The war against ISIS in Iraq has seen the plight and suffering of many communities, but few have captured public attention like that of the Yazidi people.
The Yazidis of Iraq make up a population of 350,000 whose home is the mountainous Northern Iraqi region of Sinjar. In 2014, ISIS captured took over the region and the Yazidi city of the same name. What followed was a series of inhumane acts of brutality against these people whom they consider satanic devil worshipers, believing they have a religious duty to kill or convert.
This has resulted in around 3000 of Yazidis killed and a further 4000 of their women captured and used as sex slaves at the hands of the militants. As one young Yazidi woman says, “when ISIS militants captured me I was 14 years old and now I am 17 years old. They took my brother and father and we did not know anything about them”. She was subsequently taken from Mosul to Tel Afar then finally to Raqqa in Syria where she was kept as a slave.
This is not the first time the Yazidis have been subject to systematic persecution. They were among the main victims of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal Campaign in 1989. However, never before has their plight been so visible to public eye. The recent liberation of about 180 Yazidi women by the Kurdish Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) has only made the world aware of their experiences, reminding people that three years on many of them continue to be held by the militants.
Many of the victims have lost contact members of their families to the militants. “When I was arrested by ISIS militants, I was in my parents’ house. We do not know where my father and brother are” says one survivor who was freed recently. Indeed, the militants are known to have systematically killed the adult males they capture and these women fear that their relatives were among those victims.
The humiliation they feel as a result of their treatment is overwhelming. They feel that they have been deprived of their youth, dignity and honour and say that they are ready and willing to pick up arms and fight alongside with the YPJ in defeating ISIS.