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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Refugees in the Mountains

Aired March 24, 2003 - 06:48   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And we've been talking about the human side of this war, as far as the refugees are concerned. Imagine, if you will, you're living in Northern Iraq, you're afraid of a chemical attack from Saddam Hussein and you've run up into the mountains and found that you may not survive there either because it's incredibly cold out there.
Jane Arraf is in the mountains of Northern Iraq, and she's been bringing us some incredible pictures and she brings us more now.

Jane, where are you?

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, we're in a village called Sha Idri (ph). And as we mentioned, and as you mentioned, hundreds of thousands of Kurds have fled into the mountains. Most of them are in schools and mosques and tents by the side of the road. But the location we're in now is perhaps unique. In fact, this may be a first. We are coming to you live from an ancient cave in a destroyed Yasiti (ph) village in this town. Now I'll tell you a little bit about the Yasitis, it's a religion, in just a moment.

But first, I want to show you the family that lives here. Now three families are living in this cave. One of the families belongs to Kareem Jilti (ph) and his wife, Nockmor (ph). That's astead (ph), Kareem, Island (ph). And they have 12 children.

Now the children range from Kertistan (ph), who is their firstborn, 18 years old, to the youngest, who is 4 years old. He's running around here somewhere. And in between, their child is Dick Cheney. Dick -- where is Dick?. Dick. That's Dick Cheney. And yes, he was named after the U.S. Defense Secretary.

Dick was born in 1991, and his father says he named him Dick Cheney because they admired the American. Now he was born in '91 during the liberation of Kuwait. And according to his father, if they are expecting another baby anytime soon, they will be naming him George Bush.

Now about the Yasitis. It's a very small religion and a fascinating one. They believe to be -- they believe themselves to be the original Kurds. And the religion itself is very small and almost disappearing. They've been mistakenly massacred over the years as devil worshipers, and still now it's a secret religion but coming out more into the open.

But traditionally they have fled into caves when they've felt unsafe. And these caves certainly have been here for hundreds of years in this village. This village, they say, was destroyed four times from the 1960s until the latest in 1986 when they say it was completely dynamited in the unfile (ph) campaign of Saddam Hussein. What they have left are these caves, and they say here is the only place that they are safe -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Jane, I'm just wondering if it's very cold in that cave, because I know outside it's just freezing?

ARRAF: Actually, Carol, it's absolutely toasty warm. There is a kerosene heater here that you can see and there are lights. This probably is one of the most comfortable places to be if you have to leave your home as a refugee.

But the poignant and sad thing is they've come here because they're afraid of chemical attack. Now obviously chemicals and gas, and these villages have been gassed in the past, does seep into the ground and this would be absolutely the worst place to be if the wind were blowing in the right direction and there were a gas attack. A very unlikely possibility, but at least here they have the comfort of thinking that they're safe -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, and no (ph) protection from them. Something else that struck me, you know besides their obvious -- well their love of American things, I noticed one little boy was wearing a Gap sweatshirt. Another little boy was wearing a sweatshirt with the picture of Snoopy on the front. This is amazing.

ARRAF: Absolutely. And to have -- and to name your child Dick Cheney is really an indication of what the American forces meant in 1991.

Now all of these people are telling us that they have had it -- they've had terrible times before '91. They say they've been persecuted by Iraqi Arabs, by the regime, and it wasn't until 1991 when Iraqi Kurdistan gained the autonomy that it has that they had that freedom, the freedom to come out and worship with their religion as misunderstood as it is. They say they feel much safer now, and they're waiting for the Americans again. They believe that the only thing that guarantees their freedom of worship in this very complex society are the American forces who perhaps will be able to...

COSTELLO: All right.

ARRAF: ... give them even more freedom now.

COSTELLO: All right, Jane Arraf, thank you for bringing...

ARRAF: Carol.

COSTELLO: ... those incredibly poignant pictures to us.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And...

COSTELLO: Sad and incredible at the same time.

COOPER: And our best to young Dick Cheney. COSTELLO: And the future George Bush.

COOPER: You've often heard about Dick Cheney being in an undisclosed location. That Dick Cheney is certainly (ph)...

COSTELLO: That's where he is.

COOPER: ... at one location.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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