It is near impossible to imagine a Western representative collapsing on the legislature’s floor in tears or publishing unflattering hospital photos in the aftermath of a crash. Vian Dakhil, Iraq’s only Yazidi member of Parliament, has become internationally acclaimed for both in recent weeks, fighting for her people’s lives with a passion that has made her the living face of the Yazidi struggle.
The Yazidi people are an ethnically Kurdish Iraqi minority, indigenous to the land there and distinguished from other Kurds by their religion. Their plight has made headlines this month as the small group struggles to survive an onslaught from the jihadist group the Islamic State, trapped on a mountain with no food or water.
For many unacquainted with the Yazidis, their persecution is difficult to understand. They, like Christians, are considered by jihadists to be apostates — or worse, “Devil worshippers.” Extremist Sunni Muslims, like those running the Islamic State, consider Yazidis devil worshippers because of their belief in a deity running the earth known as the Peacock Angel. While monotheistic, the Yazidis believe the earth is run by a deity assigned by God to care for the earth, one that Sunni extremists acquaint with Lucifer.
None of this background puts into as staunch a relief the tragedy befalling the Yazidi people as Dakhil’s plea to the Iraqi Parliament to act and save the Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar. Calling the Islamic State’s attack on Yazidis a “genocide campaign,” Dakhil argued that the Yazidi, while a small people, were just the latest in a string of so-called apostates the Islamic State set out to eliminate. “My people are being slaughtered just like all Iraqis were slaughtered,” she stated, “Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Turkmens, and the Shabak people.” Dakhil had little left to say after breaking down in tears towards the end of her floor speech.
Dakhil made several other public appearances in the aftermath of her speech. In one particular appearance translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, Dakhil pledged to fight to find sanctuary for the Yazidi people outside of Iraq. Asked by the host whether she was demanding Yazidis leave their ancient land, she noted that, after 72 genocides committed against the Yazidi people, it was time to leave, “rather than hold on to a land that refuses to hold on to us.”
Noting that, unlike Christians, the Yazidi only have support within Iraq, she called upon the European Union to give refuge to Yazidis, as well.
Dakhil did not spend much time advocating on television before taking to the front of the war on Yazidi people. On August 12, Dakhil boarded a helicopter on a rescue mission to Mount Sinjar. The helicopter crashed as hundreds of stranded Yazidis attempted to board, weighed down by the bodies, according to the New York Times. The pilot was killed and 19 others, including Dakhil and New York Times reporters Alissa Rubin, were injured.
Early reports mistakenly took Dakhil for dead, but she has spared no privacy in making sure all know that she is alive and, given the circumstances, well. Dakhil’s Facebook page has published two photos of the legislator in the aftermath of the incident, confirming that she is in stable condition but has double fractures (see the photos here and here). The photos are unflattering and raw and, assuming they were posted with her consent, an extraordinary step to demonstrate the lengths this politician will go to help her people in need.
There is little information on Dakhil’s career outside of her work against the persecution of Yazidis. She is a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, whose web page has a subcategory for their promotion of women’s rights. Dakhil herself appears to have participated in a number of efforts to bring women into the political framework of Iraq and the greater Middle East. And, in quieter times, Dakhil appeared determined to bring jobs to the Yazidi Sinjar region by promoting construction projects in the region.
Dakhil’s commitment to preserving her people against the existential threat posed by the Islamic State has stood out as an extraordinary story amid a highly unusual set of circumstances, in a nation facing wild instability both in Islamic State-controlled areas and in Baghdad politics. As she recovers, Dakhil has the potential to become a pivotal figure in the fight against the Islamic State — already, she has done more to promote the cause of the Yazidi people than most before her.