News / Middle East

American Yazidis Seek US Help for Iraqi Peers

American Yazidis Seek US Help for Iraqi Peersi
Ayesha Tanzeem
August 13, 2014 4:00 PM
Thousands of Yazidis fleeing the violent Islamic State militant group have been stranded on a mountain in northeastern Iraq without food, water or shelter. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports on what the American Yazidi community seeks from the Obama administration.
Watch video by VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem
Ayesha Tanzeem

Over the last week, the plight of Iraq's Yazidi religious minority has captured the world's attention. Thousands of Yazidis fleeing violent Sunni militants called Islamic State have been stranded on a mountain in northeastern Iraq without food or water or shelter. The militants have overrun their homes, demanding that the Yazidi, Christians and others convert to Islam or die.
American Yazidis, seeking U.S. help for imperiled relatives and friends, have been expressing their concerns in demonstrations and in meetings with Obama administration officials.
Khalid Haider and dozens of other Kurds demonstrated outside the White House recently, waving signs calling for help to "Free Kurdistan" or "Prevent Genocide Against Kurds, Yezidis, Christians."

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Haider's brother, with his wife and children, was  among those stranded on Mount Sinjar for a week. He spoke by phone with a niece, Haider said. "She was saying, 'I want you to come and help me. I want you to take me and hold me,’ because that is what I used to do and play with her. She’s trapped with the rest of the kids."
The demonstrators chanted thanks to the U.S. for airstrikes against the militants, which began last weekend, and for air-drops of food, water and blankets to the refugees on Mount Sinjar.

But they also chanted, "USA do more … Save minorities."
The U.S. and Iraqi airstrikes against the militants have opened a few narrow escape routes. Some 31,000 Iraqis – most from Mount Sinjar – already have walked or driven to safety in Iraq’s Kurdistan region via Syria, according to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  
American Yazidis consulted
Dakhil Shammo Elias, a Washington-based journalist with VOA’s Kurdish service, has been part of several small contingents of American Yazidis invited to meet in recent days with representatives of the White House, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Voice of America Kurdish Service reporter Dakhil Elias is interviewed in the VOA newsroom.Voice of America Kurdish Service reporter Dakhil Elias is interviewed in the VOA newsroom.
Voice of America Kurdish Service reporter Dakhil Elias is interviewed in the VOA newsroom.
Voice of America Kurdish Service reporter Dakhil Elias is interviewed in the VOA newsroom.

The American Yazidis came not only from the Washington area but from communities in Arizona, Nebraska and Texas, said Elias, a founder of the Kurdish Community Center D.C.
In the various meetings, "we asked for military action – air cover to attack [militants’] bases – and to deliver humanitarian assistance," said Elias, who comes from the Iraqi town of Shehain, about 40 kilometers north of Mosul, near where militants have taken control of a critical dam.
Elias, 52, has been in the United States since 1998, after Iraq’s civil war forced him out of the country and into a U.N. refugee camp in Syria for four years. He has no immediate family left in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northeastern Iraq, but "we’re all brothers," he said of the Yazidis.
Elias said Tuesday that his hometown had been evacuated, "but now after several days of U.S. airstrikes, people are returning – those who have no kids."
Yazidis with children or other especially vulnerable people are keeping their distance, the journalist said. He and others in the American Yazidi delegations told administration officials that "we were getting reports that thousands of young girls and women are getting captured" by Islamic extremists and taken to a jail south of Mosul.
Elias said he and others have heard from multiple sources that "there was a market established to sell them in Tel Afar," a town controlled by the Islamic State extremists. 
Longer-term requests
Airstrikes and humanitarian aid constituted the American Yazidis’ urgent requests, Elias said. In the longer term, he said the various delegations asked the administration "to find a formula, a mechanism, so people can be protected by the United Nations, Americans or another power." 
Elias was part of a group that met Friday evening at the White House with Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser. Rhodes assured the American Yazidis that President Barack Obama was committed to helping them.
"What we understood is that he will not stop until our community is safe and protected," Elias said. "We requested faster action."  
Elias said Sarah Sewall, undersecretary of state for human rights, told his American Yazidi delegation that the State Department would work with Turkey and other countries in the region to establish Iraqi refugee camps and provide material assistance.   
He said he and other American Yazidi are in close contact with relatives and friends in Iraq, even those still on the mountainside. Some have been able to charge their cellphones in their cars; others have gotten fresh batteries air-dropped as part of British humanitarian aid.
Among "all the people I talked to, no one wants to come back even if it’s 'safe,'" said Elias. Sources told him the Kurdish regional government’s peshmerga militia, praised as skilled and resolute fighters, simply left when Islamic State militants reached areas where Yazidis live.
Yazidis, Elias said, “don’t trust anyone anymore.”
US supplies light weapons
The administration acknowledged Monday that it has started providing light weapons to the peshmerga.
But the administration is hesitant about giving them heavier arms, said Justin Logan, director of foreign studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington.
It worries "about arming non-state groups inside of Iraq and the influence that could have on the viability of the central government that has already taken a beating in recent weeks," Logan said, citing what he said was "long-standing" U.S. support for a united, centralized Iraq.  
Many Kurds have demanded independence from Iraq; they’ve built a semi-autonomous region in the northeast, with Irbil as its seat of government.
Haider, one of the demonstrators at the White House, thinks Iraq has already fallen apart. 
"Kurds are on one side, ISIS in the middle, Shia from the South," he said. "And now who’s paying the price for it? Minorities like mine. People like the Christians."
Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Pentagon spokespeople – all have repeatedly said the administration is constantly assessing the situation and adjusting its response.
Logan noted they’re all adamant about one thing: not putting American troops back on the ground in Iraq.
That’s viewed as "a slippery slope," Logan said. "The idea [is] that once you get troops on the ground, there’s a greater probability that some of them could be injured or killed in the fighting and that that could lead to further entanglement, whereas the United States has pretty significant insulation from risks from the air."


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Comment Sorting
by: Ed from: Virginia
August 17, 2014 11:27 PM
Excuse me, but your story contains an interview with Dakhil Shammo Elias, who you identify as a Washington-based journalist with VOA’s Kurdish service. Is he a full-time employee of VOA, or a "Washington-based journalist" who happens to be employed by VOA? And on the NBC program "Press Pass" he was identified as a "VOA journalist" and an "activist". This sounds like advocacy journalism to me. Perhaps someone can clear this up.

by: ali baba from: new york
August 13, 2014 2:12 PM
The situation of prosecution of christen and Yazadi is another wake up call. The radical Islam is taking advantage of Christian minority wither in East tomor ,Pakistan, Syria, Iraq ,and Egypt . they want kill the minority by any means necessary. We have to look at the picture as a whole about who is supporting them ? How they use internet as means to promote their deadly ideology. How their lobby is able to provide them with weapons. It is a task that everybody have to get involve. European countries and Russia specifically. How to isolate the countries supported them . How to make internet more safer and eliminate the web site that promote haltered

by: RArch from: Maryland USA
August 13, 2014 12:36 PM
The USA should increase our ties with the Kurds. Direct military hardware as well as money and food required to fend off attacks on the Kurdish regions. A forward US airbase would be good too. With luck Iraq will hold together and become a loose federation. Strong ties with the Kurds are beneficial no matter how the Iraq Sunni Shia power struggle turns out.

by: Raman Mikhael from: Chicago
August 13, 2014 12:36 PM
I'm all for drawing attention to the plight of the Yazidis. Let's not forget about the Christians of Iraq and Syria, who are currently suffering outrageous cruelties under ISIS. We've heard of forced conversions to Islam, rape, beheading, extortion tax, etc. Do the Christians of Iraq (Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac) not deserve the same attention as the Yazidis? Surely they are suffering as much as the Yazidis, if not more. Yes there are Christians in Iraq, and they are the indigenous people of Iraq and Syria. Unlike these sub-human creatures who have come from all over the world to join this movement to carve out a state by inflicting death and destruction upon the indigenous people of Iraq. Where is the outrage from fellow Christians in the West?
In Response

by: ali baba from: new york
August 13, 2014 2:27 PM
I agree with you. United state and European countries open their arms and welcome every body regarding his religion. so many of them live in the country and have good life , they never change their belief of hatred of Christianity. they give money to jihadist. many of them become jihadist themselves. we see in the news the American who blow himself in Syria. we the picture who carry the head of person. see the major in Us army who opened fire and kill many soldiers . It seems to me these radical are not appreciate the freedom and economic opportunely that have given to them

by: The Boomer from: Pa
August 13, 2014 12:35 PM
No one will find religious with these radicals, and they do not value life itself - with no compunction at killing unarmend civilians, women, children, old and young alike! It is time for the world to see the darkness and evil of this form of Islam for what it is - PURE EVIL! We took Sadaam Hussain out of the picture and opened the door to these lunatics and fanatics. Now, we need a concerted effort by the free world to eradicate this problem once and for all! As much as I don't want to see another American life lost in a foreign country, we cannot stand by and do nothing! Send in the drones, equip the Kurds, and continue to re-supply these stranded people until help arrives.

by: dibya from: India
August 13, 2014 12:20 PM
India should accept yazdis an relocate there as they are the aboriginal Indian.

by: Walter from: India
August 13, 2014 11:56 AM

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