Arznda came to this world after her family had fled their home in Bashiqa, Northern Iraq. In 2014, they escaped from the ISIS terrorists and moved to Zakho, Iraqi Kurdistan. “We have been on the road for over 20 days and then we found a ruined and roofless building just on the edge of the road. We covered it with polythene and found refuge there,” recalls Arznda’s mother, Sewal Khudidah Al Azdo.
The Yazidi family couldn’t go back, as their home in Bashiqa had been destroyed and all their possessions stolen. The internally displaced family of father, mother and a 4-year-old son had nowhere to go. For several years, they lived in the ruins, under the polythene cover, and that’s where Arznda was born three years ago.
The family was happy to be blessed with another child. At first, her parents didn’t see any signs of trouble, but as the time passed, the girl started to have difficulties breathing. At 6 months, Arznda was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease. A heart surgery was urgently needed, but her case was too complicated to be treated in Iraq. So, the surgery was performed in Ankara, Turkey, and Arznda had to return to their dilapidated house afterwards.
While being examined Arznda is watching a cartoon via smartphone. Armenia, February 2020
“The doctors told me that my daughter would die in those conditions. We couldn’t stay in that dusty, wrecked house anymore and we found a tiny place to move in to. It wasn’t the best solution, but at least we had a roof over our heads, literally,” says Sewal Khudidah.
The first surgery went well for Arznda, but the treatment wasn’t final. In case of Arznda, phasing treatment was required. Parents knew that and would knock on dozens of doors to no effect, until Arznda’s mother contacted the 2019 Aurora Prize Laureate Mirza Dinnayi, Co-Founder and Director of Luftbrücke Irak (Air Bridge Iraq). He came to their rescue at once.
Since bringing the kid from Iraq to Europe could take a long time, Mr. Dinnayi asked his Armenian friends for help. “Recently, we’ve had visa issues in Iraq, as the procedure of getting permission from the embassies and hospitals could take forever. Therefore, I chose Armenia. Last time I was in Armenia, I spoke to Rustam Bakoyan, a Yazidi member of the Armenian Parliament. He spoke to the Minister of Health, and the Ambassador of Armenia to Iraq helped us with the visa. I’m delighted that we have started our humanitarian mission to Armenia and sent the first child there for treatment. If everything goes well, we will bring more children from vulnerable families from Iraq to be treated,” says Mirza Dinnayi, director of Air Bridge Iraq and 2019 Aurora Prize Laureate.
The ambulance doctor, Rustam Bakoyan, MP of Armenia, Arznda and her mother are on the way to the ambulance car. Zvartnots International Airport, February 2020
3-year-old Arznda and her mother arrived in Armenia on February 17, 2020. Armenian MP Rustam Bakoyan was waiting at the airport to greet them: “If we hadn’t done this, there might have been no other chance to help this child, as the situation in Iraq now is too complicated. Only our joint efforts made this happen. We all know that a hundred years ago the Yazidis in Sinjar helped over 20,000 Armenians refugees by giving them shelter in their homes. Now it’s the Armenians’ turn to say ‘thank you’ to the Yazidi people.”
The ambulance is taking Arznda from the airport directly to the Nork Marash Medical Center. Zvartnots International Airport, February 2020
From the airport, an ambulance took Arznda directly to the Nork Marash Medical Center. “Her heart condition is one of the most complicated cases I’ve ever seen. Generally, in such cases we perform the second surgery when a child is only one year old. Arznda is already three, but fortunately, her lungs are not damaged, which will make the second surgery possible in this period,” explains Karen Zohrabyan, interventional cardiologist and deputy director of the Nork Marash Medical Center.
As Arznda’s family doesn’t speak Armenian, MP Bakoyan accompanied the girl and her mother to the hospital, acting as interpreter. All the time, Arznda’s mother seemed to be calm and quiet, but beneath that quietness one could sense her concerns. “I feel the same as two and half years ago, when my daughter was operated on for the first time. The doctors said the odds were high that she would die. Now she is very sick. I only wish that she could live.”
Arznda is being examined before the surgery. Armenia, February 2020
After a week of pre-surgical diagnostics, on February 24, Arznda was taken to the operating theatre. Her doctor was the renowned cardio surgeon Hrayr Hovagimian, working with a team of experienced cardiologists. They entered the operating room at midnight and finished by dawn. A complicated medical case like that required an almost 10-hour surgery, but it was a success.
Arznda spent another week at the Nork Marash Medical Center to recover and then moved to a cozy house close to the hospital with her mother to stay under medical supervision for two more weeks before going back home Iraq. Arznda will need her next heart surgery in seven years, when she is ten.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi-Armenian humanitarian mission continues: together with their Armenian partners, Mirza Dinnayi and his organization Air Bridge Iraq will bring more children to Armenia for treatment, starting with two Yazidi kids from a refugee camp in Sinjar.