The entire left side of Sara’s body is still riddled with horrific scars, the result of a double truck bombing that struck her northern Iraq neighborhood in 2007, when she was eight years-old. She was one of the lucky ones. The blast killed 800 people and injured more than 1,500, and it was only the beginning of her ordeal.
Sara, a false name to protect her identity, is a 15-year-old Yazidi, a minority religious group persecuted by more powerful groups for centuries. To the Islamic State (ISIS / ISIL), Sara and her family are infidels, unworthy of the most basic of human rights.
When ISIS overran Sara’s village in Iraq’s Sinjar region in August, members of the terror group executed men in mass beheadings and kidnapped thousands of women and children for their own purposes. The Yazidi Fraternal Organization says at least 12,000 registered Yazidis remain missing in the wake of these attacks. The crimes perpetrated in these villages were cited as a major reason for beginning US airstrikes in the region.
Sara is among the women, at least 47, who escaped their ISIS captors since their villages were ransacked. These women have shared tales of the horrific conditions they underwent, enduring rape, enslavement, and forced marriage treated as commodities in a human trade market.
Sara, for her part, was given as a “gift” to an elderly member of ISIS. She and her mother were captured by ISIS agents on August 3 when they fled their village and took shelter in a farmhouse on the mountainside. The terror group invaded the home, full of other fleeing villagers.
“There were about 20 cars. They all had heavy weapons,” Sara told the Global Post. “They separated the men from the women. Some of the men tried to run. They shot them. They locked my mother in a room with some of the older women.”
The younger women, Sara and her pregnant sister-in-law included, were loaded into pickup trucks and driven away. Sara heard gunfire behind her. This was the sound of the men being executed, her 19-year-old newlywed brother among them. The older women, like Sara’s mother Narin, were left to their own devices. Narin went further into the mountains alone, eventually reuniting with her husband who was away on business during the attack.
Sara and her pregnant sister-in-law were driven through the countryside, past fields full of bodies, into Mosul. There more than a thousand women were held in a hall to await their fate.
“There was a big hall with three floors and each floor had 5 or 6 rooms,” Sara said. “They told us if we didn’t convert to Islam they would kill all the men in our families, so we said to ourselves, ‘It’s just words. In our hearts, we are still Yazidi.’ So I did it to save my brother.”
Tragically, Sara was driven through the ordeal to see her brother, who she believed may still be alive. Hope to reunite with her only sibling kept her strong, but it was a doomed effort.
The men handed out Korans to their captives, often reading to the illiterate women. In those days, Sara said, the men were threatening but treated them well, for the most part. Some women, whose husbands converted to Islam, were freed, while Sara was split from her sister-in-law and sent to another room with young and single women.
Each day, new men came and chose two or three of the women, sometimes paying for them or otherwise taking them as gifts. Once taken, the women didn’t come back.
“We would try to make ourselves look ugly. Some women would cry or scream or fight, but it made no difference,” Sara said. “One girl hung herself. Another tried, but the IS guards stopped her and beat her very badly. No one else tried after that.”
Sara made friends with a 14-year-old girl named Banaz. The two swore they wouldn’t let the other be taken. When one man chose Banaz, Sara refused to let go of her friend, telling the men they’d have to take her too. So they did.
They were taken to Fallujah and given to a pair of men, “an old man and a fat man,” as Sara described them, who lived together in a mansion they’d stolen from a local family. The men beat them regularly and kept them on the verge of starvation, always frail and sick. They were often forced to watch videos of Yazidi men being beheaded.
Sara contemplated suicide many times during this hellish month, but never went through with it. Instead, she planned her escape. When her captors left the house for Friday prayer, she seized the opportunity and, with Banaz’s help, broke down the door to their room and escaped into the city, an Islamist stronghold.
“We decided our best chance was to find a house with children. We walked for about 2 hours. People were staring at us,” Sara explained. “Two girls walking alone is not allowed. Finally, we found a house with children playing outside. We just walked in the front door and said, ‘Help us.’ There were men and women sitting inside. They were scared. They said IS would kill them all if they knew we were there, but they let us stay with them anyway.”
The family kept them that night. The following day, they gave them two of their ID cards and sent them off in a taxi to a Yazidi-owned hotel in Baghdad. The first thing she did was borrow a phone to call her brother. The line was dead.
She got through to her mother, now in Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. The hotel owner secured a flight for the two girls so they could be reunited with what remained of their families.
For more information on Sara and the other 2.8 million displaced Iraqis, check out the source article at Global Post.
Image credit: Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost