“The last thing Mirdo Ali told me before his phone battery died”

—Conversations with Yazidis in the Shangal/Sinjar Mountains

[Note: Please share widely with friends on e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.  Organizations accepting donations for the humanitarian crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan include Mennonite Central CommitteeSave the Children, and Unicef.

CPT delegation visits Yazidi shrine at Lalish. More photos of Lalish visit available here.

With all our hearts we wish that the Yazidi (Ezidi in Kurdish) people would have become known to the world through different circumstances.  Not as the ten thousand families or more whose children kept dying in the scorching heat of the Shangal mountains of thirst and hunger while surrounded by armed men who sought their death.  Not as the hundreds of people whom the Islamic State (IS) fighters buried alive.  Not as the women whom the IS raped and kidnapped to sell into slavery.  Not as the “devil worshipers”—a false label for which they have suffered much at the hands of Muslims and Christians. 

In the face of the present events the Yazidis—a unique ethno-religious group the majority of whom reside around their holy places and shrines— have become sisters and brothers to the diverse peoples who live in Iraqi Kurdistan and among whom they raised a powerful wave of support and willingness to help.

Three of CPT’s partners asked the team: What do you do in the face of this human tragedy?

In the moments when hours mattered, it took days for the international community to respond to the tragedy.  We on the CPT-Iraqi Kurdistan team have taken four days to ask our international supporters to mobilize.  We found it was impossible for non-armed people to pass through two front lines and reach the estimated forty thousand survivors.

The Kurdistan Regional Government attempted to drop water and food but the IS shot at their helicopters.  It took a week of heavy military operations for various Kurdish military groups, including the PKK—labeled as a “terrorist” organization by the U.S., NATO and the European Union, to liberate the Yazidi people and accompany the survivors through the border areas of Syria to the safety and help of Kurdistan’s borders.  After the passionate outcry of Kurdistan’s people, Great Britain, France, and the USA, along with Iraq’s forces, became involved in delivering humanitarian assistance via military aircrafts to the Shingal (“Sinjar” in Arabic) mountains where the Yazidi people were stranded.  In addition, the USA began bombing some of the IS positions around Shingal and those near the Kurdistan's capital Erbil.  The U.S. aerial attacks eased the worries of many Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, and people from other ethnic groups, as well as elevating new concerns regarding motives and effectiveness of the military actions.

As people who believe that “non-violence can move mountains,” we have failed this time.  The current Yazidi “mountain” is at this moment being moved by weapons and military powers.  However, the powers were moved by the outcry of the Yazidis and the people of Kurdistan, joined later by the media, organizations, and foreign politics.

Many people were able to leave Shingal and are now in safety, however an unknown number of people still awaits rescue, food and water.  How do we respond? 

A friend of the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team, Rezhiar Fakhir, had a chance to speak on the phone directly with several people who escaped from the city of Shangal to the mountain area out of IS's control.  We believe his conversation with the on the mountain is very important and would like to share a transcript of the phone interview with our friend's comments which he originally published on his blog. 

Risho Khwdeda and his son Alias Risho told me some really tragic stories about what ISIS is doing to the Ezidian people.

 “At first, they bombed our temples, “said Alias.  They exploded two temples called Mahawia and Saida Zainab.  ISIS also tried to reach Sharfadin temple in order to destroy that too.

Alaias said, “People have left Shangal.  They are heading towards the Shangal Mountains.  They cannot come back because ISIS controls the area in and around the mountain.  Children are dying and they cannot take them to the cemetery.  They have to bury their children under stones.”

I was later able to talk to another member of the Ezidean community that has fled Shangal.  Bdal Mirdo Ali has also taken refuge in the mountains.

I called Badal Mirdo Ali and I asked him to tell me about their situation in the mountains.  Mirdo Ali said:  “The situation is really bad.  Lots of children have died.  We are in the desert; it is hot and we don’t have any place here to stay in or to seek shelter away from the sun.”

Badal Mirdo said, “There are nearly 20, 000 refugees in the Shangal Mountains.  Some have tried to go down the mountain to bring back food and clothing but ISIS arrested them.  They killed the men and took their women.  They have also tried to capture the young men.”

“I was there when ISIS arrested some people.  They killed the husbands and took the wives along with the young guys.  Three of my brothers and their wives were arrested by ISIS.  I do not have any news about them.  We do not have enough food and water and the situation is rapidly deteriorating.  If we stay here we will all die.”

“We can’t go down because ISIS controls all the areas around the mountain.  We are very scared of ISIS.  If someone does not come to help us, we will die here.  Already lots of children and women have died here and we hope more people do not die.  If we stay here under these conditions any longer, it won’t be good for us.  ISIS is near us.  We can feel and hear them.  We can see them.”

The last thing Mirdo Ali told me before his phone battery died: “I hope people hear my voice.  Thank you.”