Who does not know the plight of the Yazidis who have been so brutally targeted by the dreaded ISIS. Scores of Yazidis have been killed, women taken as sex slaves and as the days go by, the number is only increasing. Termed by the ISIS as worshippers of the Devil, the Yazidis live in fear and horror.
A delegation of the Yazidis is currently in New Delhi and will also travel to Karnataka seeking support of the government and the people against the brutality that is called ISIS. Laila Khoudeida, secretary of the Yazidi Organisation who also works to provide mental and behaviourial health services to the distraught Yazidis speaks exclusively with OneIndia.
In this interaction she discusses with us the plight of her people, the measures that need to be taken and also the horrific organization, the ISIS which has caused this entire problem.
What brings you down to India?
The people of India that have come forward to help and stand beside us during this difficult time has many of the Yazidis shocked. Based on my experience of getting to work with some of the Indians in the US and from there getting connected with Indian brothers and visiting an Indian house currently.
I have noticed that one thing remains common in the way Indians perceive life and that is 'unity'. They promote unity and therefore put humanity above all things and this is a key point in which life is approached. I believe in addition to this, there are other reasons why the attention of Indian people was drawn to the Yazidi case, including the many similarities between the two religions.
One that comes to mind is reincarnation. The Indians believe that just as one is able to change their clothing after it has been worn for so long then the same concept can be applied to life; one life ends and a new one starts. This implies that there is no hell. The Yazidis likewise believe in reincarnation and the idea that all people are good in nature.
The relationship between the Indians and Yazidis continues to grow deeply and this is one of the reasons why the Yazidi delegation is in India today. We are here to meet with the Indian government officials and attend other different meetings to elevate the yazidi case to the highest levels.
During our last week in India, we will be attending the 5th international Conference and Gathering of Elders. We will be discussing the Yazidi religion, history, customs and traditions. We will also discuss the current situation of the Yazidis in Iraq.
We hear the situation in very bad for the Yazidis in Iraq. Could you tell us about the situation over there?
The situation in Iraq is not stable as many of the displaced remain in need of basic living materials, including stable shelters. The conditions are unsanitary and this can lead to many children and elderly contracting diseases as they tend to have weaker immune systems compared with others.
The issue of the women has to also be treated as a special and unique case that requires immediate medical attention. A comprehensive psychological evaluation is important to be completed on each female victim of sexual violence and rape so as to prevent the risk of suicide attempts.
There are increasing cases of suicide and it is important that intervention is taking place immediately. This could include having a team of mental health providers that can prescribe medications as well as therapy to the yazidi women that have escaped.
Do you see any solution to the problem and why has the ISIS targeted the Yazidis in particular?
Within the first hour of the initial attacks five thousand Yazidis were killed and close to six thousand are uncounted for at this point. After some parts of Iraq were liberated, three mass graves were found and this does not include parts of Shingal that have not been assessed at this point.
I have to say that there is not an easy solution to the problem, but there are many ways the situation can be alleviated. For example, countries such as India can intervene and address some of the needs and possible suggestions for solutions mentioned above.
These are some of the short term goals that can be addressed immediately. When looking at the situation from the large scale, it requires attention from the international community to intervene and possibly a peacekeeping force once the crisis subsides to ensure that another genocide attempt does not take place against the Yazidis.
What does the ISIS want from the Yazidis?
The ISIS has targeted Yazidis because they believe the Yazidis are devil worshippers and deserve to die. Their justification is that Yazidis do not own a book and therefore are deserving of death and forced conversion. Their intent is to build a purified Islamic society so they begin to attack the most vulnerable groups, such as the Yazidis and other ethnic minorities and enforce their caliphate religion upon these groups.
A couple of days back several Yazidis were released by the ISIS. Do you think the situation is changing?
The Yazidis that were released recently consisted of mainly the elderly, including up to age 90 years old male and females. The release of this age group indicated that ISIS did not have any use for these people and therefore decided to get rid of the burden. This does not imply that the situation is changing for the better, but simply a choice that was made to lift off some of their weight.
The international community has yet to recognize what is happening to the Yazidis as an attempted genocide and therefore has paid little attention to this case, besides providing humanitarian aid.
Has the international community been supportive of your plight. Is any positive assurance given to you especially by the United States of America?
The Yazidi story had made frontlines in the media when we held demonstrations in front of the White House and that is when president Obama authorized air strikes to be targeted at specific ISIS locations. Humanitarian aid was also provided to the people that were trapped on Mount Sinjar.
Many of the Yazidis wish to leave Iraq and be granted asylum elsewhere, but this has not been mentioned by the United States as something they are interested in doing.
What expectations do you have from the Indian government? Have you met with anyone?
We have not met with anyone in India, as part of the Yazidi delegation is still on their way to India. We will start having meetings from tomorrow on. Some of our expectations include having the Indian government act as an advocate for Yazidis, provide humanitarian aid to the displaced, and a possible team of medical providers to assist those with medical needs, this includes mental health providers as well.
We hear that you will becoming to Bangalore and Mysore in Karnataka. What is the purpose of this visit?
The purpose of the visit to Bangalore and Mysore is to attend the International Cultural Conference and meet with Indians of those places.
How supportive is the existing Iraq government. What sort of protection have they offered you?
The Iraqi government has not made efforts to help or protect Yazidis. I believe it is obvious what ISIS wants from the Yazidis because through their terroristic actions, they have made it clear that Yazidis only have two options; to convert or die. I do not believe that Iraq will ever regenerate itself and therefore, it will never be a safe place for minorities to live in.