Politics & Government

Tacoma pastor witnesses impact of genocide in Iraqi Kurdistan

The pastor of Life Center church in Tacoma witnessed the impact of horror and brutality as he toured refugee settlements in Iraqi Kurdistan over the weekend.

Traveling with Canadian government officials, the Rev. Dean Curry said he was taken to numerous refugee camps during his Saturday-Monday visit and heard “stories of absolute torture and horror.”

“It’s genocide,” Curry said. “They’re wiping out these people.”

Curry, 46, said he talked with Christians in northern Iraq who fled to escape persecution by Islamic State militants.

“These are people that are having to make choices to die for their faith,” he said. “It’s just absolutely heartbreaking.

“They’re crying for help,” he said. “They’re saying ‘send help.’”

The pastor of the Assemblies of God church on Tacoma’s Union Avenue traveled to refugee areas along with three Canadian Parliament members and a Canadian human rights activist. They visited at the invitation of the Kurdistan government, and their delegation was protected by a dozen armed guards.

Life Center board member Gary Nordlund also traveled with the group.

Curry said he heard stories of ethnic cleansing — executions and other killings — of Yazidis and Christian minorities at the hands of Islamic State militants who seek to establish a caliphate across northern Syria and Iraq.

“This is a religious genocide,” he said. “There are no followers of Jesus left in Mosul. They pushed all of them out.”

Curry went to Iraqi Kurdistan to support persecuted Christians.

This wasn’t his first trip to an area ripped apart by violence. In 2010, he was part of a delegation that traveled war-torn Afghanistan to advocate for human rights.

“I’m used to seeing poverty,” Curry said, “but I’ve never seen genocide.”

He talked over the phone Tuesday from Calcutta, India, where he was visiting a hospital and schools supported by Life Center.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, his group traveled to within a few miles of a shooting involving the Islamic State, but he never saw members of the militant group.

He talked with Yazidis who had inundated Dohuk, an area under control of the Kurdish Regional Government.

Yazidis, who are members of an offshoot of Zoroastrianism, had fled to Mount Sinjar last month, spurring international relief efforts and helicopter evacuations.

Curry praised the Yazidis for persevering for their ancient beliefs under oppression. “It’s a level of sacrifice that’s just rare.”

Curry said humanitarian aid from the U.S. government, World Vision and other groups is making a difference in northern Iraq, but more help is needed.

Christians told him U.S. drone strikes against the Islamist State saved their lives and sent a message to the militants.

“`We’re remembered around the world,’” said Curry, summarizing the Christian reaction. “`You can’t wipe us out.’”