۱۳۹۶ مهر ۵, چهارشنبه

Israeli soldiers carry out puzzling actions in a Hebron home, August 2017

עיריית ירושלים הרסה בית של שתי משפחות במזרח העיר

Salwa Khalaf Rasho, statement to UK parliament – English translation from Arabic, March 15, 2016
Salwa Khalaf Rasho, held by ISIS for 8 months
Salwa Khalaf Rasho, held by ISIS for 8 months
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
Today I would like to speak in the name of God, justice and humanity.  To begin with, I would like to express my deepest thanks for this invitation, and I am thankful to you for paying attention to my story and my pain.  What I am telling you is only one of thousands of stories from Yazidi children, women, and girls.
My name is Salwa Khalaf Rasho.  I was born in 1998 and was in the ninth grade.  I was leading a simple and modest life with my family until the day when Daesh attacked Shengal on August 3, 2014.  I liked my city, Shengal, very much.  I grew up under the principal of co-existence with all societies within the community, regardless of one’s religion or sect, because the values of my religion do not allow to hate others and discriminate against them.
Therefore, Shengal was well known as the city of tolerance and ethnic diversity.  What happened was shocking and unexpected, because we saw Daesh as our brothers.  With this, I mean the Arab tribes of the villages that belong to Shengal.  Suddenly, they became monsters and wolves.  They collaborated with Daesh when Yazidi women and children were enslaved and men were killed.
There were about 9,000 Peshmerga in my city who were armed with various types of weapons.  They said to us, “We will protect and defend Shengal, and Daesh will only enter Shengal over our dead bodies.  We will defend Shengal until the last bullet.”
Unfortunately, they ran away without any resistance and without warning or giving notice to the civilians so we could escape from falling into the arms of Daesh monsters.  They left us women and children to our cold-blooded fate.  I and the people with me tried to flee into the mountains like the others.
At 8:30 in the morning, we fled from our house in the direction of Shengal Mountain, but a check point of Peshmerga stopped us and blocked our way.  Therefore, we had to look for an alternative route.  We found another way.  In order to leave Shengal city and reach the mountain, this other way was further.  When we reached this other way, a convoy of Peshmerga together with its commander, Serbast Bapiri, and his soldiers pointed their guns at us and threatened us and said, “Clear out of the way so the Peshmerga convoy can flee first and reach the mountain.”
When the convoy went, we could go a few hundred meters toward the mountain, until one car broke down and blocked the road.  Therefore, the cars were stuck in a traffic jam.  We waited.  During this time, IS terrorists reached us and surrounded us.  Most of them were Arabic and Kurdish Sunnis from the region.  They said, “Don’t be afraid of us.  Go back to your houses.  We are not here because of you.  We will not injure you.”
They forced us to get out of our cars and return to the city.  Because of my disabled cousin, they allowed me to get into the car with my grandmother and another cousin.  The rest of the family had to walk back, but they were able to escape and reach the mountain.
When we reached Shengal city, they put us in a hall as prisoners.  There were a lot of families.   When we drove in Shengal city, we saw a lot of dead bodies.  The bodies of a young girl and young man are still in my mind.  In this hall, they separated women and children from men.  When we were captured, there was a young girl from Ger Zerig village who had just had surgery.  She was begging for food and water, but the terrorists denied her.  They did not give her anything.  After a few hours she died from exhaustion and thirst.
At 5 in the evening, they separated women and young girls and put us in buses and drove us to Mosul.  There were about 120 women and girls with me in the same bus.  Along the way IS terrorists were groping us and humiliating us.   They were laughing at us.  At 2 AM, we reached Mosul, and they put is all in a sporting hall in the district of Hay Al Zirahi.  We were about 700 women, girls, and children.  After that an Imam came and prayed and said we are now Muslim.  “Forget your families.  We will marry you.  You are starting a new life.”
After that, they registered our names and ages and separated us into two groups:  married and unmarried girls and women.  They did this until 3 AM in the morning.  They took away our mobile phones, but my cousin hid hers.  We knew what was going to happen to us:  raping, violence, pain and humiliation.  Therefore, we tried to kill ourselves and tried to find a rope or something in order to hang ourselves, but we did not find anything.  We also tried to cut an electric cable, but we did not succeed.  We stayed for six days in this hall.  After that, they brought us to a new hall, and we stayed there for three days.  In this hall, older women and children were also separated from younger women and girls.
After that, I and other girls were brought to a big house near to Al Noor mosque.  In this house there were about 700 girls from age 9 to 35.  We stayed only one day in this building.  After that an emir (prince) and officers of Daesh came and chose the most beautiful girls for themselves.  Each of them took three or four girls.  The girls who did not want to go with them were hit and tortured.  After that, they separated siblings and transferred them to Syria as  gifts for the officers there.  This process took two days.
After this process, just 150 were left.  About 70 girls were transferred to Syria.  Me and my cousin and the rest of the girls were deported to Baaj.  After that, in Baaj, three Saudis came and bought 13 girls.  The same day Gilan, a 17-year-old girl from Tel Azeer committed suicide.  After she learned that Daesh killed her family, she cut her wrists.  In revenge, the Daesh terrorists took their dead bodies and threw them to the dogs.
After this, we were taken to Al Medina School.  There we stayed for one week.  After that, I and 32 other girls were taken to Tal Banat.  We stayed there one week, also.  Then we were taken to Kocho.  There we saw some hands that had been cut off.  These hands were near the village school.  After that, I and six other girls were taken to Rambusi.  There IS terrorists forced us to marry them.  They threatened to take us to the slave market in Syria if we refused.  They showed us some photos of Yazidi girls with bonded hands at the slave market and said to us, “This will be your fate, also.”
So we said, “Just give us one day, and we will give you our answer.”  That night we decided to flee.  Rambusi village is close to Shengal Mountain.  We divided ourselves into two groups.  The first group was supposed to flee first and the second one fifteen minutes later.  The first group fled.  After that,  another girl and I fled, but we were captured when we tried to escape.  When IS asked us about the other girls, we said, “Some of your friends came and took them away.”
I was locked in a dark room and they denied me food and water.   They came into the room twice a day and hit me and harassed me until I fell down and lost consciousness.  This punishment came from Emir Abu Meriam.  When he tried to go from Tal Afar to Shengal, his car was bombed by coalition air strikes and he was killed.
After that, Abu Karam was his replacement.  His full name was Ali Newaf Khalaf Al Juburi.  His punishment to me was that he blindfolded me and took me to a location where there was a young man whom he said was a Christian journalist.   He beheaded him in front of me, and said to me they will do the same to my family if I try to escape.
After that, Abu Karam took me as his slave and took to his house.  He had two wives.  At first, they were very bad to me, and, therefore, I tried to kill myself.  After the women knew about my attempted suicide, they commiserated with me.  When we were in a discussion, I found out that one of the women was the daughter of my father’s friend.   They told me if I do my housework good and look after the children good, they would be better to me, and they would not allow me to be sold.
In order to gain their trust, I did all my housework and improved my relationship with them.  After two months, the family moved to Mosul.  When the fights intensified, Abu Karam went to fight, and I was left alone with his wives in the house.
On March 18, 2015, I was able to get a mobile phone and send a message to my father.  I told him where I was.  After that, he contacted a friend in Mosul and told him about my situation.  This friend told my father he would try to help me if he could reach me.  My father sent him my address.  The next day, when the whole family was having an afternoon nap, at 3 PM, I wore a burka and left the house.
I stopped a taxi, and the driver took me to the address of my father’s friend.  I stayed there for one week.  He found a smuggler with whom I could flee.  He took me to Wanke near Duhok, Kurdistan [northern Iraq].  After that, I lived with my family in a tent in Berseve refugee camp near Zakho.  This was, also, a horrible situation, but with God’s and Germany’s help and kindness, I and a thousand other Yazidi girls, women, and children are in a therapy program.
Dear ladies and gentlemen, this is my story of eight months of enslavement, rape, and physical and social torture in the hands of the Daesh monsters.  I and the other women and girls of various ages were in so many terrible and difficult situations, for example, rape and discrimination.  They forced us to do things they wanted.  After some days of this, they sold us to others for only ten dollars.  When I am sitting here now and telling you my story, there are still several thousand Yazidi women and girls who are in the same situation and are sold every day.
They are sold, raped, humiliated, and tortured every day.  There are still several hundred Yazidi children in Daesh training camps, being drilled and brainwashed to be Daesh terrorists.
Since the beginning, until now, it was and still is possible to free those women by planning special operations to save them, like the operation a few weeks ago in which a Swedish girl was freed from Mosul.  The number of IS guards is very small.  In many regions the distance between IS and Peshmerga and coalition forces is very short.
Until now, twenty-five mass graves with hundreds of Yazidi men, women, and children have been found.   About 400,000 Yazidi people, representing 80% of the world’s Yazidi population, are currently living in tents.  The humanitarian situation is bad after having lost everything.  I am sitting here with you and asking in the name of humanity to stand with me in the Yazidi community and to solve the Yazidi question by supporting our recommendations.

Those recommendations are:
First, our plea to the U.K. government and queen is to free our women and children.
Second, call for the U.N. Security Council to recognize the Yazidi genocide and bring the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Third, focus on the escaped women and children who have been tortured had these experiences.  Support them and their families and bring them to the U.K. through a program like the one I am in in Germany.
Fourth, rebuild Shengal and provide a safety zone for minorities in the Nineveh Plains under the security of the United Nations so that families can live there in safety.
Fifth, provide asylum for Yazidis, Christians, and other minorities to Europe.  Within the last six months more than 120 Yazidis, mostly women and children, have drowned in the sea.

Thank you for your attention.  I thank you for the opportunity to tell you and the world my story of what happened to me and my people.
I am not the first Yazidi who has spoken to the UK parliamentarians.  It is time for governments to act to save Yazidis, not in the name of political partisanship, but in the name of humanity.

Salwa Khalaf Rasho
from Shengal city, now in Germany
translated from Arabic by Gian Aldonani, Cologne, Germany
statement to UK parliament – English version
March 15, 2016

fell to Islamic State (Isis). Mosul is 120km (75 miles

he day before Isis came was a holiday in Sinjar district, northern Iraq. Yazidis gathered to celebrate the end of a fasting period. It was 2 August 2014. Harvested wheat fields stood short and stubbly under the shadowless sun. People slaughtered sheep and gathered with their relatives to celebrate the holiday, handing out sweets and exchanging news and gossip. In the past, they would have invited their Muslim neighbours to join the celebrations, but more recently a distance had grown between them, leading the villagers to keep mostly to their own.
The atmosphere was restless and the temperature peaked above 40C (104F). The top of Mount Sinjar, just north of the town of Sinjar itself, appeared to be shimmering in the heat, and the people living below mostly avoided travelling until after the sun had set, when the streets were filled with neighbours trading fearful rumours, and men patrolling with guns.
At dusk, unfamiliar vehicles started to appear. The lights of the cars could be seen moving in the desert beyond the outlying villages. A sense of foreboding grew as darkness fell. The Yazidi men took their guns and set out to check the horizon beyond the wheat fields, peering toward the villages.
On their return, they gathered in Sinjar town centre in small, tense groups. Convoys of cars, kicking up dust in the distance, had appeared two months before, just before the city of Mosul – the capital of Nineveh province, of which Sinjar is a part – fell to Islamic State (Isis). Mosul is 120km (75 miles) east of Sinjar, and its capture was quickly followed by the fall of other towns. Four divisions of the Iraqi army collapsed, including the third division, which was based around Sinjar and included many Yazidis. The area was almost completely defenceless.
When they seized Mosul, Isis freed the Sunni Muslims from the city’s Badoush prison and executed 600 Shia prisoners. The group plundered weapons and equipment from Iraqi army bases. Soldiers scattered their uniforms, and half a million civilians fled north and east. Within a week, a third of Iraq was under Isis control. Sinjar district, with a population of around 300,000, was surrounded. Only a thin strip of contested road remained, linking them to the relative safety of the Iraqi Kurdistan in the north – but the journey was dangerous.
The Kurdistan region in northern Iraq is semi-autonomous, and guarded by the peshmerga, who now had to defend the four Kurdish provinces against Isis. “Peshmerga” means “those who face death”, and the word is heavy with the historical import of the Kurdish struggle against oppression. In the south-east of the region, on the Iranian border, part of the peshmerga clashed with Isis, but near Sinjar, an uneasy stillness hung in the air like a tension headache that comes before a storm.

Leila is from a family of Yazidi farmers and shepherds. She is small with a pale, girlish face, even though she is 25, and gives off a kind, practical air. She has two younger sisters and three older brothers. As a child she worked on the family farm with her brothers, and after a spate of sheep thefts on their ranch, they decided to move closer to Kojo, a village below Mount Sinjar.
Leila’s brothers had joined the peshmerga after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. On 2 August 2014, their colleagues in nearby Siba Sheikheder came under attack from Isis and called for help. Siba Sheikheder, south of Sinjar, is the closest Yazidi town to the Syrian border, a collection of a few hundred squat buildings. By mid-morning on 3 August 2014, the peshmerga stationed in Kojo had fled. In the confusion, Leila’s family and around 100 others decided to run, but most people stayed, unsure what was going to happen to them.
Leila’s younger sister was living in Siba Sheikheder with her new husband, and phoned home to her parents that morning: “We’re running – Isis is coming,” she said. Leila and her family drove north to Sinjar, leaving her uncle at home to guard the house. Arriving in Sinjar, they realised the town was already under attack and its people were fleeing. Gathering together in a patch of scrubland outside Sinjar, they phoned her uncle. He told them the area was surrounded and Isis would not let anyone leave.
Displaced Yazidis from Sinjar fleeing Isis walk towards the Syrian border, August 2014
 Displaced Yazidis from Sinjar fleeing Isis walk towards the Syrian border, August 2014. Photograph: Rodi Said/Reuters
They were trapped. Shortly after the phone call, a group of Isis fighters approached them and told them to hand over money, guns, gold and phones. Leila remembers that the leader had a red face and beard and was called “emir” (“prince”) by the others. Fighters drove her family to one of the central government offices in Sinjar, where ID cards used to be issued. What seemed like thousands of women and girls had been gathered inside the building’s offices, with men crammed together on the second floor. At around 9pm, Isis guards brought lanterns inside and began inspecting the faces of the women and girls. The women huddled together for protection, and as the men drew near to Leila, she was so scared that she fainted. This saved her from being taken away that night. Five of her female cousins were not so lucky.
The Yazidi women in Sinjar didn’t realise it yet, but the Isis fighters were carrying out a pre-planned mass abduction for the purpose of institutionalised rape. Initially they were looking for unmarried women and girls over eight.

When Sinjar district was attacked by Isis, more than 100,000 people fled to take refuge on Mount Sinjar. Those who couldn’t flee were rounded up. Many of the men were massacred. Thousands of Yazidis were either executed and thrown into pits, or died of dehydration, injuries or exhaustion on the mountain. So many people were missing that the enslavement of women didn’t immediately come to international attention.
According to Iraqi MP Vian Dakhil, herself a Yazidi from Sinjar, an estimated 6,383 Yazidis – mostly women and children – were enslaved and transported to Isis prisons, military training camps, and the homes of fighters across eastern Syria and western Iraq, where they were raped, beaten, sold, and locked away. By mid-2016, 2,590 women and children had escaped or been smuggled out of the caliphate and 3,793 remained in captivity.
The Yazidis are a majority-Kurdish-speaking religious group living mostly in northern Iraq. They number less than one million worldwide. The Yazidis, throughout their history, have been persecuted as infidels by Muslim rulers who demanded that they convert. Rather than formal ceremonies, their religious practice involves visiting sacred places. Yazidis participate in baptism and feasts, sing hymns and recite stories. Some of the stories are about historical and mythical battles fought in protection of the religion. Others, told over the centuries by generations of women, detail methods of resistance to the same threats that Yazidi women face today.
The Yazidis had already been made vulnerable by forced displacement under Saddam Hussein, economic meltdown under UN sanctions, the breakdown of the state and security after the US-led invasion of 2003, and the political failures that followed. In Iraq there are now around 500,000 Yazidis, primarily from the Sinjar region in Nineveh province in the country’s north. The Yazidis of Syria and Turkey have mostly all fled to neighbouring countries or to Europe. In Germany, their numbers are estimated at 25,000.
“Not all violence is hot. There’s cold violence, too, which takes its time and finally gets its way,” Teju Cole wrote in a 2015 essay about Palestine. Around the world, a broader kind of cold violence continues. It’s the violence of indignity, of forgetting, of carelessness and of not listening. It’s there in the way politicians talk about refugees, and in the way the stateless are sometimes written about and photographed by the western media. It’s there in the fear of outsiders. It’s there in the way humans dismiss other humans as less worthy of protection or care. When cold violence and hot violence merge, we get mass killings inflicted on the most vulnerable.
Yazidis have suffered massacres and oppression for generations. But there was something different about the Isis attack that took place in the late summer of 2014. This time the media took notice.
Many of the stories about the abduction and enslavement of Yazidi women and children described them as “sex slaves” and featured graphic, sometimes lurid, accounts by newly escaped survivors. The female fighters of Kurdish militias helping to free Yazidis from Mount Sinjar became fodder for often novelty coverage. The Yazidis became the embodiment of embattled, exotic minorities set against the evil of Isis. This narrative has stereotyped Yazidi women as passive victims of mass rape at the hands of perpetrators presented as the epitome of pure evil.
It was only much later in my reporting on how some Yazidi women managed to escape and return that I became aware of how important stories of captivity and resistance were to dealing with trauma, both historically and in relation to Isis. Yazidism is a closed religion and identity, one that is passed down through generations by stories and music. These practices have been extended to dealing with the traumas of their treatment at the hands of Isis.
Many of the women and children captured in Sinjar had seen or heard their male relatives being killed by the armed Isis fighters who now surrounded them. In jails across Iraq and Syria, where the women were held, they felt a sense of “abject terror on hearing footsteps in the corridor outside and keys opening the locks”, said a report by the UN commission on Syria that designated the Isis crimes against the Yazidis as genocide. “The first 12 hours of capture were filled with sharply mounting terror. The selection of any girl was accompanied by screaming as she was forcibly pulled from the room, with her mother and any other women who tried to keep hold of her being brutally beaten by fighters. [Yazidi] women and girls began to scratch and bloody themselves in an attempt to make themselves unattractive to potential buyers.”
At first, the women and girls were taken to prearranged locations in Iraq where they were handed out to the Isis fighters who took part in the attack on Sinjar. To avoid being raped, some of the girls killed themselves by slitting their wrists or throats, or hanging themselves, or throwing themselves from buildings.
Amid the panic in the Sinjar ID office, Leila decided to pose as a mother to her small niece and nephew after she saw the other women being taken away, and correctly assumed that being unmarried was dangerous. The following day, the Yazidi men on the second floor disappeared.
Leila was transported 50km east to a school-turned-prison in Tel Afar, where the women were crowded into classrooms functioning as cells, guarded by fighters who continued to pick out beautiful girls to serve as slaves. Each time they were moved, their names and ages were noted down on a list.
In the coming weeks, some Yazidis managed to escape by walking through the night across muddy fields, keeping to the valleys to avoid Isis checkpoints and reach the peshmerga. It was in those first few days that the Yazidis could most feasibly have been rescued. The captives were held together and some still had mobile phones hidden under their clothes to call relatives back in Kurdistan and tell them exactly where they were. But with little by way of rapid international or governmental support materialising, a sense of abandonment soon grew among the families waiting for their loved ones.
“Within days of what happened to the Yazidis on the mountain, the phone calls went from ‘help us survive’ to ‘they’ve kidnapped these women and can you help us to rescue them,’” said Tom Malinowski, then the US assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labour, when interviewed in February 2016 during a visit to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region. “Hostage rescues are one of the most dangerous things to do, but when they [the women] were still being held in large groups this was discussed, but tragically they were then dispersed … It is still very much on our minds and something we know has to be considered.”
To date there have been no known, large-scale rescue missions to free the Yazidi captives in Iraq and Syria, by either the US, Iraqi or Kurdistan regional governments.

According to Isis, it has no choice but to attack and kill disbelieving men. Flowing from this, it justifies the enslaving of their women as an act of protection, a way of replacing the men who previously looked after them. This idea is crucial to the role of slavery in Isis’s conception of how a caliphate should function.
Implicit in the goal of eliminating the Yazidi community is the idea that society would be better without them, which is common to all genocides, said former UN investigator Sareta Ashraph. The enslavement, for Isis, is meant to eventually bring the women to Islam, and is part of their ideology of conquest. “[It is] among the greatest forms of the honour of Islam and its sharia [Islamic law], as it is a clear affirmation showing the supremacy of the people of sharia, and the greatness of their affairs, and the dominance of their state, and the power of their might,” according to an Isis pamphlet on slavery.
Isis describes its own use of enslavement through a mix of clumsy metaphors about sex, war and power. Dividing up the captive women and children among the Isis mujahideen [holy warriors] and “sanctioning their genitals” is described as a sign of “realisation and dominance by the sword”.
Katherine E Brown, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Birmingham, explained that Isis mainly justifies its use of slavery through selective interpretations of the hadith, the reported accounts of the life and sayings of Muhammad and his companions: “They justify it on the basis that it is a reward for carrying out services for the community – slaves are presented as compensation for fighters. However, they chose particular ways of seeing these hadith, and selectively choose them so as to ignore, for example, the requirement not to kill your prisoners by focusing on the requirement to make sure they ‘don’t escape’ by being ‘secured at the neck’ until negotiations have taken place.”
A displaced Yazidi woman in the northern Iraqi town of Dohuk, May 2015.
 A Yazidi woman in the northern Iraqi town of Dohuk, May 2015. Photograph: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images
The promise of sexual slavery is used as a sweetener when recruiting disaffected young men to Isis. At the same time, media stories about sex and violence involving non-Muslim women being enslaved by Muslim men feed stereotypes about Muslim men that create divisions that Isis can then exploit.
“Slavery serves to increase the Isis community because Yazidi women will give birth and the children will be brought up among its fighters,” writes the author of the Isis pamphlet.
The same document calls on fighters to treat their slaves well, citing words from the Qur’an calling for them to be good to “those whom your right hand possess” – a euphemism for a female captive – and cites Islamic texts with instructions not to hit the slave’s face, and to emancipate the slave who becomes a believer, for which the master will be rewarded by God.
But, as with other strictures, there is a gap between Isis proclamations and an abusive, often violent reality. Isis used gang rape as punishment for women and girls who tried to escape to further degrade and control them physically and psychologically. Despite this, many of the women continued to fight back against their captors, risking punishment and death in pursuit of freedom.
After the women were captured, they didn’t immediately become slaves to the fighters, but were held for a period while their details were recorded. The process was systematised. Women were then sold in markets, either electronically over a mobile phone messenger app where their photos and slave numbers were exchanged, or in market halls and prisons at prearranged times.
Away from the main markets, women and girls, supplied by fighters or Isis members who acted as middlemen, were sold by local brokers in smaller numbers. At the beginning, they were given mainly to Iraqi fighters who took part in the battle for Sinjar. Subsequently, the remaining captives were taken to Syria, and sold there, often to fighters who had arrived from around the world.
In late 2014, a group of young, bearded men sat on long sofas lining the walls of a living room somewhere in the caliphate, wearing ammunition-packed vests. They joked with one another. “Today is distribution day, God willing,” said one of the men, as he flashed a grin at his companions. “You can sell your slave, or give her as a gift … You can do whatever you want with your share,” said another fighter in view of the cameraman who was recording the exchange. The men didn’t seem to notice and continued discussing buying women for “three banknotes or a pistol”.

By the summer of 2013, Raqqa, 370km west of Mosul in northern Syria, became Isis’s de facto capital, and supporters from all over the world flocked there to join the group. It was also the destination for other women from Sinjar.
“When we got to the farm [near Raqqa], we saw four or five buses full of Isis members with long hair and beards,” said Zahra, a farmer’s daughter from Kojo. “They were like animals. On the first day they came among us and started picking girls for themselves. Two or three of them would catch the girls, blindfold them and take them by force into a car. The girls were crying and shouting but they didn’t care.”
From the second floor of the building, the girls could see the Euphrates river, but they were hidden from view by the surrounding trees and fences.
“We were just like sheep, when the shepherd goes toward them and the sheep disperse; that’s how we were, running away from them,” said Zahra. She fled when the men came, but she was blocked by a fence at the edge of the farm. On the first day the men took 20-40 girls. Food was delivered from a local restaurant for those who remained, but they were too scared to eat. They covered their faces with ash to try and look unattractive in the hope that they wouldn’t be picked.
After two days, Zahra and her sister were taken to an underground Isis prison in Raqqa. Hundreds of women were crammed into three rooms in what was just one of several similar structures that were used for holding women in Raqqa. The girls arrived at night and weren’t allowed to see the outside of the building – a tactic similar to that used by the Syrian government in its jails, said Sareta Ashraph.
A Yazidi woman abducted by Isis is carried to safety near Mount Sinjar
 A Yazidi woman abducted by Isis is carried to safety near Mount Sinjar. Photograph: Channel 4
Inside the prison, the women had to share a few filthy, overflowing toilets, forcing them to stand in raw sewage. Their bodies were crawling with sand flies. The only light came from two solar-powered lamps hanging from the ceiling, one prisoner recalled. Each morning the guards would give them a small piece of bread and cheese to share between two, and in the evening some rice and soup.
Some women sat on bags or clothes to try and avoid touching the filthy ground. Children cried constantly with hunger. The women waited under the constant fear of rape or death. “They were always beating us and we had diarrhea because of the fear,” said a woman I shall call Khulka, who is 30 years old and comes from the town of Tel Qasab. She had arrived at the prison with her four children, inside a refrigerator truck normally used for ice-cream. “We didn’t have a shower for one month and we always had lice in our hair. After two months they took us outside, but we couldn’t stand because we hadn’t seen the sun for so long,” she said.
While in the jail, Khulka tattooed herself with the names of her husband and father, so that her body could be recognised and returned to them if she was killed. She mixed breast milk from a lactating woman with ash, and used a needle she had smuggled into the jail. With the same needle and some thread, she began embroidering her underwear with the names and numbers listed in her phone in case Isis found it and took it away. Khulka had been to school, and unlike many of the women there, she knew how to read and write. She also sewed other women’s clothes with their loved ones’ names and numbers so that they would not be forgotten.
Historically, Yazidis associated formal education with repressive state authorities, the suppression of their language, and the threat of religious conversion. In the years before 2014, literacy rates had been improving in Sinjar, but many women and girls worked in the fields to support their families while their brothers went to school. Illiteracy made it harder for women to escape after they were taken into captivity, because they couldn’t read the signs on unfamiliar buildings in Isis-held towns and cities.
Khulka was taken to a side room in the prison with her children and photographed by the Isis guards who gave her the slave number 16, which was then printed above her photo. There were around 500 women in the jail, she recalls, and all of them had to pose with their children and were given slave numbers. Before the picture was taken, she cut her daughter’s hair to make her look like a boy and stop them being separated. If the guards recognised her daughter as a young girl, there was more chance she’d be taken. The other imprisoned women envied Khulka’s grey hair, thinking it might save her from being seized. They tried to imitate it using ash.
“Some of these women and girls resisted forced conversion, protected themselves against violence, or at least tried to, and protected their children. How they resisted really shows incredible intelligence, courage and strength,” said human rights lawyer and gender justice advocate Sherizaan Minwalla.
Yazidi women who fled what is now Turkey during the first world war and the chaos that followed passed down stories that are repeated among Sinjaris today. Among them are accounts of how they did as Khulka was now doing: covering their daughters’ faces with ash and cutting their hair.
In the same prison, Zahra and her sisters were put together into small rooms. They heard screaming and crying as Isis guards came in the middle of the night to drag away the girls. The guards came for Zahra’s middle sister first. When Zahra pleaded with them not to take them separately, one of the guards whipped her with a cable.
After her sister was taken from the cell, the door opened again. This time Zahra was grabbed by two large men and shoved into a car. “I won’t go until you give me my sister!” she cried out. The men drove her to a house in Raqqa belonging to an Isis member who kept her as his slave, then sold her on after four months to another Isis fighter. He found her disobedient and sold her on straight away to a fighter of only 18, who lived at a compound for Libyan fighters near Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria.
Many Yazidi girls were by being held in the same compound of 100 to 200 caravans where the Libyan fighters lived. The women and girls were chained, beaten, raped and passed around like animals between the men. At the edge of the compound, a barbed-wire fence prevented them from escaping. The stories of privation and torture suffered by Yezidi women in this compound are some of the worst in a long catalogue of abuses.

After a little more than a month at the farm, Leila and three other girls from Kojo were taken back to Iraq and kept in a military base near the Iraq–Syria border, more than 200km south of Sinjar in Anbar province. The military base was in Al-Qa’im, a border crossing between Iraq and Syria, but by that time, under the caliphate, it was merely a pitstop between Isis-held stretches of desert. It was also a common crossing point for slaves passing between markets in Isis towns and cities. Leila was sold to a man called Muhammad, who looked familiar to her. Then she remembered who he was: his family were like godparents to her family.
When Leila recognised Muhammad, she was relieved: she thought he would rescue her, and maybe sell her back to her family. Instead, he sold her on. Three days later, Leila was taken to a military base near Ramadi and sold to an Isis military commander. Later, after she had escaped and was in Baghdad, someone asked her what she would do if she saw Muhammad again. “I would burn him alive,” she said.
The Isis commander who bought Leila in Ramadi was a notorious sadist known as Shakir Wahib, who had been terribly wounded in fighting, and was now trafficking women for sex and organising gang rapes. When one woman arrived in early 2016, having held on to a mobile phone, Leila managed to call her brother in Kurdistan and told him he needed to send someone to rescue her before the woman was moved on, and her phone with her. For two days, calls went back and forth between Leila and a smuggler called Abdullah, who eventually helped her to escape. Abdullah used to work in Aleppo and had a wide network of business contacts in Syria and Iraq. He had become a smuggler after 50 members of his family were kidnapped by Isis.
Most of the smugglers working to rescue Yazidi women are Yazidi businessmen. Some of the women are bought back from the Isis fighters holding them, or from the slave markets or online auctions. The cost of smuggling is reflective of the danger involved. It’s not clear how much of the cash ends up with Isis, and how much goes to middlemen or the smugglers.
This black market thrives because families are left with no other options. The war against Isis continues to win back territory from the militants, but Yazidis told me that they would prefer the focus to be on saving their captive women and children, rather than winning back terrain.
Yazidis displaced by Isis in a camp near Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, January 2015
 Yazidis displaced by Isis in a camp near Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, January 2015. Photograph: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images
After reaching Baghdad, Leila and her niece travelled north by plane to the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, and then by road to the camps where many Yazidis from Sinjar had taken refuge, and where their families were waiting. When Leila arrived, she collapsed sobbing into the arms of her female relatives. She was in such a state of shock that, for the first few weeks, she had trouble understanding what her family were saying when they tried to talk to her.
“Sometimes I watch the TV and I see the news of the army taking more land and villages, but it’s not this that we are worried about – it is our people who are still imprisoned,” Leila said. “We know most of them are in Raqqa, so why are [the army] not going to save them there?”
The failures have been broad and deep. Earlier this month, Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air cover, declared victory over Isis in Mosul. But for many, the price of that victory was high: civilians were killed by Isis as they tried to flee, as well as being bombarded by Iraqi forces and the coalition. In March 2017 a US airstrike on a house where families were sheltering in western Mosul killed more than 100 civilians.
Attention has now moved from Iraq to the presence of Isis in Syria, and the battle for Raqqa. As Iraq’s politicians and their military patrons prepare to congratulate themselves, the Yazidi community looks on from displacement camps, rented homes or forced asylum overseas. Almost two years after it was cleared of Isis by Kurdish forces, Sinjar town remains in ruins. A new wave of fighting for Sinjar district is under way, with Turkey eyeing a violent incursion after bombing the area in April. The idea that this represents “liberation” is seen by Yazidis as a bad joke. The UN and others have tried to recognise and document the genocide, but justice looks a long way off. Meanwhile, the battle for survival of the women and girls who were taken by Isis continues long after their return.
Sinjar was recaptured from Isis by Kurdish forces, led by the peshmerga, in November 2015. Since then the peshmerga and other Kurdish armed groups have been in a hostile standoff with each other, with rival groups providing arms, training and patronage to local Yazidis. Brightly coloured flags of the various groups flutter above their respective checkpoints, which are sometimes only metres apart along roads that were recently controlled by Isis.
Yazidis now fear renewed attacks not just from Isis, but also from their Kurdish liberators. Yazidis themselves are not politically homogenous, and many distrust the rival Kurdish groups. By May 2016, despite the liberation, only 3,220 families had returned to Sinjar district.
While the infighting goes on, Isis stands only to gain. Yazidis are stuck in a complex series of client-patron relationships with Kurdish leaders, in which ethnic identification is used in exchange for promises of safety. Meanwhile, the Yazidis remain unable to define their future, militarily or politically. While military clashes continue, any political settlement to the rivalry between liberating forces looks a long way off.
Main photograph: Rodi Said/Reuters
This is an edited extract from With Ash On Their Faces: Yazidi Women and the Islamic State by Cathy Otten, which will be published by Or Books in October.
 Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Since you’re here …

… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too.
I appreciate there not being a paywall: it is more democratic for the media to be available for all and not a commodity to be purchased by a few. I’m happy to make a contribution so others with less means still have access to information.Thomasine F-R.