New Yazidi leader to fight for persecuted minority

His nomination has divided the closed ethno-religious group, officials say

Iraqi Yazidis pray at the Temple of Lalish, in a valley near the Kurdish city of Dohuk about 430km northwest of the capital Baghdad, on July 16, 2019. Of the 550,000 Yazidis in Iraq before the Islamic State (IS) group invaded their region in 2014, around 100,000 have emigrated abroad and 360,000 remain internally displaced. Roughly 3,300 Yazidis have returned from IS captivity in the last five years, only 10 percent of them men. / AFP / SAFIN HAMED
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The nomination of the new Yazidi leader, Prince Hazeem Tahseen Bek, will fill the void left behind by his father who campaigned for the rights of Yazidis persecuted by ISIS, but has also divided the community, officials told The National.

The new leader, a 56-year-old former deputy in the parliament of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, will lead the Yazidi community while cooperating both with Kurdish authorities and the federal government in Baghdad.

His father, Prince Tahseen Said Ali, died in Germany in January following a long illness and almost 75 years as head of the community.

For centuries, the ethno-religious group, which emerged from Iran 4,000 years ago, lived in relative obscurity in an arid corner of northwest Iraq around the Sinjar mountain.

ISIS attacked the community when they overran Sinjar in 2014. The closed faith has no written book and reveres a peacock angel. ISIS regarded them as apostates.

Thousands of Yazidis were killed and young women were enslaved to serve as concubines for fighters. The UN described the onslaught as genocide.

The death of Prince Tahseen came at a time where the Yazidi community is still reeling from this genocide, Faris Keti, who was an adviser to the late leader, told The National.

“They are scattered as refugees in many countries and are internally displaced in the Kurdish camps, in addition to the 3,000 Yazidi men, women and children who are still in captivity and the destruction of 80 per cent of Sinjar’s infrastructure,” Mr Keti said.

Prince Hazeem is a capable leader, Baroness Emma Nicholson, who chairs the AMAR International Charitable Association, which has provided health, and education support to the Yazidis, told The National.

“These poor people need a strong leader to unite them and advocate for them on the world stage, and Prince Hazem is such a man,” she said.

The new leader will “battle for the Yazidis like his father before him,” said Baroness Nicholson.

Prince Hazem is heavily involved in the AMAR Foundation, she said.

“Like us, he believes it is vital for all other faiths to recognise the Yazidi religion, to prevent there being any more genocidal attacks,” she said.

It took six months for members of the High Spiritual Council to announce their decision to choose Prince Hazeem from seven other candidates, Mr Keti said.

"This agreement divided the Yazidi community between those who accepted the decision and those who protested against it," he said.

The disagreements were about the “way the Prince’s name was chosen” Mr Keti said, adding that disputes between tribal leaders also emerged over the terms and conditions that Prince Hazeem needed to agree on before being formally apppointed.

Of the world's nearly 1.5 million Yazidis, 550,000 lived in Iraq before 2014. Since then, about 100,000 have emigrated and 360,000 remain internally displaced.