Donations Flow as Awareness Spreads of the Genocide of Yezidis

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From left: Ravi Raghavan,
Mehul Kamdar, Gita Bhatia, Haider Elias, Venkat Subramanian, Achalesh Amar, Naveen Kashaki, Murad Ismael, Rasheed Murad, Arun Kankani, Vijay Pallod at India House on December 14. Photos: Bijay Dixit

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: The disclaimer at the beginning of the video clip warned that the images were graphic and disturbing and this steeled people for what was to come. But images played on the screen and the audio description was so powerful that, only minutes into the video, it shook many in the audience to tears and disbelief that the situation had deteriorated so much for so long.

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Group picture of Yezidis with Hindu volunteers.

Ravi Raghavan, the emcee for the event warned the audience of about 150 people about the video and afterwards, with the help of slides, explained the background and the history of the Yezidi people who are being persecuted and systematically disseminated by the ISIS militants in their ancestral home in Iraq (see IAN dated Nov. 21, 2014).

Once numbering 23 million, the Yezidis have been reduced due to 22 separate genocides over the centuries to about 1 million worldwide, with the majority in Iraq and others scattered across Syria, Germany, Russia, Armenia, Georgia and Sweden. They follow a religion that is linked to Zoroastrianism and ancient Mesopotamian religions. This past August, ISIS had trapped thousands of Yezidis on Mount Sinjar and the siege was only broken after international outrage provoked a response from Iraqi and American forces. But many thousands have been killed and 5,000 to 6,000 women and girls have been taken hostage and sold as slaves for as little as $20, and many more raped and forcibly married off or given to ISIS fighters.

SEWA International organized the event last Sunday evening, December 14 at India House to bring attention and awareness to the plight of the Yezidi community and raise money for relief efforts back in Iraq. SEWA volunteers Vijay Pallod, Ravi Raghavan, Achalesh Amar and Venkat Subramanian have worked tirelessly to organize the event and bring out 40 members of the Yezidi community to the meeting. “They have no concept of organizing as an organization,” Pallod, an untiring activist said. “We have helped them in this, even getting a logo and website started just a few hours before this event.”

Other members of the Hindu community have banded together to help, as they perceive the persecution of a peace loving religious minority. Gita Bhatia with the International Association for Human Values, a branch of the Art of Living Foundation explained how its leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was in Erbril recently and 110 tons of relief material were airdropped on Mount Sinjar (see IAN dated Dec. 5, 2014). Representatives from others religions also attended and spoke briefly: Elliot Gershenson, President and CEO of Interfaith Ministries of Houston representing the Jewish faith; Kaemerz Dotiwalla representing Zoroastrians; Nadia Tajalli for the Ba’hai Birth; Vinay Sharda of the Hindu American Foundation and Achalesh Amar and Venkat Subramanian of SEWA International.

From the newly formed Yazda organization, its President Haider Elias and Treasurer, Murad Ismael spoke about their personal ordeal and loss. Elias explained how his younger brother was killed with a bullet to the head and how a chilling phonecall picked up by an ISIS militant made him fear for the safety of his father. Nabeen Kashali, who came from Austin, explained how 50 members of her family were trapped on Mount Sinjar, and walked many days to get to safety. As the event ended, over $25,000 was raised for relief efforts for the Yezidis.

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