By Aditi Bhaduri
Her wrinkled skin is still etched in my mind, her puckered eye haunts me still. And with the anniversary of the Yazidi genocide being marked from last week, I cannot stop thinking of her.
The past week marked an agonising and heart wrenching episode – the genocide of the Yazidis. Natives of Kurdistan, scattered across northern Iraq, Turkey and parts of the Caucases, the Yazidis practice an ancient faith, which has many traits in common with Hinduism. In Iraq the community numbers around 700,000. Ever since Al-Qaida, predecessor of ISIS, declared them as infields, they began facing attacks and persecution by Islamic outfits. The ISIS called them ‘devil worshippers’, and began attacking Yazidi villages from 3 August 2014, killed thousands of men and taking women as sex slaves. Lakhs of Yazidis are living in Europe after fleeing their homes in and around the Shinjar Mountain. The United Nations estimates that 5,000 Yazidi men died in the massacre. Yazidi men who refused to convert to Islam were executed and dumped in mass graves; many boys were forced to become child soldiers. An estimated 7,000 Yazidi women and girls, some as young as nine, were enslaved. In 2016 these atrocities were recognized as ‘genocide’ by the UN.
It is astonishing that a 21st century genocide perpetuated in the ugliest and most medieval manner that unfolded before us in this digital hi-tech age, is so little spoken about, or so little remembered.
But the memory of my meeting with Lamya Haji Bashar refuses to fade. How can it? In fact, the more time passes, the more I marvel at her courage, her fortitude, and most of all – her ability to smile and laugh again.
And while I have narrated her story earlier, it needs to be narrated again and again and again. And so here it is, lest we forget. For forgetting it would allow it to be repeated again.
I met Lamya two years ago in Delhi. She had been invited to a high profile conference on security. She was living in Germany, recovering from her many wounds, both mental and physical, that life had visited on her at such a young age.
Her speech before a mature and diverse foreign audience captured all hearts, and she received a standing ovation. Her narrative of her experiences in the hands of the Islamic State, or Da’esh, seemed straight out of a thriller. Only it wasn’t. She is a living testimony to the brutal horror of terrorism. Losing her father and brothers to the Islamic State whose fighters stormed her village in August 2014, separated from her sisters and mother, bought and sold and kept as a sex slave by numerous Da’esh fanatics, beaten, raped, brutalised, after many failed attempts, she finally managed to escape in April 2016. Acknowledging her trauma and courage, the European Union last year honoured her, together with fellow Yazidi victim survivor Nadia Murad, with the Sakharov Prize. Now a public advocate for her community, she is travelling the world, healing and telling her story and those of her people, to try and get the world to take note of their suffering and facilitate justice.
Here is Lamya’s story in her own words:
On August 3, 2014, Da’esh entered our village Kochu, which is a few kilometres east of Mosul in Iraq. I was then 14 years old and was studying in class IX. The Yazidi community is a peaceful community. We are a non-proselytising, ancient community. Most of us were farmers. We lived peacefully in the village with other Muslim families. We had no problems in the village.
Till August 15, we were surrounded. Yazidis from other villages escaped, but we could not. Then on August 15, we were all rounded up and taken to a school where the men were separated from the women. [That was the last time she saw her father and brothers.] We were told to convert or be killed. The men were shot dead. Then the older women were killed. Four hundred men of our village were killed along with 18 old women. They were burie
d in a mass grave. Then the married women and those with children were separated from us [girls]. We were taken to Mosul.
In Mosul, my sister and I were taken to a hall where many Yazidi girls had been captured and taken. There, we were sold. A Saudi man bought me and my sister. We were taken to Raqqa in Syria. This Da’esh fighter raped us for some days and then brought us to a place where he brought other Yazidi girls. Another Da’esh fighter bought me at this place and I was separated from my sister. I tried to commit suicide. I tried to cut my veins because I was alone with him and continuously brutalised. One day I escaped from the house. I sought shelter with another family, an Arab Muslim family in the same neighbourhood. But they refused to help me and returned me to the Da’esh fighter. Maybe they were scared. Thereafter, I was tortured even more. I was beaten up even more ferociously. One day, when we were travelling to another town, I tried to escape again. I jumped off the car but was caught. Because I was in Syria I was not familiar with the place and knew no one. It was hopeless. Even when I tried to escape, I was easily caught.
I was punished. They put me in a basement without any food and water for a week. Then I was sold to another Da’esh fighter who brought me back to Mosul in Iraq. He brought me to his family and it was even worse. I was treated like a slave by his family and constantly made to work while he continued to rape me. There were women but they were Muslims and collaborating with Da’esh. They were as bad, treated me like a slave and tortured me, called me an infidel. None of the women had any mercy for me. No one tried to help even though I pleaded with them
I ran away from him, but once again I was caught. He sold me to another Da’esh fighter. This fighter who bought me made car bombs. He taught me to make suicide vests. I was kept for four months in captivity by him. I made yet another attempt to escape. This time, when I was caught however, this fighter took me to a Sharia court. There the judge, after hearing my case, ordered that my feet be cut off to chastise me. But the Da’esh fighter said he would rather sell me and my feet were saved from being amputated. But I was punished. I was chained and thrashed and sexually tortured. And again I was brought to the slave market and sold. Da’esh has fighters from all nationalities: Afghans, Pakistanis, Syrians, Egyptians. I saw an Indian man at the last place where I was held captive. He used to make suicide vests and was trained to be a suicide terrorist.
The next buyer was a doctor, an Iraqi surgeon from Haweja [town]. This doctor was a beast. He bought me and some other Yazidi girls. We lived as his captives for a year. Then I was able to contact a relative who paid an agent $7,500 to bring me to Kurdistan Region. One day, the three of us – another teenager Katherine and nine-year-old Almas – escaped. Unfortunately, we ran into a minefield. My friend stepped on a mine and it exploded. Both the girls were killed and I was badly injured. I lost an eye. I do not remember what happened, and woke up in a hospital. There the Air Bridge Iraq [a charitable organisation based in Germany] found me and took me to Germany for treatment. This was 2016 in April.
I’m living in Germany and I’m trying to lobby across the world, to raise awareness about what Da’esh is all about, about their crimes, but most of all about their ideology. Da’esh is dangerous not only because they kill but because of their ideology which they are spreading, especially to young people and children by indoctrinating them. I want justice for my community and I’m doing this in a humanitarian way, not in a political way.
It’s extremely difficult for me. When I narrate my story to others around the world, there is a lot of interest. But on the ground, nothing has happened to help my community. They continue to suffer.
My suffering gave me courage. I had also tried to kill myself. But the more they tortured me, the more determined it made me to escape; to tell the world about their
brutalities and their crimes. They are monsters. I did not see even one good person among them. I did not see anything good at all in all my 20 months of captivity.
I hope we can make Da’esh accountable. I hope to see that an international court can be set up to try Da’esh for their crimes. They forced us to convert to Islam. They called us infidels and kept torturing us. I begged them for mercy but they were monsters. I hope we can save and rescue the Yazidis who are still in their captivity. There are still about 3,500 Yazidis held captive by Da’esh. The message I would like to give is that do not think that if you are in India, you are safe. Their ideology is such that it is harmful for all. And finally, I hope the world can unite to defeat Da’esh.
Lamia’s narrative ends here. Recently, the UN General Secretary Antonio Guterre warned in a report that ISIS has been left with as much as $300 million following the loss of its so-called “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, “with none of the financial demands of controlling territory and population.”
The report to the Security Council on the threat posed by ISIS warns that the lull in attacks directed by the militant group “may be temporary.” UN experts believe that ISIS leaders are aiming to consolidate and create conditions for an “eventual resurgence in its Iraqi and Syrian heartlands.” It said the current lull in attacks “may not last long, possibly not even until the end of 2019.” These are ominous portents.
The Yazidis have been advocating and are trying to raise awareness about their plight and their community. They demand justice, and not revenge, as they say. Many of the women who survived Da’esh atrocities are in a tight spot. They have borne children fathered by their Da’esh oppressors. Now, according to Iraqi law, they have to raise their children as Muslims because their biological fathers are Muslims. This is a terrible dilemma and adds to their trauma. This issue must be addressed by the Iraqi authorities.
The special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert visited Iraq on the fifth anniversary of the massacre of the Yezidis and highlighted the plight of the community and called for urgent action to ensure security and stability in Sinjar region in northern Iraq, a UN statement said Sunday.
“It is high time that the survivors, whose bravery we salute, be given the opportunity to return home and rebuild their lives in safety and dignity,” she said.
According to figures from the Yazidi International Organization (Yazida), around 300,000 Yazidis remain displaced from their towns, while some 3,000 Yazidi women and children remain in IS captivity or are still missing.
The main demand of the Yazidis now is a war crimes tribunal for the Da’esh, on the lines of the Nuremberg trials.
The world must rise to the occasion and not fail them as they did earlier.
This article was first published by International Affairs Review,