Yazidi refugees find sanctuary from ISIL in Georgia

CCTV News

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Some members of the Yazidi minority group are finding refuge in an unlikely country, the Republic of Georgia. ISIL has been systematically targeting this group in both Iraq and Syria for years.

CCTV’s Natalie Carney reports from Tbilisi, capital of Georgia.

Yazidi refugees find sanctuary from ISIL in Georgia

Yazidi refugees find sanctuary from ISIL in Georgia

Some members of the Yazidi minority group are finding refuge in an unlikely country, the Republic of Georgia. ISIL has been systematically targeting this group in both Iraq and Syria for years. CCTV's Natalie Carney reports from Tbilisi, capital of Georgia.

Sheik Mir Zia and his wife still hold vivid memories of their successful life back in Northern Iraq. His family now lives in a small apartment on the outskirts of Tbilsi. Their only possessions are what they could fit into these three suitcases.

“Mosul was occupied on the 10th of June 2014. We were feeling the danger living only 30 km (18.6 miles) away, but we did not think Daesh (ISIL) would focus on the Yazidi community and we thought the army could protect us,” Sheik Mir Zia said.

But they were wrong. Just two months later, ISIL militants descended on Sinjar Mountain killing upwards of 3,000 Yazidi men and abducting 5,000 women and children. Sheik Zia took his three children and two wives and fled to Turkey where they were given one-month visas.

“During the night we managed to take our clothes, but some weren’t able to take anything. In Turkey the Yazidi community helped connect us to the community here because we did not require visas to cross from Turkey to Georgia,” he said.

Centuries of persecution have brought Yazidis to the Caucasus from their native Middle East. In 1989, they numbered more than 33,000 in Georgia. But economic migration has led to a decline to about 6,000, according to local associations.

In 2009, the Georgian government donated this land to them to build a temple and community center.

While Yazidis are physically safe in Georgia, elders worry about the loss of identity in the next generations.

“Yazidis as an ethnic and religious community are on the verge of destruction. In Georgia we are not subjected to persecution. However, we have assimilation problem. We might loose our language, our religion, and our identity,” Dimitri Pir Bari, a Yazidi spiritual council leader in Georgia said.

For Sheik Zia, who had a child born in Georgia, said he knows his family’s culture is at risk.

“Naturally I’m concerned. In our own country, the Yazidis all lived together and every country has its own identity. But if the financial situation for us improves, I’d rather we stay here than go to Europe because here we are at least closer to Iraq,” he said.