US

Northern Iraq refugees create national cemetery in Nebraska

Refugees from northern Iraq have established a national cemetery in southeast Nebraska.

About 250 people gathered Saturday to celebrate the establishment of the new 20-acre Yazidi Cemetery, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

The land was bought for $150,500 in October by the United Yezidi Community of America, a Lincoln nonprofit aiming to unify the Yazidi community. The group uses a different spelling of the religion preferred by many Yazidi followers.

"This is an important event for us and all our people here," local Yazidi elder Taalo Khudhur said through an interpreter. "It's important to have land here where we can carry out our traditions in the United States."

Yazidi people are ethnically Kurdish and have long faced persecution for their religion, the most recent being the 2014 genocide by the Islamic State in northern Iraq. The first wave of refugees came to Nebraska in the 1980s during Saddam Hussein's violent relocation campaign. Another wave came following the Iraq War, where many Yazidi people were allowed entrance into the U.S. to work as local interpreters and translators for the military.

The nonprofit's website says Lincoln has the highest Yazidi population in the country. Co-founder Khalaf Hesso says the cemetery is for all Yazidis in the United States.

The group plans to eventually plant grass, extend the gravel drive leading to the cemetery, build a shrine and erect a funeral home for gatherings. The organization is seeking donations to help with the development since the land purchase and gravel drive have left it low on funds.

Nonprofit President Alias Aldakhi says the cemetery binds the community together and gives its roots in Nebraska.

"Given the current uproar about xenophobic fear of Islam in the U.S., theirs is a small-but-real American success story," said Stephen Lahey, a professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "Establishing cemeteries shows that American soil provides the opportunity for religious diversity to flourish, even in times like these."

___

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com