The news says her people are safe, but Lusik “Lucy” Usoyan says they’re not.
Her people are Yazidis, a religious minority in Iraq hiding in the cracks of a mountain, besieged by a militant army bent on their destruction.
“We just hear their voices, voices coming out of hell, asking for help,” Usoyan said Friday. “They are waiting for help and asking us, when are you (the United States) gonna come?
“This is the most common question – when are you gonna come, what are you gonna do?”
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Usoyan, 30, works as a paralegal at a University Place law office, but her roots are linked to the Yazidi, a tormented religious sect that counts 73 genocides stretching back 1,000 years.
Yazidis are under attack in northern Iraq. Forces from the Islamic State (ISIS) have driven them from their villages to Mount Sinjar, a rugged peak about 60 miles long and five to 10 miles wide.
The number of trapped Yazidis is unclear. Estimates range from 5,000 to 70,000, depending on the source. Precision is difficult because villagers have scattered to various places on the north and south side of Mount Sinjar.
“They’re all spread around the mountain,” Usoyan said. “They don’t know what’s going on, they don’t hear the news. They’re out in the middle of nowhere. All they do is try to hide themselves in the rocks.”
U.S. troops and international aid workers, backed by Kurdish fighters, entered the area earlier this week and established a “green corridor” to rescue the Yazidis.
Thursday, military officials and President Obama announced the siege was over, thanks to U.S. airstrikes, humanitarian aid and Kurdish assistance.
The news shocked Usoyan, who has been in contact with Yazidis still trapped on the mountain.
“I heard this morning, it’s unnecessary to rescue people from Mount Sinjar, because good place, they are in a comfortable area,” she said. “I can’t really imagine how comfortable is it to be without food, without water and medication, without any help or provision, and children who’ve lost family or parents.
“”So I’m really disappointed that our government decided to not help anymore.”
Usoyan’s views were echoed nationally Friday. The New York Times reported that Yazidi leaders and emergency relief officials said thousands of Yazidis were still trapped on the mountain.
Usoyan spoke to some of those trapped people Thursday night: distant relatives tied to her parents in Russia. She and other local Yazidis in Western Washington talk to the families on the mountain by cell phone; the people on the mountain get sporadic reception. Every break in contact breeds new fear. Has someone else died? Is anyone left alive?
The calls bring back memories. Usoyan’s parents resided in Turkey, fled to Armenia where she was born, and eventually settled in Russia, where she was raised.
In 2000, she watched her sister’s house burn down. Four children – three nephews and a niece – were inside. All died. Russian authorities never investigated the cause of the fire. Usoyan and her family believe it was set deliberately.
The loss of those children still stings, a hurt renewed by the phone conversations she’s been having every night with families trapped on Mount Sinjar.
The children have no food or medicine, she says. In some cases, their parents have been killed. The elderly die swiftly, worn down by exhaustion and starvation.
And the women keep disappearing, stolen by enemies, a fate worse than death in Yazidi culture.
“She can’t be saved, can’t be rescued,” Usoayn said. “Even if she goes back to her family she’s no longer Yazidi. For her it’s better to die – and that’s what she’s going to do. This is our culture.”
Usoyan is grateful for this week’s intervention by U.S. forces and humanitarian workers (“I love this country,” she says), but the announcement from Obama that the siege was over and Yazidis were safe leaves her feeling worthless.
She sits in a comfortable house in the most powerful nation on earth, hearing pleas for aid over the phone, and she doesn’t know what to say. Does she tell them the United States doesn’t think it’s necessary to rescue them?
She is setting up meetings with U.S. sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and John McCain (R-Arizona.) She is talking to anyone she can think of.
“I want to beg, beg really the U.S. government to pay attention and open the green corridor – and if they take these people out of mountain – and take them into little safer place so we can go and take care of them, at least we can provide, you know shelter, food and medication.
“If I can save one child’s life then I live my life for a reason.”