'I wished I was killed': Yazidi ISIS slave shares her harrowing story
CBC, July 25, 2016
August marks the second anniversary of a brutal chapter in the ongoing story of ISIS. In August 2014, fighters with the extremist group carried out a massacre in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq. Thousands were killed, thousands more girls and women were kidnapped as sex slaves, and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee.
'He raped me and used me for a couple of days.'
- Nadia Murad Basee Taha held captive by ISIS
Most of those affected were Yazidi. Nadia Murad Basee Taha is a young Yazidi woman who now lives in Germany. Her life took a horrific turn in 2014 when ISIS fighters arrived in her village. She shares her story of trauma and escape with The Current's host Laura Lynch.
"We were separated from our families and taken to Mosul. At that moment we knew we were being taken to be used for rape and to be sold."
Iraqi Yazidi Nadia Murad Basee Taha has been calling on Canada to help Yazidis with the immigration and asylum process. She says 'our people have been suffering for the past two years and they must be helped.'
Taha explains what she had to endure as a captive of ISIS, "He took me. He raped me and used me for a couple of days. This is what they would do. They would keep the girls for a day or two days a week then they would pass them to a different one."
' I wished they had killed us all.'
- Nadia Murad Basee Taha
Yazidis are an ethnic minority group in Iraq that practice an ancient religion. They are considered "devil worshippers" by supporters of ISIS and treated like property, exchanged as "gifts."
"I wished I was killed, or starved, or died on the mountain like the other Yazidis instead of being someone with no value to be used by the terrorists whatever way they wished to use us." Taha tells Lynch.
"I wished that when they killed our brothers, our mothers, I wished they had killed us all as well."
The United Nations has called the 2014 massacre a genocide. Taha spoke to the UN Security Council about her horrific time as a slave to ISIS.
"After I was freed I thought that the world would bring justice to us. That the world would be fair to us. But nothing has happened. We still have 3,000 people in captivity," Taha tells Lynch.
In Ottawa, advocates and Opposition MPs have asked the Canadian government to allow for the resettlement of five to 10,000 of the most vulnerable Yazidis. On July 19, Taha was in Ottawa and shared her story to a Parliamentary Committee studying how Canada's immigration system deals with particularly vulnerable groups like the Yazidis.
It's not known how many Yazidi refugees have been resettled in Canada since 2014 because the federal government does not track the race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity of refugees. But Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel claims that only nine cases have been processed.
Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.
This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson.
Yazidis to accept ISIL rape survivors, but not their children
Children of women raped by ISIL men will not be accepted into Yazidi community, say the sect's faith leaders.
Al Jazeera, 28 Apr 2019
Yazidi's typically only recognise children as belonging to the community if both their parents hail from the sect
Children born to Yazidi women raped by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) fighters will not be permitted to join the community in northern Iraq, the minority sect's faith leaders have said.
In a statement late on Saturday, the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council said an earlier declaration stating "all survivors" of ISIL crimes and their children would be accepted in the community did not, as widely interpreted, "include children born of rape, but [instead] refers to children born of two Yazidi parents".
Children born of rape by ISIL forces have been the subject of fierce debate in the insular community, which once numbered about 500,000 people and only recognises children as Yazidi if both their parents hail from the sect.
It had also long considered any women marrying outside the sect to no longer be Yazidi.
But in 2015, a year after ISIL fighters stormed the Yazidi heartland in Iraq's Sinjar region - massacring men and imprisoning thousands of women as sex slaves - Yazidi spiritual leader Baba Sheikh issued a decision welcoming those women back home.
And last week, Hazem Tahsin, head of the Supreme Faith Council, issued what appeared to be a landmark shift, publishing an order "accepting all survivors [of ISIL crimes] and considering what they went through to have been against their will".
The decision was hailed as "historic" by Yazidi activists, who understood it to mean that children born of rape would be allowed to live among their Yazidi relatives.
But the council clarified its position late on Saturday, blaming the misunderstanding on "distortion" by the media.
Ali Khedhir Ilyas, a Yazidi official, said on Sunday the council encourages the women to return with their children, no matter the parentage, but added that they "cannot force the families to accept" those born of rape.
Human Rights Watch has condemned the council's Saturday decision.
"Shame on the community" tweeted Belkis Wille, the group's senior Iraq and Qatar researcher.
" So many women taken captive by ISIS fighters who later gave birth to children from rape have told me how painful it was for them to give their children to orphanages or to the fighters’ families before they were able to return home to their community," she wrote.
Many of the community's women who were kidnapped have escaped in recent years, and dozens more fled to safety in the last few months as ISIL's so-called "caliphate" crumbled in Syria.
An estimated 3,000 Yazidis are still missing after ISIL's assault.
Iraq's Yazidis 'forgotten by world' since ISIL attacks
In Iraq, children inherit the religion and nationality of their father, so those born to Sunni Muslim men would have the same religion.
Those born to suspected ISIL fighters who are either missing or dead are at risk of remaining stateless because of lack of proof of their father's identity.
Earlier this month, Iraqi President Barham Salih proposed a bill to parliament that would provide reparations for Yazidi female survivors of ISIL crimes and establish a court to clarify "civil status" issues.
Freed From ISIS, Yazidi Mothers Face Wrenching Choice: Abandon Kids Or Never Go Home
May 9, 2019
Jane Arraf is NPR's International Correspondent based in Cairo.
Ibrahim, 2, in northeastern Syria a few hours after his freed Yazidi mother returned to Iraq without him. Ibrahim's father was an ISIS fighter. Although his mother wanted to take him home, the Yazidis do not allow children of ISIS fathers to live with the community. Iraqi law considers the children Muslim rather than Yazidi.
It's the night before a group of Yazidi women and children freed from ISIS in Syria cross the border home to Iraq.
A pale young woman with shrapnel wounds stretches out on a mattress. An older woman in a velveteen housedress leans against the wall cradling her bandaged arm — broken by an ISIS wife who accused her of taking food in the last days of the caliphate.
On the floor near a small heater warming the concrete room, a 5-year-old girl has been crying for so long that her sobs have turned to jagged coughs.
Her mother, who is 22, sits on the floor holding the girl's head in her lap, smoothing the hair off her face as she cries. The woman's other hand reaches out to grasp the tiny fingers of her sleeping 2-year-old son. It will likely be the last night she will spend with both her children. Her daughter is the child of her Yazidi husband, murdered by ISIS. The boy, Ibrahim, the son of a Moroccan ISIS fighter who enslaved her, won't be allowed to go home with her.
Five years after the ISIS genocide against the ancient Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq, hundreds of women are being forced to choose between returning home and keeping their young children born as a result of rape by ISIS fighters.
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While leaders of the conservative religion decreed early on that the roughly 3,500 kidnapped Yazidi women would be welcomed back, they have drawn the line at accepting children with ISIS fathers. Many of the women were held as sex slaves. Because of the deep stigma against victims of rape in the Arab and Kurdish region in which Yazidis live, the decree welcoming them back was unprecedented.
"It's been three years and he wasn't apart from me for even a minute, and I leave him in one minute?" says the boy's mother. "I love him just like my daughter, but my parents won't accept him. Nothing is in my hands." She starts to sob, and soon almost everyone else in the room is in tears. NPR is not using the woman's and her daughter's names because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The little girl has been crying since morning, when they made an earlier attempt to cross the border, leaving Ibrahim behind. They returned to the village when they found the border crossing closed for the day.
"My daughter was crying, saying, 'Why is my brother not coming with us? I want to go back to Ibrahim,' " says the woman. "When I came back, he saw the car, and he ran toward me and hugged me. It was very painful."
Fahima Suleiman, a Yazidi caretaker in northeastern Syria, sits with sleeping toddler Ibrahim, who is being separated from his mother. The boy's father was an ISIS fighter, and his mother is being forced to leave him in Syria when she returns to Iraq. "If [the children] go with the mother, the family doesn't accept them and the community doesn't accept them," says Suleiman.
"All the mothers cry because they are from the mother's flesh and blood," says Fahima Suleiman, one of the Yazidi women helping to take care of the women and children freed from captivity in Syria. "They don't want to give them up. ... But if [the children] go with the mother, the family doesn't accept them and the community doesn't accept them, so they are forced to leave them here."
She says any family in Iraq taking in a child from an ISIS father would be shunned by the Yazidi community: "No one will look at them. No one will drink their water. No one will visit them."
The young mother says that when she pleaded with her parents to let her bring her son, they told her they didn't even want to see what he looks like.
"I have so many friends that were freed with two or even three children, and their families won't accept them," she says. "My parents told me no one brought any of these children back and that applies to everyone."
Yazidi officials believe hundreds of children under age 4 have been born to Yazidi mothers kidnapped and raped by ISIS fighters. Some Yazidis put the figure at over 1,000.
For many, the children are a reminder of the men responsible for the genocide. For others, being forced to give up their young children is an added trauma.
"There are women who have been through so much during the captivity that every time they look at the baby, they will remember all the torture, all the horrible things they have gone through, and they don't want to keep the babies," says Nemam Ghafouri, the Iraqi-Swedish founder of Joint Help for Kurdistan, a relief group providing medical care to displaced Yazidis. "But for others, the only thing they carry is the love of a mother for a child. Where there is love between them, we should fight for them to have this life together."
The children are also seen as a threat to the ancient religion, in which only those born to two Yazidi parents are considered Yazidi. In an added legal complication, since the children's fathers are Muslim, Iraqi law considers them Muslim as well. It's an extremely controversial subject within the Yazidi leadership.
"There are maybe 1,000 Yazidi children still in the fangs of ISIS," says Hadi Baba Sheikh, the representative of the chief Yazidi religious leader, referring to children kidnapped with their mothers in 2014. "Why doesn't civil society ask about rescuing these children?"
Dozens of Yazidi women are believed to still be in Syria with the ISIS families that enslaved them, unwilling to leave for freedom because they would have to give up their children.
"If I wanted to stay with him, I would have had to stay with ISIS. I was told if we leave, they take the children away from mothers, and it's true," sobs the young mother about to return to Iraq.
Yazidi officials in Syria say Ibrahim, like other children of Yazidi mothers, will be left in an orphanage run by Kurdish Syrian fighters for a local family to adopt. No one would tell NPR where the orphanage is.
Ibrahim, 2, in northeastern Syria, plays with a Syrian Yazidi caregiver the day the toddler was left behind by his Yazidi mother when she returned to Iraq. He was born while his mother was enslaved, and his father was an ISIS fighter.
And while some women who give up their children in Syria are told they will be able to visit them or be reunited later, it isn't true. Once the mothers cross over to Iraq, they are not allowed by security forces to cross the border again. Without resources, they are almost completely dependent on their families in Iraq, who do not want them to bring the children back.
During NPR's return visit the following day to the village where the freed Yazidi women were staying, the young mother, her daughter and others in the group are gone. The toddler Ibrahim is still here. He plays with a set of blocks brought by a visitor and doesn't seem to realize that anything is wrong. A visiting Kurdish Syrian woman sweeps him up in the air, laughing.
Mahmoud Rasho, a Yazidi Syrian who helps place the children, says if Ibrahim went to Iraq, other children would always consider him a son of ISIS, and he would face discrimination. Rasho says those helping the children will find good families in Syria for them — Kurdish couples with no other children who can afford to raise them.
"The family we are giving them to must be a good family. Their thinking must not be radical Islamic," he says. "They must be secular and open-minded."
The new family will likely change Ibrahim's name. He doesn't know he was born in the ISIS caliphate and probably won't remember his mother. But his mother will remember. As she says, he is her flesh and blood.
Investigators building case in bid to prosecute Islamic State figures for crimes against Yazidis
The Commission for International Justice and Accountability is sharing its findings from Iraq with the UN team and is pursuing more evidence from Syria, where the Islamic State group made its last stand
by Sarah El Deeb, QASR AL-MIHRAB, Iraq, The Associated Press
May 21, 2020
In the first prosecution on charges of genocide against the Yazidis last month, a German court brought an Iraqi national to trial for enslaving a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old, who was chained and left to die of thirst. Meanwhile, a UN investigative team said it has collected evidence from Iraq, including 2 million call records, that can strengthen cases of prosecution for crimes against the Yazidis.
CIJA is sharing its findings from Iraq with the UN team and is pursuing more evidence from Syria, where IS made its last stand. The Syrian Kurdish authority holds perhaps the largest trove of material from the group, as well as some 10,000 of its members, including 2,000 foreign fighters, in detention.
Investigators’ steep challenge: documenting crimes committed over the course of four years against millions of people in different countries, while many IS members remain at large.
In the Iraqi city of Mosul, for instance, the crimes took place among a population of nearly 2 million people over three years, including enslavement, attacks on dissidents, destruction of cultural and religious sites and training children in jihad.
The Islamic State group’s narrative is that slavery is a justifiable consequence of battle during its brutal capture of Sinjar, a region west of Mosul, as part of its attempt to establish a so-called caliphate.
But the AP determined, based on CIJA’s investigation and its own reporting, that the highest levels of leadership were directly involved in organizing an enslavement machine that became central to the group’s structure and identity. Governing institutions were enlisted, from the IS “cabinet” that constructed the slave system, the security agencies that enforced it, the bureaucrats and Islamic courts that supervised it, and propaganda arms that justified it.
Even as their caliphate collapsed around them, the militants made keeping their grip on slaves a priority. When slave markets proliferated out of the leadership’s reach, internal documents show IS officials struggled to impose control with a stream of edicts that were widely ignored.
A SYSTEM OF SLAVERY
IS launched its attack on the heartland of the Yazidi community at the foot of Sinjar Mountain in August 2014. It’s unclear if Sinjar was attacked for its strategic location between IS holdings in Iraq and in Syria or with the specific aim of subjugating the Yazidis, an ancient sect considered heretics by the militants.
In any case, the results were devastating: During the week-long assault, IS killed hundreds of Yazidis and abducted 6,417, more than half of them women and girls. Most of the captured adult men were likely eventually killed. Hajji Abdullah, an ethnic Turkman from Tal Afar, an area near Sinjar, was believed to be the highest IS judicial official in the area and so stepped in to play a key role in distributing slaves.
The women and children – their husbands and fathers butchered or missing – had to learn to navigate the perverse rules of a world where they were considered commodities for rape and servitude.
“For five years I lived with them. They beat me and sold me and did everything to me,” said the woman who witnessed Hajji Abdullah’s casual cruelty in the Galaxy wedding hall. She dug her nails into her arms as she spoke, her skinny frame carrying more memories than her years are meant to handle. The AP is not identifying her because she was a victim of rape.
Now 19, she said she was raped by nearly a dozen owners, including al-Baghdadi, who owned her for months before he “gifted” her to one of his aides. The woman was rescued in a U.S-led operation in May 2019. She spoke to the AP in a northern Iraqi town full of Yazidi refugees, including freed women and girls who underwent similar horrors.
When Yazidis were seized, top IS commanders registered them, photographed the women and children and categorized them into married, unmarried and girls.
Initially, the thousands of captured women and children were handed out as gifts to fighters who took part in the Sinjar offensive, in line with the group’s policy on the “spoils of war.” Under early IS rules, war booty was distributed equally among the soldiers after the state took 20 per cent, known as the “khums.”
According to survivors and CIJA, some fighters came to detention centres with pieces of paper signed by Hajji Abdullah confirming their participation in the Sinjar attack and entitling them to a slave. Women and girls also would be picked out to be raped by fighters, then returned to detention.
By early 2015, the remaining women were transferred to the Syrian city of Raqqa, the caliphate’s capital, and then distributed across IS-controlled areas, CIJA and survivors of slavery accounts showed.
The IS propaganda machine was mobilized to justify its revival of slavery. Articles, sermons and fatwas interpreting Islamic law were issued outlining how taking slaves was in accordance with Islam.
Islamic Shariah law traditionally allowed and regulated slavery, just as many societies did throughout history, but almost all Muslim clerics now say slavery is no longer permissible.
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IS operated centralized slave markets in Mosul, Raqqa and other cities. At the market in the Syrian city of Palmyra, women walked a runway for IS members to bid on. Others, like the one in al-Shadadi, distributed women to militants by lottery.
A June 2015 notification reviewed by the AP called on IS fighters in Syria’s Homs province to register for an upcoming slave market, or “Souk al-Nakhassa,” giving those on the front lines a 10 day-notice to attend. Participants were told to enter bids in a sealed envelope.
The Soldiers’ Department, or Diwan al-Jund, recorded fighters who owned slaves, usually referred to by the Arabic word “sabaya.” For a time, IS paid fighters a stipend of about $50 per slave and $35 per child – equivalent to the stipend for a wife. The stipend eventually stopped, apparently because military defeats hurt revenues and because owning a sabaya became a sign of wealth and privilege.
Managing the robust system turned out to be more complicated than the leadership planned. And chaos abounded.
Slaves meant to be a reward to fighters were resold for personal profit, and some IS members made tens of thousands of dollars ransoming captives back to their families. Violence and abuse by owners led to rising reports of suicides and escapes among captives.
That prompted a flurry of regulations on ownership and sales, uncovered by CIJA and Syria expert and independent researcher Aymenn Tamimi.
As early as March 2015, IS officials in Syria’s Aleppo province banned posting pictures of Yazidi women on social media, trying to crack down on electronic markets that rescuers and smugglers often infiltrated to extract captives.
The CIJA archive contains a copy of an edict by the Department of War Spoils that banned separating enslaved women from their children, with a handwritten note ordering it distributed to all departments and provinces – a signal that earlier decrees had failed to stop the practice.
In July 2015, the Delegated Committee – effectively the cabinet – ordered all slave sales to be registered by Islamic courts, seeking to end sales among fighters. It also required the finance minister of each IS province to keep track of women between transactions.
The rules got only tighter as the leadership’s frustration over violations grew.
One directive set punishments for selling Yazidis to “commoners” – anyone not a fighter or senior IS official – and for ransoming them to their families. CIJA documented cases of senior officials dismissed from their jobs or punished with lashes for making exorbitant sums by flouting the rules.
Another document explained that only al-Baghdadi was in charge of setting policy on slaves and their distribution. A February 2016 edict required the Delegated Committee’s approval for any senior figure to own slaves – a suggestion that even top officials were abusing the sales process.
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Captured IS militants offered a glimpse into the resistance the leadership faced in enforcing its rules. In the eyes of some in the rank-and-file, what they saw as their right under Islamic law could not be restricted.
Abu Hareth, an Iraqi IS preacher held in a Baghdad prison, told the AP that many fighters didn’t feel compelled to register sales in courts. “You have a product and you are allowed to trade in it,” he said.
Abdul-Rahman al-Shmary, a 24-year old Saudi who traded in slaves and is held in a Syrian Kurdish-run prison, dismissed the rules as rooted not in Islamic law but in the leadership’s need for control.
“It was about power and not for God’s sake,” he said.
Abu Adel al-Jazrawi, a Saudi who worked in the group’s War Spoils department and is now imprisoned in eastern Syria, put it bluntly: “Slaves were just the means for high officials to get rich.”
Laila Taloo’s 2 1/2-year ordeal in captivity underscores how IS members continually ignored the rules.
“They explained everything as permissible. They called it Islamic law. They raped women, even young girls,” said the 33-year old Taloo, who was owned by eight men, all of whom raped her. She asked that her name be used because she is publicly campaigning for justice for Yazidis.
After Taloo, her husband, young son and newborn daughter were abducted in 2014 and she and her husband were forced to convert to Islam, which should have spared them from being enslaved or killed.
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But conversion meant nothing. “What is this all for? They never had a second thought about killing or slaughtering or taking women,” Taloo said.
The family was taken to the Iraqi village of Qasr Mihrab, along with nearly 2,000 other converted Yazidis. At one point, the militants gathered all the adult men and took them away. Their bodies were never found but are believed to have been thrown into a nearby sinkhole, where bones still can be seen. CIJA found that Hajji Abdullah was among the senior IS officials involved in the execution of the men.
Taloo was first sold to an Iraqi doctor, who three days later gifted her to a friend. Despite the rules mandating sales through courts, she was thrown into a world of informal slave markets run out of homes.
Her third owner, an Iraqi surgeon, woke her one night and had her dress and put on makeup so four Saudi men could inspect her. One didn’t like her ankles; another, a member of the IS religious police, paid nearly $6,000 for her.
That owner posted pictures of his slaves online and, every day, they were paraded before potential buyers. “It was like a fashion show. We would walk up and down a room filled with men who are checking us out,” Taloo said.
With each owner, she fought to keep her children safe. One man took photos of her then-2-year-old daughter, threatening to sell her to an Iraqi woman who couldn’t have children. IS was known to separate children from their mothers, using them as household slaves or child soldiers, changing their names and forcing them to convert to Islam.
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One owner forced Taloo to have a baby then changed his mind and forced her to have an abortion. He also forced her to remove a tattoo she engraved on her skin carrying her husband’s name. Another owner forced her to use contraceptives. A third owner got her pregnant and she forced her own abortion.
Eventually, to free a relative, Taloo married a militant who turned out to be a senior IS operative. His long stints on the battlefield enabled her to escape: She paid a smuggler $19,500 she got from her family for passage out of IS-held territory with her children and sister-in-law.
Today, Taloo still visits the sinkhole where her husband is believed to be buried, and for the first time last year she visited the house in Qasr al-Mihrab, where her family was held captive. The house owners, who had fled the IS takeover, have now returned, unknowingly living among Taloo’s cherished memories of her family that was.
As their territory steadily diminished and defeat loomed, IS continued to crack down on members who, desperate for money, sought to sell slaves back to their families for large sums. Some fighters who did so were reportedly killed, survivors of IS slavery said.
Some 3,500 slaves have been freed from IS’ clutches in recent years, most of them ransomed by their families. But more than 2,900 Yazidis remain unaccounted for, including some 1,300 women and children, according to the Yazidi abductees office in Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.
Most are believed dead, but hundreds of women and children likely remain held by militants, said Bahzad Farhan and Ali Khanasouri, two Yazidis who work as rescuers tracking down the enslaved.
For years, the two have followed slave markets on social media, contacting smugglers and searching out IS militants willing to ransom their captives to their families. Working separately, they have secured freedom for dozens of women and children.
Sitting under the shade of a tree at Lalish, the holiest Yazidi shrine in Iraq’s Dohuk province, Khanasouri recounted how he managed to escape after being among about 250 people kidnapped by IS in his hometown five years ago.
With the help of a Tunisian IS member he encountered in captivity, he has developed a network of insiders and confederates in his quest to rescue as many fellow Yazidis as possible.
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Leila Shamo displays tattoos she made while enslaved by Islamic State militants at her home near Khanke Camp, near Dohuk, Iraq, on Aug. 29, 2019.
Maya Alleruzzo/The Associated Press
As IS crumbled, the rescue business was brisk as captors scrambled for money, “looking for buyers,” Khanasouri said. Now, with militants scattered – some hiding in deserts and caves or in sleeper cells – finding sellers is harder.
Wielding his phone, Khanasouri shows maps of likely locations of IS safehouses in Iraq’s western deserts, where he is certain surviving women are still held.
Other women are hiding, either by choice or coercion, among IS families housed at the al-Hol camp in Syria, run by Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Some captives have accepted their new identities, particularly Yazidi children who grew up under IS, Farhan said. Some women with children born to IS fathers don’t want to return home because their Yazidi community has shunned the newborns.
Khanasouri and Farhan have extended their search beyond the areas that IS once controlled, finding traces of women and children smuggled out by their captors who fled as far afield as Iran and Turkey. A Yazidi freed slave lost custody in a Turkish court of her nephew and niece who were found in an orphanage in Turkey.
At times, they said, Syrian opposition fighters have refused to return enslaved girls they come across in their territory.
One Yazidi girl, forced to convert to Islam and six months pregnant, was found in the northwest Syrian town of Azaz when fighters captured a Saudi IS militant transporting her. One of Farhan’s contacts, an opposition fighter, offered to bring the girl back to her family. But his commanders stopped the transfer.
“They said, `She is now a Muslim girl, why are you sending her back to the infidels?“’ Farhan said.
Will The Yazidis Survive In The Middle East?
by Ewelina U. Ochab, Forbes, June 1, 2020,
2014 saw Yazidis in Iraq subject to genocidal atrocities. The crimes were perpetrated by Daesh, a terror group intent on the annihilation of the minority group from the region. Now, six years later, the minority group is facing yet another existential threat in the Middle East.
On May 29, 2020, Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, sent a chilling warning that “Turkish-backed militias are silently carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Yazidis in Afrin, Syria. They are kidnapping women, killing civilians, and destroying houses and shrines.”
Similarly, Yazda reported that “due to their religious identity, Yazidis in Afrin are suffering from targeted harassment and persecution by Turkish-backed militant groups. Crimes committed against Yazidis include forced conversion to Islam, rape of women and girls, humiliation and torture, arbitrary incarceration, and forced displacement.” They further identified that close to 80% of Yazidi religious sites in Syria have been looted, destroyed, or otherwise desecrated, including Sheikh Jened in Al-faqira village, Melak Adi temple in Qivare village, Sheikh Hussien shrine, and Chel Khana temple in Qivare village, Sheikh Rekab temple in Jedere village; their cemeteries defiled. Yazda further wanted that Yazidis in Afrin “are forced to hide their identity, unable to practice their faith, and remain frightened for their safety.”
The current situation is not a new phenomenon but a continuation of a situation neglected since the Turkish incursion into Afrin. Thousands of Yazidis have had to flee their homes in 22 affected villages. According to Yazda, approximately 3,000 Yazidis who fled Afrin now live in “three IDP camps and three villages: Al-Auda Camp, Al-Asser camp, Al-Muqawama camp, Tal Rifat village, Al-zawraq Al-kabeer, and Ziyarah villages – all located in Al-Shahba region and under the control of the Syrian Government.” Another 1,200 Yazidis fled from Ras Al-ain and to Washokani IDP camp are struggling to access humanitarian aid.
However, this is not just about the thousands of displaced persons, but also about the fates of each and every person affected. Nadia’s Initiative, an NGO founded by Nadia Murad, reported on a number of the concerning cases. Among others, they reported that Areen Hassan, a Yazidi girl, was arrested on February 27, 2020, from the village of Kamyar, Afrin. She has yet to be released. Ghazaleh Battal was kidnapped by Syrian armed factions loyal to Turkey and her fate is still unknown. Narges Dawood, a 24-year-old girl from Kemar, was killed by several bullets shot by Syrian armed factions loyal to Turkey. Fatima Hamki was killed after armed battalions threw a hand grenade at her house in the village of Qatma.
The situation require a comprehensive response. At the end of April 2020, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its annual report, raised the issue that “religious minorities in… areas that Turkey seized earlier, such as Afrin, continued to experience persecution and marginalization, especially displaced Yazidis and Christians.” It called upon the U.S. Administration to “exert significant pressure on Turkey to provide a timeline for its withdrawal from Syria, while ensuring that neither its military nor Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies expand their area of control in northeast Syria, carry out religious and ethnic cleansing of that area, or otherwise abuse the rights of vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities there.” The U.S. Administration is yet to respond to the recommendation.
The Yazidis targeted in Syria require urgent assistance. This significant further attack puts into question the future of the community in the region. Can the community survive? Taking into account the recent targeting in Afrin, the atrocities committed by Daesh in Iraq only a few years ago, and other previous persecution, it seems unlikely.
Urgent Action: Turkey bombing villages in Kurdistan
On Sunday, June 14, the Turkish military bombed 81 locations in Iraqi Kurdistan, allegedly targeting Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq’s border areas and disputed territories. This region is also home to CPT’s partners, who live and farm in this mountainous region with their families, communities, and migrant farmers.
On Monday, the operation codenamed Claw Eagle was condemned by Iraq’s Joint Operations Command as a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty.” According to the statement, 18 Turkish jets entered 193km deep into Iraqi territory and targeted the areas of Sinjar, Makhmour, Gwer, and Erbil.
In the evening, people in Sulaimani organized a protest to condemn the attacks in Makhmour and Sinjar.
Local media reported collaboration between the Turkish military and Iran, who were simultaneously shelling the area around Haji Omaran, a town located along the Iranian border, on Tuesday. On the same day, Turkey deployed special forces accompanied by ground and air support.
In the bombing of Zakho on Tuesday, the mayor of Batifa told local news stations that the damage to residents’ homes was so severe that eight families were displaced.
On Wednesday, June 17, we received the first reports of civilian casualties from our CPT partners. They said that Turkish airstrikes have killed shepherds in the Bradost Mountain area. This situation is rapidly unfolding.
Grave disregard for civilian life cannot take place if people are watching. Help us send the message and hold the Turkish government accountable for this injustice. Spread the word and encourage others to take action.
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Yazidis returning to Sinjar, despite fresh conflict and Covid-19
efe-epaBy Marta Rullán Madrid Desk 30 Jun 2020
A number of Yazidi refugees gather belongings before returning to Sinjar, Iraq. EFE/NGO Yazda
Yazidis returning to Sinjar, despite fresh conflict and Covid-19
Despite Turkish bombings, the continued threat of the Islamic State terror organization and the global Covid-19 pandemic, Yazidi refugees are returning home to Sinjar six years after they were forced to flee genocide.
Some 250 families have returned to their homeland in northern Iraq in recent days, sick of suffering and waiting for help that never arrived in the camps for internally-displaced people dotted around the region.
They’re looking to restart lives that were suspended on 3 August 2014 by a brutal IS attack on Sinjar.
“I think we will have a good future if someone provides us with safety and security,” 58-year-old Saad Hamad Mato tells Efe, adding that he is “tired” of being displaced and just wants to start his life again.
In 2014, he spent eight days wandering through the wilderness to escape the IS onslaught in Sinjar. He said he saw the bodies of Yazidi elders, murdered by IS, as well as children who died from a lack of food and water.
On 3 August, some 6,500 Yazidis, mainly women and children, were abducted by the IS.
The Yazidi people, whose belief system has links to the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, can trace their roots in Sinjar province to 2,000 BC, in which time they have suffered 74 sectarian genocides.
The IS extremists executed at least 5,000 Yazidi men and older women and sold many young Yazidi women into sexual slavery and trained young boys to fight.
Around 400,000 Yazidis fled and hundreds or thousands — the exact figures are not known — died of hunger and thirst as IS surrounded Mount Sinjar.
Saad and his family were able to escape through a secure corridor opened by Kurdish forces.
He said he would never forget what happened to the Yazidi women and children.
The same applies for Nada Selo Shekho, 37-year-old mother to four children aged 18, 15, 13 and nine.
“ISIS killed and enslaved many Yazidis including 28 members of my husband’s family and my sister with her children and we do not know anything about their fate,” she tells Efe.
Saad described his experience in the refugee camps as a “struggle for life.”
He said people spent their days “thinking about our homes all the time, we were like prisoners who were waiting for execution.”
Ahmed Khudida, joint director of the NGO Yazda, which was created in the wake of the genocide, says: “Life in the camps is very difficult especially during coronavirus pandemic.”
“People were waiting for a rebuilding plan for Sinjar, justice and reconciliation but nothing has happened now and there is no plan for that.”
Many have grown tired of waiting.
Nada tells Efe: “We should return and restart our life and rebuild our destroyed homes.”
She calls on the international community to step in and help with the rebuilding of Sinjar.
Some 350,000 Yazidis live in the camp for IDPs in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
German psychologist Jan Ilhan Kizilhan, who specializes in post-conflict trauma and has treated over 1,400 young people who were held as sex slaves by the IS, has been to speak with those displaced there.
“From the many conversations I have daily with the Yazidis in the camps, the readiness and motivation to return to Sinjar is very great. But they need security and support,” he tells Efe.
THE DREAM OF RETURNING
It is this motivation that has seen many Yazidis return to Sinjar in recent weeks, despite the absence of essential services in their homeland.
Khudida says: “Sinjar lacks basic services including electricity, water, education and so on. Sinjar is one of the poorest areas in Iraq even before ISIS attacks as it was systematically persecuted for many years.”
His NGO is working to rebuild infrastructure in the region and is carrying out projects developing a mobile health clinic, a women’s center, psychological support groups and a department to document the genocide.
Sinjar’s healthcare system is unprepared to properly deal with the Covid-19 pandemic but Saad insists it is “the only place that reunites us with our families, neighbors, and community.”
Security is another concern for the returning Yazidis.
On 15 June, Turkish warplanes killed several civilians in an operation against militias in the zone, while the IS has launched several new attacks in Iraq, despite having lost almost the entirety of its former territory.
“We have many concerns about recurrent Turkish attacks, but I don’t think they will launch a military operation on the ground. We are condemning any attacks on our territories from anyone,” Saad says.
Nada adds: “The Yazidi people in Sinjar have suffered a lot, and it's time to stop all conflict and escalation over their land, especially Turkish attacks, also the international community shouldn’t let Turkey bomb us.”
Kizilhan says the United Nations should station personnel in the region to help keep peace while Sinjar recovers, a suggestion that NGO director Khudida agrees with.
“The presence of UN troops will prevent Turkish airstrike attacks, eliminate the role of the militia groups, and decrease the possible attacks that ISIS may have plans for,” Khudida says.
AN OPEN WOUND
There are still some 2,800 Yazidis unaccounted for after the genocide, according to Iraqi Kurdistan regional Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs.
“They are in ISIS families camps such as Al-hol, missing within communities in Iraq and Syria, Turkey and other countries,” Khudida says.
The missing and the perceived indifference of the international community is an open wound for many Yazidis.
Saad says: “The international community didn’t do too much regarding the Yazidi case, they observed the genocide that took place without intervention, mass graves remain without exhumation, still, Yazidis have about 3000 missing at ISIS captivity.”
Kizilhan says an “international support community, similar to the Afghanistan Conference, is needed to provide financial and structural support to enable the people to return home, to rebuild their homeland and to have a dignified perspective.”
“The Iraqi and Kurdish governments must also do much more in this regard and support the Yazidis with necessary reparations. That is a political and moral duty.”
Despite the tricky path ahead, Nada remains optimistic about the future.
“I feel that I was able to bring back my memories when I returned to my home.”EFE-EPA