The soft-spoken Yazidi man shared a room with two friends, a Christian student from a small suburb outside of Erbil and a Muslim student from Diyala.
Today, his life is unrecognizable. Mr. Ahmed lives in a camp for displaced people in Dohuk, Iraq. Married, with a son and daughter, he shares a modest home with his younger brother, Amir, who is a medical student.
He remembers very clearly the moment everything changed. It was June, 2014. Terrible news had surfaced in Mosul. Daesh had killed four Yazidi farmers while they were working in the orchards.
“When this happened we knew immediately that this was a message to the rest of us,” Mr. Ahmed recalled. “Something bad was going to happen.”
His worst fears proved true. Daesh started kidnapping women and killing children, terrorizing the entire area.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we defend ourselves?’ The army had gone.” Mr. Ahmed recalled.
He and his friends travelled closer to Mosul, but any efforts to reach family and friends were futile. “We didn’t know what was happening; who had been left behind, who had made it to the mountain and who had been taken,” he said.
Nothing was certain. In one village, some people managed to escape. In another, all 480 people disappeared. Mr. Ahmed began the grim task of tracking everyone on a spreadsheet: Who was martyred, kidnapped and killed.
In Kurdistan, Mr. Ahmed and his family found some measure of relief. Then, six months after his home was overrun, Daesh retreated. Mr. Ahmed returned, but there was nothing left.
“As I entered my home, I went straight to my office, where I had about 700 books. I discovered Daesh had burned most of them. They had burned our pictures and ripped our clothes. It was a painful moment,” he said, eyes welling with tears.
At the camp where he now lives, Mr. Ahmed opened a school, where, for the past year, he has volunteered as a teacher.
Not long ago, one of his relatives living in Canada reached out to him and offered to help him immigrate. For a moment, Mr. Ahmed considered it but realized that he couldn’t leave his students behind.
“I realized that if I leave and the next teacher leaves and then the doctor leaves, who would stay to support our community?” he asked.
He has no regrets. His students recently achieved a 91 per cent pass rate.
The future is murky. However, his dreams for the future are not unlike his past: “I wish the day will come where there will be a neighbourhood where you can find Muslims, Christians and Yazidis living together,” he said.
He also has a message for his countrymen: “Every Iraqi has to make a contribution and sacrifice to feel part of the Yazidi issue… It’s an issue for all Iraqis.”