Zoroastrians face discrimination in Duhok

Duhok Sept. 2020: Celebrations of the Zoroastrian as part of the inauguration of Duhok office. Photo by Yasna Organization.

Ammar Aziz, Duhok

Duhok Zoroastrians are passing through tough days. Their worship place is secret and they face threats and discrimination despite that alike other religions, legally they are free to practice their rituals.

Office of Duhok for Zoroastrians was inaugurated in September 2020 but after a while the owner of the building asks them to evacuate under social pressure so they leave to another place stealthily with no any sign on their building and secretly hold some religious rituals.

“Extremist people were severely attacking us especially on social media. The challenges were escalating to prevent us from having our office in Duhok but we did not give up,” Helan Chiya, representative of Yasna Organization.

Yasna Organization for religious philosophy of Zoroastrianism has been founded few years ago and is part of directorate of Zoroastrians directorate under Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s KRG ministry of Awqaf and religious affairs.

Extremist people were severely attacking us especially on social media.

Threats and unconsent escalated up to death threat even against the landlord so he asked us to remove the sign and wea greed but later he asked us to find another place,” Chiya added.

Representative of Duhok Zoroastrians recalls they had not set up completely when they were forced to move to another office. Zoroastrians and Yasna whom share office in Duhok now have an office with no any sign, keeping a low profile for safety of the visitors.

“We can’t celebrate publicly or reveal our religious affiliation,” he added. 

zardashti (5)

Duhok Sept. 2020: Zoroastrian inaugurate their first office in Duhok. Photo by Yasna organization.  

Zoroastrianism or Mazdayasna is one of the world's oldest continuously practiced religions of Aryans; Kurds belive that Prophet Zardasht or Zoroaster was a Kurdish and possible roots of this ancient religion are dating back to the 7th century BCE.

The three-fold path for believers in Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, are good thoughts, good words and good deeds elaborated in Avesta, the wholly book. Zoroastrian adherents are estimated about 200,000 worldwide, mainly in India, Iran and Azerbaijan.  About 15,000 Zoroastrians live in Iraqi Kurdistan region, Awat Husamaddin, representative of Zoroastrians in KRG ministry of Awqaf says.

Zoroastrianism diminished in the region for centuries yet recognized by the KRG in March 2015 under a law that guarantees freedom for religious and ethnic groups.

“We are facing difficulties only in Duhok unlike Sulaimaniyah and Erbil as from early beginning some people did not approve the idea,” Husamaddin added.

As the majority in Iraq are Muslims, Shiites compose 60-70%, alike in neighboring Iran , while in the north majority are Sunnis. Following the fall of Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, sectarian violence has claimed lives of hundreds of thousands when pro-Iran Shiite parties took over ruling Iraq and extremist Sunni groups' such as al-Qaeda and Daesh waged the conflict.

Other religious monitories like Christians, Ezidis and Kaka’is has become a hot target for extremism that plagued the country for years causing them thousands of deaths, slavery, migration and displacement.

Despite the ongoing hardships, Zoroastrians are fortunate they have escaped physical abuse. KirkukNow has found out that threats are carried out by messages through Facebook and other social media platforms.

“None of our people was physically tortured but verbally we are offended and receive death threats. We brought these to Police whom were very helpful in safeguarding us,” Chiya said.

According to KRG’s law of rights of components (minorities), all kinds of discrimination are prohibited and they are free to disclose their beliefs, rituals and celebrations. No party has the right to deprive them of these rights and the government is committed to their safety.

However, social contempt is a pain in the heart for the followers of the one of the most ancient monotheist religions in the history of humanity.

“We cannot even write a comment on a Facebook post as a Zoroastrian. Some people say it’s a taboo to dine with you, ugly animals are better than you. Others say just let us know where you are if you dare. They accuse us of defamation of Islam,” said Aram Mahdi, 31, a follower of Zoroastrianism in Duhok.

They accuse us of defamation of Islam,” said Aram Mahdi

Mahdi converted to Zoroastrianism in 2014. His family kicked him out for a month.

“They verbally reproach us personally and our family members. I myself was threatened for 15 times. It is not only me, most of Duhok Zoroastrians are in the same conditions. It is the Extremist Islamists whom threaten us.”

I myself was threatened for 15 times. It is the Extremist Islamists whom threaten us

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Duhok- Charstin Cave is a holy site or the Zoroastrians. Photo by Yasna Org. 

Zoroastrians believe that laws have to come into power. Iraqi law has not recognized Zoroastrians officially yet the constitution provides religious rights for all Iraqis in terms of religious beliefs and security of their holy places.

"The (KRG) law is implemented in some ministries but in other directorates it is not valid. It is a very good law and vital for Zoroastrianism and all other religions. Due to this law, people are not afraid or ashamed to convert to Zoroastrianism," Husamaddin added.

Parliament of Kurdistan Iraq, blames executive authorities for not materializing law of rights for components. Romeo Hakari, head of committee of advocacy for human rights says if the law is implemented, "components (religions) would have not faced any problems. Most of its articles have not been executed."

Hakari holds the KRG accountable for not materializing the law in favor of minorities.

"The parliament is planning to amend the law."

The Zoroastrians are persistent to unveil their religion to all people in Kurdistan.

"We have many archeological sites in Duhok trying to renovate it. We are trying to convince the government to appoint a clergy in Duhok to supervise religious affairs of Zorostrians," Husamaddin said.

We have many archeological sites in Duhok trying to renovate it.

About 200 resident of Duhok Northern Province converted to Zoroastrianism aged 24-60 years old. Converters sacrifice their social relationships and employment when they publicize it

Zoroastrians pray five times a day and never fast.

Mahdi says more people want to join but they don't want to reveal it. "Some people when got married and found they have converted, they divorced. Others were fired from their work."

"No one was hold accountable for discrimination or firing. Besides, filing lawsuit and hiring a lawyer is costly."

Efforts of security forces were hailed as celebrations could not take place without their support.

"If we do any activity, it should be in cooperation with the security forces," he added.

Zoroastrians insist their message is peace and coexistence.

"We want to live along other religions and components in peace. We will not give up and want to have our temple and explain Zoroastrianism to all Badinan people. We are optimist those reject us today, tomorrow will accept us," Chiya confidently said.

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