Vian Dakhil: Alerting the World to the Plight of the Yazidi People

On August 5, 2014, Vian Dakhil, the only female Yazidi member of Iraqi Parliament, pleaded for a military intervention from the Iraqi government to save the Yazidi people of northern Iraq. The Yazidis, a group among many targeted by ISIS, are a Kurdish religious community that have additional communities in Armenia, Germany, Georgia, Turkey, Iran and Syria.

Just two days prior, ISIL captured the town of Sinjar, a mainly Yazidi community, forcing thousands of people to flee into uninhabitable mountains. Those that did not escape were executed or sold into sexual slavery. In a matter of days, tens of thousands of Yazidis were stranded in the Sinjar Mountains, with elderly and young children dying from lack of food and water.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNqedIgXi8wUnable to control her tears and upset, she told the Iraqi Parliament, “Mr. Speaker, we are being slaughtered under the banner of  ‘there is no god but Allah.’… Please, Mr. Speaker, my people are being slaughtered just as all Iraqis were slaughtered. The Shiites, the Sunnis, the Christians, the Turkmens, and the Shabak were slaughtered. And today, the Yazidis are being slaughtered.” In the background of this video, the Speaker can be heard asking her to desist. At the end of her riveting speech, she collapsed from pain and horror.

Her emotional outcry for help drew global attention. President Obama referenced Dakhil when he announced days later that America will launch air strikes, saying, “Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world.”

The Iraqi government also agreed to launch airstrikes and provide humanitarian airdrops. According to Dakhil, it was “the first time our government has ever agreed on anything in its history.”

Dakhil herself went on one of the air drop missions. On August 12, she boarded a Mi-17 helicopter. On the ground, she delivered aid, and according to an account by New York Times correspondent Alissa J. Rubin, “The Yazidis were battered. Some older people were barefoot, legs swollen from walking; others were just totally dehydrated; and children sunburned. The kids — a lot of them — were crying, afraid and confused, and others were silent, just frightened.”

It was a chaotic scene. Many refugees who wanted to board the helicopter were denied. Then after an initial takeoff, the overloaded helicopter had to return to the ground, and in one heartbreaking moment, two women and their children were removed from the helicopter. It took off again, but due to the download slope of the mountain, the pilot could not gain proper lift, and the helicopter crashed. All the crew, Yazidis, journalists and Dakhil were wounded. The pilot, an Iraqi Air Force Trainer who spoke hours earlier about the meaning to his life this rescue provided, died. Dakhil, taken away that evening by another helicopter, suffered two broken legs and several broken ribs.

Iraqi Yazidi refugees in Newroz camp receive help from International Rescue Committee. Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee

Iraqi Yazidi refugees in Newroz camp receive help from International Rescue Committee. Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee

As the air drops continued (with assistance also from the UK and Australia), ISIS terrorized neighboring towns with mass executions, leading Yazidi males by gunpoint to mass graves. They herded up women, even adolescents, and sold them into sexual slavery, in make-shift posts in local houses.

Today, the plight of the nearly 200,000 refugees that resulted from ISIL’s actions marches on. While this particular series of events has lost mainstream media attention, Dakhil remains committed with fierce focus to help the Yazidi people. She doesn’t back down even after ISIS named her a high priority for abduction or assassination. “If they capture me, they will execute me at once.”

Dakhil says as long as she can continue to help save the Yazidis, she is willing to take that risk. “I know I am not safe. I’m not safe. I can’t think about myself or my security. No, my goal is: how can I help those people?”

Find out more about Vian Dakhil and her story:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/08/vian-dakhil-iraq-isis-yazidi-women

http://www.marieclaire.com/politics/news/a12989/iraqs-most-wanted-woman/

About Kristy Simmons
Kristy Simmons is a writer based in Washington, D.C. whose plays have appeared in the Source Theatre Festival, BOOM! Brave New Works Festival, The Comedy Spot, the Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival, and at the National Museum for Women in the Arts. She is the New Works Director at Spooky Action Theater, with a mission to help local playwrights develop their work through readings and workshops. Currently she is writing a play on Vian Dakhil for Historic Heroines. You can learn more about her work at www.kristysimmonsart.com.
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