In August 2014, Islamic State jihadists attacked Sinjar, home to over 400,000 Yezidis. Subsequently the United Nations confirmed that 5,000 Yezidi men were executed and as many as 7,000 women and girls were made sex slaves. Earlier this month the German television station, ARD (Consortium of Public Broadcasters in Germany), produced footage documenting the slave trade being conducted by the Islamic State (ISIS) through a liaison office in the province of Gaziantep (also known as Antep) in Turkey, near the border with Syria. Last month, after Kurdish forces recaptured the area from ISIS jihadists, mass graves, believed to contain the remains of Yazidi women, were discovered east of Sinjar. But the Yezidi women are fighting back. Below we report on a new frontline: the united YPJ (Kurdish women’s militia) and the Yezidi women’s militia – their mission: to free the sex slaves and to destroy ISIS. We also report in full a powerful speech made to the UN by a Yezidi woman who was held captive by ISIS as a sex-slave, but who escaped and now demands the world intervenes to liberate her people.
An estimated 5-7,000 women are currently held in makeshift ISIS-controlled detention centres, from where they are being taken away and either sold into servitude or handed to jihadists as concubines. The ISIS-held town of Tal Afar alone is thought to hold around 3,500 women and children in five such detention centres.
Last month a mass grave of Yezidis was discovered in Sinuni. Among the 37 skeletal remains were women and children, some who appeared to be toddlers. The victims had been herded together and beheaded or shot. Ten other mass graves have been discovered in northern Iraq by Kurdish residents.
The Free Yazidi Foundation detailed those massacres (see very graphic video here) and the Sinuni grave in a report to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, Netherlands. The report described savage rapes of young girls and how boys age between 8 and 15 were “taught how to load and unload guns, shoot using live bullets and launch small- and medium-sized rockets and forced to watch videos of beheadings.”
B. The force awakens
But the Yezidis are now seeking liberation. At the beginning of the year the Shengal Founding Council was established by Yezidi delegates from both the mountain and the refugee camps, demanding a system of autonomy independent of the central Iraqi government or the KRG (Kurdistant Regional Goverment – Iraq). Several committees for education, culture, health, defense, women, youth, and economy organize everyday issues.
In July women of all ages made history by founding the autonomous Shengal Women’s Council, promising: “The organization of Yezidi women will be the revenge for all massacres.” They do not want to simply “buy back” the kidnapped women, but liberate them. “At these councils, protests, meetings, the resistance may seem normal. But all of this emerged within a year only and for Shengal, this is a revolution”, one Yezidi PKK-fighter said. “The atmosphere of Rojava has reached Shengal.”
Meanwhile the newly-founded YBŞ (Shengal Resistance Units), the all-women’s army YPJ-Shengal, together with the Kurdish militias form part of the new frontline against ISIS.
One year ago, the world watched the unforgettable genocide of the Yezidis. Today, the same people who rescued the Yezidis are being bombed by the Turkish state with the tacit approval of NATO.
C. Liberate the Yezidis
Nadia Murad Basee Taha is a courageous Yezidi woman who survived the massacre of her family and sexual enslavement by ISIS jihadists. On Wednesday, December 16, 2015, Nadia spoke to the UN Security Council about the genocidal attack against the Yezidi people and their sexual enslavement of women.
In her speech before the UN, Nadia implored the world to take action on behalf of the Yezidis in several ways. She demanded that action be taken to free the several thousand abducted Yezidis that remain enslaved by ISIS, that the campaign to exterminate the Yezidis and their identity be recognized as “genocide,” that the Yezidi areas still under ISIS control be liberated so that Yezidis can return, that an international project be conducted to rebuild the destroyed Yezidi areas so that they can start their lives again, and most importantly, Nadia asked that international protection be provided to the Yezidi homelands to ensure that future campaigns of genocide against the Yezidis be prevented.
“I would like to thank the delegation of the United States for having convened this meeting and for having invited me to speak to the Council. It is with great sadness, gratitude and hope that I address the Security Council.
As a Yezidi survivor, I am a descendant of one of the world’s oldest religions, which is today threatened with extinction. I am here to talk about the practices against us by what is called the Islamic State/Daesh — trafficking in persons, sexual enslavement of women, recruitment of children in war, displacement and the genocide of our society. I am here to tell the Council my story, of what happened to my society, which has lost hope for life and is now moving into unknown territory. I am also here to tell the Council about the more than 3,400 women and children who have been abducted. I am here to tell the Council about this global terrorist organization, the Islamic State, which is trying to destroy our culture and take away our freedom. I am here to talk about the nightmare that, just overnight, turned the life of an entire community upside-down.
Prior to 3 August 2014, I was living with my family, my brothers and sisters in the pretty, quiet village of Kocho. But then the Islamic State attacked our region, and we found ourselves facing a true genocide.
A large number of those forces of evil had come from different States with weapons, equipment and uniforms. Their aim was to eliminate all Yezidi existence under the pretext that — according to them — we were infidels. The Islamic State did not just come to kill us, women and girls, but to take us as war booty and merchandise to be sold in markets for a bit of money, or even for free. Those crimes were not committed without design, they were part of a premeditated policy. The Islamic State came with the sole aim of destroying the Yezidi identity through force, rape, recruitment of children and destruction of all of our temples, which they took control of. All of this can be interpreted only as an act of genocide against our identity, in particular against Yezidi women. Rape was used to destroy women and girls and to ensure that they could never again lead a normal life.
On 15 August, elements from the Islamic State summoned us to the village school. They separated the men from the women and children. I saw them from the second floor of the school as they took away the men and killed them. Six of my brothers were killed, while three survived the mass killing. We, the women and children, were taken by bus from the school to another area. They humiliated us along the way and touched us in a shameful way. They took me to Mosul with more than 150 other Yezidi families. There were thousands of families in a building there, including children who were given away as gifts. One of the men came up to me. He wanted to take me. I looked down at the floor. I was absolutely terrified. When I looked up, I saw a huge man. He was like a monster. I cried out that I was too young and he was huge. He kicked and beat me. A few minutes later, another man came up to me. I was still looking at the floor. I saw that he was a little smaller. I begged for him to take me. I was terribly afraid of the first man. The man who took me asked me to change my religion. I refused. One day, he came and asked me for my hand in what they called “marriage”. I said that I was ill; most women were menstruating because they were so scared. A few days later, this man forced me to get dressed and put on my makeup. Then, on that terrible night, he did it. He forced me to serve in his military company. He humiliated me daily. He forced me to wear clothes that barely covered my body. I was not able to take any more rape and torture. I decided to flee, but one of the guards stopped me. That night he beat me. He asked me to take my clothes off. He put me in a room with guards, who proceeded to commit their crime until I fainted.
I was finally able to escape three months after my abduction. I currently live in Germany. Thankfully, Germany provided me with the necessary medical attention, for which I thank that country.
But this is not just about my suffering; it is about collective suffering. Daesh gave us two options: become a Muslim or die. And even men who agreed to become Muslims out of fear for their lives were killed, their women enslaved and their children recruited.
Sixteen mass graves have been discovered so far. One of them contains the remains of 80 women — including my mother — whom they did not desire and so decided to kill.
More than 400,000 thousand people have been displaced, and over 40 per cent of our land is still under the control of Daesh. Our liberated areas are uninhabitable because of the devastation, and Yezidis have no confidence that they will ever live on their land again.
Just last week, more than 70 Yezidis drowned during their perilous journey to Europe. Thousands are looking for a way out, and a great many see migration as their only option.
The Islamic State has made Yezidi women fodder for human trafficking.
To the Council today, I lay out our demands, and I very much hope that humanity has not yet come to an end.
First, we demand the liberation of the more than 3,400 women and children still suffering and living under the mercy of the merciless.
Secondly, we demand that the incidents that took place, including the murders, collective slavery and human trafficking, be defined as genocide. I am asking the Council today to find solutions to the issue of genocide before the International Criminal Court.
Thirdly, demand the liberation of all of our areas, including my own village of Kocho, so that we can bury our dead. We demand the establishment of international protection for the Yazidi areas and for the minorities under threat so that, one day, we can return to our regions and live in peace. I also request the allocation of an international budget, under international supervision, to compensate the victims and rebuild the region.
Fourthly, we ask that members open up their countries to my community. We are victims and we have the right to seek a safe country that safeguards our dignity. Every day, hundreds of people risk their lives. We entreat you today to consider the resettlement option for the Yazidis and the other minorities under threat, especially the victims of human trafficking, as Germany has done.
Fifthly, and finally, we ask the Council, please, to put an end to Daesh once and for all. I suffered the pain they inflicted on me. I saw their evil. All those who commit the crimes of human trafficking and genocide must be brought to justice so that women and children can live in peace — in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia and everywhere else in the world. These crimes against women and their freedom must be brought to an end today.”