As Yezidi Genocide Remembrance day approaches, our dear staff share their stories, reminding us that for the sake of all, we must not look the other way.
The heat is up to 46 celsius (115f) this week, add another 10 degrees for the temperature inside the tents. The atmosphere is tense and charged as the sixth memorial of the ongoing Yezidi genocide draws close. The pace is slow. Looking at people is like looking at dead men walking. The grave beckons. The finger of death points and counts its numbers, never satisfied. The Grim Reaper grins playing his death dirge, lulling his listeners into the slumber of the grave. Until August 3rd passes, it is a daily hell.
Behind our blue gates you will find a hive of activity as we work on our theme for the memorial event which we will hold on that day. Our theme is one of life “Graves into Gardens”. We are busy preparing the gardens, planning for a rooting of life. A stark contrast to the mass graves where many of our students' families are buried. Life. Life. Life. We can not get enough of it. Life.
This week in our update we will take a deliberate and yes painful walk into the escape from ISIS. For those of us who have dared to breathe the words uttered in the post- Holocaust generation, Never Again, we will read. We can not choose to look away, to return when the subject matter may be more to our taste. We dare not be apathetic or indifferent. We dare not ignore baseless hate. We would be fools to shrug another genocide off as happening to “some people over there in the Middle East”. We simply are our neighbor's keeper and we are to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
In reference to the Holocaust, Ralph Webster in his book, “A Smile in One Eye, a Tear in the Other”, wrote “Nothing about these times makes any sense. Putting it to words only makes it sound too simple“.
Today, I will refrain from using my words. The words that you will hear are those of my team, those who fled Sinjar running for their lives. Those who live in our quiet village and witnessed the refugees arriving. Those went out to help, not believing their eyes, unable to comprehend that which was taking place. Namely the 73rd Yezidi Genocide.
“He told me that what he owned and accumulated didn't matter. He still had his family. We still had our future. Go forward. You can't look back. It will destroy you if you do“.
“August 2nd is a holy day but that day in 2014, we could not celebrate because of the rumours that ISIS were advancing towards Sinjar. The men in my family took their rifles and went out with the villagers to watch and protect if anything should happen.
That night, the night that led into August 3rd, we could not sleep. We heard the sound of the bullets from inside our village and also bullets and firing from further away. We called relatives in the next village and agreed to meet in the early morning and make a plan. We decided to head to the mountain for immediate protection and make our way to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
We knew we may never meet each other again
My Father wanted us all to split up and take different routes, we are a large family but none of us agreed. We actually argued for three hours about where to go. We had to split up into the vehicles that we had. That was the moment when it became real. I was leaving my home, being separated from my family. My brother and I went with my uncle. My sisters with someone else, in all the confusion, I don't even remember with whom they went. We did not speak our thoughts but we knew that we may never meet each other again.
ISIS was now in our village, taking its captives, shooting with heavy weapons. We were terrified and in a hurry to escape. Bullets were flying everywhere, ducking your head was of no use, as they were coming thick and fast from every which way. I was in a pick up truck that could barely drive, maybe one hundred people were piled in. Like cattle, we didn't care, we just had to get out, hopefully alive.
Our vehicle crashed, it went off the road, of course it would, being so overloaded. We were all crying and screaming. By our overturned pick up there was a bombed car with dead bodies trapped inside. Then it became even more real. This was a fight for life and death and we did not know which would win. We had to walk. We had no water. We knew nothing about our family, we had no cell phone, we had no time to ask, we just had to keep going.
The next day by chance we found my family. My mother was pregnant, we didn't know if she would make it, if her baby would live or die. Her condition was so bad that we thought she would miscarry en route to safety. There was no guarantee of anything.
We piled into another of the relatives' vehicles and drove until we crossed the border and came to Shariya village. One family opened their home to us, gave us mattresses and food. We stayed with them for one week. We were in shock, reliving every moment, and hearing news of nothing but death and captivity. We didn't believe that we were alive.
ISIS is Coming
Then the news came that ISIS was just five minutes away from the village. Now it was the villagers who were running screaming “ISIS is coming”. Like one body the refugees and the villagers stood to their feet, and again we ran. This time to Zaxo. Our terror could not be measured. We had nothing, could trust no one, death was behind us and death was before us. We spent fifteen days in a wedding hall in Zaxo along with sixty other families, from Sinjar, from Shariya, Bashika and Bahzan. We sat in shock. The kids did not even have energy to cry.
After those days we returned to the village. For one year none of my family functioned. My mother gave birth to my sister, but even as a nurse, I remember nothing. We did not sleep, we could not speak. We were just there. Terrified of everyone and everything. Waiting. What for? Maybe death to finish us off.
After that year, I stopped to look around me one day and saw that life was continuing. I saw that the people of Sinjar are strong and ready to face anything. That’s when I came to Springs of Hope Foundation and connected with life.
But dark thoughts never leave me. They are always lurking there, waiting for their moment to surface. I saw death but now I see hope. That makes me happy“.
- Bassima, Yezidi refugee from Dogre, Sinjar, Iraq. Nurse, Springs of Hope Foundation
“Whoever listens to a witness, becomes a witness“.
-Elie Wiesel, 2002
“My name is Evan. When I saw what was happening to my Yezidi brethren in Sinjar my heart broke. I thought that this is the very end of humanity. How could men and women, children and girls be slaughtered in such a way and no one respond? How could our girls be taken captive to be trafficked and made into slaves? Murder is forbidden. The taking of life is forbidden. I thought that the end of the world had come. How could this be?
The Yezidis from Sinjar lost everything, from their homes, to their wealth. They were stripped of everything. ISIS forced them to change their religion and still they murdered them. Six years later, I still can not begin to understand or process this. It is beyond human comprehension.
As the refugees began to arrive in my village of Khanke, I went to all my family members, and together we collected clothes, food, any medical supplies we had, bedding whatever we had we went out on the streets and gave them. We opened our homes to them. We did whatever we could.
I cannot let the world forget
As a TV cameraman and journalist I began to do that which I knew. Document. I went out and about to be a witness, to see, it was so painful but I had to see and I had to document all that I saw and heard. I reported non stop for Kurdistan TV and posted hundreds of social media posts everyday. I was determined that the world would see and would hear the voice of the refugees from Sinjar. Six years later I still do this, every week I make two TV reports about those now called “displaced“ and their life in the tents. I cannot let the world forget.
During the first weeks of their arrival I documented hundreds of hours of video and took thousands of photographs, documentation, proof of this genocide. I gave all of my documentation to the Lalish office in Shariya who gave it to the Office of Genocide in Duhok where it is now being used for legal hearings.
We thought that ISIS was coming to Khanke, they were advancing. My family decided to stay, we made a plan that we would stay and protect our women and children. We were all terrified but we were determined not to flee. They were halted and did not come.
On August 3rd, 2020 I will be filming both for KTV and for the Springs of Hope Foundation where I teach film and photography to the refugees. Some of my photos will be used in the event, but somehow I know that it will be full of hope, not death“.
- Evan Haji. Khanke , Kurdistan. Cameraman Kurdistan 24 TV, Photography teacher, SOHF.
“I can tell you that events were incremental. That the unbelievable became the believable and ultimately, the normal“
“I was studying in the Department of Sports in Mosul University, when ISIS overthrew Mosul in June 2014. They were on a rampage, killing everyone in their path. They were looking for Yezidis. They wanted our blood in particular.
Some of my friends and I escaped from our student dorm in the middle of the night. It suddenly became too much and we knew that we had to run for our lives. We took nothing. I was barefoot and ran that way for hours. We ran from Mosul to Kurdistan. We dared not stop for any reason until we arrived there.
I then went to Sinjar to be with my family and as we know ISIS invaded Sinjar on August 3rd. The previous night the fear was mounting as rumours were increasing. We ran to our holy shrine in Shex Tel Qassim. I went to look for some simple food for my family which was a terrifying experience as I knew that ISIS was there, but we had no choice, if we did not eat a little something, we would die. I knew that my life was in danger but I still went.
I saw a dead man, he was about 60 years old, he lay across my path, dead from either thirst or hunger. I knew that if I did not find food for my family, they too would die like him.
After about seven days a way was opened up from the moun