US Yazidi Returning to Iraq Amid ISIS Persecution Calls for People of All Faiths to Act, Shares Heartbreaking Stories of Atrocities Back Home
In his phone conversation on Dec. 15 with CP, Ismael pleaded with Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of no particular faith at all to speak out and act against this "shameful" atrocity being carried out by "ideologists" against vulnerable Iraqi minorities.
He was asked by CP via email after his phone interview if he was prepared for what he might see once he arrives in Iraq on Thursday, and what he was expecting to find.
His verbatim response: "I think I am emotionally prepared to be shocked, which is what everyone has told me so far from back home, they all said be prepared to 'absorb' more pain. I expect to see many desperate and hopeless Yazidis, I expect to see some of the people I've been on phone with."
But, he added, "I expect that seeing people will give us all more energy to pursue the task of saving our people."
This is what Ismael, whose accented English made it difficult at times to clearly distinguish all of his words, shared during a heavy-heated phone conversation with CP. The transcript has been edited for clarity.
On possibly helping to free enslaved Yazidi women while in Iraq:
We will try to assess the situation and we will, of course, try to free them or rescue them, which we may be able to help, but most likely we will not be able to do much of that. We will be assessing the situation and using all our connections to see if we can free any of these women. The situation is just very very complicated, especially for pastor William. It will be his first interaction with this subject, so I want to help him assess the situation and see any connection that he has. … We will see that we can do about this because we feel that we are losing time and we feel that those women are vanishing basically, and … (nothing) has been done to free them.
On his family and friends back in Iraq:
Like everyone I grow up with, everyone I went to school with, everyone I have seen in my life in general when I was in Iraq until five years ago, all of them are there, including my immediate family, like my uncle who was like my father, who took care of us when my father passed away. So I consider them as my first-degree family as well. All my friends, all my classmates, everyone that I've known. My aunts, my uncles, everyone is there, although my immediate family, like my mother is here, but all my extended family are in Iraq.
Whether they have escaped, whether they are trying to get out of Iraq, in Turkey, or trying to get a boat to go to Europe, everyone is just ... the whole Yazidi community is just dispersed, all over the map now. Everyone is suffering and the least I could do here and the least any Yazidi here could do is just try to respond as much as we can with our power.
On his hometown in Iraq:
I am from Sinjar, the place that (was) taken over by ISIS, from a village called Khana Sor. Khana Sor is a town with a population of about 35,000 that is now … no Yazidis are there. And people in the village, whether they escaped and they are living now in the tent in Kurdistan or trying to get out of Iraq or some of them are killed. … And my neighbors, the house next to my house in Iraq [unintelligible] he's lost since the beginning of this and we don't know if he's killed or he's kidnapped. From the same street where I'm from also, several of the women with their children are taken. Some of them escaped. Two of the women from that family escaped and I spoke to the [unintelligible].
One of my classmates is now a hostage with his family. I spoke to his sister in captivity. I spoke to him and they are suffering. The guy I used to go shop, he had a shop and selling clothes, he called me and he has 47 people from his family who are in the hands of ISIS right now, who are suffering and [unintelligible]. The men probably been killed or been forced to convert to Islam. They don't know anything about them.
The only restaurant that we had in Khana Sor, the place where people used to go eat and the guy used to offer beer and people would go relax [unintelligible]. ... But the place that people would sort of go and have some free time to spend there, that guy have all his family been killed. Because when they went to his family they did not leave the town. They (ISIS) check his restaurant because he was selling beer and alcohol. They killed everyone or they've taken them. Me knowing about all this, it's a very personal thing.
On his first trip back to Iraq in a long time, and how Yazidis are defending themselves:
I came here in April 2009, and I went back in 2011 and here I am going back again. I was hoping this time to go back for ... I was waiting for my citizenship to go back to Iraq for fun, you know, to see my friends, to see my family, but I'm going ba.ck. … The home is not in place anymore, the place that I grow up, the place that I have so much connection to it. The people that I know, I don't even know where they're at. I have not even been contacting (my), sort of my immediate family because I consider people, all these hostages to be my family, my sisters or my mother. I've been trying to basically help with the case in general. Most of my friends I have not been in contact with. Some of the close family members, like cousins, I have not even called them since this happened. I don't know where they're at now. When I go, I may see them inside one of these camps...
It's just (pauses, then sighs) ... It's just unbelievable that life for a half-million people, for 600,000 or 700,000 people worldwide and half-million in Iraq just changed between a day and night. Everyone is a different person. Really everyone is a different person since this happened. It's just an unimaginable feeling and pain, when you lose someone you feel devastated. When you lose one of your friends or one of your family members or one of the people that you know, you feel devastated for a week. So how about if you lose everyone that you know in one way or another? How about everyone that you've ever known is suffering? It's heartbreaking, really.
The Yazidis are having hard time to coping with it, sort of taking it day-to-day. I the Yazidis are trying not to think about it and trying to just work as hard as they can to respond to this, whether they are fighters on the mountain who are defending the mountain against ISIS. We have about 3,000 people on the mountain, they are defending with live weapon, with AKs. They are defending ISIS that comes with Humvees that they took from the Iraqi army. They come with heavy machines, with mortars [unintelligible] on them. Sometimes on daily basis they are defending with AKs and defending whatever remains of our holy sites.
We had so far about 20 temples have been destroyed. There are two temples left in Sinjar and ISIS is trying to attack them everyday. One of them in the north of the mountain, one on the southern side of the mountain and we have thousands of people trying to defend at least two of the mountain's 30-40 villages (on one side) that we had. That's one side, we are putting a lot blood to keep it. We are giving a lot of blood to protect our own on the mountain. That is the case with every Yazidi.
Every Yazidi in Sinjar will try to create the [unintelligible] and try to defend our women, whether they are activists trying to free as many women as we can, whether they are people that I know who are doctors in the medical schools, in the pharmacy schools — they sort of put their school on hold and they are running from camp to camp trying to deliver aid, trying to take care of the people. One of my friend that was a dentist, now I saw his pictures on Facebook (in which) he's on the mountain risking his life to treat the wounded Yazidis who fight with ISIL and come back. So he is there. Although he is a dentist, but because he has medical experience he went there to take care of the wounded. So we have the nurses are trying to do as much as they can. Everyone is basically putting all his energy, every Yazidi putting all his energy whether trying to advocate for the problem, whether trying to raise money to collect money and send it to their families, to their friends. It's just unbelievable. It's unbelievable pain for our nation, for our people.