Freed from ISIS, Yazidi Women Remain Trapped by Trauma

Some of those working with Yazidi former slaves say they have never before seen such severe psychological trauma. As part of our “Women and Jihad” series, experts tell us there are not enough resources to provide long-term care to all of the survivors, who could take a lifetime to recover.

by Alexandra Bradford, News Deeply, March 14, 2017

Clothing that had been worn by a Yazidi girl who was enslaved by ISIS militants. Healthcare professionals who speak with former captives of the jihadist group say the trauma those women and girls suffer is “on a different level” from other trauma cases. AP/Maya Alleruzzo

Last January, Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, arrived at the Dohuk camp for displaced people near the Kurdish region of

Iraq. Wheeler was there to interview Yazidi women and girls who had been kidnapped from their homes in Sinjar and held as sex slaves by the terror group known as the Islamic State (ISIS).

Wheeler, who interviewed 22 Yazidi women and girls, has spent her career documenting war crimes against women. Yet she says the accounts of sexual violence she heard from the Yazidi survivors continue to haunt her.

“It is some of the most distressing work I have ever done, and my colleagues who have also interviewed the survivors say that same thing,” she says.

Wheeler says the abuse inflicted on Yazidi women and girls “is on a different level” from other cases she has documented. The women she met had been kidnapped and sold in slave markets to ISIS soldiers who then raped them, often multiple times a day. In some cases, the women would be resold to another fighter who would continue the sexual abuse. Wheeler spoke with four women who were sold at least four times before they managed to escape.

“It’s just horrible, [ISIS] treat people like animals,” she says. “All the women we spoke to were exhibiting some type of symptoms from the trauma they suffered.”

Those symptoms include severe depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, suicidal thoughts, insomnia and, when they finally do sleep, nightmares in which they relive their sexual abuse.

In February 2015, the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg offered to help by agreeing to take in 1,100 refugees, including hundreds of the most traumatized Yazidi

women and girls. The program, which runs for three years and will cost the German government a total of $107 million, provides Yazidi survivors with specialized

psychological care and German residency for two years.

But the program is now at full capacity, which means hundreds of Yazidi women and girls who didn’t make it into the program and those who have only recently escaped

from ISIS remain in the internally displaced peoples (IDP) camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, where treatment for mental health is severely lacking.

We have seen many women who feel that they can’t live with the aftermath of what happened to them, they think the only way to escape is through killing themselves.

Psychotherapist Salah Ahmad has been working with trauma victims in Iraq since 2005, when he established the Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights to provide mental health care to Iraqis who were tortured by the Ba’athist party. Ahmad has spent much of the last two years traveling between IDP camps in Dohuk Kurdistan to help treat Yazidi women and girls.

Ahmad says they display some of the worst cases of post-traumatic stress disorder he has ever seen. “To be sold, to be enslaved, to be raped many times … they can’t accept all this violence,” he says.

Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon.

“We have seen many women who feel that they can’t live with the aftermath of what happened to them; they think the only way to escape is through killing themselves,” says Ahmad.

In November 2015, Ahmad established the Jiyan Clinic, a psychosomatic trauma clinic solely for Yazidi women and children in Iraqi Kurdistan. He found many trauma survivors were hesitant to recount their abuse to other men, especially Muslim men, so he employs an all-female staff.

The patients spend at least three months living in the clinic, where they undergo daily treatment, which includes individual and group therapy, and EMDR – or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy – a technique designed to alter the way the brain stores and recollects traumatic memories. The women can also take part in therapeutic activities like yoga and gardening.

Since its opening, the clinic has treated 80 female Yazidi survivors of ISIS, but Ahmad says he doesn’t have the resources to provide treatment for all the Yazidi women who need help.

Ali Muthanna, regional director in Iraq for the AMAR Foundation, is also struggling to provide support to all the women who need it. He spends the majority of his time at Khanke Camp, an IDP camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he treats the 18,500 Yazidis who have been living there since the ISIS attack in 2014 forced an estimated

half a million Yazidis to flee their homes. Among Muthanna’s patients are also around 500 Yazidi women who escaped ISIS.

Lamiya Aji Bashar, an 18-year-old Yazidi girl who escaped her ISIS captors, talks to the press in northern Iraq in May 2016. Healthcare experts and human rights advocates say there are not nearly enough resources to help all the Yazidi women and girls who have been enslaved, tortured and raped by ISIS fighters. (AP/Balint Szlanko)

Through its Escaping Darkness project, AMAR is working to establish a network of 10 mental health facilities to treat the post-traumatic stress disorder Yazidi women grapple with. The foundation is also working with psychiatrists to train local GPs in psychological care, showing them how to spot and manage psychiatric issues.

But AMAR faces huge challenges, not least the fact that Iraq’s medical infrastructure has been decimated by years of conflict.

“There is a severe shortage of financial resources, the drop in oil prices has created a situation where the government is unable to provide medical requirements to cover the needs of IDPs,” Muthanna says.

And the longer women go without medication and treatment, the worse their condition can become.

“Those suffering from psychological disorders need long-term treatment,” Muthanna says, adding that drugs for treating symptoms of stress, depression and trauma need to be taken continuously to work.

“The magnitude of the problem is beyond the capacity of the U.N. agencies and Iraqi and Kurdistan governments to respond to.”

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Yazidi Women: Healing the Invisible Wounds
by Dilshad Jaff, Global Health: Science and Practice, March 2018

Global health cannot be improved without addressing the plight of the survivors and victims of brutal armed conflicts, especially minorities and marginalized people.

While serving in hospitals and health facilities as a physician during the U.S. war in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, I witnessed firsthand the suffering of many

vulnerable people and came face-to-face with the terrible acts of barbarity that we humans perpetrate against each other. I also discovered that every survivor has a

unique and horrifying story to tell.

Among the greatest atrocities in the Middle East today are those committed against the Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking religious and ethnic minority descended from the

ancient peoples of Mesopotamia. The Yazidis, who number approximately 700,000, observe an ancient religion with elements of Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and Islam.

Accused of being “devil worshipers,” the Yazidis have been persecuted for centuries. In 2014, ISIS massacred approximately 2,400 Yazidis; more than 600 were children

and elderly adults. ISIS fighters also enslaved, tortured, and raped tens of thousands of women and children. During military operations, more than 3,000 people,

mostly women and girls, were rescued. Some were released after paying ransom to ISIS fighters; some managed to escape their captors.

At present, more than 200,000 Yazidis have been displaced, and thousands of women and girls are still missing. Yazidi women have suffered the greatest physical and

psychological consequences from the attacks by ISIS. Suicide, poverty, separation, and stigma shadow the lives of the survivors who live in pain and isolation. Their

unseen psychological scars and poor physical health often inhibit their ability to reconnect with their families and Kurdish and Yazidi communities. While there are

no accurate figures, it is estimated that there are very high rates of suicide, burning/self-immolation, and attempted suicide among the Yazidi survivors.

The condition in which Yazidi women find themselves is a major public health crisis that challenges the capabilities and resources of local authorities and the

international community. To date, programs and interventions that could help these women are limited in scope and employ passive approaches that are short-term and

small scale and that do not include local inputs. The volatile situation in Iraq and throughout the Middle East requires an ambitious vision; a clear and adaptable

road map; and practical, tailored programs that allow survivors of atrocities to recover in safe and secure societies.

Without policies to promote inclusion, members of the Yazidi community and others will continue to feel isolated and in despair. Implementing effective policies and

strategies calls for recognizing the devastating, long-term effects of the atrocities on the survivors and their communities, and it requires international

organizations and civil society to implement effective resiliency policies and programs to provide care to these neglected survivors.

At present, there is no agency or program in place to address the needs of the Yazidi women. Agencies with the expertise and capacity to address these conditions

should coordinate their efforts with others to introduce measures using community-based and participatory approaches.

To address the crisis, at least 3 steps must be taken.

First, survivors should be guaranteed personal safety and security.

Second, effective counseling is needed to allow the survivors to tell their stories—a measure that will help them realize that they are not alone.

Third, support should be offered to empower each woman to see herself as worthy of respect and valued by her family and community. Each woman needs some

psychosocial and material assistance, i.e., safe and secure housing, job skills, and employment.

Effective, coordinated support should be provided to the survivors to ensure that the Yazidi community has a stable and secure future. Global health cannot be

advanced without addressing the plight of the victims and survivors of these brutal armed conflicts. Practitioners of global health must address this crisis along

with other humanitarian challenges.

http://www.ghspjournal.org/content/6/1/223

Yazidi women suffer from complex post-traumatic stress disorder
Although ISIS no longer poses a threat to them, they still feel less safe, and their current living conditions may exacerbate their symptoms.
By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, The Jerusalem Post, January 31, 2018

Tal Afar

A displaced woman from the minority Yazidi sect, who was kidnapped by Islamic State militants of Tal Afar but managed to flee, reacts in Duhok province, northern Iraq, November 24, 2016. . (photo credit: ARI JALAL / REUTERS)

A high proportion of female Yazidis who were former ISIS captives suffer from complex post-traumatic-stress disorder, according to a comprehensive study led by Bar-Ilan University researchers just published in World Psychiatry.

With that in mind, the Bar-Ilan University team is planning to set up a training program for Kurdish mental-health workers.

The women, all in their 20s, were surveyed over a two-month period in four refugee camps.

“This main finding of over 50% C-PTSD prevalence cannot be emphasized enough, as PTSD and C-PTSD require different therapeutic interventions,” noted Dr. Yaakov Hoffman of Bar-Ilan’s interdisciplinary department of social sciences, who led the study.

Following severe trauma, people may develop PTSD, but recently, specific diagnostic criteria were suggested for another psychiatric disorder following trauma, C-PTSD. While “ordinary” PTSD typically occurs following a single traumatic event, C-PTSD is typically associated with prolonged trauma where one’s destiny is under another’s control, and escape – from captivity, for example – is unfeasible. As opposed to PTSD, which can be triggered by trauma reminders, C-PTSD is conceived to be a more deeply rooted disorder that affects the very core of one’s self-organization.

As Islamic State stormed Iraq and attempted to conquer the country in 2014, its members committed genocide against the Yazidi population, a Kurdish religious minority. Men were systematically executed. Women were captured, forced into sexual slavery and repeatedly raped, beaten, sold and locked away.

Another important finding of the research is the greater sensitivity of victims with C-PTSD, compared to post-ISIS conditions. Although ISIS no longer poses a threat to them, they still feel less safe, and their current living conditions may exacerbate their symptoms.

Hoffman therefore emphasizes that “NGOs working with such victims need to be particularly sensitive not only to the unique Yazidi culture, but also to the creation of an environment that is perceived by the former captives as protective, both on objective and subjective levels.”

This study required extensive cooperation among three countries (Israel, Germany and Kurdistan) by a multidisciplinary group from psychology, psychiatry, life sciences, brain science, Arabic and communications departments.

https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Yazidi-women-suffer-from-complex-...

Yazidi girl, 11, so traumatized by ISIS enslavement that she won’t speak or eat
WITW Staff, Women In The World, 09.27.17

Farah, an 11-year-old girl who was recently freed from ISIS captivity. (YouTube/NBC News)

A year after the German state of Baden Wuerttemberg opened its doors to 1,100 women and children, mostly Yazidi, who had once been ISIS captives, many former sex-slaves are reportedly making progress in recovering from the horror and trauma of their experience thanks to an ambitious program aimed at helping them heal and start their lives anew. Even now, new refugees, freed from the clutches of the terror group, are arriving there. One girl, 11-year-old Farah, arrived after having just been freed from ISIS. She was so traumatized, she won’t speak or eat. But the outlook may be positive for Farah, based on the progress made by some of the women who have been in the program for a while now.

NBC News spoke with Aveen, a member of the German program and one of an estimated 6,800 Yazidis who were kidnapped by ISIS in 2014.

“There was nothing they didn’t do to me,” Aveen said, explaining that she had been beaten, forced to consume drugs, and repeatedly raped. Aveen added that six members of her family are still missing, including two sisters, whom she fears remain in ISIS hands.

After Aveen escaped ISIS — in large part thanks to help from her captor’s wife — she reunited with her mother and two of her siblings in a refugee camp in northern Iraq. In the camp, she began suffering from panic attacks, nightmares, and bouts of crying. Due to her culture’s strict conservative values that demand women to maintain sexual purity, and lacking access to psychological care, she found herself unable to talk about her experience at all — not even with her own family. But then Germany offered her a two-year special visa to attend the program in Baden Wuerttemberg, and she says that her time there is beginning to help — at least a bit.

“I used to think I was the only one was that suffering from such a horrific experience,” said Aveen. “I thought I was the worst case, but being here with the other girls has made me realize, I’m not the only one who suffered.”

Ivana Waleed, 21, a Yazidi woman who was held captive by ISIS (YouTube / NBC News)

Another former ISIS captive, Ivana Waleed, has also made considerable progress and is seeking justice against her captors. Waleed, 21, told NBC News she saw one of her captors appear in a video online, and said that he was trying to blend in with innocent civilians near Mosul. “I’m ready to testifying against him anywhere,” she said, adding that the man sold her and many other women and children.

Dr. Jan Kizilhan, a psychologist and trauma specialist who has interviewed more than 1,400 of the women and children who escaped ISIS, also spoke with NBC News about the difficulties of treating people whose family remain in the hands of their former captors, as well as the horrific case of an 8-year-old girl who he said had been raped “hundreds of times.”

https://womenintheworld.com/2017/09/27/yazidi-girl-11-so-traumatize...

Rape: A Weapon of War With Long-Term Consequences
Sexual violence continues to be used on all sides of the Syrian conflict, but in a society that forces victims to suffer in silence, documenting instances of rape is nearly impossible and the consequences for survivors are devastating.
by Sama Masoud, Luna Safwan, Sep. 7, 2017

Syrian refugee women talk to Jihanne Latrous, a gender-based violence (GBV) counsellor from UNICEF, in an unfinished apartment block in northern Lebanon. Many of the women here have already been subject to GBV during the conflict in Syria and are traumatized and afraid of being identified. Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Rahaf feared going home. Her clothes had been torn, making visible the painful red welts that would turn into eggplant-colored bruises. On her arms and legs, her family and fiance would be able to see the round burn marks where they put out cigarettes on her skin.

When the 19-year-old left her home in the Damascus suburbs earlier that day, she was on her way to school to take her final exam of senior year. That’s when a group of men Rahaf says were affiliated with pro-Syrian regime militias attacked her. Her wedding was to be in just a few days.

“A car filled with thugs working for the Syrian regime pulled over. They dragged me into their car, hit me and stubbed out their cigarette butts on my skin,” she told Syria Deeply, using a pseudonym because she feared her community’s reaction. “They took me to the Mazzeh military airport where they raped me, and they left me on the street.”

Syrian society does not offer a safe setting for these stories to become public, but rather normalizes rape and often blames the victim through a culture built on honor and shame. Survivors are often marginalized or encouraged to hide and reshape their past. This makes it all the more dangerous to speak out about abuses, and the result is twofold: sexual violence has become a devastatingly common and effective tactic of repression and fear in Syria, and documenting incidents has become extremely challenging.

“There are no accurate statistics on the number of women who have been victims of war, especially those who have been raped,” said Dr. Sabah Halaq, a researcher of women’s issues in Syria. “But I have dealt with and still deal with cases from Darya in Rif Dimashq, and Hawla, and Karm al-Zaitoun in Homs,” she added.

For many women like Rahaf, the impact of sexual assault lives on long after the crime was committed and permeates nearly every facet of a woman’s life. But between the stigma attached to victims and the taboo of discussing the crime, Syrian women who have been sexually assaulted must suffer in silence.

“Whether women were jailed and assaulted or raped … being put in such situations means the end of ‘normal life’ ever after.”

“Whether women were jailed and assaulted or raped for political reasons such as their activities and their involvement in the revolution, whether they were detained to denounce family members and friends, whether they were jailed for different reasons, being put in such situations means the end of ‘normal life’ ever after,” said Aya Mehanna, a psychotherapist who has worked with many Syrians in neighboring countries over the past few years.

When Rahaf’s fiance saw her, he stormed out, enraged, without telling her where he was going. “That night I heard an explosion. The next morning, I learned that my fiance had blown up the security police’s car,’ she said.
A Weapon With Widespread Consequences

For many parties fighting in Syria, rape has become an additional weapon used to achieve their military or political goals.

“For all of the women I have worked with, a before and after exists and is undeniably what shapes their new identity,” Mehanna said. “Some of them have been accepted by their family but feel there is always a stigma on them, a sense of shame in the eyes of their close ones.”

Some victims are not accepted by their families, particularly women from conservative or traditional backgrounds. Some view it as a loss of her honor, something that can follow her for the rest of her life.

After she was raped, Rahaf never finished school. She moved to Lebanon, and her fiance left for opposition-controlled Idlib. Though he refuses to break off their engagement, he also has not agreed to set a new date for their wedding.

“The trauma of the rape is present, heavy and is lived in a very lonely way. It is difficult to talk about. It is difficult to accept it, and the victimization that society used as a means to make it feel less harsh is in itself difficult to bear,” Mehanna said.

Not only does it destroy people, but it also inflames tensions between communities, according to independent journalist Marie Forestier, who collected testimonies from survivors of rape, former detainees in government prisons, doctors, lawyers and regime defectors in her report, “Rape as a Tactic of the Assad Regime.”

The most documented instances of rape during the conflict in Syria have been those committed by pro-regime forces, though they are not the only perpetrators. Like barrel bombs, chemical weapons and mass executions, rape has been used to quell the opposition. One of the most vivid examples took place in 2012, during the al-Houla massacre in Homs, when stories emerged of the Syrian army raping women as they invaded houses to arrest men.

Most occurred during offensives in opposition strongholds or during interrogations in prisons and at checkpoints, where “raping detainees was a way of terrorizing them and punishing them,” Forestier said.

In some detention centers, according to her report, guards even distributed contraceptive pills to detainees. “Contraceptive pills are not something that you expect to be necessary or available in detention,” she said. “These are elements that indicate that rapes from pro-regime forces have been systematic in Syria.”

All the survivors Forestier talked to were either activists, relatives of activists, opposition fighters or residents of opposition areas. As a result, according to Forestier, women who had links with the opposition – or who were suspected to be linked to them – were intended targets.

Pressure to abuse detainees was one of the reasons Ahmed defected from the army in 2012. “When I decided to leave the Syrian army, I had one thought in mind: I will never be that person, that evil officer who will beat and rape any human, guilty or not,” he told Syria Deeply.

But many other regime officers did not share the same view, particularly when they were losing.

“The issue is never a mere feminine submission to male chauvinism; the more men are oppressed, the more they practice oppression on women,” Dr. Ahmad al-Shikhani wrote in “Survived Women in the Syrian Society,” a research booklet based on testimonies of women who were raped and abused in the Syrian regime’s prisons.

Just before pro-regime forces left the northwestern city of Idlib in February 2013, ceding control to the opposition, the Syrian army arrested 31-year-old Iman, because of accusations that her brothers joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA). She had just graduated from the institute of computer science in Idlib when she was detained for nearly five months, moved between the Political Security branch in Idlib, the military police and a civil women’s prison, she told Syria Deeply.

“It was hell by all means. I was left lying on the floor in a hallway, right next to the bathroom,” she added. “I can still remember the smell, and the sounds of tortured prisoners … it was in that hallway that I was raped several times.”

Iman suffered from a physical disability, and had endured many surgeries. Using this, she tried to talk her way out of prison many times. “I would sometimes scream and beg them to stop beating me on my legs, but they did that on purpose.”

Torture and abuse is rampant in regime-run prisons for detainees of both genders. But for women who are raped while detained, the nightmare does not end when they are released.

“While male detainees are hailed as heroes when released, female detainees are forced to suffer yet another dilemma,” Shikhani said.

Iman is one of the few who continued activism work after her release from jail. She found a job at a local NGO supporting social issues, specifically women in times of war and distress.

But testimonies in Forestier’s report show that many survivors left the country. This has been part of a successful strategy of the regime: scores of activists who were detained left Syria after their release. Many women who fled Syria cited fear of rape as their primary reason. It emptied the country of the people active in the early stage of the revolution.

Some have also tried to end their lives. Others decide to move on either by using a new identity, changing countries and engaging in human rights activism or in domains unrelated to politics.
Sexual Violence on All Sides of the Front

Zainab Bengura, U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, speaks during an interview with AFP at U.N. headquarters in New York, June 8, 2015. ISIS is offering teenage girls as “virgin wives” to foreign fighters, Bengura said. She is working on a plan to address the horrific sexual violence being waged by ISIS fighters.

Documenting cases of rape in opposition-controlled territory is nearly impossible, though there have been unverified reports over the last six years. In a June 2013 OHCHR report, interviewees described women being “segregated during house searches in Aleppo city, in joint operations by anti-government armed groups, with an implication of possible sexual violence.” Another interviewee in the same report said she had been sexually assaulted in Yarmouk in April 2013.

Noura Jizawi, a former detainee and human rights activist working on the Start point project, publisher of the “Alma” report, explains how no one was able to verify and confirm rapes on the opposition’s side: “It was almost impossible to track down. We heard stories about some violations practiced by Al-Islam army and a few others, but nothing is verified.”

Asaad Hanna, a former FSA political officer, said it is difficult to document or identify rapes in opposition or al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) areas, partially because such acts would contribute to them losing respect and support from the local population.

“HTS members are occupying their own areas where they were either born or raised. It’s their own society and entourage, they are very familiar with it and with the people’s values. Basically, they are controlling areas in which their families and friends live,” Hanna said.

Hanna said that since both ISIS and the Syrian regime announced control of territory and gained popular support, they practiced their own strategies of war, including rape. “HTS was still gathering support and did not announce its ’empire’ yet. This is an important difference between HTS and ISIS. HTS is interested in civilians’ support, and committing rape will not serve what they are trying to advertise.”

However, according to Samira, a media activist residing in northern Syria, the values shared by many groups in control of opposition areas blur the line of what constitutes sexual violence. Prostitution, for example, exists in northern Syria, despite it defying “the norms and values of these area.” She added that this cannot be compared to rape, as it is considered consensual.

Samira said she has met several women in prison in Idlib accused of prostitution.
The Cost of Silence

The shame and stigma associated with sexual violence have left very little room for victims to seek support.

“Some women saw a doctor, but long-term treatment is inaccessible most of the time. Psychosocial support is very rare. What’s more, most women don’t dare ask for treatment, so they keep their pain quiet,” Forestier said.

When asked about organizations tackling this issue, Mehanna elaborated: “Local NGOs … do not have the capacity to work long term with these women who need a long-term follow-up or therapies.”

However, according to Mehanna, many initiatives are offered but are related to protection and awareness of sexual abuse. “Many women feel that such initiatives are impersonal and do not really tackle their needs.”

The problem with current options for support is that they feed into the the existing stigmas, according to former detainee Jizawi. “Some people think that the right way to support a woman who was raped in detention is by offering her money; others think that finding her a husband will protect her honor,” she said.

Her organization provides psychosocial support, capacity building and tracks both displacement and demographic changes. In 2015, it supported 60 victims.

“We still have a very long way to go,” she said. “The process should be continuous, from medial to psychosocial support to offering a welcoming environment to these women.”
International Reaction

While human rights organizations have collected numbers and figures of rape practiced by the Syrian regime, decision-makers have focused on ISIS crimes. Countering terrorism “tops the agenda nowadays,” according to Forestier.

“Remember, sexual violence is an effective tool in wars because it manages to destroy people while not costing anything,” said Forestier. “Rape is also a silent weapon. Few survivors speak out about it. Eventually, most of the times, impunity has prevailed for perpetrators. That’s why accountability is essential to fight the use of rape as a weapon in conflicts.”

“Remember, sexual violence is an effective tool in wars because it manages to destroy people while not costing anything. Rape is also a silent weapon. Few survivors speak out about it. Eventually, most of the times, impunity has prevailed for perpetrators.”

However, the kidnapping and rape of the Yazidis was widely publicized, and many Yazidi survivors of sexual violence told their stories publicly afterward, in order to cast ISIS in the worst possible light. This was a major difference from the plight of former Syrian female detainees.

As the regime appears likely to stay in place for now, it would complicate negotiations to point at the crimes that it has committed. Forestier agrees.

To speak and share stories will still be a challenge for survivors, but it’s possible if they see a tangible benefit afterward. Promising them justice in times of war is neither fair nor enough, but offering them the needed support and protection, from local to larger scales, could encourage more to speak out, ensuring more testimonies to proceed with justice mechanisms that are to address sexual crimes committed by all sides.

Marie Forestier is a strong believer that the stigma attached to sexual crimes in Syria deters women from speaking. “A change of mentality would be necessary so that women could speak,” she said. And it is never too late to speak.

For more information on violence against women in Syria, visit TIMEP’s website or download their policy brief here.

https://www.newsdeeply.com/womenandgirls/articles/2017/09/07/rape-a...

Young Yazidi girl who escaped ISIS says she was raped every day for 6 months
WITW Staff, 07.28.17

A young Yazidi girl calling herself Ekhlas has told the BBC that she was raped every day for six months and tried to kill herself after she was captured by ISIS at the age of 14. Ekhlas, who was captured alongside thousands of other Yazidi women by ISIS in 2014, said that she was awarded to her rapist from a group of 150 other women.

“Every day for six months he raped me. I tried to kill myself,” Ekhlas said. “He picked me out of 150 by drawing lots. He was so ugly, like a beast with his long hair. He smelt so bad. I was so frightened I couldn’t look at him.”

“How am I telling you this without crying?” she wondered. “I tell you I ran out of tears.”

After six months of horror, Ekhlas was able to escape her captor while he was away fighting. She sought safety in a refugee camp, and was eventually able to immigrate to Germany, where she has begun attending school. When she graduates school, Ekhlas says, she hopes to become a lawyer.

At the Women in the World Summit in New York in April, Shireen Ibrahim, also a Yazidi, shared her account of the eight months she spent enslaved by ISIS, and painted a similarly horrifying picture. Ibrahim said she was bought and sold repeatedly, while her captors “did every bad thing they could to me.” Ibrahim said she was able to escape rape, but it wasn’t until she became deathly sick that her owner finally allowed her to go free.

Ibrahim’s translator, Kurdish activist Feryal Pirali, said that one of her friends had been pregnant when she was taken by ISIS. The fighters cut open her stomach, Pirali said, and removed the fetus from her body.

“They raped the baby, and they raped her, and they thought she was dead so they left her behind,” said Pirali.

Watch video coverage of Ekhlas’ story below.

https://womenintheworld.com/2017/07/28/young-yazidi-girl-who-escape...

Freed From ISIS, Yazidi Women Return in ‘Severe Shock’
By Rukmini Callimachi, NY Times, July 27, 2017

SHARIYA CAMP, Iraq — The 16-year-old lies on her side on a mattress on the floor, unable to hold up her head. Her uncle props her up to drink water, but she can barely swallow. Her voice is so weak, he places his ear directly over her mouth to hear her.

The girl, Souhayla, walked out of the most destroyed section of Mosul this month, freed after three years of captivity and serial rape when her Islamic State captor was killed in an airstrike. Her uncle described her condition as “shock.” He had invited reporters to Souhayla’s bedside so they could document what the terror group’s system of sexual abuse had done to his niece.

“This is what they have done to our people,” said Khalid Taalo, her uncle.

Since the operation to take back Mosul began last year, approximately 180 women, girls and children from the Yazidi ethnic minority who were captured in 2014 by the Islamic State, or ISIS, have been liberated, according to Iraq’s Bureau for the Rescue of Abductees.

Women rescued in the first two years after ISIS overran their ancestral homeland came home with infections, broken limbs and suicidal thoughts. But now, after three years of captivity, women like Souhayla and two others seen last week by reporters, are far more damaged, displaying extraordinary signs of psychological injury.

“Very tired,” “unconscious” and “in severe shock and psychological upset” were the descriptions used by Dr. Nagham Nawzat Hasan, a Yazidi gynecologist who has treated over 1,000 of the rape victims.

“We thought the first cases were difficult,” Dr. Hasan said. “But those after the liberation of Mosul, they are very difficult.”

The shock expresses itself in women and girls who sleep for days on end, seemingly unable to wake up, said Hussein Qaidi, the director of the abductee rescue bureau. “Ninety percent of the women coming out are like this,” he said, for at least part of the time after their return.

Both Souhayla and her family asked that she be identified as well as photographed, in an effort to shed light on their community’s suffering. Her uncle posted her image on Facebook immediately after her release with a description of what ISIS had done to her.

For over a year, Mr. Taalo said, he had known his niece’s location, as well as the name of the Islamic State fighter holding her. He enlisted the help of a smuggler who at great risk photographed Souhayla through the window of the house where she was being held and sent the images to her family.

But it was too perilous to try a rescue.

Souhayla escaped on July 9, two days after an airstrike collapsed a wall in the building where she was being held, burying another Yazidi girl who had been held alongside her and killing the captor who had abused them, her uncle said.

At that point, she was strong enough to clamber through the rubble and make her way to the first Iraqi checkpoint.

When her family drove to pick her up, she ran to embrace them.

“I ran to her and she ran to me and we started crying and then we started laughing as well,” said Mr. Taalo, the brother of Souhayla’s father, who remains missing after the Islamic State took over their hometown. “We stayed like that holding each other, and we kept crying and laughing, until we fell to the ground.”

But within hours, she stopped speaking, he said.

By the time they reached the camp where her mother and extended family had found refuge after the Islamic State overran their village, Souhayla slipped into what appeared to be unconsciousness. The doctors who examined her have prescribed antibiotics for a urinary tract infection.

She also shows signs of malnutrition.

Neither explain her extreme symptoms, said her family and one of the doctors who examined her.

“I’m happy to be home,” she whispered with difficulty into her uncle’s ear, in response to a reporter’s question, “but I’m sick.”

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The Islamic State had been ruling Mosul for two months in 2014 when the group’s leaders set their sights on Sinjar, a 60-mile-long, yellow massif to the north. Its foothills and mountain villages have long been the bedrock of life for the Yazidi, a tiny minority who account for less than 2 percent of Iraq’s population of 38 million.

The centuries-old religion of the Yazidi revolves around worship of a single God, who in turn created seven sacred angels. These beliefs led the Islamic State to label the Yazidi as polytheists, a perilous category in the terrorist group’s nomenclature.

Relying on a little-known and mostly defunct corpus of Islamic law, the Islamic State argued that the minority’s religious standing rendered them eligible for enslavement.

On Aug. 3, 2014, convoys of fighters sped up the escarpment, fanning out across the adjoining valleys. Among the first towns they passed on their way up the mountain was Til Qasab, with its low-slung concrete buildings surrounded by plains of blond grass.

That’s where Souhayla, then 13, lived.

A total of 6,470 Yazidis on the mountain were abducted, according to Iraqi officials, including Souhayla. Three years later, 3,410 remain in captivity or unaccounted for, Mr. Qaidi of the abductee rescue bureau said.

For the first two years of her captivity, Souhayla made her way through the Islamic State’s system of sexual slavery, raped by a total of seven men, she and her uncle said.

When the push for Mosul began, she was moved progressively deeper into the area hardest hit by the conflict, as security forces squeezed the terrorist group into a sliver of land near the Tigris River. The area was pummeled by artillery, airstrikes and car bombs, and strafed by helicopter-gunship fire.

As the Islamic State began losing its grip on the city, Souhayla’s captor cut her hair short, like a boy’s. She understood he was planning to try to slip past Iraqi security forces, disguised as a refugee, and take her with him, her uncle said.

Mr. Taalo now spends his days nursing his niece back to health. To sit up, she grasped one of the metal ribs holding up her family’s tent and pulled herself into a sitting position, as her uncle pushed from behind. But soon her strength was sapped, and she flopped back down.

He used a washcloth to dab her forehead, as she lay in his lap. Her mouth fell open and her eyes rolled back.

After her escape, almost two weeks passed before she was able to stand for more than a few minutes, her legs unsteady.

Officials say recent escapees are also showing an unusual degree of indoctrination.

Two Yazidi sisters, ages 20 and 26, arrived at the Hamam Ali 1 refugee camp, where they drew the attention of camp officials because they wore face-covering niqabs and refused to take them off, despite the fact that Yazidi women do not cover their faces.

They described the Islamic State fighters who raped them as their “husbands” and as “martyrs,” said Muntajab Ibraheem, a camp official and director of the Iraqi Salvation Humanitarian Organization.

In their arms were the three toddlers they had given birth to in captivity, the children of their rapists. But they refused to nurse them, said the smuggler sent by their family to fetch them.

He and camp officials filled out paperwork so that the children could be given to the state, he said.

A video recorded on the smuggler’s phone shows what happened when the sisters saw their family for the first time after their return. Their relatives rushed to embrace the gaunt women. They cried.

Their mother, distraught, stepped behind the tent, trying to steady herself.

A day after the video was taken, reporters went to see the women, and they could no longer stand. They lay on mattresses inside the plastic walls of their tent.

Despite the loud voices around them and the flow of visitors, despite their mother’s wail, they did not budge.

Cars pulled up outside, bringing relatives carrying pallets of orange soda. They left the tent, hands over their mouths, trying to hold back sobs.

Family members said that except for a few brief moments, the women have not awakened since then, over a week ago.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/27/world/middleeast/isis-yazidi-wom...

This Man Helped Save a Thousand Escaped ISIS Slaves in Iraq
May 16, 2017 | The Daily Beast
by Emily Feldman

Mirza Dinnayi, a Yazidi activist and humanitarian, helped the German state of Baden-Württemberg transport more than 1,000 survivors of ISIS slavery to Germany for medical and psychological treatment in an unprecedented asylum program. Image by Emily Feldman/Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast. Iraq, 2015.

The Iraqi women who escaped from ISIS had their sights set on a new life in Germany. Where that was, they weren’t sure, but it was far away, they heard, and Dr. Mirza would take them there.

His name was invoked all around the city of Duhok, in northern Iraq, from the dusty camps to the unfinished concrete houses where survivors had been sheltering since escaping bondage at the hands of ISIS fighters.

None of the women—who were spirited to safety by smugglers or who daringly ran from their ISIS captors on their own—could explain how they were getting to Germany without money or passports, or who exactly Dr. Mirza even was. (“An important man,” one said. “A friend to the Yazidis,” said another.)

The women were all Yazidis, members of the religious minority that had borne the brunt of the ISIS rampage in the summer of 2014, with the militants massacring thousands of men and taking thousands more women and children as slaves. Now, after escaping death and captivity, they were hoping that the man known simply to them as Dr. Mirza might fly them from this stark brown landscape, which they had never left, and to a new continent where ISIS could never harm them again.

Over the course of nearly a year, beginning in March 2015, Mirza Dinnayi—a soft-spoken and bespectacled Yazidi activist and humanitarian—did just that.

By early last year, Dinnayi had quietly helped track down, vet, and transport more than 1,000 survivors of ISIS captivity—mostly women, who had been kept as sex slaves, and their children—to Germany. The unprecedented rescue and asylum program was born of an unprecedented crisis: the genocide of the Yazidis at the hands of ISIS.

The details of that summertime attack on civilians in Iraq’s remote Sinjar region are now well-known. Survivors have told and retold the story of how the notorious jihadists, then at their prime, marched Yazidi men off to the slaughter before busing some 5,000 other civilians—most of them women and children—to ISIS slave markets, where they were bartered and sold.

Days after the violence began, President Barack Obama authorized airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, the start of the U.S. war on the militants that continues today. But even as the U.S. and its allies mobilized to take on the jihadists, Dinnayi understood that the scale of the crisis was beyond anything that could be solved by military support alone.

A Yazidi himself, he had moved to Germany in 1994 to escape persecution and study medicine. At the time, the Yazidis had been suffering persecution for years at the hands of the Saddam Hussein regime. When, after Hussein was toppled, Dinnayi returned to Iraq to advise the country’s then-president, he quickly saw his hopes for a new era fade.

Extremists were targeting the Yazidis in attacks, and in 2007 ISIS’s predecessors killed hundreds of Yazidis in a coordinated bombing, the deadliest attack on civilians in the Iraq War. So he co-founded a nonprofit that flies Iraqi victims of terrorism to Germany for medical treatment. The 2014 ISIS attack convinced him that the Yazidis, who number around 600,000 in Iraq, could no longer survive in their homeland. They needed asylum.

Dinnayi delivered this message to anyone he could. Even after breaking his leg in a helicopter crash during a mission to rescue civilians fleeing ISIS’s advance, he appeared on television in a wheelchair to repeat his demands: more aid, more military support, genocide recognition and, critically, some sort of asylum for survivors in Europe or the United States.

His leg in a cast, Dinnayi took his message to Israel, Switzerland, and throughout Germany. Waves of other Yazidis had also migrated to Germany over the years, making it home to more Yazidis than anywhere in the world outside of Iraq. “The whole Yazidi community in Germany was very active in encouraging the German government to do something,” he said over a coffee at an Istanbul airport during one of his regular layovers last year.

Dr. Michael Blume (left), Professor Jan Ilhan Kizilhan (third from right) and Mirza Dinnayi (right) meet with officials and Yazidi religious leaders in Lalish, Iraq. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

He credits the country’s largest Yazidi organization, the Central Council of Yazidis, for finally finding one politician willing to help.

Winfried Kretschmann, who heads the wealthy German state of Baden-Württemberg, decided to open its doors. “He is a very human man,” Dinnayi said. “He saw [what was happening] and said, ‘We should do something for these people.’”

No state in Germany had ever run its own refugee program, and it wasn’t clear if it was legal. “There was an option for [a state-run humanitarian program] in the German law, but it had never been used,” said Dr. Michael Blume, the head of Baden-Württemberg’s department of churches, religion and integration, whom Kretschmann asked to lead the project. Eventually, he said, federal authorities told the state it could “give it a try.”

Despite creeping anti-refugee sentiment, the shock of ISIS’ systematic sexual violence evoked a deep emotional response across Germany’s political spectrum. Blume said he encountered no resistance to the rescue program when he began discussing it with local leaders and quietly assembling a team.

Blume brought on Dinnayi to handle recruitment in Iraq and also tapped a Kurdish-German psychologist, Jan Ilhan Kizilhan, an expert in trauma and Middle Eastern cultures.

They quickly agreed to focus on psychotherapy and rehabilitation. “It wouldn’t make sense to bring traumatized people here and then not help them psychologically or medically,” Blume said.

The valley of Lalish in northern Iraq is home to one of the most revered sanctuaries in the Yazidi religion. Participants in the German refugee program stopped at the valley of Lalish for blessings before leaving Iraq. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

By the time the team began to hash out details of the pilot program in late 2014, a steady stream of Yazidis had escaped captivity in precarious physical and psychological shape. Some had become pregnant as the result of rape. Others were so distraught by what they had suffered that they committed suicide. Blume and his colleagues feared that the longer the victims went without treatment, the more likely they’d be to lose their lives.

“The Yazidis told us nobody can help them. There were just too many [victims] and only about 25 psychologists in northern Iraq,” Blume said. “The initial goal was to evacuate and stabilize those that wouldn’t survive on their own.”

The state set aside 95 million euros, less than 1 percent of its annual budget, to cover the cost of selecting, processing, and transporting 1,000 survivors to Germany and providing two years of care and therapy for them after they arrived.

Once in Baden-Württemberg, the participants would receive the same financial support as other refugees in the state, including a monthly stipend, housing, and free medical and psychological care. They would also be entitled to special privileges such as the right to travel abroad and even back to Iraq to visit family. And they would be eligible for permanent residency. “We wanted a mix between an emergency program, where you help people and then they go back, and a resettlement program, where they come and stay,” Blume explained, adding that his team wanted to empower participants to plot their own futures.

Participants in the refugee program descended a stairwell in the Yazidi sanctuary at Lalish to access a spring of holy water. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

Over the next 15 months, Blume and his team divided their time between Germany, where they prepared for the group’s arrival, and Iraq, where they began the daunting process of selection.

To qualify for the program, Kizilhan had to conclude that, as a result of their captivity, candidates were suffering from a medical or psychological illness that could be better treated in Germany than in Iraq.

The team also decided that while they wouldn’t lie to the press, they wouldn’t go out of their way to publicize the operation, either. They feared for their own safety as well as the safety of the escapees, who might still be targeted by ISIS.

Yet back in Duhok, as Dinnayi opened an unmarked office and set out to find and fetch potential candidates, word quickly spread that Dr. Mirza was a man who could get you to Germany. With so much desperation in the region, it wasn’t long before the bribery offers began rolling in. Some people falsely claimed to be ISIS victims. “There were different ways that people tried to come into this project, but it was not successful, because we were very careful, and because the Yazidi community is very small,” Dinnayi said. “Everybody knows each other, so it is not easy to lie.”

Meanwhile, Kizilhan sat down with each of the 1,400 legitimate ISIS victims sent his way for a psychological evaluation that determined who could continue on to Germany.

It was dark work. Kizilhan said that although he has experience with rape victims from the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides, hearing the testimony of ISIS’s brutality took a unique toll on him.

“As a father of two girls, I was always asking myself how a human can do such cruelty,” he said. “Of course, as a psychologist and as a scientist, I have a lot of theories to explain why people become terrorists or how they can be so evil. But when you are sitting in front of an 8-year-old girl who is telling you she was raped, six, seven times a day for months, those theories are not really helpful to me, as a human.”

Among the cases he approved were the 8-year-old rape victim; six boys forced to serve as child soldiers; an 18-year-old who lifted giant stones in captivity to force a miscarriage after becoming pregnant as the result of rape; and a 16-year-old who developed psychosis and lit herself on fire weeks after escaping her tormentors. She believed that they were still pursuing her, even in the relative safety of her family’s tent, and wanted to make herself ugly so they would finally leave her alone.

The work took a toll on the other team members as well. Blume spent more than a third of the year away from his wife and young children, working about 16 hours a day, often agonizing over the question of who would be selected and who would be left behind. “That was the hardest part. I’ve never had a year that was so hard but also so meaningful,” he said.

Dinnayi, witness to the destruction of his own community, says that he too was traumatized by the work. “I couldn’t sleep in the beginning. I was crying several times a day when I was hearing the stories of the victims. They will stay with me for all my life,” he said. “When I remember some of their stories and I see their pictures in front of my eyes I say, ‘how could such things happen in the 21st century?’”

In the end, the team wound up approving 1,100 survivors—mostly Yazidis, but also some Christians. One thousand were settled in Baden-Württemberg, while the remaining 100 were divided between the states of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. The majority accepted to the pilot program were minors, and 96 percent of the entire group was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Actually getting the survivors to Germany was a bureaucratic feat, led by Dinnayi, who had to wrangle passports for each of them in a country that requires male relatives to be present when important documents are ordered or renewed. “About 90 percent of them lost their husbands and fathers,” Dinnayi said. “We needed the court to issue special certificates for mothers to say that the father isn’t here. It was very difficult.”

The team, with the help of the International Organization for Migration, also had to quietly get the group to the Erbil airport in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region. They worried that ISIS fighters could doom the project if they managed to attack a convoy of escapees and warned participants not to share information about their locations on social media. “We worked closely with the Kurdish government and the Kurdish armed forces. We had armed Kurdish guards, we changed hotels, routes, license plates, and changed our internet devices so ISIS wouldn’t be able to track us,” Blume said. “The fear was that [ISIS] would see these women and children as their property and want to target them for that reason, but also because they were witnesses.”

On their way to the airport, Blume requested that each convoy stop in the valley of Lalish, a burst of green in the brown landscape that’s home to the most holy sanctuary in the Yazidi religion. Once there, he hoped Yazidi religious leaders would publicly bless the women and children to send a message to them—and to all Iraqis—that they hadn’t done anything wrong. “In the beginning, some were not even accepted by their own families because they were seen as defiled,” Blume said. “Our shared message was clear: The only ones that lost their honor were the attackers.”

On a hot May morning in 2015, Dinnayi and Blume were sweating in their suits as they ushered the latest batch of survivors from the lobby of a Duhok hotel onto a pair of coach buses idling outside. After a scenic hour-long ride, the buses deposited them in Lalish where the spiritual leader of the Yazidis—a white-bearded, white-robed man called Baba Sheikh—awaited them in a shaded courtyard at the arched entranceway to the ancient sanctuary.

The young women and teenaged girls, some ponytailed, and others wearing dark headscarves to mourn the loss of loved ones, crowded into the courtyard and strained their necks to catch a glimpse Baba Sheikh and record his message on their smart phones. “There are 120,000 Yazidis in Germany, so don’t feel like you are a stranger there,” he told them. “I will be praying for you when you go.”

Then the women and girls filed into the darkness of the sanctuary and prayed, methodically circling a sacred tomb and splashing themselves with spring water believed to have healing powers. Some giggled and posed for selfies.

The weight of their impending departure seemed to hit them only as they made their way back to the buses. All had to leave family behind. Sobbing into the arms of their loved ones, they said goodbye. As the buses wound out of the valley and on toward the airport, some reached their arms out the window to take photos. Others simply looked back on their families and ancestral homeland, possibly for the last time.

https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/man-helped-save-thousand-escap...

Freed from ISIS, Yazidi Women Remain Trapped by Trauma

Some of those working with Yazidi former slaves say they have never before seen such severe psychological trauma. As part of our “Women and Jihad” series, experts tell us there are not enough resources to provide long-term care to all of the survivors, who could take a lifetime to recover.

by Alexandra Bradford, News Deeply, March 14, 2017

Clothing that had been worn by a Yazidi girl who was enslaved by ISIS militants. Healthcare professionals who speak with former captives of the jihadist group say the trauma those women and girls suffer is “on a different level” from other trauma cases. AP/Maya Alleruzzo

Last January, Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, arrived at the Dohuk camp for displaced people near the Kurdish region of Iraq. Wheeler was there to interview Yazidi women and girls who had been kidnapped from their homes in Sinjar and held as sex slaves by the terror group known as the Islamic State (ISIS).

Wheeler, who interviewed 22 Yazidi women and girls, has spent her career documenting war crimes against women. Yet she says the accounts of sexual violence she heard from the Yazidi survivors continue to haunt her.

“It is some of the most distressing work I have ever done, and my colleagues who have also interviewed the survivors say that same thing,” she says.

Wheeler says the abuse inflicted on Yazidi women and girls “is on a different level” from other cases she has documented. The women she met had been kidnapped and sold in slave markets to ISIS soldiers who then raped them, often multiple times a day. In some cases, the women would be resold to another fighter who would continue the sexual abuse. Wheeler spoke with four women who were sold at least four times before they managed to escape.

“It’s just horrible, [ISIS] treat people like animals,” she says. “All the women we spoke to were exhibiting some type of symptoms from the trauma they suffered.”

Those symptoms include severe depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, suicidal thoughts, insomnia and, when they finally do sleep, nightmares in which they relive their sexual abuse.

In February 2015, the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg offered to help by agreeing to take in 1,100 refugees, including hundreds of the most traumatized Yazidi women and girls. The program, which runs for three years and will cost the German government a total of $107 million, provides Yazidi survivors with specialized psychological care and German residency for two years.

But the program is now at full capacity, which means hundreds of Yazidi women and girls who didn’t make it into the program and those who have only recently escaped from ISIS remain in the internally displaced peoples (IDP) camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, where treatment for mental health is severely lacking.

We have seen many women who feel that they can’t live with the aftermath of what happened to them, they think the only way to escape is through killing themselves.

Psychotherapist Salah Ahmad has been working with trauma victims in Iraq since 2005, when he established the Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights to provide mental health care to Iraqis who were tortured by the Ba’athist party. Ahmad has spent much of the last two years traveling between IDP camps in Dohuk Kurdistan to help treat Yazidi women and girls.

Ahmad says they display some of the worst cases of post-traumatic stress disorder he has ever seen. “To be sold, to be enslaved, to be raped many times … they can’t accept all this violence,” he says.

Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon.

“We have seen many women who feel that they can’t live with the aftermath of what happened to them; they think the only way to escape is through killing themselves,” says Ahmad.

In November 2015, Ahmad established the Jiyan Clinic, a psychosomatic trauma clinic solely for Yazidi women and children in Iraqi Kurdistan. He found many trauma survivors were hesitant to recount their abuse to other men, especially Muslim men, so he employs an all-female staff.

The patients spend at least three months living in the clinic, where they undergo daily treatment, which includes individual and group therapy, and EMDR – or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy – a technique designed to alter the way the brain stores and recollects traumatic memories. The women can also take part in therapeutic activities like yoga and gardening.

Since its opening, the clinic has treated 80 female Yazidi survivors of ISIS, but Ahmad says he doesn’t have the resources to provide treatment for all the Yazidi women who need help.

Ali Muthanna, regional director in Iraq for the AMAR Foundation, is also struggling to provide support to all the women who need it. He spends the majority of his time at Khanke Camp, an IDP camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he treats the 18,500 Yazidis who have been living there since the ISIS attack in 2014 forced an estimated half a million Yazidis to flee their homes. Among Muthanna’s patients are also around 500 Yazidi women who escaped ISIS.

Lamiya Aji Bashar, an 18-year-old Yazidi girl who escaped her ISIS captors, talks to the press in northern Iraq in May 2016. Healthcare experts and human rights advocates say there are not nearly enough resources to help all the Yazidi women and girls who have been enslaved, tortured and raped by ISIS fighters. (AP/Balint Szlanko)

Through its Escaping Darkness project, AMAR is working to establish a network of 10 mental health facilities to treat the post-traumatic stress disorder Yazidi women grapple with. The foundation is also working with psychiatrists to train local GPs in psychological care, showing them how to spot and manage psychiatric issues.

But AMAR faces huge challenges, not least the fact that Iraq’s medical infrastructure has been decimated by years of conflict.

“There is a severe shortage of financial resources, the drop in oil prices has created a situation where the government is unable to provide medical requirements to cover the needs of IDPs,” Muthanna says.

And the longer women go without medication and treatment, the worse their condition can become.

“Those suffering from psychological disorders need long-term treatment,” Muthanna says, adding that drugs for treating symptoms of stress, depression and trauma need to be taken continuously to work.

“The magnitude of the problem is beyond the capacity of the U.N. agencies and Iraqi and Kurdistan governments to respond to.”

https://www.newsdeeply.com/womenandgirls/articles/2017/03/14/freed-...

Yazidi woman traumatized by ISIS explains how her 2 sisters have been able to mentally overcome the ordeal
WITW Staff Women in the World, 02.23.17

A German project aimed at providing psychological care to the Yazidi people — more than 400,000 of whom have been “displaced, captured, or killed” by ISIS, according to the U.N. — is set to begin a new program in Dohuk, Iraq, next month that would provide local mental health professionals with the training requisite to work with those traumatized by ISIS. The project, funded by the wealthy German state of Baden Wuerttemberg, had already brought 1,100 women who survived capture by ISIS to Germany for psychological treatment.

There are 5.5 million people and more than 1.5 million refugees in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Northern Iraq, but only 25 practicing psychiatrists — none of whom are specialized in treating trauma. The new program would allow training for 30 new professionals over the next three years, as well as expanding the project to other universities in the area. After ten years, experts hope, the project could provide more than 1,000 psychotherapists for the region.

Thirty-nine-year-old Gorwe, a Yazidi woman who lives in the Sharya refugee camp in Duhok, said that the mental health of two of her sisters-in-law had improved dramatically after they went to Germany for treatment.

“They were as good as before Daesh,” she said. “I’m not sure why, but I think the treatment has helped.”

Of the 24 members of Gorwe’s family that were taken by ISIS — only 14, all women and children, have returned. After their capture at the hands of ISIS, Gorwe said that the fighters separated the men from the women and children before taking the women and “distributing them to themselves.” Gorwe, a mother of six children, said she doesn’t know where they took her eldest daughter, then 15. After taking her daughter, her three eldest sons, 14, 12, and 10 years old respectively, were also spirited away. Together with her two remaining children, Gorwe was then sold to an ISIS fighter at an “underground marketplace” near Raqqa.

Over the next few months, Gorwe said she was bought and sold multiple times before a young man drove up to her in a car, apparently enamored with her 7-year-old daughter. Fortunately, the young man’s interest was feigned — after he bought Gorwe and her children, he revealed himself as a smuggler hired by her family to help her to escape.

Gorwe says she’s received psychological treatment in the wake of her escape, but that it hadn’t had the same effect on her as she’d seen it have on others. “No matter how many doctors I see,” she said, “I’ll still have the same pain inside me.”

https://womenintheworld.com/2017/02/23/yazidi-woman-traumatized-by-...

The Culture of Rape Within ISIS, and the Questions That Arise
By The New York Times, March 19, 2016

How do fighters with the Islamic State access the birth control pills they provide to their sex slaves?

What do the fighters’ wives think of these slaves?

These were some of the approximately 150 questions that readers posed to Rukmini Callimachi, a Times reporter who has written about the Islamic State’s use of modern family planning practices to continue its practice of raping captives, during a live discussion on nytimes.com last week on the Islamic State and its industry of rape.

Ms. Callimachi, who has written extensively about Islamic extremism and the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS and Daesh, was joined by Liam Stack and Matthew Barber. Mr. Stack is a Times reporter who spent several years covering the Middle East from Cairo, and Mr. Barber is a University of Chicago doctoral student and the Iraq executive director of Yazda, an organization that helps victims of the Islamic State’s system of sexual slavery.

The questions and answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Q. The thing that really hit home for me was the mother of a Daesh fighter helping with obtaining birth control. Is it rare for fighters to be working with their family? BOBBY ELLIS

RUKMINI CALLIMACHI A majority of the aggressors, according to the interviews I did, were Syrians and Iraqis. And these fighters are living with their families. A lot of the Yazidi girls told me that one of the added abuses was the way they were treated by the wives of the fighters. One middle-aged Yazidi woman described to me how the wife of the man who had enslaved her would not so much as let her take a glass of water out of the fridge. She always had to ask permission, even to drink water.

An added layer of complication was that many of the wives, who had presumably married the fighter willingly, were seething at his sexual relationship with the slave — they were essentially jealous. And they punished the Yazidi slaves in whatever way they could.

MATTHEW BARBER I know of one jihadist who brought home a Yazidi girl, and his family (including his mother) was upset because they saw Yazidis as something “dirty” that would defile the home. They went through a process not only to force that Yazidi girl to convert to Islam, but to take her to an ISIS Shariah court to make the conversion official.

Q. It seems to me that the risk of being subject to rape and/or slavery should constitute a strong argument to support offering shelter in the U.S. to women from the areas infested by ISIS. Is something being done in this direction? ALEX

LIAM STACK The U.S. has taken in a very limited number of refugees and asylum seekers from areas affected by the Islamic State, regardless of their ethnic or religious background or whatever trauma they may have experienced during the conflict.

MATTHEW BARBER Germany has the highest numbers of Yazidis in diaspora. The German government has conducted a program to take hundreds of female enslavement survivors for treatment in Germany. However, many Yazidis are finding it difficult to adapt in Germany.

There should also be a focus on fixing the problems in Iraq so that Yazidi will feel hope that they have a viable future in Sinjar.

Q. Could you tell us a little about the Yazidi people? How are they related to the Kurds of northern Iraq and the greater region? JOHN

MATTHEW BARBER The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking indigenous people practicing a religion made up of many ancient, local beliefs and practices, as well as ideas absorbed from other major Near Eastern traditions.

Q. Were there any Yazidis colluding with ISIS, out of survival, to create this rape industry?

And also, how do the Yazidi family members view their mothers, daughters, sisters, wives who have been victimized? Are they still accepted in their family and community? SARA

RUKMINI CALLIMACHI I have not come across any stories of Yazidi complicity in the violence. By contrast, practically every woman I interviewed was distraught at the way in which the Kurdish authorities, who previously controlled and were responsible for military security on Sinjar Mountain, behaved. The Yazidis claim that before ISIS attacked on Aug. 3, 2014, the Kurdish pesh merga (the name of the security force in northern Iraq) essentially abandoned the mountain.

One of the heroes of the resistance is a Yazidi man who claims that he saw a Kurdish pesh merga officer abandoning his post — literally jumping out of a pickup truck mounted with an antiaircraft machine gun, leaving the keys in the ignition. The Yazidi man ran to the car, jumped in and drove it up the switchbacks.

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I interviewed him late last year, and he said he had no idea how to use the antiaircraft gun but he and other Yazidis managed to point it in the direction of the advancing ISIS troops and opened fire. If you go to Sinjar Mountain today, you will see a monument that they erected in honor of this Yazidi fighter — it’s basically a statue of the pickup truck with the mounted machine gun, cast in concrete, and positioned on the switchback where he allegedly used it to fire at ISIS.

MATTHEW BARBER Tremendous progress has been made on the part of the Yazidi community regarding the women and girls who have returned home. Yazidis are not allowed to marry outside the community, whether male or female. Yazidis who have had sex with (or been raped by) a non-Yazidi person have traditionally been exiled from the community.

But the crisis of Aug. 3, 2014, forced the Yazidi community to adapt. The Yazidi religious leadership issued official edicts to the effect that women who were raped were to be accepted back into the community as Yazidis, and to not be stigmatized for violence against them for which they were not responsible.

But stigma is still a major problem. Many women whom we work with are being abused verbally and emotionally by relatives who are blaming them for their rapes.

Q. Where are ISIS fighters getting the massive amounts of birth control drugs to administer to these young women? JARAUN

MATTHEW BARBER Many drugs were already present in the hospitals of Mosul and Tel Afar, and other places conquered by the Islamic State. But it is likely that they receive their ongoing supplies via Turkey.

Q. Do you think it is morally acceptable to arm these women to stun/poison their rapists and other ISIS members/supporters? DEE

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MATTHEW BARBER It is not possible to arm the women who are already in captivity; if we had such access to them, they could be rescued. And further, the Islamic State is not enslaving new groups of women. All the Yazidi women who are in enslavement were abducted when ISIS first attacked the Sinjar region in northern Iraq in August 2014.

Q. What type of psychological support is available for the women who have escaped their captivity? MIA KIRSHNER

MATTHEW BARBER At Yazda we are doing what we can to provide emotional and psychological support to women and girls who have been rescued from the Islamic State’s captivity, but we are very limited in terms of personnel with the appropriate skill sets. Other organizations are also doing what they can, but in general, the entire region is in need of more psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists. Doctors with clinical practice in these fields are largely absent in Iraq and the Kurdistan region.

Further, it is not just the survivors of enslavement who need help from qualified therapists; the entire displaced Yazidi community in Iraq — over 300,000 people are still in camps — needs help.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/world/middleeast/the-culture-of-...

World failing Yazidi women forced into sex slavery
Arab News, June 06, 2018

Many Yazidi women and girls have been brainwashed or killed in captivity, while those who have managed to escape after years of enslavement and rape are left struggling to survive without an income or identity papers.

Baroness Nicholson, founder and chair of the British-based AMAR Foundation which provides education and health care in the Middle East, said the world’s religions should urgently recognize the Yazidi faith.

PARIS: The world is failing Yazidi women forced into sex slavery by Daesh militants in Iraq and Syria, with 3,000 still unaccounted for, according to the head of a charity dedicated to helping survivors recover from their horrific experiences.

Murad Ismael said many Yazidi women and girls have been brainwashed or killed in captivity, while those who have managed to escape after years of enslavement and rape were left struggling to survive without an income or identity papers.

“Every inch of these women’s body and soul is broken,” said Ismael, executive director of Yazda.

“And yet the international system is failing to embrace them and help them return to normal life,” said Ismael ahead of the Foundation’s Trust Conference on modern slavery in Brussels on Wednesday.

“These girls, they just want to resume school, go back to normal. But they’re not given any income or support so many of them have to be a father and a mother to their siblings, in addition to being a survivor.”

The Yazidi, a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of ancient Middle Eastern religions, are regarded by Daesh as devil-worshippers.

Thousands of women and girls of the Yazidi faith were abducted, tortured and sexually abused by Daesh fighters who invaded their homeland in northwest Iraq, in 2014.

The militants were driven out a year ago, but most Yazidis have yet to return to their villages and nearly 3,000 women and children remain in captivity.

“We used to get over 100 rescued women and girls arriving to our office each month, but now we only see five or six,” said Ismael.

“The pace of rescues is slowing down because many of these women have already been killed or brainwashed by their captors.”

Manal, a young Yazidi woman who was kidnapped at the age of 17 by Daesh in 2014 and is now being supported by Yazda after being rescued, said her captors beat her until she was unconscious.

“When I woke up there were scars on my body and blood all over my clothes,” she said in Arabic through a translator.

“I tried to kill myself several times but I didn’t succeed. They didn’t care and raped me again and again.”

Now living with her family in a refugee camp in Qadiya, northern Iraq, she said she wanted to become a psychiatrist to help other survivors.

Baroness Nicholson, founder and chair of the British-based AMAR Foundation which provides education and health care in the Middle East, said the world’s religions should urgently recognize the Yazidi faith.

“Unless this is done, they will continue to be considered by some – quite wrongly — as devil worshippers, giving vile people the excuse they need to attack them,” she said by email.

Nicholson urged the international community to ensure the Yazidis could return home safely, and offer them asylum if they could not face doing so.

“The horrendous suffering of those women and girls so monstrously violated by Daesh should remain in the public consciousness forever,” she said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared victory over Daesh in December, five months after his forces recaptured the country’s second city Mosul in a protracted battle with the militants.

The group continues to carry out bombings, assassinations and ambushes in different areas of Iraq, and remains active in neighboring Syria.

“It’s incredible that there has been no justice, not a single trial” for the massacre and detention of 12,000 Yazidi people, Ismael said at the Trust Conference on Wednesday.

“Those (Yazidis) who survived have no hope to return to their homes, it’s all land mines and mass graves,” he added.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1317056/middle-east

‘I was sold seven times': the Yazidi women welcomed back into the faith

Captured and raped by Isis fighters, Yazidi women fear rejection on their release. Now they are learning to heal thanks to a revolution in their religion
by Emma Graham-Harrison in Lalish, Iraq, The Guardian, 1 Jul 2017

No one wears shoes in Lalish. The village is so sacred that all visitors must walk its paths barefoot. Perched at the top of a narrow valley, in the parched, scrubby hills of northern Iraq, close to the Kurdish border, its cluster of shrines are a revered site for followers of the Yazidi faith.

At the heart of Lalish is a pool of water sheltered by a small cave, its entrance shaded by mulberry trees and watched by a guardian in a red turban. This is the “holy white spring”, where newborns must be brought for baptism, the waters mixed with the Lalish soil for the rites of marriage, birth and death. For generations, the rituals carried out at the spring had been unchanged. But two years ago, groups of women, usually silent, often with young children, began joining the families filtering in and out of the cave.

There were many times I wanted to kill myself, but I had to continue for the sake of my children

One recent late afternoon, one of these groups emerged, solemn and silent, shivering slightly as their headscarves, wet from the sacred pool, caught the evening breeze. All were survivors of Islamic State’s slave markets, where women are bought and sold. Inside the cave, they had prayed, washed their heads and faces, and been born again into the faith of their childhood.

“In Lalish, we were freed,” says Nour, a 28‑year‑old with a soft voice and easy smile that cannot quite hide her grief. Her husband is still missing, and she and her three young children are traumatised after 15 months in captivity, held by Isis fighters.

The simple ceremony at Lalish is vital to her recovery. Nour, who asked that her real name not be used, has made the pilgrimage five or six times, bringing one of her daughters along three times to help her rebuild her life. “These white clothes make me glad,” she says of the headscarves the women are given for their ceremony, and take home rinsed in the water of the sacred spring. “There were many times I wanted to kill myself, but I had to continue for the sake of my children.”

A visitor could be forgiven for thinking that these ceremonies were just another ancient tradition of the Yazidi faith. In fact, they are a radical and new response to the trauma inflicted on an entire community by Isis; before the grim summer of 2014, these rituals would have been inconceivable.

A Yazidi family at a shrine in Lalish. Photograph: Alessandro Rota for the Guardian

In August that year, Isis fighters, flush with weapons, cash and confidence from their extraordinary capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second city, cast around for a new target and alighted on the nearby Yazidi homeland of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. It was home to 400,000 Yazidis, living in villages and towns clustered around the base of Mount Sinjar. They made up perhaps half a global population, also scattered across Germany, the US and other parts of Iraq.

Isis was already known for its brutality, but its treatment of Yazidis marked a new height of bloodshed and cruelty. Isis fighters had dubbed them “devil worshippers”, because of their esoteric beliefs – which range from taboos on wearing the colour blue or eating lettuce, to their belief in a fallen “peacock angel” – and marked them out for particularly harsh treatment. Men and older women were massacred, their bodies dumped in shallow mass graves that now dot the mountain. Isis fighters still keep watch on some of the largest sites across the frontlines, sniping at visitors who might document their crimes. For the younger women, a different horror awaited.

Isis fighters established a system of sexual slavery, claiming that the rape of non-Muslims was a form of worship. They set up markets in several towns where girls as young as nine were put up for auction to militants, with owners often trading women again online.

“I was sold seven times, and lots of women had a much worse life than me,” Nour says of her battle to survive. She had two daughters, then aged three and four, and was pregnant with a son when her family was seized. Her husband was taken away after two days and is still missing.
A woman covers her head with a white headscarf which has been bathed in the sacred spring.

Women cover their heads with white headscarves which have been bathed in the sacred spring. Photograph: Alessandro Rota for

Soon afterwards, Nour gave birth in a freezing room, slipping out of consciousness as two fellow prisoners did their best to serve as midwives. “They had washed me. Because it was cold, they wrapped me in a lot of blankets, and after a while the elderly women told me: ‘Wake up, you have given birth to a child,’ ” Nour says. “I kept crying, because I hadn’t even realised that.”

Pregnancy had protected her from sexual slavery, but now Nour and her three children were taken to a wedding hall in Mosul. “Every day, the militants would come and tell us to stand up, put on our headscarves,” she says. “They were looking at the women, to see who was beautiful. They would take even those who were already married.”

She made herself look as dirty and dishevelled as possible, to evade selection, and tried to keep her son alive, feeding him on sugar water when her own milk dried up and the Isis fighters refused to provide formula milk. But when her son was two months old, they were sent to Raqqa.

I've been sold many times. If it was my choice, I wouldn’t do anything with any man except my husband, but they force me

There, she was selected for transport to the recently captured city of Palmyra, where there was a market for women, and forced to make a terrible choice between her children. “One of my daughters couldn’t walk, because she had had surgery on her leg, and I couldn’t carry her and my son,” she said. “So I left him with my husband’s relatives in Raqqa.”

In Palmyra, the women and their children were held in a large house, and every day militants took a few to the slave market for sale, returning with any who had not found a buyer by evening.

“The militants sold almost all the women, until it was just me and three others. Then one fighter bought me and took me to his house.” The man, a 26-year-old Syrian, “was very cruel”, she says. He raped her and regularly beat her two girls.

After two weeks, Nour escaped, breaking a lock and slipping into the night with her girls. But Palmyra is four hours’ drive from Raqqa and even further from the border; with no money, no telephone and no transport, they were reliant on the mercy of locals. None would help, even though Nour speaks Arabic and could explain clearly the horror of her situation. “I told them: ‘Isis are doing this and this and this to us, you have to help us, save us,’ but they refused.” At house after house, they were turned away, refused the use of phones or even a drink as the sun beat down on them. “I asked one family: ‘As you won’t let us in, could you just give me some water for my daughters?’ They refused even that.”
Nour, who was held captive by Isis fighters for 15 months

‘In Lalish, we were freed,’ says Nour, who was held captive by Isis fighters for 15 months. Photograph: Alessandro Rota for the Guardian

Palmyra is surrounded by desert, so there was nowhere to hide and no way to avoid the roads. By midday, Isis had recaptured them. She was returned to her “owner”, who later sold her to a Saudi fighter in Raqqa. She was sold twice more, until she and the girls ended up back in Raqqa with a Palestinian, who bought them from an online slave market.

He was married, and swore to Nour and his wife that he had bought her only to do housework and wouldn’t touch her; but he turned out to be one of her cruellest owners. She begged his wife for help, and the wife pushed her husband to sell the family on. Her next owner, apparently dazed by violence or seduced by Isis’s own myths, claimed he loved the woman he had bought online and demanded love in return.

“He asked: ‘Why are you crying?’ and I said: ‘I have been sold so many times. If it was my choice, I wouldn’t do anything with any man except my husband, but they forced me.’ So he said: ‘You are like my daughter, I won’t do anything if you don’t agree.’ ”

In an apparent bid to win her respect, the man she knew as Abu Orfman also tracked down her son, in the same internet slave market where he had bought her, and reunited them.

“He brought a laptop to me, which had pictures of all the women and children, and asked: ‘Which one is your son, who do you know in these pictures?’ I found his photo. They searched for 15 days and brought him to me,” she remembers. “We had been separated for over three months.”

The joy of the reunion was tempered by the horror of their situation. Her son had been given a Muslim name; he was destined for schools that turned young captives into Isis fighters.

A month later, after Nour refused to convert and marry Abu Orfman, he lost interest and sold her on. There was one more sale before a Yazidi ally, posing as a slave trader from Raqqa, bought Nour and her children freedom. “He looked like an Isis militant – he wore their clothes, and had a beard and something covering his face,” Nour remembers. But as he drove them away, he revealed he was taking them to her family. “I told him I couldn’t believe he wasn’t Isis, but he said: ‘This beard is fake. I only wear it to save women and girls.’”

A voice message from her father finally convinced Nour that her ordeal was over. She remembers the fierce joy of that moment, but also the fear that replaced it as she sped away from Isis territory. Now that she had won the battle to survive, she faced the looming question of whether she would ever really be able to go home; under Yazidi religious law, the women seized and raped by Isis should be evicted from their faith and permanently ostracised from their communities.

The things of the past belong in that time. We are now in the 21st century

The Yazidi faith is theologically diverse, with strands of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism. It is strictly closed, so a child must be born a Yazidi to worship as one, and adults must marry a Yazidi to build a family in the faith. Any sexual contact with a nonbeliever means banishment, a strict bar that treats rape no differently from a consensual relationship. The faith is thought to date back as early as 1200, though some argue its roots go even further back. Violence against Yazidis has been so frequent over the centuries that their word for attempted extermination – ferman – long predates the coining of its English equivalent, genocide.

But while women abducted in these waves of violence have been grieved over, they have never been allowed to return to the faith. In some cases, they might even be murdered by their fathers and brothers, in so-called honour killings. There was no reason for Isis’s victims to expect the response this time would be any different.

Khider Domle is an academic, journalist and activist based in the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk, where the Yazidi population soared after Isis struck Sinjar. Poorer families cluster in refugee camps on its outskirts, while wealthier ones rent apartments in urban areas, but all have been affected by the stories reaching them from Isis-controlled areas. “I was working for a long time as a women’s activist, so I understood how difficult it would be for survivors to return,” Domle says. “In 2007, when a Yazidi girl converted to Islam to marry, her family carried out an honour killing. We wondered if this would be repeated.” he adds.

Domle, along with many Yazidis, began asking why their religious traditions gave extremists the very power they most craved: the ability permanently to exclude believers from their faith and family. He was soon part of a group determined to challenge the doctrine with which they had grown up, convinced that any women who escaped should be welcomed, not shunned. “This was a very profound change,” says Domle, who is full of nervous energy. “There are no comparisons in our history.”

A few people – mostly men, but some women – tell us not to visit the rescued women. They say: ‘Their honour is ruined'

Domle and other campaigners knew they would have to convince the Yazidis’ supreme spiritual leader, Khurto Hajji Ismail. Known to believers as Baba Sheikh, he is over 80 and frail, but his authority is undimmed. The complex where he lives and hosts visitors, a kind of Yazidi Vatican, is a disconcertingly ordinary concrete courtyard home on the backstreets of the nearest large village to Lalish. It was here that Baba Sheikh met the first two women to escape from Isis, and decided to jettison centuries of tradition, declaring them still members of the faith. “We brought them to Baba Sheikh’s house, and he welcomed them,” Domle says. “He said: ‘Don’t worry, you are real Yazidis, no one can touch you, no one can change your future.’ I thought: ‘Why don’t we make this official?’”

Days later, Baba Sheikh’s brother sought advice on a draft declaration, clarifying that women who had been enslaved by Isis should be welcomed back to the community. By mid-September 2014, an edict was issued in Kurdish, the main Yazidi language, to community leaders. The ceremonies at the Lalish spring, similar to a baptism, followed soon after, developed by religious leaders working with Yazda, a Yazidi-run charity which supports Isis victims.

Sitting on his terrace in the fading evening light for a rare interview, more than three years after that first welcome ceremony, Baba Sheikh bats away any suggestion that his response was extraordinary. “The women were taken by force,” he says slowly. “They didn’t choose this.” The head of a religion bound by tradition, he seems reluctant to concede that much has changed: “It is not new – we have this ceremony for children. When there is a new baby, they take them to be baptised in the sacred white spring. This is our ritual.” He concedes only that Yazidis needed to modernise. “The things of the past belong in that time. We are now in the 21st century.”

The change was swift, and unexpected enough that some more conservative Yazidis still grumble about the decision to allow survivors to return to the faith. “A few old-fashioned people – mostly men, but also some women – tell us not to visit the women who are rescued,” says 28-year-old Ghaura, who lost two brothers to Isis and now lives in a refugee camp. “They say: ‘Their honour is ruined, they shame all of us.’ ” But they are in a tiny minority now, she adds, with even the poorest of her neighbours more likely to scrape together a few dinars to donate towards ransom payments than ostracise Isis survivors. “Times have changed, people’s minds have changed. Baba Sheikh’s word means a lot. Even old-fashioned people listen.”

The Yazidis’ supreme leader, Khurto Hajji Ismail, known as Baba Sheikh, at his house. Photograph: Alessandro Rota for the Guardian

The Yazidis’ extraordinary collective decision to remake their religion has garnered little notice beyond their own community; but inside it, the change has been critical to many survivors’ efforts to heal. “When I returned home, everyone was so loving,” Nour says, although it has taken her many months to process her time in captivity. “I was very afraid to tell my story, even though the counsellors were female. I thought they also worked for Islamic State.”

The trips to Lalish are part of an effort to break down this sense of fear and isolation. “The women often say they get a sense they are not alone feeling this – the thoughts, the struggles with memories,” says Eivor Laegrid, a Norwegian therapist working with Yazda. “The feeling of companionship seems to be a first step to reintegrating.”

***

In the early morning of one recent outing, a group of women and children stare out of the windows of a minibus, sombre and lost in memories as the hills rush by, until the road turns up into the Lalish valley. As they stumble out and strip off their shoes, the children race to play around the complex of temples and shrines, but many of the women retreat into grief. “Open for us a door of light, for all Yazidi people, a door of mercy,” begs one woman whose daughter is missing. “Help my children who are in the hands of Isis.”

After lunch and a meeting with clerics who repeat Baba Sheikh’s welcome, the women end the day at the sacred white spring, and can return to repeat the rituals as often as they like. Nour is among those who have made several trips, as she seeks to shake off the trauma that has stayed with them all, particularly her younger daughter.

“Though she is six years old, if I leave her alone with a colouring book, she will rip all the pages out, stick all the pencils in her mouth. She hurts herself, and at night she sleeps under my arm as if she is full of horror.”

The girl also absorbed Isis ideology, and scolded her grandparents for not keeping a Qur’an when she moved into their tent in a refugee camp. Nour hopes these trips to the temples will teach her daughter about their faith, as well as helping heal them both. “The community wants them back, although the girls themselves feel ashamed,” says Ameena Saeed Hasan, a Yazidi and former MP in the Iraqi legislature who now works full-time rescuing women. “Baba Sheikh has created this new ceremony for the women. But no one will have mercy on the people who did this.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jul/01/i-was-so...

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