Although ISIS was driven out of the last part of the Yazidi’s homeland this past May, the specter of past atrocities continue to haunt those who survived the militant’s brutality. ISIS subjected Yazidis to the most horrific treatments, a fact visibly evident by the mass graves still present in some villages. Yazidi women and children who were enslaved by ISIS struggle with the ramifications of their captivity, and adjusting to life after their experiences has been a difficult transition.
09/03/2017 Iraq (The New Yorker) – This summer, Iraqi forces finally drove ISIS out of Mosul and most of northern Iraq. But for the Yazidis, a long persecuted religious and ethnic minority who practice a faith with pre-Zoroastrian roots and Islamic and Christian influences, stability is still a distant prospect. ISIS militants consider the Yazidis infidels and have subjected them to systematic killings, rape, and pillage. In the summer of 2014, ISIS killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of Yazidis; more than fifty thousand survivors fled to Sinjar Mountain, in the baking August heat. Three thousand Yazidis remain in ISIS captivity, but as isishas lost territory, international interest in them has faded.
Leila, who was twenty-three, was enslaved by ISIS, one of six thousand Yazidis who were captured in Sinjar. She was taken with other Yazidi women to Raqqa, Syria. She was moved again, and a Sunni Arab farmer from a village near Sinjar bought her. She knew the man—he had been like a godparent to Leila and her brothers when she was a child. Leila thought he would save her. Instead, after three days, he sold her to an ISIS military commander, who kept her in captivity for more than a year and regularly raped and tortured her. Her captor, she told me, did “a lot of terrible things—actions against God.”
In the spring of 2016, Leila, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, managed to contact a smuggler, who guided her to freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan. Seven months after her escape, she was living in a small camp for displaced Yazidis under a string of mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the first days and weeks after her escape from ISIS, Leila felt relieved to be free and back with her family.
When I met her again later, relief was giving way to shock and a struggle to communicate. She experienced nightmares and flashbacks, and began worrying constantly that ISIS fighters would kidnap her again. I met her soon after her release, and then saw her mental state deteriorate. The Yazidi religious authorities welcomed back those who had been ISIS slaves, but, as Leila told me, readjusting to family life was difficult. “The Yazidis will never recover,” she said. “Even if we marry or fall in love, there will still be this thing inside that is broken.”