Vian Dakhil: Iraq’s only female Yazidi MP on the battle to save her people

Abigail Haworth reports: The young Yazidi woman in a blue headscarf says her name is Hana. She is 18. She is standing in the muddy courtyard of her new temporary home – an abandoned, unfinished building outside the Iraqi-Kurdish town of Zakho. Beside her is Vian Dakhil, a politician from the same religious minority. Hana is speaking rapidly and clutching Dakhil’s hand as though she’s terrified this local heroine has something far more important to do than listen to her story.

Hana was abducted by Islamic State (Isis) last August. Heavily armed, black-clad militants stormed her village and shot dead her father, four brothers, two uncles and six cousins. They then separated her from her older female relatives. “They drove me away in a truck with other unmarried girls. Two fighters took me and held me prisoner in their house. They beat me and gave me scraps to eat.” After 36 days, Hana escaped when one of her captors left a window unlocked. “It was like a suicide mission, but I didn’t care. I ran for three days and nights to get away.”

Dakhil, a slim woman with long auburn hair, is not going anywhere. She listens intently as her two armed bodyguards stand at a discreet distance. “How is your health? What else did the men do to you?” she asks.

Blood rushes to Hana’s cheeks. Her eyes, locked on to Dakhil’s, well up with tears. They look at each other in silence. “It’s OK, I will help you, I will help you,” says the politician eventually, freeing her hand from Hana’s grip to pull the girl into a hug.

Vian Dakhil is one of only two Yazidis in Iraq’s parliament. It seems obvious that it’s a lonely job; she’s also the only woman from the besieged minority in an assembly that is three-quarters male. (The other Yazidi politician, a man, is so inactive that few people seem to know he exists.) But I don’t realise how lonely her job is until I’ve spent a 14-hour day with her in northern Iraq, visiting Yazidi survivors of Isis carnage. It’s a relentless marathon of inhaling dust, kissing babies and comforting catastrophically traumatised, grief-wracked refugees like Hana. [Continue reading…]

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