The Islamic State is continuing to wipe out the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq – by means of rape: Those women who survive are rejected by their families. Some commit suicide.
The tragedy that has befallen the Yazidis, whose villages were captured last August by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is far from over. Last week, it was reported that the extremist Islamic organization had recently murdered 300 Yazidis and that thousands of women are still being held captive and are serving as bargaining chips.
Recently, ISIS released several of these women, who then found shelter in refugee camps in the Kurdish-held enclave in Iraq. They described some of the tribulations they had undergone to a reporter for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.
“We woke up in the village of Hardan in the Sinjar mountains with ISIS forces attacking us. We tried to flee, but they captured us,” said one of the women, who identified herself as Dalia. That was on August 3, 2014.
“They brought us together in the village square and told us if we didn’t convert to Islam, we would die. We agreed, to save our lives, but it didn’t help. They took the men and since then we haven’t heard a thing about them," she explained.
"They separated the younger women from the older ones. They sent the young women and the children to the city of Tal Afar and took children who were over 5 years old, including my brother, from us. They imprisoned the others in the school. It was like a slave market. The ISIS commanders, including Turks, Germans and Chechens, came every day and bought one of us females, including girls who were 12 or 13. One ISIS member of Turkmen origin brought me to his house in Tel Afar, where his wife and three children lived too.
“I remained there for about five months," Dalia continued. "One day an ISIS member by the name of Abu Mustafa took me so he could give me as a gift to a Chechen member of the organization named Ayman. Before raping me, Ayman pulled my hair and forced me to dunk my head in a full pail of oil, telling me: ‘You are so dirty that this is how we will purify you.’ Then he imprisoned me in his house and raped me for three days. Then he exchanged me for another Yazidi girl who had been a concubine of a man named Abu Salah. He raped me and then returned me to Ayman.
“Ten days later, Abu Mustafa came back and bought me, saying I had been given as a gift so I could not be exchanged. I remained with Abu Mustafa for a month and then he sold me to a resident of the city of Mosul named Aizam, who used to rape me every night. After a month, he sold me to another man in Mosul, until he got sick of me and sold me to a local doctor.
"The doctor," Dalia summed up, "sold me to someone from Kirkuk who told me that he hadn’t bought me to rape me but rather to set me free. And in fact, he took me to Karbala, and then Baghdad and finally to Zakho [in the Kurdish enclave], where he turned me over to the Kurdish police.”
Drop in the ocean
The autonomous Iraqi Kurdish government has taken it upon itself to seek out and gain possession of Yazidi women, providing them shelter or returning them to their families – if the relatives are still alive. Hadi Dubani, who holds the Yazidi portfolio in the Kurdish autonomous enclave, noted in a press interview that he pays ISIS members between $1,000 and $10,000 for each woman.
“This is a profitable business” for ISIS, he noted wryly. “ISIS buys women for $50 and sells them for $2,000 or $2,500.” But the pace at which the women are being freed is slow. Sometimes ISIS decides to release them on its own. For example, it’s not clear why the organization recently decided to free a group of Yazidi women. One explanation is that it was seeking to inflict shame on the greater community after violating the women’s dignity.
In fact, many of the victims, particularly young ones, seek shelter with relatives because the raped women are considered dishonored, particularly if they become pregnant as a result. For their part, Kurdish doctors are trying to assist these young woman and perform secret abortions, which are illegal in the Kurdish enclave. They even perform surgery to restore their hymens so the women maintain the prospect of getting married and having a family. In one case, the doctors assisted a 9-year-old girl who had gotten pregnant after she was raped by a group of ISIS members.
Such assistance is just a drop in an ocean of suffering and trauma. The Kurdish Health Ministry doesn’t have the proper facilities to provide vital psychological and psychiatric treatment for the thousands of women and children who live in the refugee camps, frequently without family members who can help them. Sources in aid organizations report that at some 60 young Yazidi women who manage to escape ISIS captivity commit suicide every month out of fear that their families won’t take them back after they have been raped or because they have been ostracized by their communities.
In this manner, ISIS is continuing to destroy the Yazidi community even when it no longer physically controls the areas where they live.
“An entire generation of Yazidis has disappeared off the face of the earth,” says one Kurdish human rights activist. “And those who are left, mostly the women, want to die and be relieved of their suffering.”
International organizations, aid groups and the Kurdish government are in fact helping the thousands of Yazidis living in the refugee camps, but that assistance mostly takes the form of food and medication and medical first aid. Several organizations have recruited social workers and psychologists to treat the hundreds of anguished victims, but this falls far short of addressing their needs, which are only growing.
As a result tremendous damage is still being inflicted that is not public knowledge, the effects of which will be around many years after the physical wounds have healed.
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