On the peaks of the Sinjar mountains, 50,000 members of the Yazidi people are facing a slow death from dehydration and exposure. Below them waits the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a militant extremist group who will kill any that descend.
The news Thursday night that President Barack Obama has authorized air strikes against ISIS—strikes that started Friday—may offer little relief. Already several dozen Yazidis have died from lack of water and searing temperatures that reach 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Among the dead are 56 children, a UNICEF spokesperson told TIME.
“The Yazidis are one of the longest surviving ancient religions or sects in the world,” said Farwaz Gerges, a professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics.
Despite this, precious little is known about them. And that’s how the Yazidis prefer it.
“They are a secretive community who pass on oral traditions—much of which…
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