Yazidi refugees flee for their lives from Islamic State forces near the Syrian border, August 11..
(photo credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS)
Four years ago as I was leaving my village to attend college, if someone had approached me and said you are about to embark upon a long and difficult journey, I would have laughed at them. As tenant farmers, my eight siblings and I had grown up in a small mud hut with no electricity.
Having worked the fields after school each day until the sun went down, I would then have dinner and study by an oil lamp until late in the night.
However, in August 2014, an evil force entered our world and destroyed not only our families but our villages as well. Islamic State (ISIS) had arrived.
After fleeing ISIS in August 2014 my family finally settled in a school in the Sharya community, two miles from Dahouk. There were no NGOs active in the region at that time and we spent almost four weeks starving. Many others were in unfinished structures or under bridges. When we heard ISIS was going to attack again, we had to leave and go toward Zakho which was on the Turkish border. This was to enable quick passage to Turkey if needed.
We spent a couple of months there in a big storage facility with many other families.
Every day NGOs came to register all our families. We were still getting very little help. The winter nights were freezing and there were not enough blankets to go around nor oil to put in the heaters. A few NGOs brought some rice, oil, beans and flour. Others were giving each family two or three blankets.
Keep in mind, it was only two or three for the entire tent, which usually had anywhere from eight to 12 people in it. After about four months of this miserable life, we got approximately 80 liters of gasoline for the heaters.
Later, an NGO called ACF registered our names and gave us cards which held $15 for each person for food per month. This helped us for about seven months. Then we moved to Camp Qadia and all help was cut off.
In our camp there were some NGOs who stabilized and provided activities and also self-help campaigns such as keeping the camp clean. These were NCA, NRC Education and Harikar.
The only food received in the camp was a little rice, flour, beans, oil and bulgur. This was supposed to be for every month, however many months were missed entirely. The flour was not good enough to use for baking, so I sold it for $6 per bag to others.
I was able to finish college with my family living in a tent with intermittent electricity for about six hours a day and no running water. It was also my home on holidays and in summer.
I had already been writing for several years and had to save everything on my phone as ISIS destroyed all our belongings. I had to keep silent in Kurdistan because if I had dared to write the truth I would have been subject to arrest. Additionally, Yazidis were and are still being treated like second- class citizens. We are not allowed to join any organized sports. We are not allowed to sell our produce or dairy products on the open market as we are considered kafir (unclean).
While I was still living in Kurdistan, Spring of Hope invited me to a symposium in Israel. I was delighted and eagerly accepted the invitation. While I was there, I visited Yad Vashem, in March 2016. I wept. I wept for the six million Jews who perished in the Shoah but also for my own people, the Yazidis, who were suffering through genocide.
And, as a survivor of that genocide, I wept at my inability to help the women and children still being held captive. So little of the world knew of the genocide or even of the existence of the Yazidis. I was only one young man with very limited resources. I had come to Jerusalem to speak, but I needed a wider audience. Little did I realize that in only 18 months I would publish a book revealing to the world the atrocities suffered by the Yazidis at the hands of Islamic State.
Only by a miracle was I able to escape from Iraq. Seizing a rare opportunity, I came to the United States in July 2016 and immediately applied for asylum.
I have now been living in America for a year and a half and have even been able to publish my first book. During the first 12 months, I continued to write Walking Alone, a paean to the great sorrow, endurance and courage of the ancient ethno-religious group called the Yazidi.
In lyric poetry format, Walking Alone was written from the heart with the hope that this book would enlighten the world as to the plight of a non-aggressive, peace-loving people. Scattered throughout are profound paintings, drawings and photos that capture the essence of a great tragedy. As noted on the back cover, I am setting aside a portion of the proceeds from my book to help other survivors of the Yazidi genocide.
Walking Alone can be purchased in digital format from Amazon.