Near-death at Mt. Sinjar

Nishtiman Awsman

As we heard the gunshot sounds and woke up, I knew a terrible day was coming.
It was a dark, hot summer night and there was no electricity. Therefore, people in my small,
crowded village, which lays in the southeast of the city of Sinjar, were sleeping on the
rooftops of their houses. My mother and I had been sitting at home and waiting for my
father, who went with some friends to see soldiers around the town, when I felt sleepy and
went to bed. After sleeping for only two hours, I was suddenly awakened without any idea of
what was going on. I convinced myself that I had dreamed, so I went back to bed and tried
to close my eyes again.
In a minute, the villagers were all awake and screaming, so I realized that something was
wrong. Because I did not know what I should do, I just hurried to see if my father was back
home. I was also afraid of the darkness, gun sounds and people’s voices, but I was a little
more relaxed when I saw my parents in their bed.
Then we were informed that ISIS ( Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) forces were attacking the
city, and local soldiers were firing back. We immediately went downstairs and waited to
know what would happen. After several hours, the situation was turning worse. The gunfire
separated everywhere and at that moment, all we wished was to see the sun again. Finally,
it was the morning, but the attack was continuing and getting bigger. At the night, the fight
was in other villages on the Syrian borders, but as the morning came, the gunshot started in
our village as well. People in the village were so terrified. However, none thought of leaving
their houses toward safer areas because people were sort of sure that the local forces could
win at the end of the day. At that morning, we ate breakfast with my uncles’ families, whose
houses were next to ours. Even though it was our last meal there, we enjoyed eating it
together under the sound of guns before receiving unexpected news.
Someone knocked at the door, and my mother opened it. It was our neighbour who was a
soldier and was fighting during that night. He was breathless and couldn’t speak. After a
minute of silence, he cried: “What are you doing here? ISIS is coming toward us! We lost this
My mother was shocked and could not believe that we had to leave the village as soon as
possible. She was screaming: “Hurry up! Let’s go, or we will be captured!”
We were all shocked and were not able to even think. So some of us quickly got in the car,
but others were left. At that moment, I was imagining what if ISIS captured us. Or thinking
about my brother, who was not able to come with us because the car was small and we
were more than fifteen people. I was also thinking about ISIS violations that I had watched
on TV, and I was sure that we would be treated the same way, and even worse.
We left without looking behind, and I just took an old picture of my grandmother and my
school cards. At that moment, I had the feeling that I would leave and never came back. I
drank a last glass of water at my house while my mother was screaming and saying hurry up.
It tasted so different. It was full of fear and hopelessness.
As we left the village, we saw the roads were all crowded with people and vehicles. My
father left us somewhere around the village and went back to bring those who were left at
home. My mother, two little sisters, little brother, my uncle’s wife, her two little kids and I
were just running through unknown routes. We left all the men at home because we knew
that ISIS attacked women harshly than men in terms of kidnapping and using them as sex
slaves. Therefore, my father had to get back and bring them from the village. My eyes were
full of tears and I was hardly breathing, while I was looking behind to see if my father’s car
was coming.
Eventually, the car arrived. We were so confused and had no idea how to escape. Every one
of us was throwing a word trying to find a way, but we knew that we only had afew

moments to decide. Therefore, we all finally reached an abandoned village close to the

Sinjar Mountain. We stopped there to take a rest and eat something, because it was lunch

time. But ISIS was expanding their control, and they eventually arrived at that village as well.

Before ISIS had arrived the village, we decided to hide somewhere not between the houses

because we knew that ISIS could easily reach the village since it was close the main road. So

we were sitting behind a hill when they started separating men and women from each

other. We were so frightened, so we just looked silently and did not move. Then they started

shooting at men. At that moment, I closed my eyes to not see what they did, but I was able

to hear women and children screaming and the sound of gunshots that I will never forget.

Here, I really have to mention my feelings. It is so dramatic when we as humans reaches a

point where death is not a big deal anymore. I felt my soul was not in my body anymore.

Many thoughts were coming and going through my mind. I was questioning myself so many

stupid and dangerous questions. But silence was the only reaction I could express.

After they killed men, they put all the females and young people in buses and took them. We

kept silent until they all left the area. What could we say anyways? We did not even look at each other’s’ faces. And immediately we decided to leave that place. However, there was

no road to take us out except the mountain, which was our only chance to escape death.

Therefore, we went to a place that was closer to the mountain, but because the water was

scarce there and the temperature was over 40 Celsius degree, we had to wait until midnight

to climb. We were also not familiar with that place. The mountain was so complex and none

had climbed it since the failure of Kurdish revolution in 1970s. So the springs of water were

not used anymore and the mountain was nothing but a desert.

We tried to take a rest, so everyone slept in a tractor truck for two to three hours. But I

stayed awake and looked after my two little sisters. One of my sisters told my mother that

she was going to sleep a bit, but she was afraid that she would be left alone there, so she

said “ please do not go anywhere without me mom!”. I wish I could say what i felt as she said

that, but I was not in a better situation. Finally, my older uncle told us that it was time to

start hiking. It was 1:00 A.M. We only had two bottles of water, and nothing to eat. This was

the most difficult exam I could ever have in my entire life. I kept staring at that mountain

knowing that it was impossible for me to hike. When we started climbing, I thought that I

would give up and not continue hiking, because I had never before climbed even a small hill.

However, while we were climbing, I imagined that I was one of those climbers I had watched

on TV programs.

After nineteen hours of walking and hiking on that complex lands, we arrived on the

northern side of the mountain, where we were not sure if we would escape or not, but

where we believed there was still a better potential of salvation. We settled in a small,

abandoned village where there were hundreds of other people who also ran away that

night. We stayed with an elderly woman who brought food to the mountain because she

was from the north, and she got there with her son’s car. It was one of the happiest

moments when she offered us some food to eat. We ate in a way as we have never seen

food before. We spent six days there. At nights, we slept on rocks, and in the morning we

stood in a long line, waiting our turn to get a bottle of water (because there was only a small

spring of water, but hundreds of people). If we were lucky enough, we would be able to

have a bottle of water. If not, then we had to wait the long line to finish their turn and then

stood in a new line.

ISIS attacked the mountain everyday with different types of guns, but some local fighters

responded. Sometimes, we climbed those highlands because we were afraid that ISIS might

be able to reach that village as well. One day, they attacked the village with eleven military

cars. I counted those eleven cars as they were coming toward us. When they got close

enough to shot, a military plane stroke them. They quickly turned and went back. As they

were running, I counted again. Only ten cars went back. People started to return to the

village including my mother and two little sisters. I did not climb again at that day because I

felt that I had no more energy. I told my father that if this time they could come and kill us

then let them do so. He was convinced a bit and allowed me to stay with him.

Ultimately, we were informed that a humanitarian corridor was opened between the Iraqi-

Syrian border. Because we did not have a car to drive to Syria, having left our own car in the

south, we decided to get there by walking. But before starting, a man who was my uncle’s

friend told us that he would take us by his tipper truck. There were more than fifty people

inside the tipper. Even though we were close to the Syrian border, it took us fourteen hours

to reach there because the vehicle was so old, slow and full of humans. As we reached Syria,

I saw women fighters at the checkpoints. I cannot doubt that I was happy to see them

because I used to be one of their biggest fan as a young woman. However, I looked down at

my dirty clothes and tired body. I felt so ashamed. I did not really had a reason to feel so, but

I could see the difference between them and myself so clearly. They were protecting their

own land, but I left my homeland because I was waiting for others to protect it for me!

I thought that I would be pleased if I left the mountain and reached Syria, where I had

always dreamed to travel to, but I felt the opposite.. My eyes were looking behind on the

Sinjar Mountain where I left all my dreams and hopes, and I was not able to stop thinking

about those people who were killed or kidnapped. The moment when the Sinjar Mountain

disappeared, I could say that I wished I were buried in one of the grave yards there.

The journey has taught me one thing that I will remember forever. It is not easy to forget

and start from the beginning. But life won’t stop in any situation, and we have to keep going.

No matter what we face, we will always be able to wake up and start over. For years, I could

not stop believing that one day we would be back. Our house, memories, and everything

would be the same, but it ended up to be a dream. My village is now and after three years of

liberation empty of humans and life signs. None and nothing are and will be the same. This is

the fact that I am still forcing myself to believe in. I was sixteen years at the time. Now I am

an university student. Many things has been changing around me. The world gets bigger. I

experienced many difficult, successful, and sometimes proud moments, but there is always

something missing deep inside our hearts as all the other refugees around the world!

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