HELP WANTED Iraqi Yazidis turn to Rus­sia as West fails to stop Is­lamic State

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DOU­GLAS BUR­TON

For more than a year, Iraq’s Yazidis have watched a hu­man tragedy un­fold as mem­bers of their quiet, re­li­gious com­mu­nity have been en­slaved, tor­tured and killed by Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

The com­mu­nity and its Iraqi and Kur­dish de­fend­ers have re­peat­edly pressed for more U.S. in­ter­ven­tion, with lim­ited suc­cess. A del­e­ga­tion was in Wash­ing­ton last month to make the case.

“Since ISIS at­tacked Mo­sul last year, the geno­cide hasn’t stopped for one mo­ment,” said Iraqi par­lia­men­tar­ian Haji K. Samo, who was part of the del­e­ga­tion that came to Wash­ing­ton to meet with the State Depart­ment a few weeks ago.

He and his col­league Khadeeda K. Eedo, a mem­ber of the Nin­eveh Provin­cial Coun­cil, rep­re­sent the Yazidis, whose monothe­is­tic re­li­gion com­bines el­e­ments of Chris­tian­ity, Is­lam and Zoroas­tri­an­ism.

But frus­tra­tion at the slow pace of Western in­ter­ven­tion has forced some el­e­ments of the Yazidi com­mu­nity to look else­where for help — Rus­sia.

Saad Barkash, the trans­la­tor for the del­e­ga­tion that met with State Depart­ment of­fi­cials, said Mr. Eedo con­firmed that the Yazidi pope, known as the “Baba Sheikh,” has been in Moscow since Mon­day seek­ing Rus­sian help to pro­tect the com­mu­nity from fur­ther violence and per­se­cu­tion by the Is­lamic State.

The Baba Sheikh and his del­e­ga­tion went to Moscow to ask for as­sis­tance to the Kur­dish Re­gional Gov­ern­ment and the pesh­merga, the Kur­dish mil­i­tary force, which seeks to ex­tend its sovereignty over the Sin­jar re­gion where the Yazidis are based. Among the of­fi­cials they met with was Mikhail Bog­danov, deputy for­eign min­is­ter of Rus­sia.

The Yazidi del­e­ga­tion to Rus­sia made sev­eral other re­quests, in­clud­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid for more than 400,000 Yazidis liv­ing un­der dif­fi­cult con­di­tions; sup­port from the Rus­sian mil­i­tary to lib­er­ate more than 3,500 Yazidis held cap­tive by the Is­lamic State, in­clud­ing chil­dren in ji­hadi train­ing camps; and Rus­sian sup­port to re­fer a case of geno­cide from the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court in The Hague.

Late Wed­nes­day, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov vowed that Rus­sia would play a larger role pro­tect­ing Chris­tians in the Mid­dle East, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial Rus­sian news agency Tass.

“The Mid­dle East is a cra­dle of Chris­tian­ity,” Mr. Lavrov was quoted as say­ing. “Chris­tians have been liv­ing there for 2,000 years. It should be done so that the civ­i­liza­tional tis­sue of that re­gion would be pre­served and would not be breached.”

Nearly 100,000 eth­nic Yazidis also are liv­ing in Rus­sia.

Mr. Eedo ob­jects to the Yazidi mis­sion to Rus­sia, fear­ing it will un­der­mine the ef­fort of his del­e­ga­tion to gain the help of U.S. of­fi­cials.

“The U.S. will not work to­gether with the Rus­sians,” said Mr. Barkash, speak­ing on be­half of the del­e­ga­tion rep­re­sent­ing the Yazidi Move­ment for Progress and Re­form. “If the Rus­sians get in­volved with help­ing the Yazidi hostage prob­lem, the U.S. of­fi­cials will pull back.”

Cri­sis and flight

The cri­sis be­gan in Au­gust 2014, when hun­dreds of thou­sands of Yazidis fled their an­ces­tral home­land near the Syr­ian border and sought pro­tec­tion in the Kur­dish prov­inces north of Mo­sul. Ap­prox­i­mately 10,000 Yazidis were trapped on Mount Sin­jar and re­mained there for four months un­til Kur­dish mili­tia could clear an es­cape cor­ri­dor in De­cem­ber.

One year later, the south side of Mount Sin­jar is still oc­cu­pied by Is­lamic State fight­ers, while the north­ern part is held by ap­prox­i­mately 5,000 Yazidi tribes­men who refuse to leave.

“The peo­ple fear to leave their flocks and fig or­chards for the harsh life of the [refugee] camps in Kur­dis­tan,” said Saad Barkash, a Yazidi-Iraqi im­mi­grant who lives in Austin, Texas.

“Of 5,000 Yazidi civil­ians taken hostage last year, 2,129 have been re­leased, in­clud­ing many women and chil­dren suf­fer­ing from PTSD,” Mr. Barkhash told The Wash­ing­ton Times. The re­main­ing 3,000 hostages are un­ac­counted for, and some may have been ex­e­cuted, the del­e­ga­tion re­ported. Mass graves were dis­cov­ered north of Mount Sin­jar af­ter the Is­lamic State was pushed out, Mr. Samo said.

“Un­til about July of this year, many of the women sold as brides or as sex slaves had kept their cell­phones and were able to call rel­a­tives to re­port their con­di­tions. Some called from Raqqa, the Syr­ian cap­i­tal of ISIS, or from var­i­ous towns of western Iraq. Other women were call­ing from Saudi Ara­bia. Our women are be­ing sold all over the Mid­dle East,” Mr. Samo said.

“Men­tal con­di­tion­ing has been forced upon the un­der­age hostages, many of whom are be­ing trained as ISIS cadre,” Mr. Samo said. “We have seen videos of Yazidi chil­dren as young as 5 de­mand­ing that their moth­ers and broth­ers and sis­ters con­vert to Is­lam.”

For Yazidis and other mi­nori­ties liv­ing in in­ter­nally dis­placed camps in the Kur­dish re­gion of Iraq, the com­ing of win­ter will only ex­ac­er­bate the dire liv­ing con­di­tions.

A short­age in hu­man­i­tar­ian aid means more cuts to ba­sic ser­vices on which th­ese ethno-re­li­gious mi­nori­ties heav­ily rely.

“Through­out the meet­ings, the Iraqi del­e­ga­tion spoke of the needs of the in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple — ask­ing for py­choso­cial ser­vices, coun­sel­ing and sup­port ser­vices for women and girls who have fled cap­tiv­ity from [the Is­lamic State] as well as aid to com­bat the harsh win­ter con­di­tions that are ex­pected to hit north­ern Iraq,” said Delia Kashat, di­rec­tor of the Nin­eveh Coun­cil of Amer­ica, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that ad­vances the con­cerns of ethno-re­li­gious mi­nori­ties from Iraq and Syria.

The moun­tain­ous ter­rain of north­ern Iraq re­ceives snow and freez­ing rain ev­ery year, which in­creases the stress on fam­i­lies tak­ing shel­ter in light plas­tic tents.

There are 350,000 civil­ian Yazidi refugees in Do­huk, a large Kur­dish city near the Turk­ish border, lodged in 17 teem­ing tent cities. The re­main­der are shel­tered in two tent camps near Irbil and two in Su­ly­maneia, in the east­ern part of Kur­dis­tan. Still, the Yazidis are out­num­bered by Mus­lim and Chris­tian vic­tims of violence who fled into Kur­dis­tan last year as well.

The Kur­dish Re­gional Gov­ern­ment is strug­gling to find food and space for ap­prox­i­mately 1.8 mil­lion refugees.

The Yazidi del­e­ga­tion came to Wash­ing­ton on Oct. 20 to press its case for ur­gent re­lief, Ms. Kashat said. One goal of the visit: pe­ti­tion­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress to clas­sify the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted against the Yazidis as acts of geno­cide.

“If the U.S. Congress de­clares the mass killings in Iraq as a geno­cide, then other coun­tries will want to help fi­nan­cially,” Mr. Samo said.

The del­e­ga­tion also pressed for help with exit visas to other coun­tries, Mr. Eedo said.

“Many of our young men are risk­ing their lives to get out of the coun­try any way they can. Some die at sea on leaky boats while try­ing to get to a Western coun­try. We are ask­ing the U.S. gov­ern­ment to help us to get more refugee visas to any coun­try,” he said.

A fi­nal prescription urged by the del­e­ga­tion is for NATO and the coali­tion part­ners of the Bagh­dad gov­ern­ment to cre­ate a “safe haven” in the Nin­eveh Plain east of Mo­sul.

“While the in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity forces set up a pro­tec­tive perime­ter for our peo­ple, we will train our young men to serve as peo­ple’s mili­tia and to take over the en­tire se­cu­rity job,” Mr. Samo said. Some in Congress, in­clud­ing Rep. Jeff Forten­berry, Ne­braska Repub­li­can, have spo­ken in fa­vor of cre­at­ing a safe zone in the Nin­eveh Plain east of Mo­sul for Yazidis and other mi­nori­ties.

SAAD BARKASH

Yazidis are ask­ing for the Rus­sian mil­i­tary to lib­er­ate more than 3,500 Yazidis held cap­tive by the Is­lamic State, in­clud­ing chil­dren in ji­hadi train­ing camps. They say the young hostages are sub­jected to “men­tal con­di­tion­ing” and be­ing trained as Is­lamists.

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