she wrote.