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Sarah Jane Weaver
Mayor Murad Wartanian looks over the village of Howesk, located just outside of Duhok in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. LDS Charities is helping internally displaced people finding refuge in the village.

HOWESK, IRAQ

Kohar Mardiros was going blind.

She needed surgery to save the sight in one eye; she was combating an infection in the other.

But her village, located just outside of Duhok in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, had limited medical resources.

“I was afraid I would lose my sight,” she recounted.

Her family and community pooled money — and found outside resources to assist them. She received the laser surgery that would save her vision.

Mayor Murad Wartanian says in Howesk residents take care of each other — and others in need.

That’s why when the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq targeted many living in the region last August, they literally opened their homes to some of the thousands of internally displaced people in need.

Howesk is home to 115 families, most Armenian Catholic, in Northern Iraq. In August, another 82 families — some Catholic, some Yezidi — moved into the community. Many were able to find space in the homes of local families, others moved in to the school or community center.

War and internal tensions and divisions continue to polarize Iraq where more than 1 million people have fled their homes. LDS Charities — the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — is partnering with the local government and other organizations to help those impacted by the crisis.

In addition to assisting with medical needs — including the surgical instruments and equipment at the Duhok Eye Hospital — LDS Charities has provided food, milk, clothing, bedding, sanitary products and blankets to those in Howesk.

The internally displaced people “were forced to leave everything behind,” said Mayor Wartanian. “We received them as our brothers and sisters. We share our bread with them.”

Mayor Wartanian said each family who took refuge in the village had a unique story to tell. Most lost all their money, cellphones and even their wedding rings.

But they could not turn those in need away. “History records everything,” he said. “We would love that our names would be mentioned in the history in a good way.”

Most in the village had also once been refugees. Howesk was built in 1928. For decades, residents made a living in agriculture. However, the village was destroyed during Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq — leaving many homeless. About a decade ago it was rebuilt.

Mayor Wartanian said his grandparents — and the grandparents of many others in the village — built the community and would want them to look after modern refugees.

Cold weather has made helping the internally displaced people even more important. “Our winter is very cold, a very perishing weather. Sometimes it snows here in the village,” he said.

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He is very appreciative of the support from LDS Charities.

“There is an old saying that says, ‘One hand does not clap alone.’ So a human needs his human brother. He needs him in everything. … He needs him for guidance.”

When organizations from far away countries — like LDS Charities — offer help, it “cuts the distance” between foreign lands, he said. “You feel like you are not alone, you have your human brother who is sharing your pain, sharing with you your circumstances and is serving you.”

sarah@deseretnews.com @SJW_ChurchNews

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