Skokie, Illinois – Over 200 Jews, Christians and Hindus from the Chicago area gathered at Ezra Habonim/Niles Township Jewish Congregation in the northern suburb of Skokie to raise awareness and humanitarian aid for the Yazidi population under attack from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL).
Sponsoring organizations included pro-Israel StandWithUs and Protect Our Heritage Education Fund as well as Vishwa Hindu Parishad America, Assyrian National Council of Illinois, and Assyrian American Civic Club of Chicago.
In August of this year ISIS attacked and took over the Kurdish-controlled town of Sinjar, driving over 50,000 Yazidis out of their homes – fleeing for their lives to the Sinjar Mountains. According to Matthew Barber, a scholar of Yazidi history at the University of Chicago, as many as 5,000 Yazidi men have been killed by ISIS, and by conservative estimates the same number of Yazidi women and children may have been captured.
Barber cited United Nations confirmation that 5,000 men have been executed and as many as 7,000 women and girls have been made sex slaves by ISIS. Stories of beheadings, rape and children dying of starvation and dehydration are common among eyewitnesses.
For some of those in attendance at Sunday night’s event, these stories of suffering and inhumanity were painfully familiar.
“I’m the child of Holocaust survivors. I’ve heard those stories and I’ve heard of the desperation and the abandonment and the silence of the world and I could not be silent,” said Peggy Shapiro, Midwest Coordinator for StandWithUs. “The story of the Yazidis is the same, change a few places, a few players, their clothing; it’s the same story as the Jews during the Holocaust, the Assyrians who had their temples burned, churches burned and they were fleeing for their lives. Same as the Hindus whose holiest places are going up in smoke.”
Shapiro continued, “It doesn’t matter if they call themselves ISIS or ISIL, Boko Haram or Hamas, Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood. The enemy is the same and the way to defeat the enemy is to be united. And in our unity we will prevail.”
By current estimates, 12,000 Yazidis are living under siege in the Sinjar Mountains without food, water, medical supplies and any means to defend themselves. Lying in wait are well-armed ISIS fighters poised to massacre the men and enslave the women.
“Right now my people are stranded on top of Mount Sinjar and the only way to get aid to them is through air drops,” Yazidi representative Adoul Kejjan told the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. “These people cannot get airlifted out from Mount Sinjar because they are surrounded by ISIS and any effort to lift them out will be brought down by ISIS fighters.”
Asked if there are any governments trying to help the trapped Yazidi population, Kejjan said, “No! All the focus of the governments around the world has been on the city of Kobani in Syria. Unfortunately nobody has offered to help my people.”
During the evening’s speeches, attendees were urged not only to donate with their wallets, but also to contact their representatives in Congress to bring the plight of the Yazidi people to their attention.
“There are a lot of lawmakers in this country that can make a big difference,” said Vinesh Virani of the International Association for Human Values. “Right now the different communities have to work together and stand behind these communities that are suffering and stop this genocide.”
Paul Miller is a contributor to the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.