Islamic State fighters have threatened to “pursue and kill” members of the Kaka’i/Yarsan religious minority, dubbing them “infidels who must be eliminated,” according to local media outlet AraNews.
The Kaka’i minority is thought to number between 500,000 and 1,000,000 and is found mostly in western Iran and eastern Iraq. Many fled with the advance of the Islamic State from the Mosul area into Peshmerga-controlled areas of Iraq. It is a heterodox syncretic religion, which blends elements of Zoroastrianism and Islam. The faith was founded by Sultan Shahak in the 14th Century western Iran among the Guran Kurds.
Pointing out that “the Kaka’is had earlier suffered several massacres at the hands of jihadis in Iraq,” Kaka’i activist Zaradasht al-Kaki told AraNews “We appeal to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to protect the Kaka’is from these barbaric groups.”
Fears of persecution led some religious leaders to declare that the group is Muslim in September 2014, creating division with and accusations from other Kaka’i leaders.
“It is a religion that believes in reincarnation, a doctrine that has nothing to do with Islam” Recep Assi of the Yarstan Institution told Al-Monitor. “Declaring Kakais Muslims would not protect them from persecution, as Muslim religious preachers still deemed Kakais heretics even after they announced they were Muslims.”
In response to the rise of the Islamic State, a group of Kaka’i took up arms and formed a militia in September 2015. The militia is aligned with the Kurdish Peshmerga and fights under them, although divisions between rival Kurdish factions led to confusion over who would lead the Kaka’i militia.
The Kaka’i also face religious persecution in Iran where their religion is not recognized, instead being labelled a “false cult.”