Three ethnic Yezidi families have taken refuge in Armenia after leaving their homes in Iraqi Kurdistan close to the area controlled by Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
Members of Armenia’s Yezidi community welcomed the families in Armenia on Thursday.
Boris Murazi, the head of the association of Sinjar Yezidis, organized a campaign in one of the parks of Yerevan on Friday to try to raise funds as well as collect food and clothes for the families consisting of a total of 19 people, including seven children, so as to help them cope with the difficulties of life in a foreign country during their first days of stay.
“Before they left and moved here they lived just five kilometers from where ISIS forces are based. And if Kurdish forces made another retreat, these people would have been targeted again,” Murazi told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
“These people had an option of going to Europe, but I think that from the point of view of Yezidis it is better to be in Armenia. So, we helped them come here and have provided them with accommodation.”
Armenia, an ethnically homogenous country with a population of about 3 million people, is home to some 50,000 Yezidis, which makes them the country’s single largest ethnic and religious minority.
A year ago ISIS forces displaced more than 400,000 Yezidis from their homes in northern Iraq. More than 20,000 Yezidis were massacred and more than 5,000 Yezidi women and girls are still held in captivity. Thousands of Yezidis are still missing.
Responding to appeals from leaders of Armenia’s Yezidi community, the Armenian government last August decided to provide humanitarian assistance to their ethnic kin suffering because of the ISIS onslaught in northern Iraq.
And earlier this year the Armenian parliament issued a statement condemning the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria at the hands of ISIS. All six parliamentary factions backed the statement that singled out the Yezidi community in Iraq as a target for ISIS extremists.
Fadl Dshar, a 17-year-old Yezidi refugee, said all he knew about Armenia was that it is a non-Muslim nation. He said at the moment security issues were the most important for their family.
“We have escaped from ISIS militants. It was no longer secure for us to stay in a Muslim country,” he said.
Dshar also claimed pressures from Kurdish authorities that he said persecuted Yezidis for their public activities.
In Armenia the three Yezidi families are staying at a house in the western province of Armavir. They said they would look for jobs to earn a living in Armenia.
“It’s important that we are away from Kurdistan. At least our lives are not in danger,” Dshar said.