Moorhead Yazidi community marks two-year anniversary of genocide in Iraq

Just over two years ago, Islamic State fighters launched attacks in northern Iraq against the Yazidi people, a religious group that practices a unique form of monotheism. Men and boys older than 12 who would not convert to Islam were killed. Women and girls, some as young as 9, were held captive, and many were sold into slavery. 

To commemorate this tragic anniversary, about 100 people gathered at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead on Saturday, Aug. 6. "We want to show love to our neighbors," pastor Kristina Waters said. "What's happened to this community is just atrocious. I think that we need to stand with them and show them we support them." 

Waters' church provided the space, but it was local Yazidis like 39-year-old Ezzat Alhaidar who organized the event. Alhaidar, who's married with five children, said his family came to the U.S. in June 2014, a couple of months before the Islamic State began its assault on Yazidis. "August 3, 2014, is the day ISIS committed a genocide against a peaceful Kurdish Iraqi minority called Yazidi," he told the crowd. 

"In our history as Iraqis, we have suffered a lot." Alhaidar said a total of 28 Yazidi people live in the Fargo-Moorhead area, many of whom were in attendance. Alhaidar's nephew, 23-year-old Haroon Al Hayder, addressed the crowd, expressing dismay that the Islamic State has used Yazidi women as sex slaves. "The demise of humanity unveiled itself and showed the entire world that humanity was raped," he said. 

The violence forced Yazidi families to flee their homes, and many took refuge in the Sinjar Mountains where they were stranded until Kurds and Americans came to their rescue. "Today, we have thousands of mental issues among our people in the refugee camps," Alhaidar said. "Refugees are suffering and facing malnutrition, diseases, illiteracy." 

This spring, a United Nations human rights panel issued a report concluding that the Islamic State's violence against Yazidis amounted to crimes against humanity and war crimes. "Genocide has occurred and is ongoing," Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said in a statement when the report was released. 

"ISIS has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific of atrocities." The report said thousands of Yazidi women and girls were still being held against their will in Syria, many as sex slaves. Among the speakers on Saturday was Mike Arntson, a former U.S. Army major. 

From June 2005 to June 2006, Arntson lived among Yazidis while serving in the Sinjar District of Iraq, carrying out humanitarian missions such as digging wells and repairing schools. He said he got to know the people well enough that he was invited to weddings and a religious festival. "Yazidi people are some of the most welcoming people that you'll ever meet," he said. "I just feel so terribly that they've been persecuted like this over the years." 

By Archie Ingersoll

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