New York : September 26, 2016.
Nadia, a Yezidi girl who was under the captivity of ISIS is in New York to address the UN Security Council. Her mission is to rescue the enslaved Yezidis and help them liberate their land from the militants. She’s also here to tell her story, with the help of Yazda, a U.S.-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting survivors of Yezidi genocide and women who have escaped from ISIS.
Last July, Nadia was living in Kocho, a village near northern Iraq, with her mother and brothers and sisters. She was a student, and history was her favorite subject. She wanted to become a teacher. “I did not know anything,” she says of her generally peaceful childhood. “I did not know anything about what ISIS was or what it was going to do.”
But soon she began to see images on TV, “horrific images,” she says. And one day in August, she was walking with her sister and saw fighters in her village. “I recognized, I said, ‘This is the same group that we have seen committing the crimes on the TV.’” She didn’t know she would meet them so soon.
Then, on Aug. 15, 2014, the fighters told everyone to walk to the school on the outskirts of town. It was lunchtime. On their way, Nadia and her family saw ISIS fighters “everywhere,” she remembers, “on the houses, on the streets, there were a lot of them.” Some of them were masked, others were not. They all spoke different languages.
The fighters separated the men from the women, and put Nadia and some other women on the second floor of the building. Then they murdered 312 men in one hour, according to a U.N. spokesman, including six of Nadia’s brothers and stepbrothers. Nadia witnessed it all. When they retook the area from ISIS, Kurdish forces also uncovered a mass grave of about 80 elderly women who had presumably been executed because they were too old and undesirable to be sold into slavery.
Those who remained the women like Nadia who were considered young and attractive, were taken to the occupied Iraqi city of Mosul, where they stayed for three days before they were “distributed” among the fighters to be enslaved. “They gave us to them,” Nadia says. She recalls some women mussing up their hair to look less appealing to the fighters, in hopes they would be spared. Others smeared battery acid on their faces. “It did not help because in the mornings they would ask us again to wash our face and look pretty.”
Nadia’s niece, who was also kidnapped, witnessed a woman cutting her wrists. They heard stories of women jumping from bridges. And in one house in Mosul where Nadia was kept, an upstairs room was smeared with evidence of suffering. “There was blood and there were fingerprints of hands with the blood on the walls,” she says. Two women had killed themselves there. Nadia never considered ending her own life, but she said she wished the militants would do it for her. “I did not want to kill myself — but I wanted them to kill me.”
Every morning in Mosul, the women would be required to wash. Then, Nadia says, they would be taken to the Shari‘a court, where they would be photographed. The photographs would be posted on a wall in the court, along with the phone number of whichever militant or commander currently owned each woman, so that fighters could swap women among themselves.
One day, it was her turn. She was sitting in a room with all the other women, looking down. She was wearing a pink jacket. A fighter came in. “He told me, ‘The woman in the pink jacket, stand up for me,’” Nadia says. “When I raised my head I looked at him, this huge man, and I shouted and screamed.” He was very big, she says, with long hair and a long beard. She was sitting with her three nieces, they all held on to each other as the big man tried to drag her from the group. “They were beating us with sticks while we were holding one another,” she says. “He took me by force to the ground floor, and they were writing the names of those they were taking.”
As she was struggling with the big man, she saw a pair of small feet. It was another ISIS fighter, also there to get a Yezidi slave. Nadia, desperate, wanted to go with him because he had a smaller build than the first man. “I basically jumped on his feet, and I told him, I begged him, ‘Free me from this huge person, take me for yourself and I will do whatever you want,’” she says. “Then he took me for himself.”
This new man kept Nadia in a room with two doors. He prayed five times a day. He had a wife and a daughter named Sara, but Nadia never met them. One day he took her to his parents’ house in Mosul. “Then he one day forced me to dress for him and put make-up, I did, and in that black night, he did it,” she testified.
She told the hushed room that she tried to escape the rape and torture, but was captured. “That night, he beat me up, forced to undress, and put me in a room with six militants,” she told said in her testimony. “They continued to commit crimes to my body until I became unconscious.”
She was finally able to escape in November 2014 after one of her captors left his house unlocked, and she sneaked away to safety. She was then transported to a refugee camp (she is purposely vague about how she got from captivity to the camp, perhaps to protect anyone who helped her) where she was selected for a program that takes refugees to Germany.
IRFT with other organizations urged UN to conduct an investigation on human rights abuses against Christians and Yezidis by ISIS and pass a resolution at the Security Council. This is a first step towards that goal.