If you have ever tried to locate Kurdistan on a map and couldn’t find it, it’s because it’s not there. Kurdistan is not a country but an ethnic region that spans Northern Iraq, Southeastern Turkey, Western Iran, and Northeastern Syria. The Kurdistan region is made up of over 6 languages/dialects, approximately 8 different religions, and many other ethnic groups.
The Ezidi people, also spelled Yazidi, are a severely persecuted people group living in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Thought to be one of the oldest world religions, they have endured 74 attempted genocides with the most recent being committed by ISIS.
Our work here has been primarily focused on communities affected by ISIS where tragedy, and hopelessness are a common reality as thousands have found themselves displaced. Over 3,000 women and children remain missing, likely sexually enslaved.
The Ezidi desire peace and it is one of the strongest corner stones of their faith and values. This desire for peaceful living is reflected in their prayers through its focus on others and forgiveness. In fact, the Ezidi faith highly values the concept of forgiveness and view it as essential for maintaining a connection with God as well as communal sense of responsibility to care for each other. Leftover food is never thrown away, instead it is given to the poor or at the very least given to the birds and wild animals. Every time we sit and listen to them, we are moved and encouraged by their courage and compassion.
On August 3rd, 2014, Ezidi within the city of Sinjar saw the lights of ISIS militants drawing near to their city. They had heard rumors about this terrorist group; some said they promised to bring a better future while others reported atrocities they had committed in other villages. They were not sure whether they should flee or remain. By morning their destruction became clear.
In a matter of days, 3,000 Ezidi were killed by gunshot, be-headings, being burned alive, or other atrocities. ISIS shot people indiscriminately, separated the men from the women, and pursued those fleeing. Women and girls were taken as sex slaves; an estimated 6,000 were kidnapped, half of whom remain missing, presumably still in captivity.
The Ezidi people were systematically wiped out by ISIS in all the surrounding villages and cities in one of their worst genocides to date. In every way, they were made to suffer. ISIS forced them to endure the worst kind of tortures. They murdered men leaving them in mass graves and began brainwashing children to radical beliefs. They knew that Ezidi did not marry outside of their religion, so they sexually enslaved the women to bring unparalleled shame upon their people.
August 3rd remains a day of mourning and remembrance of what minority ethnic groups such as this one endured at the hands of ISIS.
There is much to admire about these people groups. Both the Kurds and the Ezidi are incredibly hospitable and welcoming. People are greeted with hugs, smiles, and kisses on the cheek. As a guest or visitor, you are welcomed as a friend regardless of your beliefs. They are a shining example of hospitality from which we can learn. When ISIS first swept through the region, Muslim Kurds opened their homes for Ezidis, Christians, and others who fled persecution. Communities rallied together to distribute food and provide transportation during very fear-filled times. These communities are not free from conflict, but one thing is clear- the desire to live in peace and pave the way to a better future is louder than the conflicts we see on the news.
“After 2 years of programming in Kurdistan Iraq, the need for psycho-social support isn’t becoming any less. People continue to live in fear, nearby bombing is a common occurrence, and the unknown future is compounded by the traumas of wars of the past. We desire to spread hope here, to repair hearts, and to transform lives, families, and communities through emotional healing.
Many people are still suffering from the trauma scars ISIS left behind. We work with clients who were in captivity or still have loved ones missing. There are people who continue to be liberated and are coming back to their families. A lot of uncertainty still rests on the hearts of those we serve. The need is huge, and we can’t do this alone.
When God opened up the doors for us to work with the Yazidi people who suffered many atrocities at the hands of ISIS, our hearts were broken for what these people had gone through. We are expecting to only continue to grow and reach more people in need of trauma rehabilitation.”
-Carl Gaede, Co-founder & CEO
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