(AFP) Few people had ever heard of Iraq’s Yazidis until Vian Dakhil, who received the Anna Politkovskaya human rights award Monday, made a poignant appeal to save her hunted minority from jihadists.
On August 2, the Islamic State group launched a broad offensive in northern Iraq, including against the city of Sinjar, in and around which much of the small Yazidi community lived.
The attack forced tens of thousands of them to flee, many running up Mount Sinjar, a mountain range where they remained stranded for days without food or water in searing summer temperatures.
Dakhil stood up in parliament and made a desperate plea for help, warning that Yazidis, a non-Arab and non-Muslim community whose unique customs make them barely human in the eyes of the jihadists, faced genocide.
Two days later, the existential threat facing the Yazidi minority was one of the two main reasons cited by US President Barack Obama for authorising air strikes in Iraq.
Dakhil, who is in her early 40s, ranted against the crutches she needed to walk when AFP met her in mid-September at her home in an upscale neighbourhood of Arbil, where she lives with part of her family.
She was injured when the helicopter she was on crashed just after delivering aid to stranded Yazidis on Mount Sinjar. The pilot was killed.
– Missing girls –
The siege of Mount Sinjar was eventually broken, but some had died of dehydration by then, others were killed in their flight from Sinjar and thousands are still missing.
Most of them are women, who rights groups say have been forced to convert, taken into slavery and sold into marriage to IS militants, including in Syria.
Dakhil, who has reportedly welcomed some girls who had managed to escape in her home, puts the number at 5,000.
With her light skin, auburn hair and colourful suits, Dakhil cuts a modern figure in stark contrast with the biblical scenes beamed on news networks of Yazidis in rags marching through the desert after the siege of Mount Sinjar.
Dakhil is also firmly rooted in her country’s politics. Her father was a politician and one of her brothers is also in politics. Her six other siblings are all doctors.
She told AFP in September she would push for the creation of a territory alongside Kurdistan that could become a haven for minorities, a project also supported by leaders of the Christian and Turkmen Shiite communities.
Dakhil has been invited on many TV shows and as a speaker to major conferences, but not all Iraqis think she can become an ambassador for the country’s embattled minorities.
With IS fighters still occupying Sinjar and rampaging through the Yazidi heartland in northern Iraq, Dakhil is focused on one thing: securing the freedom of her fellow Yazidi women.