Members of the Yazidi community and Armidale locals lit candles at an emotional memorial service at the Armidale City Church on Friday evening, to mark the fourth anniversary of the Sinjar massacre.
ISIS terrorists in Iraq massacred or kidnapped thousands of Yazidis, members of one of the world’s oldest religions, when they seized the north-western city of Sinjar on August 3, 2014.
They shot, beheaded, and burnt alive an estimated 3500 men. They raped and kidnapped around 7000 women and girls (some as young as nine), and mutilated them to prevent the birth of Yazidi children. Many committed suicide to protect their dignity. Those women not considered young or beautiful enough were murdered, many buried in mass graves.
ISIS sent children to training camps to destroy their identities, or killed them to punish their mothers for resisting. And they destroyed all the Yazidi religious shrines.
200,000 citizens fled to nearby Mt Shingal, where many died of thirst and hunger.
US forces helped the surviving Yazidis flee through Syria to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region.
The UN classified the massacre as genocide – by Yazidi reckoning, the 74th attempted genocide.
The Yazidis, people of the Peacock Angel Melek Taus, have been persecuted since around AD 1400, because Islamic extremists declare them “devil-worshippers” and infidels.
Today, there are only around 800,000 of this Kurdish-speaking people, mainly in northern Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria.
Some have found a new life in Australia. Under a special humanitarian program, the government has brought nearly 1200 Yazidi and Kurdish refugees from Syria and Iraq here since August 2016.
Armidale has played its part in rehousing the Yazidis. Eight families, with around 30 children, arrived in February. Since then, 22 families have come to Armidale, with 16 more expected by the end of the month.
Settlement Services International (SSI) – working with government agencies, charities, churches, and ordinary Armidaleans – has helped the Yazidi refugees to start new lives here.
“The Armidale people have opened their arms to our people,” Yazidi community member Dr Sarbast Kheravii, a scientist at UNE, said.
“Now Yazidis have become a part of the community. In the very near future, they will contribute a lot.”
They are the lucky ones; many of their friends and relatives are still in danger.
Of the 6500 people ISIS kidnapped, 3300 have escaped, but 3200 remain captives. Most are women sex slaves, sold for a pack of cigarettes.
“Still our people are in Iraq, Syria, and other countries,” Dr Kheravii said. “Most of them are displaced, and really need help from all over the world.”
Filmmaker Salim Husain urged Australia to take care of the Yazidis.
“Yazidi lives in Iraq are very bad and dangerous, therefore we ask Australia, the government and its people, to take responsibility and become a mother to the Yazidi.
“If they die, if they take everything from us, if they take girls or women for sex slavery, nobody protects us."
The Yazidi people, he said, were peaceful and skilled in agriculture, particularly sheep and tomatoes, so would integrate easily.
The community plans to hold a seminar about Yazidi culture.
If you want to help the Yazidi people, you can make a donation at http://www.yazda.org/