On August 3, 2014, Islamic State fighters attacked Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, killing thousands of men and kidnapping thousands of women from a little-known religious group called Yazidis.
This was not the first attack on the Yazidis, who have been the victims of an estimated 74 genocides.
The numerous attacks have left families no choice but to flee, including Haji Gundor and his family.
People of the Yazidi religion traditionally live in northern Iraq, with large communities in SInjar and Shekhan, where a number of their holy sites are located.
Archived copies of The Daily Advertiser provide a snapshot of the year the Gundor and Perabo family arrived in the Riverina.
“Five people are dead and about 40 injured after a terror attack in central London on Wednesday, in which a lone assailant ploughed a car into pedestrians on a busy bridge before stabbing a police officer outside the British Parliament. The Metropolitan Police confirmed five people had been killed, including the stabbed police officer and the attacker himself, in a chaotic incident which saw the Parliament on lockdown for hours and the heart of the British capital brought to a standstill.” – The Daily Advertiser, March 23, 2017.
“Australians have voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage, saying "yes" to same-sex marriage by a substantial margin of 61.6 per cent to 38.4 per cent. It means Australia is poised to join 25 other countries that have granted marriage equality to gay couples, including the US, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.” – The Daily Advertiser, November 15, 2017.
Haji Gundor and his family had no choice but to leave their home in Iraq behind.
“In 2007, they killed my cousin and in 2017 my mum’s family tried to migrate to Europe. Three of her family died in the water.”Haji Gundor
Haji, his mother Nazi Perabo, his father Kumal and his siblings Diyana Gundor, Tuba Gundor and Jack Gundor arrived in Wagga on March 9, 2017.
“Our life was in danger and we lost our family and for our religion, we have lost most of our places,” Haji said.
“We had to lose our home and money is not important for us because we lost our people. It is IS (the extreme Muslim faction) who is killing us.”
Haji said, unfortunately, he has realised outside of his home not many people know about the continued persecution of Yazidis.
“We are a very small group of religion and no one cares that we are living in the war,” he said.
Before 2014, Haji and his family believed they could stay, but after the genocide they decided there was no life for them in their home.
“In 2007, they killed my cousin and in 2017 my mum’s family tried to migrate to Europe,” he said. “Three of her family died in the water.”
Haji spoke almost no English when he arrived here.
“I spoke a little bit from what I had learned at school, but my family did not,” he said.
Wagga local Helen Chamberlain is the “grandmother” to Haji and his family.
“Someone from St Vincent De Paul asked if anyone would like to help those who were coming out and six of us said ‘yes’,” she said. “They became our family and we went out to the airport and met them.
“It was a bit of an eye-opener for us because they had hardly anything and they had escaped town and had walked for two days to get out of danger.”
Mrs Chamberlain said she felt the family had been traumatised by their experiences.
“Thousands of their people have been killed,” she said.
“Now IS have women and children as hostages which disturbs this family as they are friends.
“We had no idea what was happening over there.”
Before they were allowed to come to Australia the family lived in Turkey for three years.
“Haji worked 16-hour days for $300 a month,” Mrs Chamberlain said.
“When they arrived in Wagga they were malnourished and needed vitamins.”
Haji said after arriving in Wagga residents made the effort to welcome them.
“Especially Helen,” he said.
After arriving, Haji said there was a lot to take on from learning the language to getting a job.
“I am learning how to drive at the moment,” he said.
Diyana Gundor and her mother Nazi Perabo have started a stall at the Riverina Producer’s Market selling their traditional food.
“I like to share the Yazidi food,” she said.
“People haven’t seen it before, but they like it.”
Haji is aware that some would like to see refugees refused entry into Australia but has a message he would like to share.
“Maybe some refugees are bad, but they don’t know our history or us,” he said.
“The Yazidi have 74 genocide and still want to live in their home and we don’t want to leave.
“It’s a dangerous and a bad life and we have to leave.”
Yazidis believe their religion is the oldest in the world and that God made seven angels to help Him create the world and Adam and Eve.
He asked the angels to bow down before Adam, but one angel refused and fell to earth and became a peacock, known as Melek Tawwus or the Peacock Angel.
They believe that God eventually put Melek Tawwus in charge of the angels and humans on earth.
Their story of the fallen angel, which some erroniously believe to be the same as the Devil, has in part led to the persecution of the Yazidis.
Haji said now they have lived in Wagga for a while they are beginning to feel safe again.
“I studied at TAFE and I want to go to university and become a surgeon,” he said.
“This has always been my dream.”
Nazi, Haji’s mother, said she was happy with Wagga as her new home.
“I love to help Diyana with everything,” she said.
Mrs Chamberlain said the Yazidis are peaceful.
“They are kind and generous and they are always trying to feed us,” he said.
“The father grows his own vegetables and they freeze them.”
Haji said his family are extremely grateful for all the support they have received.
“We hope people learn a bit about Yazidis,” he said.
“We hope we can help people back home.”
For the past eight weeks, The Daily Advertiser has shared the stories of some of those who have moved to Australia in search of a new home, one from each decade. Some to escape war and devastation, and some for love.
The Gundor and Perabo family’s story wraps up Stories of the Decades.
- Stories of the Decades: Jan Pyc escapes the communists
- Stories of the Decades: Michael Georgiou finds a ‘better life’
- Stories of the Decades: Nabiha Koriaty finds a second home
- Stories of the Decades: Julieta Caballeron moves for love
- Stories of the Decades: Bebina Curtis crosses the seas for love
- Stories of the Decades: Feri Khazei escapes religious persecution
- Stories of the Decades: Suzan Tangon flees civil conflict