Yezidi U of R student organizing push for Canadian aid

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Justin Crann
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Uncle, cousins believed to be trapped by ISIL

Barzan Slaeman hasn't heard from some members of his family for two days.

Yezidi University of Regina student Barzan Slaeman lost contact with his uncle and several cousins after they fled from ISIS in Iraq. He is trying to organize a campaign to urge the Canadian government and humanitarian organizations to take action and help his people.

Slaeman, a University of Regina student, is a Yezidi man of Kurdish ethnicity, as are his family members. 

In Iraq, where most of his family lives, the Yezidi are a religious minority of approximately 500,000 people located primarily in Nineveh Province — the country's northwest region. 

Many of them reside in Sinjar, a city in that region that was recently captured by the extremist organization Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has reportedly been executing members of the Yezidi and Christian faith in their campaign to capture the province.

Though the rest of his family have escaped to Kurdish-controlled regions such as Dohuk, Slaeman said he has lost contact with several family members — among them his 27-year-old uncle Hamo and his cousins Naif, Abbas, Layla, Kassem and Naham.

He said his family fled the city, along with thousands of other Yezidi people.

"My uncle is stuck in the mountains. I can't reach him," Slaeman told the Times-Herald earlier this week. "The phones are all dead, and I don't know if he is alive or not."

He said his cousins are believed to be in the mountains as well, unless they and his uncle were among the thousands reported to have been rescued by Kurdish forces.

Those Kurdish forces have been the primary opposition to ISIL in the province, but have largely been unable to withstand their better-armed and organized foe.

If they remain trapped in the mountains, Slaeman's family are among an estimated 40,000 Yezidi who fled their homes. An estimated 25,000 Yezidi children are trapped in the mountains alone, according to UNICEF.

The Yezidi trapped in the mountains have no source of fresh water and are running low on food, in spite of aid efforts from the United States and other groups.

"It's just a total disaster," said Slaeman. "(ISIL is) not letting us live, even as basic human beings. They're trying to convert us."

The Yezidi who didn't flee when ISIL took Sinjar were forced to convert from their faith to Islam or executed, Slaeman explained.

The same treatment was given to Christians, according to a statement from U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday.

"Chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and enslaving Yezidi women," Obama said in his statement. "And thousands — perhaps tens of thousands (of Yezidi) — are now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their backs."

In the same statement, Obama declared that ISIL was attempting to commit genocide against the Yezidi people and approved the limited use of airstrikes, but denied that the United States would send soldiers back to Iraq.

Slaeman said he hoped Canada would join the U.S. in providing support to his people in Iraq.

"I'm hoping Canadian people will stand beside me and demand Canada stand up," he said.

John Baird, Canada's foreign affairs minister, announced the country's support for U.S. airstrikes against ISIL, but added that the country has received no request to assist.

Slaeman said he isn't concerned about military intervention, but wants Canada to help in other ways.

"I'd like Canadians to be involved, not necessarily militarily, but in providing humanitarian aid," he said. "I am optimistic that if we, as Canadian people, stand up for humanity and against the brutalities and these terrorists, I'm hopeful the Canadian government will do something."

But Slaeman isn't going to wait for other people to organize something — especially with the prospect that his family could be among the people suffering in the mountains. 

"I, myself, am willing to help," he said, adding he is looking for anyone who is willing to help him organize a campaign to urge Canada to take action. 

Interested individuals can contact Slaeman by e-mail at Barzan2015@gmail.com.

Find Justin Crann on Twitter.

Organizations: University of Regina, Times-Herald, UNICEF

Geographic location: Iraq, United States, Canada Nineveh Province Islamic

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