During her high school graduation, Lava Barwari enjoyed a reunion 19 years in the making with the U.S. soldier who saved her as a baby in Iraq. During commencement ceremonies at Mill Creek High School in Hoschton, Georgia, Barwari was reunited with Lt. Col. Greg Pepin after she decided to track down her hero.
Back in the mid-90s, Awaz Barwari, Lava’s mother found herself on Saddam Hussein’s “kill list” because she was a Kurd, an ethnic minority who were being targeted at the time. Lava’s mother knew she had to flee the country, but when she arrived at the Iraq-Turkey border, she was told by Iraqi officers she could not bring her baby as she was on the “kill list” and her baby was not.
Awaz Barwari recounts:
He actually pointed to the window and said, ‘You can toss her to somebody who can deliver her to your family. I responded, ‘She’s not a sack of potatoes. I’m not giving her to anybody. That’s my baby. That’s the whole point why I’m leaving my country and my mom behind.’Advertisement
Greg Pepin a US soldier at the time, overheard the commotion and came to the rescue. He came over and asked Awaz her baby’s name. Greg responded, ‘That’s a beautiful name, but today, that’s not her name. Her name is Greg Pepin.’ Explaining if the baby has the same name, it’s got to be a relative and that means she can go.
Why were the Kurds targeted?
After The First World War, Kurdistan was wiped away, leaving the Kurds without a home. Since then, Kurds have lived in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria and a number of smaller Central Asian countries; it’s estimated there are up to 40 million Kurds around the world. The campaign for an independent Kurdish nation was gathering pace in Iraq and threatened the country’s unity. In retaliation Saddam Hussein targeted those part of the movement and politically active Kurds throughout the 80s and 90s.
Since The Second Gulf War and the demise of Hussein, the Kurdish movement gathered more momentum amidst the disorder. However, a new central government in 2014 has made efforts to the Kurds in an attempt to repair relations, with both sides united against the Islamic State group.
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