Reformer Dave Eubank on the hope for Yazidis and Christians in Iraq
This week marks the five year anniversary of the Yazidi genocide in Sinjar, Iraq. On August 3, 2014, terrorist group ISIS (“Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”) began the coordinated attack and capture of Sinjar, a Kurdish village in Northern Iraq, in an effort to take control of minorities and Christians. The attack targeted around 10,000 Yazidis (a Kurdish religious minority indigenous to Northern Iraq) in just one month.
Four days later, on August 7, 2014, tens of thousands of Yazidis were forced to flee up Mount Sinjar, where many were trapped and ultimately perished due to hunger and dehydration. Hundreds more were murdered at the hands of ISIS on the mountain. In addition to the 10,000 killings and capturings of Yazidi men and boys in Sinjar, around 7,000 women and girls as young as nine were sold as sex slaves to jihadists and subjected to routine rape and torture.
It’s a difficult story to tell. We’ve spent years trying to unravel the complicated threads that shape the narrative of the region, years trying to find the hope and beauty in such devastation. We’ve interviewed Jacqueline Isaac, a California-based attorney and human rights advocate who defends persecuted Christians and Yazidis. We’ve spoken to Ekhlas, a Yazidi teen who survived sexual slavery and used her experience to advocate for her sisters and bring ISIS to justice. Our documentary film Iraq: A Forgotten Hope features ethnic minorities, ISIS survivors, political and religious leaders, and reformers who risk their lives to stand with the marginalized.
As much as we’ve sought to understand the ever-changing dynamic within the region, there are still many unknowns. And so, as we remember the tens of thousands who lost their lives five years ago, we caught up with reformer Dave Eubank of Free Burma Rangers (FBR) to learn about the current climate in the region and discern the glimmers of hope that have emerged since this tragedy.
In May 2015, Dave Eubank and his nine-year old son Peter trekked with a convoy to the top of Mount Sinjar as ISIS controlled 90 percent of the town below. It was there that God said to Dave, “give up your own way, give up the FBR way, just help these people,” he recalls. That word was the catalyst for the next few years, compelling the Eubanks and FBR to provide medical relief, humanitarian aid, and children’s programs for those whose homes and lives were destroyed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
In October 2016, the offensive to drive ISIS out of Kurdistan began, ultimately driving the group out of all Kurdish areas. The Eubanks and FBR joined the Iraqi army to fight the battle of Mosul from beginning to end. While Dave lost his translator and other friends—and was wounded four times himself—he praises God for the opportunity to have treated 4,000 wounded and fed 75,000 displaced people. He is currently providing aid in Syria.
Nations: What is the risk in forgetting this tragedy?
Dave: We risk having hard hearts. These are thousands of people who died or were captured and tortured. These are broken futures and lost homes. Many still can’t go back. Shaheen, my translator who died next to me, went into battle saying, “I used to hate Arabs for what they did to my people. But now I realize everyone is God’s child.” He was shot and killed one hour later.
We risk losing that newfound love and reconciliation. We risk it happening all over again, because Yazidis are still very vulnerable. [In January 2018,] the Turks drove 25,000 Yazidis and 3,000 Christians out of Northwest Syria. They are still displaced to this day. We risk another genocide.
The Yazidis [still] feel very threatened. Up on Sinjar mountain, many still haven’t gone home; many are still living in tents on top of the mountain because they’re afraid if they go into town they’ll be wiped out by the local Iraqi militias. There are organizations helping, but it’s very sporadic.
Where do you see hope and beauty in Kurdistan?
I see hope in the Church that’s growing in Kurdistan. One church we went to had six people in it; now it’s grown to 70 people. That’s one of many. I see hope and beauty in the KRG, the Kurdish Regional Government. I asked President Barzani—[an] amazing man of wisdom—how to help him, and he said, “Pray for me. We want to help Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities get back to their homes in the Nineveh plain.”
I see hope and beauty in his staff. [Barzani’s] executive secretary started her own NGO to take care of stray dogs, to help the cause of animals [displaced] from the war. I see beauty in the eastside [of Kurdistan] and its beautiful snow-capped mountains. People there are friendly, like any rural mountain people; they understand love, hard work, and freedom.
I see hope and beauty in that the Kurds are still taking care of three-million-plus refugees and IDPs (Internally Displaced Person) from Iraq and Syria. I see hope in that President Barzani has made it possible for us and others to continually give relief to people who need it. And that the Kurds and Iraqis are working their political differences out.
“We risk losing that newfound love and reconciliation. We risk it happening all over again, because Yazidis are still very vulnerable.”
And finally, up at Mar Matti Monastery—which at one point was only a mile and a half from ISIS and was destroyed—I see hope and beauty in the monks and the men, women, and children in the village below who have come to worship. I asked a monk, “What’s your message to the world?” And he said, “How can you love God who you can’t see, but you don’t love man who you can see?” I see the Church there leading the way to love man and God.
How can we pray and involve ourselves in the ongoing work of the region?
Pray for people to have open hearts to Jesus. That’s number one. Number two, pray against Satan and his involvement there as God leads you to pray. Number three, by prayer, funding, and visitation, help the growing church and different humanitarian organizations that are there. Samaritan’s Purse is one of them, [Free Burma Rangers is] one of them, there are many others.
“How can you love God who you can’t see, but you don’t love man who you can see?”
Another is to advocate to our own government that the people of Kurdistan, Iraq, and Syria count, that we should stay engaged and help them. Specifically, I think Kurdistan should be allowed to have freedom; that’s a political action that our congressmen and women need to hear about.
The last is continued funding and political pressure to help Christians return home. Part of that means helping conditions change at home. There are rogue militias roaming around, so we need to help the government in Baghdad to curb those militias so people can go home.
Dave Eubank is featured in our film, “Iraq: A Forgotten Hope.” Host a screening or support the film HERE.
All photos by Joel Parker.