Savan Abdalrahman – Iraqi Kurdistan
In August 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, or Daesh), attacked the Yazidi people in Iraqi Kurdistan on the same day which marks the Yazidi’s Eid. The attack lead to many Yazidis being killed and kidnapped, even as others were forced to flee to inhospitable environments.
Most of the civilians who were taken as slaves were women and faced threats, forced conversions and rape. Many women bore children from Isis members from these enforced circumstances and repeated rapes. When rescued, many of the women were pregnant from these enforced situations.
After being rescued, many of the women faced hardships dealing with their pregnancies and living with their newly born children. Many found themselves being ostracised for giving birth to children from a union with men who were outside of their religion and culture and who were from the ‘other side’. Moreover, the law did not allow the women to abort their children, even after the enforced circumstances in which they became pregnant. This situation made it hard for the women to be accepted back into their territory and society.
Ava Noaman, a lawyer from Duhok who works for the People’s Development Organization who serves these affected women in Yazidi camps, told MedyaNews: “Many women, when they came to the camps, were carrying the children of ISIS members and went through desperately hard times that traumatized them. You could see it and feel it. But now, with the help of the organisation and the treatment and support they have been receiving, their mental health is better than before”.
In the Yazidi religion, converting to another religion – even under force – was long considered an unpardonable sin. But in the wake of the mass abductions, forced conversions and the rape of Yazidi women and girls by ISIS, that perspective has changed.
Ava, who has been working in Khanke camp in Duhok, said: “We have worked for six years in the Khanke camp. There are many damaged women in the camps, affected by all the wars which have taken place. Many of them still await the missing members of their family and many others find it hard to return to their homes”. Ava also spoke about the situation of Yazidi women before the rise of ISIS: “The situation of women in Shingal (Sinjar) before the arrival of ISIS was already becoming problematic. They had no law and there was a feudal system and way of solving problems”.
Ava added: “For example, we spoke to a woman who is the mother of a child who got divorced and she said that the women are controlled. Male relatives gathered together and decided upon the divorce and gave her child to the father without referring to the law. Men have ruled over the fate of women”.
Most of the women and children who were traumatized by the rapes and abductions by ISIS members have received psychological help and therapy from women’s organizations based in Iraqi Kurdistan and also have received Chamchamal therapy through the use of animals.
Due to the sensitivity of the cases and in applying data protection guidelines, Ava understandably could not provide case study details, but she noted the hardships that so many women have had to go through because of their experiences under ISIS and because of patriarchical values and systems.
The Yazidis are an endogamous and mostly Kurmanji-speaking minority, indigenous to Upper Mesopotamia. The majority of Yazidis remaining in the Middle East today live in the disputed territories of Northern Iraq, primarily in the Nineveh and Dohuk governorates.