You’re an Aurora Humanitarian now. How does that make you feel?
I feel more responsibility towards the world, as the international humanitarian community has accepted me as one of its own. Now my goal is to become a worthy member of the Aurora family.
What was everyone’s reaction in Germany and Iraq?
Everyone, not only Yazidis, but also members of other minorities and Iraqi people who are aware of my humanitarian work, expressed their appreciation. Friends tell me that such international recognition of my work will strengthen the chance for peace-building and establishing the principles of coexistence inside the Iraqi community itself, bringing the voice of peace to our communities.
Being a humanitarian is a tough career choice, and we know that it wasn’t your first one. Did you ever have second thoughts about choosing it?
I think that it is not a choice, it is destiny. It was my destiny to be born in a persecuted community going through ongoing genocide during for many decades. The launch of Air Bridge Iraq was spontaneous and emotional, when Al-Qaeda terrorists massacred Yazidis in 2007. We founded Air Bridge Iraq to save children. I just wanted to help, and I never regretted choosing this hard job.
Mirza Dinnayi after arriving to Germany with the first group of children brought for treatment. Düsseldorf, 2007
What inspired you to help others?
At the beginning it was the feeling that you can help the victims of terror. Then came the genocide of Yazidis and suffering women and young girls – you can’t remain indifferent. When I was in a helicopter crash, I saw death with my own eyes – not only others’, but my own. At that moment, I realized that my life should have another meaning. I knew that I had more duties to take on.
You’re a family man working a very draining job – that can’t be easy. What has been your toughest personal experience to date?
As a father I can say that I don’t spend enough time with my family, and this is what I regret. I need more time with my older daughter. She is blind and was born prematurely, so she has many health problems. She has to have hemodialysis. Sometimes I feel guilty as I can’t manage to help. My wife and my relatives might say that I treat other children but not mine. But at the same time, they know and respect my principles and goals. So, they support me. My little family believes in what I do and they sacrifice their own needs to show solidarity.
Where do you find strength and courage?
I think the main source is the education I received thanks to my family. I started reading books when I was a child, which was unusual for my community. I come from a village where most people were farmers, mostly uneducated. My father was a businessman and visited the city of Mosul every week to bring goods. Each time he went, he took one of us with him to do the paperwork, since he couldn’t read or write. I was 12, and he encouraged me to buy books and read them. When I was 17, I had over 500 books at home. As a teenager I started to write short stories and poems like other Western teenagers. And that was an eye-opening experience for me.
Do you ever get scared of losing your own life while helping others?
Many times, but I have always been totally convinced that the work I do deserves more.
What advice would you give to those who want to start working in the humanitarian field?
I would say that this is the best job you can ever do in your life. But you should keep some important things in mind: don’t wait for any gratitude from others, be aware that even the people that you have helped can blame you, sometimes for minor things. Just do what you believe in and don’t wait for anything from anyone. Humanitarian work should come from your heart. You will be injured and will suffer with others. If you help, you might end their suffering. But remember – that suffering will affect a piece of your soul forever.
Who are your heroes and how do they inspire you?
I admire all those unknown soldiers in each community who help the people around them, even if no one knows about them. When I hear stories like this, it takes me into another world. My heroes are those women and girls, people who are victims of wars all over the world, who have survived genocides and other crimes against humanity, throughout all of the human history. All these survivors have something in common. They all – Armenians, Jews, Rwandans, Congolese, Bosnians and Yazidis – have believed in one principle: they were chosen to survive by destiny, because they have a duty to fight for the rest of our human community. I think I have the same destiny, and I have responsibilities to fulfill.
Yazidis waiting to be evacuated. Sinjar Mountains, 2014
Can you tell us a little more about your friendship with Lamya Haji Bashar? Does she help you in your work?
I met Lamya when she was injured after escaping from ISIS in 2016. She couldn’t see. The first thing for me was to save her life – and her sight. I brought her to Germany for medical treatment. I never imagined that Lamya would be so strong and able to bring her story to the world. As I was lobbying the Yazidi issue in different places and political situations, she asked me if I wanted her to accompany me. She wanted to speak up about what had happened to her. She wanted the world to be aware of the tyranny of ISIS. I organized a special event at the European Parliament and took her there to present her story. She commanded respect from European politicians. After that I accompanied her to many events, conferences and political meetings. With the help of the Yazidi Friendship Group at the European Parliament we could nominate her along with Nadia Murad for the 2016 Sakharov Prize. And they won. We have a very close relationship – she is part of my family. She is like a daughter to me, and I manage her agenda alongside mine. Sometimes we are both invited to the same event, sometimes I go with her to translate and just to be next to her, and sometimes she comes with me, whenever it is necessary.
What’s next for you?
This is just the beginning. The genocide of the Yazidi continues, and we need to ensure justice. The fight for the rights of victims is a long-lasting and painful challenge. I promised to defend the rights of victims, minorities, justice, peace and coexistence. Victims and survivors of the genocide have a special place in my life. But such dreams cannot be realized without the help of the global humanitarian community. Initiatives like Aurora are critically important to raise awareness [of such issues]. Participating in the Aurora Forum will be a good opportunity to be linked with other human rights activists, humanitarians and NGOs. It will be a good chance to share experiences, evaluate and develop better ideas for the benefit of humanity and the humanitarian field.