Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Persecuted for their faith: A Yazidi Woman speaks

This story was originally told to us by a young Yazidi woman. Her identity, current location and other details have been protected in order to protect her safety. The Red Elephant Foundation has appropriately re-written the story in English only to add grammatical structure after it was translated to English. The images used in the story are purely indicative and do not depict the girl who has narrated this story. The Red Elephant Foundation, its core team and volunteers condemn the ISIS and its ruthless practices. 

I want as many people as possible to know my story – this is a community story, a story that many other women in my country at this moment, with the ISIS abounding, continue to face. I will refrain from telling you my name – because that will put everyone in connection with writing this story in danger. I will tell you this much, though: I am a Yazidi woman, 27 years old and on the run.

Image from i24news
Let me tell you a little about us Yazidis first. We are a community that are predominantly monotheistic in our faith. We believe in a religious practice that considers God as the creator of the world – which is now in the care of seven angels. The chief of those angels Malek Taus, or the Peacock Angel, is often linked with the angel Iblis, who refused to toe the line of monotheism and did not worship Adam and Eve though God commanded him to – something that led to his perception as being Satan. This has led to eons and eons of us Yazidis being perceived as devil worshippers.

The ISIS is harsh in its ideology. Well, harsh is really not the word I am looking for – but you get what I intend. Women are supposed to cover themselves. If the woman they pull up is not Muslim, they don’t hesitate to rape her to force her to follow their policies.

I come from a place called Sinjar. It is – was – no, is, my home. I will go back, someday, I hope.

We were protected by the Kurdish Peshmerga for a while until the ISIS militants began to make inroads into our lands with force. When we got wind of the fact that the ISIS had already captured Tal Afar, we decided to make a move for it - and tried to go to Dohuk, which is in Kurdistan in Iraq. We had to trek mountains and chart rugged terrain in the process of making the journey. We had no food, no water - and had to make do with absolutely nothing but our hunger. It was a terrible situation. We had death facing us on all sides - there was no food, no water on one end, and on the other, we were surrounded by the militants below the mountains we were trekking on.

There were many a round of airstrikes. It was only later that we knew that the USA had attacked the militants through targeted air strikes. There were also air drops of food packets that many of us managed to get our hands on. With all that happening, a few of us - perhaps only a few thousands or so - managed to escape from the mountains where we were hiding. There were so many kind Kurdish men from Syria who fought for us and rescued us, and took us into Syria. In the journey, though, there were many painful things we encountered. My youngest sister could not keep up with us, and unbeknownst to us has possibly been captured. We don't know where she is, and my heart bleeds for her when I read and hear about the things that are happening with the ISIS and their terrible persecution campaigns.

After we escaped, there were scattered instances of a few other Yazidi women and men escaping. Where I am right now, I met with two other women who managed to escape. They were not as lucky as me – they were abducted from their homes after their husbands were shot at. The ISIS had taken these women to Tal Afar, where they took all the single women away after leaving behind women who were mothers. These two, being single women now since their husbands were killed and they had no children – were raped and brutally enslaved sexually. They have been beaten almost every day in the time that they were held captive. They escaped captivity - but I cannot tell their story without their consent beyond this. 

The fact is that we Yazidis are no strangers to persecution. When we lived in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, we were persecuted for our ethnic affiliations. When subsequent Sunni Muslim revolutionaries were in charge, we were persecuted – again, for our ethnic affiliations. And now, the ISIS is persecuting us, again, for our ethnic affiliations. We are being perceived as non-Islamic, we are being perceived as something unclean blotting the fabric of the society in the country that we are part of. And therefore, the ISIS believes, that we must be cleaned out if they want to enjoy purity of their population.

Image from Vox-CDN

Since early August this year, my family, along with scores of other Yazidis like us, have been on the run. The Peshmerga troops have been tremendous in our journey as support. Fighting for us, they have helped us run away from the threat of death at the hands of the militant Islamic State group. Today, I have managed to escape – but the fact remains that many, many others are being subjected to horrific treatment and torture. On our journey out into the mountains through the humanitarian corridor across the Tigris from Mount Sinjar that was created for us, I cannot begin to tell you how many dead people I have seen. You might think of me as insensitive – but while charting that path, I could only think of the words “Dead Sea”. It’s what war does to you. It’s what violence does to you. You feel nothing, and everything, all at the same time.  

I don’t know what to say. I really don’t know what to do. I am outside the land I called my home. I am outside the world that I knew as my own world. And in that, I am so lonely. I don’t know why there is so much hatred for, by and of humans. If we are capable of so much hate, can’t we learn to be capable of as much love and goodness?

Today, I am disheartened to the point that I stopped believing in God. I used to think that God was one – because that is what it was, always. Everyone gave God a different name – but the fact was, God was just one. But today, if this God is allowing one to turn against the other in God’s name, allowing one to kill another in God’s name, and allowing many to suffer in God’s name, perhaps there is no God at all.

But that’s not all. Do you know what the irony in all this is? I recently learned and read that Isis is an Ancient Egyptian Goddess. She was the protector of the dead and of children.