This week I was reminded of August 2014, when Islamic State (ISIS) captured the town of Shingal in Iraqi Kurdistan. I quickly joined a group of activists that rushed to support the Yazidis who had escaped Shingal, helping to establish camps in Iraq and Turkey. For more than a year, I worked as a volunteer in Yazidi camps in both countries and met many Yazidi women with horrific stories. Some of them left children on Mount Sinjar, some had been raped by ISIS members and then shunned by their families as a result, some had seen family members killed in front of them.
They were difficult times. There were shortages of food and water. The Yazidi women were constantly wailing, their voices still echo in my ears today. They would show me family photos of life before ISIS, telling me of what they called the good old days. The Yazidi women said they had two lives; their old life before ISIS, and their new life after ISIS.
I visited Yazidi villages closer to the city of Mosul. Baadre was one of them, the biggest Yazidi village in that area. Many Yazidi women and girls took shelter in Baadre during the winter of 2015, looked after by Yazidi sheikh Mir Amar. It was during a cold night in January 2015 when I met Ilwin, a Yazidi woman who was raped several times by ISIS militants. Her family bought Ilwin from ISIS, but ISIS did not sell her sisters. Ilwin told me that ISIS had put them in a house in Mosul guarded by the wives of ISIS fighters.
Sometimes, she said, these wives helped ISIS members rape the Yazidi women, sometimes they tortured Yazidi women. Ilwin drew a plan of the house in Mosul where her sisters were forcibly kept, asking for my help. I gave it to the Kurdistan Regional Authority Human Rights Centre.
The nights were long in Baadre. We slept in a large room with the Yazidi women and children. It is hard to describe the sounds of their nightmares during the night. I will never forget those nights. I would often wake up to their moans and would look to the lights of Mosul, still controlled by ISIS, and wonder, “Where are you God?”
This week, watching videos from the Syrian village of Baghouz, where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are fighting to capture the last patch of ISIS territory, I remembered my days with the Yazidis. In these videos, we see ISIS members and their wives expressing no regrets about what they did to Yazidis. Some of the wives even defend the enslavement of the Yazidis and say it is allowed by Islam. There are not only Iraqis and Turks among the wives, but there are also Finns, French, Norwegians, Afghans, British, Canadian, Dutch, Russians, Belgians, Indonesians, Filipinas, Bosnians, Chechens and other nationals.
In one of the videos, an ISIS wife from Turkey, Fatma Yılmaz, who was married to five different ISIS fighters in five years, talks comfortably about the massacre and its rapes, looting and killings. She said she joined ISIS to have a comfortable life. A comfortable life killing others!
In another video published by the Daily Mail, an ISIS wife defends the jihadists’ rape and murder of Yazidi women, saying it is “allowed in the Quran”.
Now, we see people debating whether or not these wives should be taken to court. Some wives say they are innocent. While listening to these debates, I remember those who sacrificed their lives to stop ISIS. I remember the mass graves, filled with thousands of Yazidis. I remember the Yazidi women aged over 40 who were buried alive because they were seen as useless. I remember the small Yazidi children who were sold off and lost their families. I remember the Yazidis who were beheaded. I remember Ilwin and the others. Their cries and moans still echo in my ears today.
Last week, another woman who had fled Baghouz, who said she was British and converted to Islam seven years ago, said that the caliphate is “not yet over”. Without bringing the ISIS wives and those who assisted the jihadists to justice, ISIS will never be over. Many Yazidi women and children are still being held captive by ISIS, still waiting for freedom and justice. Thousands of Yazidis buried in mass graves are waiting for justice.
Everyone who supported ISIS, including the wives, had a choice. But they chose to be party to a massacre, they chose to be part of a genocide, they chose to be on the side of evil, not goodness.
If the world wants to stop bearing witness to such horrors, then the international community must act to make the perpetrators of these crimes accountable.