Yazidi Love, And The Importance Of Faith And Community In The Face Of Unimaginable Persecution

Yazidi Love, And The Importance Of Faith And Community In The Face Of Unimaginable Persecution

The resilience in these people is palpable.
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If you read the news to any degree, you are at least somewhat privy to the crisis afoot in Syria and Iraq. Images are constantly circulating of the terrorizing warfare that has engulfed the area at the hands of corrupt governments and religious extremists. Early this summer, I had grown exasperated by this news and felt compelled to use my energy to aid in the crisis in whatever way I could. I sent in an application to a European volunteer program, and before I knew it, found myself working at Ritsona, a refugee camp in Greece. During my time at Ritsona, I filled my ears with the stories of the residents willing to share, and, I hope, came together with them in a shared humanity. I have never been more in awe at witnessing the full capacity for human strength.

The resilience in these people is palpable.

Among the 600 people living beneath the trees in a remote area of Greece, I became acquainted with a family known as the Yazidis. I was moved by their sense of familial love in such a large group of 28. Each member of the family is bright-eyed and kind, the odds of which are slim, no matter where you are. I came to find that ‘Yazidi’ was actually the ethnoreligious group to which they belonged, not their last name, which I, in my ignorance, had assumed. Furthermore, I learned of the immense persecution and plight of these people, astounded that I had not known.

Yazidi family, Ritsona refugee camp


Yazidis have been a persecuted minority for centuries, and are an ancient group historically occupying Northwestern Iraq, as well as a large group in Syria, before persecution by the Ottoman Empire. The Yazidi religion, a monotheist, Gnostic, belief system, differs from most surrounding, and therefore beholds a minority group. There are less than 500,000 Yazidis; their future is unknown.

In August 2014, ISIS initiated the Yazidi genocide, a monstrosity resulting in the abduction of Yazidi women, massacres, and the fleeing of thousands. The genocide, additionally known as the Northern Iraq Offensive, utilized sex slavery as a war tool, and, according to a UN report, left 5,000 Yazidi civilians dead in August of 2014 alone.


Salim Noah is 26 and has the kind of charismatic confidence that is magnetic, inspiring to those in his presence. He used to live in Baadre, Iraq, but I met him in Greece, living with 27 of his extended family members in a refugee camp. Salim is a Yazidi refugee, who graciously took the time to share some of his story with me.

Salim (center) and two other residents at Ritsona refugee camp

On August 3, 2014, a “dark day,” ISIS invaded and barred Salim’s hometown and surrounding areas. Militants separated families, seized valuables, and then asked for those willing to convert to Islam. They took the men who had refused to the sides of the villages and shot and killed them.

“More than 35 mass graves have been found in some Yazidi villages, but we expect there are more because other Yazidi villages are still under ISIS control,” Salim lays out the reality before me. Some people fled to the top of Mount Shingal, and stayed without food or water, hundreds dying of malnourishment and thirst. Salim dictates the persecution of the Yazidi women in particular: “Yazidi women are suffering, dying million times daily,” referencing the repeated rape they endure, as they are enslaved by ISIS militants, bought and sold for 5-10 dollars.

Salim’s family hosts 11 siblings, four of which are married, with five children between them. A few of his family members were able to provide the $3,500 per person to be smuggled out of Iraq before he and the remaining relatives had to deal the smuggler their house. They were promised to reach Serbia, and embarked in February from their home to Istanbul.

After one day, they were among the 89 packed on to one bus and sent to Edirne, a city near Turkey’s border with Greece and Bulgaria. Without any light to guide them, they were lead through a forest, clutching to infants and what little personal belongings they had. Initially told that it would be a half hour trek, it was soon exposed that it was to be over five hours, through mountains and over rivers. The smugglers told them that due to freezing temperatures, most of the babies would likely not survive. Salim’s family did not want to risk this, so they tried to call the Turkish police, but to no avail. One of his sisters was crippled by pain due to a kidney infection; Salim feared for her life. Salim was able to reach one woman who spoke English and send her their GPS location, but no one came to them.

“They didn’t care.” Salim recalls the moment that shook him the most,“…when I saw my brother slap his nine-month-old son to check if he was still alive.” They tried again and again to make a fire, but freezing rain refused it. Five hours of suffering and panic went by, and a group had hailed a car, of which the driver called three busses for the refugees. “We started running to the busses to survive,” wrote Salim. Teary-eyed, Salim walked his sister, still doubled-over in pain, to the bus, which simply took them the four hours back to Istanbul.

There were five more brutal tries to cross in to Bulgaria. Then, it was decided that they were to try to instead go to Greece by boat. The first try, they got out to the middle of the sea, but were then turned around for fear of nearby police. The second, they had to turn around because of an issue with the motor. The third and successful try got them to the Greek island of Lesbos. Three days later, they heard rumors that the Greece-Turkey border closed. The family spent one week on the island, went to the port for two days, and then were bussed to Ritsona refugee camp. Salim and his family members lived there for seven months, until he, his parents, and six of his siblings finally relocated to Saint Nazaire, France. His cousin and family were smuggled in to Germany, three of his siblings and their children are in a house in Greece, and one family member is in the Skaramagas camp. He writes, “My family is committed to staying together, but we will never be able to return to Iraq.”

Photo by Salim Noah

After conveying all the above information to me, Salim asked me if there was anything more that I wanted to know. I was so grateful for his openness, and amazed by the strength in his story and willingness to share. I reflected on the members of the Yazidi family I had come to know, and their radiant sense of community. I wanted to know if there was a secret way, an enlightened understanding in the people that kept each and every one of them so especially compassionate and resilient, against so much pointed persecution. I asked what his faith meant to him, through all of the injustice he has had to endure. He replied:

"I'll tell you something to be honest with you.

I'm not religious, but I love Yazidi people, and even if I wasn't Yazidi,

and someone asked me what religion I would want to be,

I would say 'Yazidi.'

They are the most peaceful people ever --

We as Yazidi can't hate anyone;

We cant hurt anyone. We love life.

The Yazidi love cannot be measured."

I suppose that is the secret; this "Yazidi love,” being the true embodiment of how community and love can combine to be a protective force, through even the most unimaginable hell.

Salim Noah

Mural by resident Ismail Yazidi, Ritsona refugee camp

Cover Image Credit: Salim Noah

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To The Boy Who Will Love Me Next

If you can't understand these few things, leave before things get too involved
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To the boy that will love me next, I need you to know and understand things about me and my past. The things I have been though not only have shaped the person I’ve become, but also sometimes controls my life. In the past I’ve been used, abused, and taken for granted, and I want something real this time. The guys before you were just boys; they didn’t know how to treat me until it was too late. They didn’t understand how to love me, until I broke my own heart. Before you truly decide to love me I want you to understand these things.

When I tell you something, please listen.

I’m my own person, I want to be loved a certain way. If I ask you to come over and watch movies with me please do it, if I ask for you to leave me alone for a few hours because it’s a girl’s night please do it. I don’t just say things to hear my own voice, I say things to you because it’s important to my life and the way I want to be loved. I’m not a needy person when it comes to being loved and cared for, but I do ask for you to do the small things that I am say.

Forgive my past.

My past is not a pretty brick road, it is a highway that has a bunch of potholes and cracks in it. I have a lot of baggage, and most of it you won’t understand. But don’t let my past decided whether you want to love me or not. My past has helped form who I am today, but it does not define who I am. My past experiences might try and make an appearance every once in a while, but I will not go back to that person I once was, I will not return to all that hurt I once went though. When I say those things, I’m telling the complete and honest truth. I relive my past every day, somethings haunt me and somethings are good reminds. But for you to love me, I need you to accept my past, present and future.

I’m just another bro to the other guys.

I have always hung out with boys, I don’t fit in with the girl groups. I have 10 close girlfriends, but the majority of my friends are guy, but don’t let this scare you. If I wanted to be with one of my guy friends I would already be with him, and if you haven’t noticed I don’t want them because I’m with you. I will not lose my friendships with all my guy friends to be able to stay with you. I will not cut off ties because you don’t like my guy friends. I have lost too many buddies because of my ex-boyfriends and I promised myself I wouldn’t do that again. If you don’t like how many guy friends I have you can leave now. Don’t bother trying to date me if you can accept the fact I’m just another bro.

I might be a badass, but I actually have a big heart.

To a lot of people I come off to be a very crazy and wild girl. I will agree I can be crazy and wild, but I’m more than that. I’m independent, caring, responsible, understanding, forgiving, and so such more type of woman. Many people think that I’m a badass because I don’t take any negatively from anyone. Just like we learned when we were younger, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” Most people can’t do that in today’s world, so I stick up for myself and my friends. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me, or their option on how I live my life. The only thing I care about is being able to make myself happy. Even though I’m an independent woman, understand that I do have a big heart. Honesty when I truly care for someone I will do just about anything they ask, but don’t take advantage of this. Once you take advantage of this part of me, all respect will be lost for you.

I’m hard to love.

Sometimes I want to be cuddle and get attention, and sometimes I don’t want you to talk to me for a couple hours. Sometimes I want you to take me out for a nice meal, but sometimes I want a home cooked meal. Every day is different for me, sometimes I change my mind every hour. My mood swings are terrible on certain days, and on those days you should probably just ignore me. I’m not easy to love, so you’ll either be willing to find a way to love me, or you’ll walk out like so many others have.

I’m scared.

I’m scared to love someone again. I’ve been hurt, heartbroken, and beat to the ground in my past relationships. I want to believe you are different, I want to hope things will truly work out, but every relationship has always ended up the same way. I’m scared to trust someone, put my whole heart into them, just to be left and heartbroken again. I sick and tired of putting my whole body and soul into someone for them to just leave when it is convenient for them. If you want to love me, understand it won’t be easy for me to love you back.

When “I’m done.”

When I say “I’m done” I honestly don’t mean that I’m done. When I say that it means I need and want you to fight for me, show me why you want to be with me. I need you to prove that I’m worth it and there’s no one else but me. If I was truly done, I would just walk away, and not come back. So if I ever tell you, “I’m done,” tell me all the reasons why I’m truly not done.

For the boy who will love me next, the work is cut out for you, you just have to be willing to do it. I’m not like other girls, I am my own person, and I will need to be treated as such. For the boy that will love me next, don’t bother with me unless you really want to be with me. I don’t have time to waste on you if you aren’t going to try and make something out of us. To the boy who will love me next, the last thing I would like to say is good luck, I have faith in you.

Cover Image Credit: Danielle Balint

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What's Happening In China?

The Chinese government stands accused of rounding up Chinese Muslims and holding them without trial and against their will.

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Recently, NowThis news source released a video of an advocate by the name of Aydin Anwar speaking about the current state of East Turkestan. She discussed how people were being taken from their homes, their lives, and forced into "concentration camps" (her words specifically). She alleges that inside these camps, people are being tortured and forced to denounce God and their own identities and religions and then to pledge loyalty to the Chinese president, government, and country. She even says that one of her own relatives was sent to a camp and was killed there.

This video spread around the internet pretty rapidly circulated this information with the video having over 19 million views on Facebook. I decided to do some digging into this. If what Anwar alleges is true, it closely resembles actions taken by Chechnya to purge their LGBT population back in 2017 and even actions were taken against the many millions who were affected by the Holocaust. Here is what I have found so far:

The government has denied any concentration or internment camps. They claim that people are at special schools to combat the rise of religious violence and extremism. Despite this claim, BBC reporters have published an aerial image of an alleged concentration camp in the desert this past April (2018) that was not present in July of 2015. Another aerial image taken in October 2018 shows the alleged concentration camp has grown in size since April.

Inside these concentration camps, as outlined earlier, the Chinese government is carrying out acts of psychological and physical torture. It is alleged that the guards and interrogators inside the camps are pulling out nails and teeth as forms of torture to counteract any "bad behavior" or "resistance". It is also alleged that victims are tied down in chairs and left in solitary confinement. Snakes are used during interrogations as well. Victims inside the concentration camps allegedly stand chanting things like "there is no God" or "all hail the Chinese state" for hours on end. It has even been alleged that people inside the concentration camps are being sterilized (this is a practice used in genocide to destroy the possibility of any future offspring from the affected group of people).

But, you may be thinking, if this is true, WHY hasn't anyone in a position of power done anything? There are a few different answers to this question: The first is that China is extremely good at regulating what their media can and cannot post. This means any news of the concentration camps generated within the country itself would immediately be shut down before even reaching the post. Also, China has close ties with strong countries and could be suing its political and economic (specifically its economic) power to put pressure on the rest of the world not to say anything. Think about it, many products come with a little tag that says "made in China". This gives China the power and connections to shut down production of goods. In an economic world such as this, production means power.

However, YOU can do something. You can dig around for more information and raise awareness for such atrocities. Here are a few links to get you started:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/China_...

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/china-is-c...

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