Yazidis From Iraq Find Welcome Refuge In Nebraska


A small classroom down a hall at St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Lincoln is a long way from Iraq, but this is where a group of Yazidi women find themselves. They’re part of a class led by volunteer Terri Hensley, a former teacher who’s helping them learn English.

“We are learning consonants and vowels and we are starting right from scratch, so it is a very slow process,” Hensley said.

These woman are mostly from an area in northern Iraq, but Yazidis have also lived in parts of Syria and Turkey. They’re both an ethnic and religious minority and have faced persecution for decades, most recently at the hands of ISIS. They began arriving in Nebraska several decades ago as part of the refugee resettlement process.

Gulie Khalaf is Yazidi and arrived in the U.S. from Syria in 1998. She moved from Atlanta to Buffalo and then to Lincoln, a place where it seems many Yazidi refugees end up. There are now more than 2,000 here.

“Even though the resettlement office settles Yazidis elsewhere, they end up a year later or even six months later, giving up whatever they have collected and they end up coming to live here in Nebraska,” Khalaf said.



Young Iraqi Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis are the seeds of dialogue in a Land broken by the Islamic State

6606442621494827991ERBIL: In order to overcome the murderous madness of the Islamic State, which has covered with blood a land already brutalised by years of wars and violence, it is necessary to start with “a plan of dialogue and outreach at the local level”, involving first of all children and young people, the new generations, “who will be tasked with building life together” beyond their respective religions.

Starting from such premises, Fr Samir Youssef, pastor of the diocese of Amadiya (Iraqi Kurdistan) who has long been on the frontline of the refugee emergency, is promoting a project to transform “young Muslims, Christians and Yazidis” into “seeds of dialogue ” to breathe new life into Mosul, the Nineveh plain, and Iraq as a whole.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the priest mentioned an initiative that is in its initial stage, but one that has already garnered “the enthusiastic participation” of some thirty of kids, aged 10 to 16, from various religious background. “We started with a group of about 30-35 kids,” Fr Samir said, “but we want to increase the numbers for the summer, involving young people from high school and university.”

The aim is to find youth “eager to talk, communicate, and bear witness” that living together is possible and that from this, a model can emerge applicable across the country, and beyond.

“We have already started to meet,” he added, “although getting the first results will take some time. At the moment, the first group, the base on which to start working, has been found. It includes a dozen Christians, eight Muslims and seven Yazidis. There are also Sabians and Turkmen.”

As parish priest in the diocese of Zakho and Amadiya (Kurdistan), Fr Samir is responsible for about 3,500 Christian, Muslim, and Yazidi refugee families who fled their homes and property in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain to escape Jihadis. Since the summer of 2014 and the start of the emergency, the clergyman has played a key role. Working with him and Iraqi bishops, AsiaNews has recently renewed its Adopt a Christian of Mosul campaign to provide refugees with kerosene, shoes, clothing, and school material for children.


Iraqi Interfaith Council Tries to Protect Minorities

Iraqi Muslim worshippers pray during a joint Sunni-Shi'ite Friday prayer at the Martyrs Monument in BaghdadThe situation of religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq today is the worst in the history of the country. Some of them have almost disappeared, through annihilation and emigration, and the populations of others have decreased significantly, especially after the occupation of Iraq, as a result of sectarian war and security crises. The establishment of the Iraqi Council for Interfaith Dialogue on March 14 is considered an important step forward in the effort to protect Iraq’s surviving minorities.

Iraq has long been known for its ethnic and religious diversity, a mosaic rarely seen elsewhere. Iraq managed to preserve much of its ancient heritage until the beginning of the last century. The Mandaeans and their rare ancient culture have a place in Iraq’s history, as do the Jews, who have maintained their Hebrew heritage for some 2,600 years. The same is true of the Chaldeans and the Assyrians, two groups brought together by Christianity after millennia of conflict and fighting. There are also the Armenians and a number of other Christian denominations. The Yazidis practice the only remaining form of the ancient dualistic religion mixing Islamic Sufism and Kurdish heritage. The religion of the Babis and Baha’is originated and developed in Iraq and later spread from there to the rest of the world. Furthermore, there are a number of Shiite sects, among them the Shaykhis and the Akhbaris, and a significant number of Sunni Sufi schools, including the Qadiriyya, Naqshbandi and Kasnazans. The magazine Masarat spent eight years publishing articles about these groups, covering the issues and challenges they face under the authority of the majority.

These groups only faced the threat of extinction relatively recently, when nationalist and religious ideologies spread via the domino of revolutions in the middle of the 20th century. When the concept of a unilateral Iraqi identity, based on Arab nationalism and Islam, arose, these groups became threatened minorities. They were separated from Iraq’s core identity, making it easier to isolate them and implement forced relocations. This was the result of Iraqi society and the political authorities’ failure to establish a true and broad Iraqi nation. Ali Taher discusses this idea in Iraqi: From Identity Shock to the Awaking of Identities (2012).