Vian Dakhil Saeed Khidthir, the only female Kurdish Yazidi member of Iraqi parliament, was born in 1971 and raised in Mosul as the oldest of nine children. Her father was a surgeon and six of her siblings are doctors. Dakhil studied science and entered politics after serving as lecturer in biology.
A member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, she is also a member in the Iraqi parliamentary Committee of Services and Reconstruction.
Dakhil gained recognition last year with a heart-felt plea to the international community to help the Kudish Yezizi trapped on Mount Shingal and being massacred by the Islamic State, or ISIS.
She has since worked tirelessly to help the thousands of Yezidi traumatized by ISIS and those who remain the hands of the jihadists.
Rudaw’s Nawzad Mahmoud met with Dakhil on June 29 to discuss her famous speech, the nation of Iraq, and the future of her people.
Rudaw: You’ve been a member of the Iraqi parliament for two terms now. What have you been able to do for Yezidis and are they satisfied with your work?
Vian Dakhi: Yes, I have been a lawmaker for two consecutive terms. I’ve also been the head of the Social and Service Committee of the parliament. I wanted to show that I am a lawmaker in the service of all the people.
There were those who thought and said that I was working only for the Yezidis. But this wasn’t true. Despite all of this, I never forgot that I was voted into the Iraqi parliament predominantly by the Yezidi people and I had to serve them.
I wondered how I could in the best way help Shingal and the surrounding areas: reducing the unemployment or starting great infrastructural projects, although the government was not able to do much for these areas because of the financial crisis.
I’m proud that I was able to push for a draft in the parliament that would give Shingal greater residential space. Unfortunately, Daesh [ISIS] invaded Shingal and much of that was lost, for now.
Prior to ISIS invasion, did the Yezidis suspect that ISIS would attack their communities? Were you aware of that?
People say Daesh attacked Mosul on June 10, 2014, but this is not quite right. Daesh has been present in Mosul in 2003, 2004 and 2005. We have many examples. Yezidis, the Shabaks and other ethnic groups were assassinated in Mosul during these years. Didn’t they expel them (Yezidis and the Shabaks) from universities? They would have even killed a Yezidi policeman if he entered Mosul.
But Daesh said repeatedly that they were only fighting the Iraqi government and that gave the Yezidis some reassurances that the fight was not targeting them. In the start, Daesh said they wanted the Yezidis out of the city but did not kill them.
Even when Daesh overran Tal Afar, we thought we should remain in our own areas and defend Shingal, since we thought Daesh was there to fight the Shiites and not us but then what happened is history.
You mean that Daesh did not want to reveal its true intentions towards the Yezidis in the start?
No, they did not. As I said, they only asked the Yezidis to leave the areas in Mosul and Tal Afar. They wanted to appear as if they are only against the Shiites which consequently made many Yezidis not to expect the Daesh assault or to end up in their captivity.
When Shingal fell, you delivered a speech in Kurdistan parliament. You lost control and burst into tears, which was publicized very much. Did you prepare for that day?
No, of course not. Two days after Daesh invaded Shingal on August 5, 2014, I continually received horrible news from the city. These were the worst days of my life. I kept hearing the horrible reports of abducted girls and women, of infants dying of famine.
Too many people were trapped on the mountain without food or water. These days will never be forgotten.
One day before the parliament session I wrote the speech, but I never thought it would be so much publicized. The crying was not the issue there, as I was crying even before that. I was preparing to be very strong and not to cry so that I could reach the whole world and call for help.
So you thought you would appear stronger if you did not cry?
When I started my speech, I could not escape thinking about the mass crimes committed against my people. I was in the parliament in body, but my thoughts were with the Yezidis who were so much alone and without protection.
All of a sudden, emotions ran through my body and forgot why I was there at all. I was hurt and heartbroken.
Were the Yezidis in touch with you from Shingal Mountain?
Yes, I was receiving reports and stories of unprecedented cruelty. Every story was more horrible than the others. It was terrifying.
When you visited abroad, did you hear reactions about your speech and cry?
Most Western officials whom I met said that before my cry for help, they did not know that so many crimes had been committed against the Yezidis. It was crying and calling for help, but in the end it was also a voice, which would secure help.
Did you feel abandoned when you delivered your speech?
I felt everybody around me were my friends, but I also felt that we were left alone outside the world’s attention.
Some thought you were luckier than the other Yezidi women whose cries no one saw, but the world did see your tears.
It is true. My tears were to convey their tears and agony. I wasn’t crying for myself. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. I was crying for them who were thirsty, hungry and heartbroken. The world had to see their tears through someone else.
Do you think the Western world, which has many institutions, was this time acting out of emotions?
It is true. When I visited the White House, I was told they convened urgently after seeing my speech and tears. They said they immediately decided to send humanitarian assistance and attack Daesh. But I think the media’s effect was much more than my tears.
What kind of help for Yezidis did you ask the outside world for?
The best assistance for the Yezidis is now to confront Daesh and annihilate them.
The great help would be to free the captive Yezidi women and girls. We have concentrated on that issue and the government must help the youth toward rehabilitation.
The victims need attention in terms of psychotherapy and must be compensated economically as war casualties. After that, we have to rebuild the area and help people to return to their homes.
Were there any promises to assist you in this way when you visited abroad?
I did whatever was in my power. But we are dealing with a case of genocide. It should not be trivialized and underestimated.
How many captive Yezidis have been rescued so far?
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has rescued close to 1,700 people, of which over 600 are women and girls.
The KRG says it has spent a lot to pay for the ransoms of Yezidi women and girls despite the economic crisis. Have you asked the Iraqi government to help you in that too?
I asked the Iraqi government and parliament but they have not allocated any money for that end. They say they have no budget and that ransoms are illegal. The most absurd thing is that Baghdad has only approved payments worth 7 million dinars [$5,000 USD] for the rescued Yezidis and that went for their clothes.
7 million dinars?
Yes, in fact.
And those Yezidis who are in Europe and have economic means?
A great number of Yezidi Kurds who are aboard have collected help and sent it to their fellow Yezidis here. And some have sent help through international aid organizations.
The summer break will end in early July and you will be back in Baghdad for parliaments new sessions. What plans do you have?
I want to prepare a petition with as many signatures as possible to pass a law in the parliament which enables authorities to prosecute any one who has taken part in the abduction of Yezidi women and be seen as war criminal. It will be of interest to Yezidis.
You have seen some of the rescued. Which story has shaken you most?
(In tears) There was a girl. She came to see me and told me she hates her body since they forced her to have sex with them. ‘I wish I could cut my tongue,’ the girl told me. It was painful.
The Yezidis say they have been annihilated far too many times in the past. But is this the worst one yet?
No, I don’t think this is. The difference is that this time it was recorded in photos and videos and we know the number of the victims. This has been done even in the past. Yezidis have been abducted, killed and burned in the past. But it was not recorded then. This time people came to our rescue, but that was not the case in the past.
What did the world leaders tell you after the honorary awards?
I have been honored three times. The last one was in Austria when I received one from the hands of the prime minister [Werner Faymann ]. They all told me that I did the appropriate thing when I cried for help.
My tears were a starting point for outside help. But it is a huge responsibility also on my shoulders. I have to continue in this way.
The International Crime Court (ICC) is involved in the process?
We try to go forward with the case. The problem again is the Iraqi government, which is not part of ICC. If Baghdad does not do what is required, then we, the KRG should find a solution through The Hague. We have the necessary documents.
Now people are asking for Shingal to become a province?
Shingal must first be liberated and then returned to the Kurdistan region. We have been annihilated by our neighbors. Even the Arab countries around us plotted against us when they saw that we wanted to return to Kurdistan.
Why did you visit Shingal Mountain? I remember the plane you were on crash-landed.
I had, in the beginning, no plans to go there. I went to the base of the pilots to thank them. People in Dohuk delivered food and other necessities to the base and the pilots flew it to the trapped Yezidis on Mount Shingal.
The pilots were flying to the mountain four or five times a day. When I saw all these people and Peshmarga and the pilots who were working so much with passion, I decided to go with them.
The late pilot who died in the crash said, ‘Vian, your tears brought me here from Basra.’ We flew to the mountain and when we reached there I asked them to rescue as many trapped women and girls on the mountain as possible.
What I saw there was indescribable. The plane crash-landed because of the heavy load.
By Nawzad Mahmoud