Reflections from Nobel peace laureate Jody Williams on Days 3 and 4 of the Opening Borders: #WomenRefugeesWelcome Delegation to The Balkans and Germany.
FOLLOWING THE ROUTE OF REFUGEES THROUGH THE BALKANS: ZAGREB & BERLIN
Back in Zagreb
Back in Zagreb after the disturbing trip to Slovenia in the morning, we meet with women’s organizations that have been supporting the refugees. The meeting has been organized by our friend and colleague Rada Boric, who we work closely with in the Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict. Rada is a force of nature. In the picture below, all we can see is Rada’s red hair and green sweater on the right as she begins introductions.
We are just through the introductions when our marvelous “Mistress of the Media,” Rachel Vincent pulls Shirin and me out to go to a live interview on a popular news show in Croatia. Rachel is masterful at trying to schedule media requests in a way that least disrupts our participation in all of the activities of the delegation. One thing she can’t do is change the time and place of live television! Another thing she can’t avoid is having to listen to me grousing about missing the meeting.
After more than three decades of activism, I’ve mellowed so much sometimes I’m not sure I’m still me – if you know what I mean. But, I still manage to rag about interviews. Not a media hound myself, it always feels like an intrusion to have to break away from the activists who experiences I really want to hear about. At the same time that I know media coverage is a critically important part of our efforts on this trip. Even as I’m whining about it, in every other sentence I’m apologizing to Rachel for not just shutting up about it and getting the job done. Note to self: Next time, don’t bug Rachel for doing her job so well!!! Thanks, Rachel.
By the time we finished at the TV station – and we were able to pack a lot of good information in a ten-minute segment of the show, there wasn’t time to go back to the meeting with the women activists. And somehow, I’ve still not managed to get caught up on what was discussed about their own work with refugees and their views of officialdom’s handling of the crisis and the impact that has had on their work.
That night, our last in the Balkans before heading on to Berlin, we have our final dinner with the marvelous women who handled the logistics and put together our itinerary of meetings in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. They won’t be coming with us to Berlin. It’s a fun time yet a bit sad too because saying goodbye isn’t easy. I don’t even have any good pictures of the group to share here.
On to Berlin
Our delegation itinerary for Thursday, 19 November, tells us that we can have breakfast at our leisure. Between 6:30 and 7:00 we can have a most unleisurely breakfast before piling into cars to go to the airport for our 8:30 flight to Berlin.
Turbulence on the last 30 or more minutes of the flight has quite a few white knuckles gripping the arms of the seats on the plane and unsteady legs when we finally land and deplane.
We have some government meetings that afternoon in Berlin but I’ll come back to them in a different blog. I want to stick with the women we meet with first.
Later in the day we head out to meet with a group of refugee women. Except for two from Afghanistan, all the rest are Yazidi. The women are of all ages. In the second picture below, the four young women in the middle of the shot have left Iraq relatively recently.
I knew I was missing an important point about these women but when I first starting writing this blog, I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I read my Nobel Women’s Initiative colleague Diana Sarosi’s reflections on the trip and she nailed it in her lines about the women we met and what they have fled.
Diana wrote, “[O]ur delegation met a group of Yazidi women asylum seekers from Shingal mountain, a region of Iraq that has been under brutal siege by ISIS. Some of these women had been in Germany for a while, but a small group had just arrived. The Yazidis trapped on Shingal mountain faced systematic rape, exploitation and slavery by ISIS fighters. These women have endured horror. You could see it in their faces, in their blank far away stares: obvious signs of severe trauma. Trauma is, sadly, far too common among women refugees.”
One note, in the various articles I read and some of which are recommended below, I’d only seen the mountain referred to as Mount Singar. When I googled both names it seems like they are versions of the name of the same mountain. Please read all of Diana’s blog here on the website.
We spend a couple of hours with the women and during that time they show us a video of about 10-12 older women, seated cross-legged in a tent. We are not sure where the video was taken but the spokeswoman for the group is describing the suffering of the Yazidi women at the hands of ISIS and the time when they were surrounded and under siege by ISIS on Mount Sinjar.
She describes young women throwing themselves off cliffs on the mountain rather than be taken away by ISIS fighters. One story she tells is incomprehensibly brutal – too brutal to even write about. But ISIS is known for its depravity, revels in it. It is beyond my ability to comprehend how human beings can sink so low.
She also talks about the people who rescued them – Kurdish women and men fighters and it sounds like they are the fighters from Rojava who you can read about in the story at the links that follow. The spokeswoman is entirely dismissive of the Kurds from Iraqi Kurdistan who she says did nothing to help them. Here are the links:
Finally, here is a link to an NPR story from 23 November about the Yazidis still on Mount Sinjar:
After the video, we hear many stories. Everyone’s story is unique and all the stories together mark the horrible tragedy of the wars in the Middle East and the millions of people who have fled them. Turkey houses over 2 million Syrian refugees; a couple million more are found in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Hundreds of thousands, as we all know, are moving on to get to Europe in the hope of finding peace and security.
As the meeting is drawing to a close, Shirin, Tawakkol and I are given lovely glass boxes, the glass resplendent with peacock feathers. This is a precious gift – the Yazidis’ religious beliefs seem to revolve around the “Peacock Angel,” whose name was invoked many, many times during the meeting.
The Yazidis and the Peacock Angel are new to most of us, having come into global
consciousness primarily due to the attacks on their villages by ISIS and ISIS’s kidnapping of Yazidi girls and women, who are often sold into slavery.
In my second blog, after we’d been to Adacevi transit center on the Serbia-Croatia border, I wrote about having met some Yazidis there who were waiting to be taken to the trains in Croatia to continue their journey. A young Yazidi man had told us then about ISIS taking 5,000 girls from his town of 52,000 people. He said no one had any idea what happened to them.
I googled “Peacock Angel” after the meeting to try to get at least a very broad-brush overview of the Yazidis and their religious beliefs. Here are a couple of links which hopefully convey accurate information. If anyone knows other and/or better links to information, please let me know:
I think I was quite tired at this moment in the trip – everyone had their ebbs and flows of energy in the intensity of a fully packed itinerary for the delegation– because my notes are sparse and I don’t feel like I’ve done this meeting justice. I hope it has given at least a flavor of our time spent with the Yazidi women.