A group of 137 women, part of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, graduated from military training under the Kurdish Peshmerga militia. The women are expected to join the front lines in the war against the Islamic State.
Kurdish outlet Rudaw recorded parts of their graduation ceremony and interviewed the women, most of whom shared similar goals: to avenge the murder, rape, and torture of Yazidis by the Islamic State terrorist group, which has taken upon itself to eradicate Yazidis from the world, a mission widely acknowledge to be genocide.
“We will avenge our sisters, mothers, brothers, fathers, and whatever we have endured,” one soldier told Rudaw during her graduation ceremony. “I am so pleased,” said another, vowing to protect Kurdish people generally, not just those who follow the Yazidi religion.
Rudaw notes that the women went through a 45-day training course in weapons and infantry combat under the auspices of the Peshmerga. Their trainers tend to be men, though female Peshmerga have long been a common sight among Kurdish forces. The women in this group hail from northern Sinjar, the area north of Mosul that the Islamic State raided in 2014 following the capture of Mosul. Sinjar is home to most of the nation’s Yazidi population. The capture of Mosul forced thousands of Yazidis to flee north into Mount Sinjar, where many died of starvation or were killed attempting to flee back down for food and water.
In November 2015, Kurdish forces announced that Sinjar city, at the foot of the mountain, had been cleansed of its Islamic State presence. Six months later, however, its inhabitants were still not allowed to return as ISIS jihadis had booby-trapped streets and buildings, and the fighting had rendered most of the city’s infrastructure nonexistent.
Many of the refugees from Sinjar have taken to military training. Rudaw reports that, according to Peshmerga officials, “16 groups of Peshmerga of Shingal amounting to 8,000 Peshmerga have been trained so far.”
Yazidi women have also joined other Kurdish militias, like the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPJ) based in Syria or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated terrorist group.
Some have formed their own militias. Founded by singer Xate Shingali, the Force of the Sun Ladies is an all-female Yazidi militia named for the traditional worship of the sun and the Peacock Angel, Melek Taus. It is this worship that has made them the target of multiple attempts of genocide by Muslims — Melek Taus is interpreted to be Lucifer, the angel who fell from heaven to earth. To Yazidis, he long ago reconciled with God and is to be worshipped.
The Force of the Sun Ladies consists almost exclusively of Yazidi women who were taken from their families by the Islamic State and sold as sex slaves. They work in tandem with the Peshmerga.
Other Yazidis, like those visited by Rudaw, are Peshmerga. They are valued by Peshmerga because of the Islamic State belief that being killed by a woman in battle will deprive a jihadi of the rewards in the afterlife that come with martyrdom at the hands of a man. “They are so scared of us! If we kill them they can’t go to heaven,” one female fighter told The Independent. “I like that when we kill them they lose their heaven,” she added. “I don’t know how many of them I’ve killed. It’s not enough. I won’t be happy until they’re all dead.”
Selling Yazidi girls and women as sex slaves is a form of cultural destruction. Yazidis have very strict marriage customs; not only can Yazidis only marry each other, but they are divided into castes and are limited to marrying within their caste. The girls sold into sex slavery by ISIS, raped by an unknown number of non-Yazidi men, will likely find it impossible to marry even if they do manage to escape with their lives. The more women are ineligible for marriage, the fewer Yazidi children will be born, until the group becomes extinct.
Some ISIS jihadis, however, believe that the systematic rape of a Yazidi woman will turn her Muslim. “He showed me a letter and said, ‘This shows any captured women will become Muslim if 10 ISIS fighters rape her,'” one former sex slave testified of her experience being raped repeatedly by an ISIS jihadi.
To expedite the process, ISIS sells Yazidi girls and women at lower prices than others. “Some [females] are sold for weapons, or for just $10, or 10 cigarettes,” activist Khider Domle said in 2015, citing interviews with escaped sex slaves.
The United Nations estimates that at least 3,500 people are being held as slaves by the Islamic State in Iraq.