The bracelet worn by Fadil Bshar, a 17 year-old Yazidi from Iraq, catches my eye. Woven in white thread, it reads ‘Shangal’.
Shangal, also known as Sinjar/Shingal is a town in northern Iraq, mainly inhabited by Yazidis, which the Islamic State (IS) captured in August 2014. Hundreds of Yazidis were massacred and thousands fled to the mountains north of the town.
Fadil’s family of nine and that of his brother (5 members), took the flight from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan and arrived in Armenia last night.
The families had been living in Shingal before IS captured the predominately Yazidi northern Iraqi province, also home to Arab and Assyrian minorities.
Fadil tells me that 450,000 Yazidis fled Shangal as a result. The young man says that he, his brother and uncle took up arms against the advancing IS forces. Outgunned, armed with mostly AK-47s, the Yazidi resistance lasted six hours.
“Those six hours allowed families to flee Shangal,” says Fadil, stressing that they retreated not out of cowardice but because they had run out of ammo and IS had heavier weaponry.
“I am 17 but have never seen peace in Iraq. I have seen genocide twice. Once in my village when 1,000 Yazidis were killed. I am certain that there will be no peace in Iraq as long as Islam rules. The Yazidis there are under the control of the Kurds,” says Fadil.
Fadil says the camp he and the family were staying in is a mere five kilometers from the fighting, in the plain of Badr village. The specter of danger is all around, Fadil says. The 10,000 Yazidis remaining in the camp are in need of food since there is no work to be found.
“We were forced out of Shangal and wound up in Iraqi Kurdistan. Our safety wasn’t ensured there either. There were murders and kidnappings, so we decided to move to a Christian country like Armenia, where we have Yazidi friends and relatives. We are certain that here we are safe,” says Fadil.
The young man recounts the losses his family has suffered at the hands of IS. “My uncle and his two adolescent daughters were killed when they fled. They fell into the hands of IS. Our losses have been great and so is the pain in our hearts. We have brought nothing here with us.”
My conversation with Fadil is translated by Boris Mourazi, who heads the Sinjar Yazidi National Union. Mourazi says they have organized the resettlement of three Yazidi families (19 souls) to Armenia. Some of the Yazidis wanted to migrate to Europe but Mourazi says he talked them into coming to Armenia, where they could more easily maintain their traditions and language.
The Sinjar Union has acquired housing for the families in the Armavir village of Araks. They will also file a petition with Armenia’s Migration Service to get the families refugee status.
Today, in a park adjacent to Yerevan’s Republic Square, the Sinjar Union has organized a food collection event for the three families.
Also on display are paintings drawn by Yazidis as they fled from Shangal.
Top photo: Fadil Bshar, Boris Mourazi