The Yazidi community has counted the number of times it has been subjected to genocidal massacres over the generations. In terms of collective memory, the first genocidal massacre the Yazidis faced is referred to as ‘the first Farman.’ The last Farman began on 3 August 2014, when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) besieged Sinjar, home to the Yazidi minority of Iraq. Yazidis list this period of massacres and genocidal horrors as the 74th Farman.
S.H. is a 27-year-old Yazidi woman who survived the 74th Farman. She is one of the thousands of Yazidi women who were enslaved and sold to men in the brutal slave markets of ISIS. She survived the horrors physically even as she survived the horrors afflicting her soul. Despite such experiences and physical and psychological impacts, she never gave up in terms of resistance, hope and liberation, Yeni Özgür Politika reports.
S.H. for some time could not speak about what she had experienced at the hands of ISIS, because she felt ashamed. She felt the shame of the men who felt no shame at all when assaulting her. She felt the shame of the perpetrator. She felt the shame of the torturer. She felt a shame that was never hers.
But in the end, her sense of resistance, her heartfelt feelings and consciousness made her realise that she had nothing to feel ashamed about: she had the courage and honour to persevere and resist. So she decided to speak out about her experiences. She chose what was hard – to recount and relive those experiences again – so that she could open her heart so that all women could hear of her experiences, so that all women could understand that shame belongs to the men who assaulted them.
After being held in captivity by ISIS for a year-and-a-half, she was sold to her own family in return of ransom money. Now, she lives in Sinjar with her three children. “Call me by my mother’s name, Feyziye,” she told Yeni Özgür Politika. So we will call her Feyziye.
Feyziye resided in Gir Zerek town, where she married at the age of 17. Two years before the 74th Farman, she moved to the town of Dumiz in Sinjar, where mostly Arabs and the members of the Milelta tribe and around 50 Yazidi families were living.
The day ISIS raided Dumiz, Arab neighbours attacked them first before the jihadist militants. As Yazidis, including her uncle and many of her other relatives sought refuge in the homes of their neighbours, they were killed in these homes by the people whom they had called ‘friends’ and ‘neighbours.’
Feyziye talks about the days before the Farman: “Life before the Farman in Sinjar was beautiful. We used to get along with our neighbours. Everyday, we used to hear the news about ISIS raiding a town. We began to sleep in fear, but we also thought that if ISIS ever came to Sinjar, they would not come for the civilians like us.”
“We were thinking that the peshmerga were present, so they would protect us from ISIS. If we knew things would turn out the way they did, we would have fled long before.”
The first day of the Farman hit the Yazidi community in Dumiz hard and since the Yazidi community discovered they had no protection, they took to the road and to the mountains at the last minute when they realised that ISIS was coming and coming specifically for them.
“After some of us survived the betrayal of our neighbours, we fled to Sinjar and then onwards to the Qandil of Sinjar. At 8am, ISIS entered Sinjar. We were not fast enough. ISIS, following us, caught us. We comprised fourteen people, including my three children, my sister, my sister-in-law and her five children, the daughter of my brother-in-law and my cousin; we were fourteen. Then, ISIS blocked our path.”
ISIS militants then separated the women from the men, confiscating all material possessions they had, including their gold, money and phones. Then, they took the women to the Sinjar Civil Registry Office.
In this two-floored building, the women were subjected to a frightening ‘selection precedure,’ without being able to understand why some women were picked to be taken to the other floor and for what purpose.
“Each time they came, they chose the most beautiful girl from among us. We stayed there for five days. Then, they took us to the Badush dungeon in Badusha town, located between Sinjar and Tal Afar. There, we were kept for 13 days before being taken to a school building in Tal Afar, to be held for another 23 days there.”
During this time, Feyziye and all the other women were subjected to continuous torture. Feyziye saw many times that elderly Yazidi women had injuries to their head after the torture sessions.
“We were given little food, two times a day. We and our children were all so scared. We all wanted to die as quickly as possible. When they came to pick up another girl, another girl they thought to be beautiful, we were shivering down our spines. What was happening? Why were they picking those girls? Our heads were full of such questions.”
Each woman picked began to scream as they were taken away. In a long corridor, the women were dragged, their screams could be heard echoing. Feyziye and all women hearing these screams were left terrified. They never knew what happened to those women afterwards.
“They used to take away the children as well, but not the ones who were still too little. I used to clutch my little baby close to my heart to hear the sound of my heartbeat, to conceal as much as possible the screams of the women.”
Then the ISIS militants would ask the women if they had a family, a husband. Women with children and husbands were transferred to homes in Tal Afar to breed animals to feed the ISIS militants, Feyziye said. At the time, she tried to be transferred there, but since her husband was not with her, she was not ‘picked’ as one of the women with families. Serving as an ISIS slave in that context was easier, she said, compared to what ISIS did to her and the other remaining women afterwards.
“The women without husbands were left in a school building in Tal Afar. They continued to come and pick a woman everyday. I was sensing that my time was coming. I had no idea what to do.”
While waiting for her ‘turn,’ Feyziye was thinking of ways that she would not be picked. “So I stabbed my face with a needle that I found. After I stuck the needle into my cheek, to the corners of my eyes, I rubbed my face with other materials to make my face look ugly.”
Feyziye disfigured her face, with her self-inflicted wounds, to change her appearance permanently. She knew the changes would be permanent. “Changing my face was painful. but if they picked me and took me away, the pain of leaving my children behind would be much harder. So I was ready to endure any pain, not to leave my children.”