To hear the voice of Yazidis [Interview with Farhad]

Feb 27, 2020 | Stories of survivors

For more than two years, he has lived and studied in France. He left Iraq fleeing ISIS terrorists’ persecution.

Now he is trying to spread awareness about the 2014 genocide of Yazidis as far as possible. He was a witness to that genocide. Farhad comes from Sinjar which lies on the border of Iraq and Syria. He is a Yazidi and the founder of the Voice of Ezidis foundation. For the last three years, he has cooperated with us on many projects. At the end of February, we invited him for the second time to Poland to allow him to speak about the need to help the community that fell victim to Islamic extremism. In an interview I did with him he shares his story and describes actions that he has undertaken so that people hear the voice of Yazidis.

To hear the voice of Yazidis [Interview with Farhad] [ENG]

Dawid Czyż: How did you get to France?

Farhad Shamo Roto: I came to France at the end of 2017 through a sponsorship program for religious minorities in France. I was studying Biology at the university in Iraq. It was my fourth year. But the situation changed in 2014 because of the genocide that the terrorists committed against us. We had to leave the country, and France was our only option. I had never been to France before, but after the genocide, we knew we couldn’t stay in Iraq. Currently, in France, I’m studying Political Science – Diplomacy and International Relations. I want to continue and get a degree in these subjects as my community needs this kind of skills.

How did the situation in Iraq look like at the time?

We were living away from our hometown of Sinjar in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) established in Kurdistan by the UN. People were hopeless. They were jobless. They were scared. The ISIS fighters were few kilometers away. There was ongoing fighting in Mosul. We were expecting ISIS arriving at the camp’s gate at any moment. The situation was very unstable. When fleeing, we had to wait for eight days in Erbil to be able to fly to Baghdad [and further to France – note: Dawid Czyz). It was impossible to drive there due to the fighting that was taking place between those cities, for example in Kirkuk.

What about your family? I know that Middle Eastern families tend to be very large, but I mean the closest relatives: brothers, sisters, parents. What has happened to them?

I have six brothers, two sisters, and my parents. Three of my brothers are married. We were all displaced from our home to the Sinjar Mountains, and later through Syria to a camp in Kurdistan. Happily, we are now all in France. We arrived in three groups: first my brother, then me with other brothers and parents, and then the rest of the family. Now some of us are studying, while others have found jobs.

What else do you do in France, apart from studying?

I work as a volunteer for the Yazidi cause. I am the founder and the president of the Voice of Ezidis, an organization established by me, a couple of friends of mine and some young Europeans who are helping us. We see this organization as a way to defend our community, an official way through which we can empower the voice of the Yazidi people. Locally in France, in cooperation with Iraq we are working to facilitate immigration and integration process in France, especially concerning families that came here thanks to the program of Nadia Murad, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. We are helping hundreds of families, the so-called ISIS survivors, namely those who survived the genocide and later came to France. We share our experiences and tell the story of our tragedy. People must know what happened to us. I also cooperate with the Eaglewatch Foundation. I help with projects financed by the Poles. I have visited Poland several times where as the genocide’s witness I tell the story of the Yazidis.

Why did you decide to establish this foundation and to fight for the Yazidis’ rights on the international forum?

It was a consequence of what I experienced in the Sinjar Mountains. Myself and my family went through a real nightmare. That experience has motivated me to do something for the entire community. Especially, that survived in a truly miraculous way. My motivation to do something was powerful. My activism started already in 2014 in the Sinjar Mountains. I managed to sneak through ISIS positions into the villages under their control to get some food, medicines, and milk for children. That was when my charity work started. Later on, I continued in an IDP camp. I cooperated with charity organizations, with journalists, I wrote reports for them. I became some kind of a voice for people in the need of help. Many read my reports and listened to my speeches. I was developing in that direction and after arriving in France I established the Voice of Ezidis foundation. It was a turning point.

When arriving in France, you did not speak French, right?

When it comes to my activism, I mainly use English, as it is an international activism. I study in English as well, but that doesn’t mean I do not learn French. I have completed several short courses. I use this language without problems in my daily life. Thanks to modern technology, everyone can quickly learn any language. When I arrived with my family in France, we introduced ourselves in French.

Could you briefly introduce us to the history of the Yazidis? So that when anyone who learns about you for the first time could gain some basic understanding of who the Yazidis are.

The Yazidis are one of the oldest ethnic groups of the Mesopotamia region – a modern-day Iraq. They have experienced a series of genocides in their history, starting from the times of the Ottoman Empire and continuing until today. The last attack by the extremists, namely the Islamic State, took place on the 3rd of August 2014. According to the Iraqi constitution, the Sinjar region is divided between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government. This has created an unstable situation. When ISIS surrounded our region, thousands of Iraqi and Peshmerga soldiers abandoned us when we were completely defenseless. The ISIS terrorists then turned on us. They separated men from women and children. According to their ideology, Yazidis are not the ‘people of the book’, hence they are defined as non-believers. They believed they had the right to enslave women and sell them on slave markets. The boys were subjected to brainwashing and used as soldiers of the caliphate. Captured men were killed. But there were more effects of the genocide. Most of the Yazidi community fled inland or fled abroad. Many escaped to the peak of Mount Sinjar, where they have lived for more than five years in tents, without basic care.

Many people know ISIS, or the Islamic State, as an organization that currently strikes terror in the Middle East. But for the Yazidis it is a representation of a wider ideology of a caliphate.

The Yazidis have been victims of massacres and violence for the last 1500 years. We have been persecuted, for example, by the Ottoman Empire. We were victims of atrocities committed during the Armenian Genocide. Today, those events are mainly remembered as a genocide committed against Armenians, but it was an act of terror aimed at all non-Muslim ethnic groups in the entire region. Assyrians looked for safety in the Sinjar Mountains. We gave them shelter, but the Ottoman Empire demanded that we give them away. At the time, the Yazidi leader Hammo Shero stood up for them. We call many atrocities as ‘genocide’ although it is not always an accurate legal term to be used. But these acts of violence have been carried out for a long time, and they have been always initiated by Islamic fundamentalists.

What can we do to help the Yazidis?

One way is to make people familiar with our community and to raise awareness about the tragedy that has been inflicted on us. We can always find people who want to help, simply because they like to help. We need to give them such a possibility and tell them how to do it. There are many barriers to overcome, especially when it comes to bureaucracy, for example sending money to Iraq is something many people don’t feel comfortable with. Many think that it may ultimately go to terrorists. But when we send money through trusted humanitarian organizations, we can help people without any doubts.

You are in Poland for the third time. Do you like our country? What do you think about the Poles?

It is always interesting to meet new people. Especially when they want to listen to your story and to help your community. So far, I have been looking at Poland through the lens of my cooperation with the Eaglewatch, with which we have provided various aspects of humanitarian help to thousands of people.

This interview was carried out on the occasion of a fundraiser in the Parish of the Our Lady of La Salette in Poznan. On the same day, we talked about our mission in the Parish of Saint Ursula Ledóchowska in Dąbrówka near Poznan. In both parishes we collected more than 17,000 zlotys, which will be used to open new workplaces.

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