As Jews across the world prepare to celebrate Passover, we recall that we were once slaves in the land of Egypt who thanks to G-d’s mercy liberated us from the yoke of Egyptian tyranny and allowed us to live as free men in the Land of Israel. But as we all sit around the Passover Seder and retell the Exodus story, it is also important to think about how the Passover story is relevant for people living in our times. In the spirit of this time of year, we should recall the plight of the Yezidi and Bangladeshi Hindu people, who are experiencing a modern day exodus story as we speak.
According to Yezidi leader Mirza Ismail, “The Jewish people were persecuted by the pharaoh in ancient Egypt, where the Jewish baby boys were murdered in order to reduce their population and their women and girls were taken to be slaves, where they faced much hardship.” Similarly, under ISIS, the Yezidi nation witnessed a genocide reminiscent of what Pharaoh inflicted upon the Jewish people.
Despite the fall of the Caliphate, Ismail related that 3,000 Yezidi women and girls are still condemned to sexual slavery. However, with the Turkish invasion of Afrin and the Turkish threats on Mount Sinjar, the plight of Yezidis has become even direr. Among the Turkish troops who took over Afrin, Ismail reported there are also ISIS terrorists: “Over 18 Yezidi villages have been emptied. The people are displaced, living in abandoned houses, buildings and open fields with very limited food and water. According to one of the Yezidis I spoke to, about 7 young Yezidi men were blindfolded and taken to an unknown place. Their families have not heard from them again.”
With Turkey threatening Mount Sinjar, Ismail noted that the Yezidis are barred from returning to their historic homeland: “During the last Turkish airstrikes on Mount Sinjar, a young Yezidi boy was killed, some were injured and a Yezidi cultural center was destroyed.” With ISIS fighting along Turkish forces and given the history between Yezidis and Turks, Ismail fears for the worse with these recent developments: “As Yezidis, we have faced 74 genocides by different Islamic sects. The Turks were collaborating in all of the genocides against the Yezidis from the very past to the present. When Erdogan said ‘we will go into Sinjar; now the operations have begun there,’ this did not surprise any Yezidi. Turkey has always tried to destroy the Yezidis whenever possible. Ottoman Turkey committed a genocide against the Yezidis in Sinjar when the Yezidis gave safe haven to Christians in 1915-1918. Turkey opened its gates to ISIS fighters to come in from around the globe.”
Ismail sees a lot of parallels between his peoples’ history and that of the Jewish people: “Many Jews were also persecuted by the Muslims under the Prophet Mohammed, who murdered the Jewish men and sexually enslaved the Jewish women and girls in Mecca and Medina. The Yezidis are considered infidels and people without a book by the Muslims under the Shariah law. Therefore, they are encouraged to commit genocide against us, thus killing the men, sexually enslaving the women and girls and kidnapping the boys, whom they brainwash to come and kill their own people. The same fate applies to Hindus and many other nature worshippers.”
Bangladesh has now been independent for 48 years but during this period of time, Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle, reported that only the Muslims obtained their freedom: “The 25 million minorities in the country are freedom fighters due to their perseverance in the face of adversity. During the War of Bangladeshi Independence, the minorities suffered unspeakable atrocities. In 1971, Hindus were massacred and raped by the Pakistanis and their Muslim Bengali allies. 100 million Hindus fled to India in order to save their lives.”
According to Basu, the plight of the Hindus of Bangladesh has not improved much since then: “To this day, Hindus in Bangladesh are raped and murdered arbitrarily. Their holy sites are desecrated and their homes are destroyed. The Bangladeshi government regards them as enemies and confiscates their property. The exodus of Hindus out of the country continues unabated. The Bangladeshi government under the tutelage of ISIS and other Islamist extremist groups have taken everything away from the Hindus for the goal and purpose of the Awami League from its roots in the Muslim League to the present is to eliminate the Hindu population in the country.”
“Sheikh Mujib, the father of Sheikh Hasina, was opposed to Bangladeshi Independence,” Basu noted. “By oppressing the Hindus and other minorities, Sheikh Hasina is following in her father’s footsteps by denying freedom and independence to the Hindu people in her country. Due to such actions, the German government has now declared that Bangladesh is an autocracy and not a democracy. It is important to recall that the main opposition leader opposed to Sheikh Hasina is now behind bars. The home of advocate Rabindra Ghosh, who is a prominent human rights activist and the president of Bangladesh Minority Watch, was attacked. The Bangladeshi leadership is trying to give the perpetrators of the attack immunity. As the Jewish people celebrate their freedom at the Passover Seder, please help another oppressed people to obtain justice through the establishment of a democracy in Bangladesh or else pretty soon, there will be no minorities left in the country.”
According to Ismail, “The Passover holiday is very important and is celebrated by many because it was the end of the slavery of the Jews in Egypt. I think that the Jews always remember their dark times and how G-d helped them out, so when the Jews see other groups suffering from genocide and atrocities, they feel the pain and try to help out as much as possible. This is the gift of the Jewish people to humanity.” Therefore, at this time of year, we should remember the plight of both the Yezidis and Bangladeshi Hindus. We should seek to help both peoples out at every available opportunity.
Rachel Avraham is a senior media research analyst at the Centerfor Near East Policy Research and a correspondent for the Israel Resource News Agency. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”