Interview with Zerin Khalaf, a Yezidi Kurd
The disastrous situation in Kurdish cities in Iraq and northern Iraq continues after The Islamic State (IS) a week ago took control of cities in the area.
Up to 150,000 Yezidi Kurds are still trapped in the mountains and they are at risk of being killed by IS if they do not renounce their faith and convert to Islam. There are reports that maybe even thousands of people have died from lack of water and high temperatures that can climb to 50 degree Celsius.
Thousands of Yezidis and Christians have with the help of Kurdish forces fled to Rojava, a Kurdish self-rule in northern Syria.
The situation remains particularly dire on Jebel Sinjar, or Sinjar Mountain, where an estimated 50,000 people, many of them women, children and the elderly, are believed to be trapped since ISIL forced them to flee their homes nearly a week ago.
Alliance for Kurdish Rights spoke with Zerin Khalaf, a medical student from Denmark, who is a Yezidi (Ezidi) Kurd. Her family lived in Şingal until they were forced to leave due to IS attacks.
Interview with Zerin Khalaf
Question (Q): How are you connected to Şingal?
Answer (A): Şingal is a town which all Ezidis are connected to. It is a big town where many Ezidis live and almost every Ezidi has some form of connection to it. It is also the place where Lalish Nurani is situated which is a kind of temple that is sacred to us Ezidis.
I have family in Şingal. Family from my father’s side and the family of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were living there until the town was besieged on August 3rd.
Q: How did you first find out about what was happening?
A: I had been following social media and foreign news in the days leading up to the incident [August 3rd]. There had been given notice that IS would take over Şingal and celebrate Eid there after Ramadan. None of us believed it would happen but just the idea that they had Şingal in mind as a place where they could commit their atrocities was uncomfortable.
I came home in the afternoon after a shift at the hospital and I could see my family’s mood had changed. I knew something was wrong. My siblings told me that in one night more than 200,000 Ezidis had fled Şingal and sought refuge in the mountains and that IS had taken over large parts of the area.
My body felt paralyzed. My family was fleeing and the worst could happen to them if they did not escape on time. It was unreal.
Q: Who are particularly vulnerable to IS attacks and why?
A: Everyone who does not share their [IS] interpretation of Islam are in an exposed situation. It is Ezidis, Christians, Jews, Alevis, Shia Muslims, and now we are seeing even Sunni Muslims, of the same faith as IS, are vulnerable to IS attacks.
Ezidis are a particular target for IS because they perceive Ezidis as devil worshippers and apostates. They justify their actions based on this stance and are trying to force Ezidis to convert to Islam. And it does not end there. No matter what these people do [Ezidis], they are killed when in the hands of IS.
The Ezidi faith is a peaceful religion that has nothing to do with the devil. We believe in God and the 7 angels of which the most important angel is Tausi Melek that in the form of a peacock came to Earth to protect it. The peacock is part of our symbol. The notion that we have anything to do with the devil is simply a way for Islamist groups to justify the brutal murders of Ezidi people that have taken place for hundreds of years.
Q: How is the situation right now? Are you in touch with your family?
A: The situation right now is very chaotic. We have been informed that a number of people have died in the mountains and many are still without food and water. The aid that has reached the mountains has only been distributed in a few parts of the big mountain and it is far from enough.
We are in touch with some of our family but it varies a lot. We can speak to them on the phone when their phones are charged and they charge them in their cars. Unfortunately, not everyone has this opportunity. Sometimes hours and hours pass by when they do not take their phones and in those hours you cannot think of anything else but imagining the worst happening to them: that they are no longer with us and killed by IS.
Q: Is this the first time you experience the persecution on a personal level?
A: It is not the first time. I have family in the Kurdish regions in Syria who have also been exposed to IS’ actions. Thankfully, the situation of my family in Syria is not like the conditions of my family in Şingal but that can change anytime, so I am also deeply worried about them.
It is not the first time Şingal is under attack. On August 14, 2007 we lost many Ezidis when two buses exploded in two villages of Şingal and killed over 500 people and injured hundreds.
We Ezidis have 73 times been victims of massacres committed by fundamentalistic groups and now we are witnessing a 74th massacre.
Q: What do you fear will happen if the international community stay passive?
A: The worst that can happen, which is already happening, is that the entire religion will be wiped off the face of the Earth. There are already not many Ezidis left in the world and a majority of them are threatened upon their lives if the international community does not take action.
Q: What are you encouraging the international community to do?
A: The international community has a responsibility for these people when it left Iraq as it is now after the war. It must help the many people who are still trapped in the mountains forced to either stay there and die from thirst and hunger or leave the mountains and be killed by IS.
Furthermore, the Kurdish forces need weapon so they can better fight IS. I cannot say if anyone must go in and help militarily but something needs to be done. Women and girls are being kidnapped and raped, the pretty ones sold to sex trade and the others killed. Children are beheaded and men executed. If no one steps in and help, I do not see how it will end.
Q: What can individuals do to help?
A: The world must be aware of what is happening. Until one week ago, many did not know who the Ezidis were despite the fact that there have been many attempts to exterminate them. By making Denmark and the rest of the world aware that these people are in desperate need of help before they die from hunger and thirst and before IS kill more, we can stop IS’ attempts to take over more towns and kill more people. The politicians need to wake up and help and we need to make sure they do what is their duty.
Below is footage from Rudaw showing aid being distributed at Mount Şingal to thousands of Yezidis who have fled IS.