Documentary About Assyrian Refugees in Iraq Goes Viral

A Modesto woman's short documentary about Assyrian refugees in Iraq has been viewed about 90,000 times since being posted online less than two weeks ago. Suzan Younan took an 11-day humanitarian trek this September to northern Iraq, where Assyrian Christians have been forced from their villages by Muslim extremists known as the Islamic State. 

"There is recurring religious and ethnic cleansing in Iraq," said Younan, who is part of Stanislaus County's large Assyrian immigrant community. "It's a modern-day genocide happening, and no one really gives a damn." 

To broaden awareness about Islamic State persecution of Assyrians and others who refuse to convert to Islam, Younan worked with a film crew to document the desperate conditions of those left homeless since last summer. 

"The Last Plight: A Rare Glimpse into the Lives of the Assyrian Christians and Yezidis after the Tragic Attacks of ISIS in Iraq" is a 10-minute video of what they experienced. Assyrians -- not to be confused with Syrians -- have lived in that region for more than 4,000 years, and they were among the first to convert to Christianity. 

The Yezidis, who practice an ancient Mesopotamian religion, also have lived in Iraq for thousands of years. "In the documentary you can see a lot of people are in pajamas," said Younan, who works for the Stanislaus Business Alliance. "That's because it is all they had. That's what they were wearing when they fled their homes." 

The video was posted on the Vimeo.com documentary website in late November. The site named "The Last Plight" one of its staff picks, which has helped increase its popularity. Younan said she expects a 45-minute version of the documentary to be released in late January.

   

Because she speaks fluent English and Assyrian, Younan served as translator and interviewer for the documentary. She is listed on the credits as the associate producer. The camera caught her in one scene with tears falling as she interacted with some of the desperate families she met. She said an estimated 600,000 Assyrians, 

Yezidis and other non-Muslims were forced from their villages this summer by the Islamic State, and they're still living in makeshift shelters with few resources. "The need there is so big, and unfortunately it's getting worse because winter is coming," explained Younan, noting the shortage of blankets and heaters. 

"In a couple weeks, it will start heavy snowfall." Younan said most of those she met simply want to return to their villages, but they can't because Islamic State "has booby-trapped a lot of their homes."
To help them, Younan and others raised $65,000 for humanitarian relief. 

About $45,000 of that went to the Assyrian Aid Society, which delivered bags filled with food, medicine and other necessities to the region. Younan said she and her crew -- all of whom paid their own travel expenses -- distributed those supplies as they traveled through the Nineveh Plains of Iraq.

Younan said they also discreetly distributed cash to those in need, including $2,500 to pay for one woman's emergency surgery.

"We brought something to all the camps we went to," Younan said. And they brought cameras and cinematography skills so they could let the world know what these people were enduring. "Their voices have been unheard for way too long." 

"All the Assyrians know the story, but we want to make sure non-Assyrians know," said Younan, who plans to return to Iraq for two weeks in March. "The Last Plight" is posted at www.TheLastPlight.com. Cinematographer Sargon Saadi shot and directed the film, and Sargon Rouel produced it. 

For those interested in helping refugees in Iraq, Younan recommends contributing to the Assyrian Aid Society, www.AssyrianAid.org, or Restore Nineveh Now, www.RestoreNinevehNow.org. She can be contacted via email at SuzanYounan@yahoo.com

By J. N. Sbranti

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