About an hour before sunrise on August 3, 2014, Vian Dakhil, one of two parliament members representing Iraq’s Yazidi minority, was awoken by her ringing cellphone. The man on the line was frantic. Militants with the Islamic State had overrun his town near Sinjar, and everyone was fleeing. Yazidis, who practice a pre-Islamic religion, are considered nonbelievers by ISIS and therefore worthy of kidnapping, enslavement, and execution. “It was unbelievable,” Dakhil says. “I asked them for details. ‘How are you fleeing? Where are you going?’ Every minute I was hearing about another tragic story.”
Two days later, Dakhil addressed the Iraqi parliament, pleading for help. The speech was unrehearsed and visceral. “An entire religion is being wiped off the face of the earth!” Dakhil screamed before collapsing in tears.
The speech went viral on YouTube and transformed Dakhil from a parliamentarian into a crusader, informing Iraqis of the massacre and alerting many more to the very existence of Yazidis. Her words eventually reached President Barack Obama, who referred to them in his decision to authorize U.S. military air strikes. Dakhil began traveling the world, appealing for support. A helicopter she was riding in crashed on August 12, on its way to deliver aid to Sinjar, and she still walks with a limp. This has become her life.