Yazidis Fight Back


The brutality of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is not only evident in its treatment of journalists and foreign nationals belonging to countries opposed to its rule, but also in its persecution of religious minorities. Chief among the religious minorities targeted by the group are the Yazidis, an ethnically Kurdish community adopting a mixture of religions such as Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The majority of this ancient community linked to Mesopotamian religions resides in the Nineveh province of Iraq, which was annexed by ISIS. Since August 2014, this community has been systematically attacked and tortured by the ISIS in an attempt to purify Iraq and the surrounding regions by purging non-Islamic religions. The Yazidi people enslaved by the Islamic State are often used for human trafficking to gain economic benefits by selling them into sexual slavery or marriage.

In the midst of cold-blooded exploitation and grave human rights violations, two women from the oppressed Yazidi community have been recently awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, for leading a campaign against sexual slavery and displacement of their community by the Islamic State. Nadia Murad Basee Taha, 23, and Lamiya Aji Bashar, 18, have been recently awarded the European Union?s highest human rights award for becoming the ?voice for the women victims of the Islamic State?s campaign of sexual violence and enslavement,? Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament declared. He further stated, ?I cannot put into words the courage and the dignity they represent,? emphasizing the resilience of the human spirit displayed by the two young women in question.

The dehumanization of Yazidi slaves, assault, kidnapping, sexual abuse, forced conversion to Islam, sale into ISIS affiliated households etc. are only a few aspects of the award winners? battle against exploitation. These Yazidi women, Nadia Taha and Lamiya Bashar, were forced into sexual slavery by ISIS after it attacked their home village Kocho, near the northern Iraqi city of Sinjar- a long time hub of Yazidi life, on August 3, 2014. A common pattern of enslavement in which all the men of the group are killed by ISIS soldiers and women are separated to be traded later on, was also followed in their case.

The traumatic stories of these survivors are laced with torture and agony. In November 2014, Murad, who was tortured and raped, ultimately escaped to a refugee camp in Northern Iraq and finally to Germany with the help of a family. That was when she began a movement to spread awareness about the predicament of young Yazidi women as sex slaves. Her efforts received global recognition when she was made the United Nations good-will ambassador on behalf of the victims of human trafficking last month. She was also commended with the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize on October 10, this year for “outstanding civil society action in defense of human rights.”

Bashar?s freedom was achieved with even more difficulty than Murad?s. After unsuccessfully trying to escape multiple times, she was sold to various militants in five different instances. Not only was she forced to work as a sex slave for 18 months, but she was also coerced to make suicide vests and bombs. In the ultimate attempt to escape to liberty devised by her family by paying smugglers to rescue her, she stumbled onto a landmine while running away from IS terrorists. While two other people with her died immediately, she survived, although as an irreversibly scarred and partially blinded woman. She then travelled to Germany, where she was given medical aid and was able to find her siblings. Like Murad, her activism draws significantly from her personal experiences and thus focuses on women enslaved by the ISIS.

Interestingly, personalized misinterpretation of Islam works for the benefit of IS fighters. An article in Dabiq, IS?s online English- language magazine in 2014, argued that by forcing Yazidi women and girls to marry Islamic State members and become their ?concubines,? the group was helping to protect its fighters against committing adultery. Horrific accounts of such survivors prove that the usage of sexual enslavement as a weapon of war draws enemy lines across women?s bodies.

Established in 1988, the Sakharov Prize is named after nuclear physicist Andrei D. Sakharov, who was a crusader for human rights. Previous recipients of the award include Malala Yousafzai in 2013, Denis Mukwege, a gynecologic surgeon awarded the prize in 2014 for helping victims of sexual violence during wartime and Raif Badawi, an activist who was publicly flogged for criticizing Saudi Arabia?s religious establishment, last year.

The Sakharov Prize has certainly brought the genocide of Yazidis into the limelight as has been observed by Martin Schulz, “They have become the public advocates for the Yazidi community in Iraq and they point the finger at the genocidal campaign that the terrorist organization Islamic State is conducting against this minority.” It is high time the world community stepped in to prevent large scale mass-murder that was last exhibited during World War II.

-Contributed by Tript

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