Mirza Dinnayi, an Iraqi doctor and activist, was recently awarded the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity and one million dollars in prize money for saving the lives of 1,000 Yazidi women and children.
Yazidi refers to the indiginous populations of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Beginning in August of 2014, the Yazidi people became the targets of radical extremist Muslim groups such as ISIS, who aim to wipe out any non-Islamic influences from Iraq and the middle east. This has catastrophic consequences for Yazidi women and girls in Iraq, who are constantly under threat of being kidnapped, raped, and murdered by the terrorist group. Around 7,000 Iraqi-Yazidi women have been captured by ISIS.
One Yazidi woman who escaped ISIS recounts her trauma, stating, “There were 20 of them, with long beards and weapons. They hit us and dragged us to their cars.” The captured women were taken to a wedding hall and sold to radical Islamic fighters. The woman was terrified–ISIS fighters raped and killed any disobedient victims. “They were shooting to scare us. They took whomever they wanted, by force. We were crying the whole time. We wanted to kill ourselves but we couldn’t find a way.”
Dinnayi has dedicated his life to helping these women. He founded the humanitarian organization Air Bridge Iraq, which evacuates women and children in ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq, leading them to safety. Dinnayi also leads initiatives to get survivors of sex slavery back on their feet, offering them medical assistance and other necessary resources to rehabilite post-trauma.
Tom Catena, the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Chair presented Dinnayi with the award, stating that, “What makes Mirza Dinnayi an outstanding human being is the fact he couldn’t live in good conscience knowing that good people are left behind, that the innocent are suffering. Trying to help others while facing an unspeakable evil can be challenging and frustrating, but he never wavered.”
The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity was founded in 2015 in honor of the victims of the Armenian Genocide. The initiative, “seeks to empower modern-day saviors to offer life and hope to those in urgent need of basic humanitarian aid anywhere in the world and thus continue the cycle of giving internationally,” by gifting funding to individuals involved in global-humanitarian work. Dinnayi donated his prize to Air Bridge Iraq and two other non-profit organizations that support vulnerable Yazidi communities.