According to the UN, dozens of Iraqi and Syrian religious minorities girls and women and children were abducted – possibly as many as 1,000, and were taken away to unknown destinations
Hoping to some shed light on the abuses many Syrian and Iraqi women were facing at the hands of ISIS militants, a number of young women from the Yazidi religious minority shared their stories of forced marriage, slavery and escape, after being abducted by IS fighters from Sinjar in northern Iraq back in August.
All of this stories reflected circumstances reported by the United Nations last month.
In early August, a 15-year old Yazidi girl was among hundreds of women and girls captured by ISIS militants, who seized her hometown Sinjar, killing hundreds of people and sending tens of thousands fleeing for their lives.
“ISIS consider the Yazidis a heretical sect and gave many of them the ultimatum to convert to Islam, flee their homes, or be killed”
The girl, who withheld her name out of fear, is among a number of brave Yazidi girls who have since found safety in northern Iraq, having paid smugglers to help them escape and reunite with survivors of the brutal onslaught.
The militants consider the Yazidis a heretical sect and gave many of them the ultimatum to convert to Islam, flee their homes, or be killed.For weeks, the girl and two of her sisters were shifted from one place to another – first to the village of Tal Afar, where she was kept in the Badosh Prison.
When US airstrikes began around the town, the militants scrambled for cover, and took the 15-year-old and many other girls with them to the group’s biggest stronghold, Mosul, in northern Iraq.When airstrikes crept closer to Mosul, the militants uprooted many of the girls they’d taken into captivity.
“I was sold in Syria,” she said in an interview in the northern Iraqi town of Muquble, her undeveloped body shyly hunched over as she spoke.
“I stayed about five days with my two sisters then one of my sisters was sold and taken to Mosul, and I remained in Syria.”In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the self-declared capital of the group’s so-called Islamic State, she was first married off to a Palestinian man.
“Those who didn’t want to get married were married by force, whether they became a Muslim or not. They insisted on marrying us, even offering to live together then get married.” she says.
She claims she shot him with the help of an Iraqi man so she could escape, running to the one place she knew of in Raqqa.
“They all reported having seen dozens of other Yazidi women and children including infants in captivity, and they all said that they have relatives who are still missing.”
A Saudi fighter then bought her for 1,000 US dollars and took her to his home as his new wife.”He told me, ‘I’m going to change your name to Abeer, so your mother doesn’t recognise you,'” she said.
“You’ll become Muslim then I will marry you. But I refused to become a Muslim and that’s why I fled.” She realised that it was up to her to escape.
She said she found a powdery narcotic substance in the Saudi man’s home and poured it in tea she served to him and the other fighters living in the house, causing them to sleep heavily.It was her best chance to escape.
She found a man who would drive her to Turkey to meet her brother and a smuggler who would bring them to Iraq.In Turkey, she was united with a number of other Yazidi runaways. The Yazidi community learned of their escape and was able to raise 5,000 US dollars to pay the smugglers for the girls’ safe return to the city of Kirkuk.
The other women who spoke to The AP described difficult conditions, where the militant fighters would deprive them of enough food, water or even a place to sit.
They all reported having seen dozens of other Yazidi women and children including infants in captivity, and they all said that they have relatives who are still missing.
Displaced Iraqi families from the Yazidi community cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 13, 2014. At least 20,000 civilians, most of whom are from the Yazidi community, who had been besieged by jihadists on a mountain in northern Iraq have safely escaped to Syria and been escorted by Kurdish forces back into Iraq, officials said.
The last time 19-year-old Amsha Ali, now eight months pregnant, saw her husband, he too was forced face down on the ground as she was taken away.
Captured on August 3 militants took over her village holding her for 25 days in the city of Mosul.During her captivity her captors threatened to murder her 20-month-old son if she did not convert to Islam and accept the Muslim name of Sara, eventually marrying her off to a fighter from the ISIS.
As she recounted her tale, her father and sister paced the mud floors of the unfinished building they shared with three other families on the outskirts of the city of Sharia also home to 5,000 other Yazidi families who too fled from Sinjar.
“I told him I am Yazidi, and that I fled from Daesh because he wanted to marry me. He told me, ‘Stay in my house and nothing is going to happen to you”
After more than three weeks of living, forcibly married to an IS fighter, under the darkness of night she slipped through the window of a bathroom.
“I walked for four hours inside Mosul. After that an Arab man said ‘come to my house’, and he said ‘what are you doing in street at this time?’ (Midnight), and I told him I am Yazidi, and that I fled from Daesh (Islamic State militants) because he wanted to marry me. He told me, ‘Stay in my house and nothing is going to happen to you.’ I went and stayed in his house for three days. After that he brought me to the “Bardarash” check point , the first checkpoint out of the city controlled by Iraqi Kurdish forces.” She says.
With the help of a local resident, who spotted her walking through the streets at night in search of help, she was driven to areas controlled by Kurdish forces on 28 August.
She tried to convince the other women who were with her to escape but they were too terrified of being caught, she said.
A Yazidi Iraqi woman looks on at the Bajid Kandala camp near the Tigris River, in Kurdistan’s western Dohuk province, where Yazidis took refuge after fleeing advances by ISIS terrorists in Iraq on August 13, 2014.
While fleeing, Amsha was stopped at Islamic State group-controlled checkpoints.She said she told fighters her son was gravely ill and in desperate need of medical attention and through much coaxing, she was allowed to pass.
Now reunited with her father and sister, the whereabouts of her husband are still unknown. Another 19-year-old Yazidi woman who withheld her name recounted how she was forced to care for a 13-year-old girl being groomed to marry an ISIS fighter.
The previously married woman was also forcibly married along with two other women to a fighter living in Mosul.
“I told them (other abducted Yazidi girls) that there is nothing worse than this. Nothing can be worse than this and nothing worse than this can happen to us. I was telling them that they killed our men and they destroyed our homes and if we stay in their hands, they are going to marry us and we will only be able to live married, but they were afraid. I kept telling them ‘let’s run’, but nobody listened. Being so terrified has left them in this situation and now I know nothing about what happened to them.” She says.
“I saw a lot of murders, murders of Yazidis, but the killing was not the hardest thing for me”
According to the UN, dozens of women and children were abducted – possibly as many as 1,000, and were taken away to unknown destinations in Tal Afar.Some were reportedly shot by the militants when they tried to escape and many were raped.The girls who spoke to The AP all confirm that many women still remain in captivity with no way out.
“The killing was not the hardest thing for me,” said Amsha Ali, who managed to escape from captivity in Mosul.”By God, when they took girls and women it was a very sad feeling for me. I saw a lot of murders, murders of Yazidis, but the killing was not the hardest thing for me. Even when they (IS) forced my husband, brother-in-law, and my father-in-law on the ground to be murdered – it was painful, but marrying (them) was the worst. It was hardest thing for me.”