YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Three ethnic Yezidi families have taken refuge in Armenia after leaving their homes in Iraqi Kurdistan, close to territories controlled by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS). Members of Armenia’s Yezidi community welcomed the families in Armenia on Thursday.
Boris Murazi, the head of the association of Sinjar Yezidis, organized a campaign in a Yerevan park on Friday to try to raise funds as well as collect food and clothing for the families, which in total are nineteen people, including seven children, so as to help them cope with the difficulties of life in a foreign country during their first days of stay.
“Before they left and moved here they lived just five kilometers from where ISIS forces are based. And if Kurdish forces made another retreat, these people would have been targeted again,” Murazi told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
“These people had an option of going to Europe, but I think that from the point of view of Yezidis it is better to be in Armenia. So, we helped them come here and have provided them with accommodation.”
Armenia, an ethnically homogenous country with a population of about 3 million people, is home to some 50,000 Yezidis, which makes them the country’s largest ethnic and religious minority.
Last year ISIS forces displaced more than 400,000 Yezidis from their homes in northern Iraq. More than 20,000 were killed and more than 5,000 Yezidi women and girls are still being held captive. Thousands more are still missing.
Responding to appeals from leaders of Armenia’s Yezidi community, the Armenian government last August decided to provide humanitarian assistance to Yezidis suffering due to the onslaught of ISIS in northern Iraq.
Earlier this year, the National Assembly of Armenia issued a statement condemning the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria at the hands of ISIS. All six parliamentary factions backed the statement that singled out the Yezidi community in Iraq as a target for ISIS extremists.
Fadl Dshar, a 17-year-old Yezidi refugee, said all he knew about Armenia was that it is a non-Muslim nation. He said that at the time, security was most important for his family.
“We have escaped from ISIS militants. It was no longer secure for us to stay in a Muslim country,” he said.
Dshar also claimed pressures from Kurdish authorities which he said persecuted Yezidis for their public activities.
The three Yezidi families that have arrived in Armenia are staying in the western province of Armavir. They say that they will look for jobs to earn a living in Armenia.
“It’s important that we are away from Kurdistan. At least our lives are not in danger,” Dshar said.