Gynaecologist Nagham Nawzat Hasan visits Yazidi women at a settlement in Duhok Governorate in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
© UNHCR/Claire Thomas
Yazidi doctor brings former ISIS captives’ souls back to life
Having treated more than a thousand Yazidi women who escaped captivity, gynaecologist dedicates herself to helping them rebuild their shattered lives.
By Charlie Dunmore and Dalal Mawad in Duhok, Kurdistan region of northern Iraq | 16 January 2019
Nestled at the end of her sofa in the soft light of a standard lamp, a lined notebook balanced on her knees, Nagham Nawzat Hasan often takes time at the end of the day to record the harrowing accounts she has heard from escaped Yazidi women who were abducted from their homes in northern Iraq and held captive by ISIS.
Since devoting her working life four years ago to helping these women recover from their ordeal, the 40-year-old gynaecologist has helped more than a thousand survivors, transcribing countless pages of horrors as part of a personal ritual that has become part testimony, part therapy.
“I have more than 200 stories written down. I feel like I have to record this for history,” Hasan explained. “I would get home and cry, thinking about all that I had heard. It affected me psychologically. I am also a Yazidi, and a woman. Writing their stories down helps me to relieve some of that trauma.”
The Yazidi community from Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, whose ancient religion has its roots in Sufism and Zoroastrianism, were targeted by the militant group in August 2014. Armed fighters separated men and boys older than 12 years from their families and killed those who refused to adopt their beliefs.
“I would get home and cry, thinking about all that I had heard. It affected me psychologically.”
It is estimated that more than 6,000 Yazidi women and girls were kidnapped and sold as slaves, and held in captivity for months or even years. Many were subjected to imprisonment, torture and systematic rape, as part of a campaign of persecution that the UN has deemed a genocide and a crime against humanity. To this day, the fate of more than 1,400 Yazidi women remains unknown.
Hasan was working at a hospital in Baashiqa – a town 14 kilometres northeast of Mosul – when the area fell to the militants. As she and her family fled to Duhok, in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, they began to hear the reports of Yazidi men being massacred and women and children being abducted.
A few months later, Hasan became aware of two Yazidi women that had arrived in Duhok after fleeing their captors. In seeking them out, she unknowingly changed the course of her own life.
“When Yazidi women began escaping to Duhok, that’s when my work started,” Hasan said. “I saw immediately that they were destroyed. They had lost all trust in people, so I set out to rebuild that trust.”
“I approached women and encouraged them to seek help and treatment. I gave them my phone number and slowly built up trust. Before long, newly escaped women began calling me themselves.”
Her work was secretive at first as people struggled to come to terms with what had happened. As the scale of the atrocities committed against the captives became clear, religious and social leaders issued calls for the abducted women to be welcomed back into the community.
“The Yazidi community played a huge role. They were the first ones to receive these women back,” Hasan explained. “Acceptance by their families and support from the community was an important step, but they needed more.” ...