Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Trapped Yazidis face death

Can only last 2 days, kin in Winnipeg fear

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Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press 
Nafiya Naso (middle) with her son, Lavan, mother, Koulan Fandi (right), father, Ehez Jallo, and her older son, Maher, talks about their family and friends in Iraq.

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Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press Nafiya Naso (middle) with her son, Lavan, mother, Koulan Fandi (right), father, Ehez Jallo, and her older son, Maher, talks about their family and friends in Iraq.

If they don't get water in two days, some of the 40,000 people trapped on a desert mountain in Iraq surrounded by terrorists will die, say relatives in Winnipeg.

"They're very sick and very weak," said Barkat Aslhan whose loved ones are Yazidi -- one of the oldest ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East. They fled the city of Sinjar and went into the mountains when Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants showed up.

Aslhan spoke to one of his family members in Sinjar Thursday morning.

"The most they can last is two more days," he said through a translator. "There is no food, no water."

Aslhan and more than 20 members of Winnipeg's 200-plus Yazidi community gathered Thursday to get the word out about the crisis facing their loved ones.

"Our people are in major danger back home in Iraq," said Nafiya Naso, who came to Canada in 1999 and interpreted for the more recent Yazidi newcomers to Winnipeg.

The Islamic State captured the northern towns of Sinjar and Zunmar on Saturday, and issued an ultimatum to tens of thousands of people from the minority Yazidi community to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, flee their homes or face death. The Winnipeg Yazidis are hearing from relatives in Sinjar that those who didn't flee ended up dead.

"They (took) about 50 people five days ago and said 'if you convert we will not kill you,' " said Naso. "Some said yes. Some said no. They killed them all regardless."

Yazidis speak Kurdish but are not Kurds, Christian or Muslim.

Yazidis follow an ancient religion with links to Zoroastrianism and believe in one God and reincarnation.

If they come down from the mountain, the Yazidis will be killed by ISIS. If they stay on top, they will die of dehydration, exposure or starvation, said Aslhan.

"There's nothing -- no help," said Naso, who came to Canada as a government-assisted refugee. The first Yazidis arrived in Winnipeg in 1998. The most recent refugees arrived two weeks ago, said Naso, who works as a nurse. The married mother of two young sons said community members haven't been sleeping for the last several nights. Many have been glued to a Kurdish news channel for word of their loved ones in Sinjar. They keep seeing grisly images on the Internet of Yazidi children being killed and entire villages wiped out.

Wansa Mirza doesn't know what's happened to her brother and sister and their families after ISIS entered their town of Xatar -- if they got away safely or were killed.

At least 40 children displaced from Sinjar were killed in the violence, UNICEF said Tuesday. It estimates 25,000 of the 40,000 Yazidis stranded in the nearby mountains are children.

Naso said the local Yazidis rallied in front of the Manitoba legislature Wednesday and on Thursday spoke with Winnipeg South Centre MP Joyce Bateman. She said she'd do what she can to help, said Naso.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issued a statement Thursday condemning the "repugnant killing of innocent civilians in northern Iraq, including women and children from Christian, Yazidi and other religious communities."

He said Canada stands with the thousands of Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers "bravely fighting brutal terrorism, with assistance in some areas from the Iraqi Air Force."

Winnipeg Yazidis say they feel the Peshmerga soldiers abandoned their loved ones in northern Iraq and left them to die at the hands of ISIS.

"The Yazidis and the Christians are the most hated minorities," said Naso.

They are "the poorest of the poor" and most powerless people in Iraq, he added.

With just 500 estimated Yazidis in all of Canada, Naso said they need an outcry from the general public to be heard.

"After they kill all of them, it's too late," she said. Naso said she has faith aid will get to the 40,000 people stuck in the sweltering Iraq mountains.

"Canada has a good heart... People will open their hearts and their eyes and save these people," she said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 8, 2014 A4

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