What we do

01Sep | The familiar face of Rana Behnam

Allen Kakony

I was in my classroom, setting up for the start of the new school year, which would begin the following week, when I took a quick break and checked my phone. After checking a couple of texts and a quick scroll through my Facebook feed, I saw her face. It looked familiar, so I scrolled back to take a closer look. I couldn’t quite place it but when I noticed it was a picture posted ADFA’s Nuri Kino, I read further and realized where I had seen this face before! The next thing I thought to do was send the picture to my friend and film producer, Jordan, with the comment “Is this the kidnapped woman whose family we interviewed in Erbil?!” And then, before he could even respond, I got a message from my trusted friend Sheelan, an activist in Erbil that took us to this woman’s family! Sheelan simply wrote, “Good and happy news…the kidnapped Christian woman [was] released today!” And it was confirmed, the woman I recognized was Ranna, the girl whose mother and brother we met and spoke to on the very first day that we arrived in Erbil for the journey that lead to the making of the documentary film “Our Last Stand.”

Of course we were all happy to hear the news, but more than that I felt complete and utter shock. After three years of barely any word of her whereabouts, she was actually released?! We all heard about girls like Ranna who were kidnapped and never heard from again. Because these stories are not new to our people whose scars are still healing from genocide of just a generation ago, our minds immediately jumped to the gruesome images that fought for a spot in our imagination about the daily horrors inflicted on these poor souls at the hands of their captors. And after three long years of captivity, many would argue that it was better to be dead than live at the mercy of those familiar animals. It was hard to imagine that these women would ever survive such an ordeal, let alone be released and make it back to their loved ones!!
My mind wandered back to that first day in Erbil. I pulled out my journal and flipped to July 5th, the day we met and interviewed several displaced families in Ankawa, Erbil. This was the day that Sheelan asked us if we’d like to speak with Ranna’s mother and brother. She told us that she had been working with this family to help find their 30 year old daughter who had been abducted on August 22, 2014. They were hiding in their home in the village of Qaraqosh after ISIS militants had invaded and given them the ultimatum to convert, flee, or die. Rana’s husband had refused to leave and instead, sent his wife Ranna with the rest of her family that decided to join the mass exodus out of the village. On their way out of Qaraqosh amidst the chaos of cars making their way to safety, their car was stopped by ISIS militants who proceeded to search the vehicle and strip them of their valuables. What happened next would change their lives forever. The militants rounded everyone up and then separated families into male and female groups. Despite their cries and pleas, several women, about twenty or so, were then dragged into a mini-van and driven away, not be heard from for the next three years. Not knowing what to do, the families froze. How could they just get back in their cars? Should they chase after the van? But the militants made all the decisions for them, forcing them back into their vehicles and back onto the road that lead them far away from the only place they ever called home. With just the clothes on their backs and whatever the militants had spared them, the rest of the family members had no other choice but to continue on the journey they had begun to find safety for whomever was left. Erbil would become their home for the next few years, but it was also the place where they would mourn the loss of their abducted family members.
As soon as I met her elderly mother, I was flooded with emotion. Beginning the interview was difficult because, honestly, I already knew the answers to the heart wrenching questions I was planning to ask. I found it difficult to evoke these memories of pain from her mother and didn’t want to ask this poor woman questions that would force her to relive that horrible night when she saw her daughter dragged away by those monsters. I started the interview anyway, stumbling over my words as I mixed phrases from Arabic, English and my western Assyrian dialect together. Her mother was sad, and sort of in a dark daze. At that point in time, it had been a year since the kidnapping, and the family was constantly speaking to people, trying to follow leads, and negotiate with various agents, all in a desperate attempt to get their daughter back. Her mother just kept asking Sheelan if she had any updates about her daughter’s whereabouts. I’d go on to ask another question, and her poor mother would circle around and ask Sheelan again, “Why did you come here? Did you find her yet?”
When we were preparing to film the family, Sheelan warned that we could only record their voices, not their faces. These were terms set by the family who were afraid to reveal their identity on camera. Her brother, who was reluctant to speak to us at first, finally felt comfortable enough to share some of the details of the event, and eventually everything about that fateful night was revealed as the cameras captured the retelling. He told us that after his sister was taken, he dialed her cell phone number and one of the ISIS captors answered. That militant told the family to talk to the government in Bagdad to trade one of their women in Bagdad in exchange for one of the Christian woman, then they said they wanted a ransom. But when they called back, no one answered. After some time, Ranna’s family was able to contact someone they knew that was still in Mosul, the place where they thought Ranna and the other women had been taken. That contact said he’d make some inquiries on their behalf for an $800 fee, and so it went, from one fake lead to another, until the family spent thousands of dollars in ransom and fees, all to no avail.
When we said goodbye to that family, I really did not feel hopeful. After everything they had described, it was hard to imagine that their daughter was even still alive.
Jordan and I traveled on to meet and record many more similar stories in more parts of Iraq, and then in Syria. Once we were back home in the states, the task of transcribing all the footage began, consequently causing me to relive the experiences through the view of my camera lens. Experiencing the journey the second time around was even more touching because here, at home, I had more time to process all the things I had just seen and heard. I had more time to reflect on each and every single story and courageous person that I met. And as you can imagine, once I started reflecting, once I allowed everything to really sink in, the reality hit me hard and the tears that I fought to hold back throughout my trip could no longer be withheld.

Jordan's pic of her

I selfishly stopped asking Sheelan for regular updates on the situation in Iraq and about the people we met because I never got the answers I wanted to hear. There were little spurts of progress here and there that ultimately left me feeling deceived. First, the news of the liberation of our villages in the Nineveh Plain earlier this year, which was temporarily uplifting and boosted moral but the gloom resurfaced when we saw pictures of the destruction and devastation that ISIS left behind. And today, the news of Ranna’s release and miraculous return to her village provides another glimmer of hope. I watched the clips of her village people welcoming her home with music and dancing in the streets. But what will happen tomorrow when people ask her about the last three years of her life? How will she cope with the trauma of this unimaginable experience?

We try to remain hopeful as we encourage and support these courageous families that are slowly beginning to return to their villages and resume their “normal” lives, but deep down, the overwhelming burden of rebuilding atop piles of rubble and painful memories that have consumed our homeland looms like a dark cloud over all of us.

Helma Adde
Representative USA
A Demand For Action

Photo: Allen Kakony, Iraq

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21Sep | Raising Awareness through Film

Our Last Stand

 

Our Last Stand, the documentary film that was produced by filmmakerJordan Allott and ADFA’s Helma Adde has gained attention and good reviews from several media outlets. Yesterday Allott and Adde were interviewed by PBS’s The Mimi Geerges Show.

What’s happening in Iraq and Syria? The faith of the minorities? Genocide?

Many good questions were asked by the host Geerges’. This interview is not “just” about film, it is about current affairs, about a people that is about to get chased out of their homeland because of their faith and ethnicity.

Allott and Adde are traveling the world to raise awareness about he ongoing genocide against Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs and other indigenous people.

 

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Silence After The Storm

 

The film is a fascinating documentary about the existential threat to the Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs in the Middle East by ISIS.

This is thrilling news since it is the first Assyrian film to ever get on Amazon Prime, which is one of the world’s most competitive online video-streaming platform.

The film follows the Los Angeles-based filmmaker Sargon Saadi on his journey back to his homeland, Syria, exploring the impact of the genocide through the eyes of extraordinary characters. It features a local artist from Syria Fadi Khiyo, an Assyrian activist from Iraq Savina Dawood, and a socio-cultural historian Nicholas Al-Jeloo. The film was shot in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria.

Watch now: goo.gl/WmkTAK
The film is proudly co-sponsored by ADFA and directed by the award-winning filmmaker Sargon Saadi.

Silence After The Storm won “Best Director” award at the Fine Arts Film Festival in Venice CA and was nominated for “Best Short Documentary” at the International Film Fest in Madrid, Spain.

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Inshallah – Blood of the Martyrs

 

“Insha Allah. Blood of the Martyrs” is a portrait of the Islamic State seen through the eyes of its victims and those who fight against it. We can see the Islamic State’s cruelty through the eyes of people living in Mosul, Nineveh Valley and Raqqa, which is now the informal capital city of ISIS. Sources of significant information are generals of Peshmerga and the Free Syrian Army, along with journalists and analysts specialized on the subject of the Middle East and terrorism, such as Nuri Kino, a Swedish journalist coming from Asyria, or Michael Weiss, an American journalist, the co-author of the bestselling book: “ISIS – Inside the Army of Terror”.

“During nearly six months of production, the filmmakers crossed Iraqi Kurdistan and the Syria-Turkey border to get to the Christians of Iraq, Kurds, Yazidis, Peshmerga soldiers, the YPG and the Free Syrian Army, trying to describe the structure and the phenomenon of the Islamic State and ask the question about the aim of its existence. This documentary feature film is not only trying to describe how ISIS functions but is also shedding light on the history of its development, starting all the way from Al Zarqawi and the Iraqi Al-Qaida, the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and dissolving Saddam Hussein’s army, many members of which joined ISIS later on and used the chaos of the Syrian civil war to create the most dangerous terrorist organization on earth.”

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Faithkeepers

 

 

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21Sep | Have helped to locate several refugees

We have helped to locate several refugees and assisted them in escaping countries such as Zimbabwe.

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20Sep | House Genocide Resolution

House Genocide Resolution Passed House. This resolution recognizes the current plight of Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians as Genocide.

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20Sep | Senate Genocide Resolution

Senate Genocide Resolution Passed Senate. This resolution recognizes the current plight of Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians as Genocide.

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20Sep | H.Res.440- Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Support/Simele Recognition Resolution

H.Res.440- Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Support/Simele Recognition Resolution Introduced, referred to HFAC. This resolutions affirms Congressional support for Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac and Armenian Christians in Iraq and Syria, and additionally recognizes the Simele Massacre of 1933 for the first time in Congressional history.

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20Sep | European Parliament Genocide Resolution

This resolution recognizes the ongoing plight of Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians as Genocide.

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20Sep | Direct Aid Appropriations Report

Direct Aid Appropriations Report Passed House Committee.  This report language seeks to codify the need to support indigenous aid organizations directly, such as those in the Nineveh Plains, in future appropriations.

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20Sep | Homepage for Little Angel

Together with Gunilla von Platen, a well known entrepreneur in Sweden, raised funds to help support the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch in building an orphanage in Syria.

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Suroyo TV:s program about the gala for the orpanage:

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20Sep | Our sister organisation in Germany

Our sister organisation in Germany, Save Our Souls, ADFA helped open a new health clinic in Lebanon for Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

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20Sep | Little Smiles

Little Smiles, putting smiles on IDP and refugee children faces with gifts, plays, and parties for displaced children.

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https://meritwager.se/2015/12/24/be-my-guest-116-christmas-eve-nuri-kino/

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20Sep | ADFA traveled to Greece

. ADFA traveled to Greece to assist families who have lost loved ones on boats between Syria and Greece identify their remains. This is possible through a DNA bank in Athens which maintains a database of all the deceased refugees who turn up on the shores of Greece and cross references them with DNA samples of presumed relatives.

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20Sep | We have helped asylum seekers

We have helped asylum seekers who are persecuted in shelters in Sweden and Germany to secure safer housing and have made their voice heard both in Europe and around the world

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20Sep | ADFA Initiatives and Priorities

FY15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amended to include support for local security forces in the Nineveh Plains:  Passed and signed into law.  This amendment served to include minorities in the budget made available for counter-ISIL operations.

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19Sep | Khabor Repatriation Language

Khabor Repatriation Language Passed House Committee. This report language seeks to codify Congressional support for the people of Khabor and affirm US commitment to helping the displaced return home.

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19Sep | DEMINING APPROPRIATIONS FOR SYRIA AND IRAQ DIRECTING SUPPORT TO LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

Demining appropriations for Syria and Iraq directing support to local organizations Passed Senate Committee. This amendment seeks to appropriate funds for demining in Iraq and Syria, while specifying that support for those purposes be channeled through local organizations on the ground.

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