Women for Women International has posted an astonishing interview conducted by its founder, Zainab Salbi, of two eyewitnesses to the horrors of the Islamic State.
The tale was not easy to tell, as you can see from the video below, and it is not easy to hear.
The interviewees are Shireen Ibrahim, a Yazidi woman who escaped Islamic State slavery, and activist Feryal Pirali, who handles translation duties.
Ibrahim was captured by ISIS in 2014 while attempting to flee their assault on Iraqi Kurdistan. The Yazidis are a religious minority despised by the Islamic State and considered “devil worshipers” by some other Muslims because they pray to an archangel who is often misidentified as Satan. More details about them can be found here.
Ibrahim became one of many Yazidis held as slaves by the Islamic State, with women and even very young girls often used as sex slaves. She was taken to Sinjar and separated from some forty family members taken with her. She said in her interview with Salbi that half of her family is now missing or dead.
Ibrahim avoided rape at the hands of her ISIS captors for a while by pretending to be married to her cousin and claiming her nephew was her son. She was taken to Syria and tormented in various ways, including ISIS fighters shooting guns into the ground around her, while she was wrapped in a blanket while telling her she would be killed, and pouring some unknown substance down her throat. After she was recaptured during an escape attempt, they tortured her with electric shocks.
“They did everything to me,” Ibrahim said. “They did every bad thing you can think of to me because I ran away.”
She said she was sold as a slave five times during her Islamic State captivity. “The first time I got sold was by a doctor, a guy who came to Syria to buy me,” she recalled. “The last time I got sold it was to the same guy, the same doctor.”
Ibrahim said the price of her first sale was just one dollar. The buyer told her she was a cheap purchase.
The last time she was sold, the ISIS militant hired to transport her helped her escape for reasons she does not know. She currently lives in a camp in northern Iraq for Yazidis who have been rescued from the Islamic State. Ibrahim said she is too traumatized and fearful of ISIS to ever return to her family home in Sinjar.
“It’s hard for us,” Ibrahim said of the other women at the camp who escaped from the Islamic State. “Every minute is like a year.”
The most horrifying story in the interview came from Pirali, who is herself a Yazidi from the Sinjar region. She said she left Iraq in 2010, leaving behind a high school friend who got married and was pregnant with a baby girl when ISIS arrived.
“When ISIS took over our town, when they were trying to run away, because she was heavy, she was pregnant, she couldn’t run a lot,” Pirali said. “So she told her family to leave her behind, ‘save yourself, go.’ She was going to walk slowly until she gets to where they are.”
“Unfortunately, she didn’t make it, The ISIS people got her. What they did to her, they opened up her stomach, like from here to here” — Pirali pantomimed a cut horizontally across her entire stomach — “they opened her up, and they got her baby girl out. They raped the baby, and they also raped her. And she survived.”
“The baby did not make it,” she added. “They thought she was dead. They left her behind. The ISIS fighters, they left her. Her family came back, saw her just like that, in that situation.”
Pirali said this was the atrocity that prompted her to become an activist. In 2015, she circulated a petition asking then-President Barack Obama to help women and girls in ISIS captivity. The petition attracted 100,000 supporters.
“The message I want to send to ISIS people is that we are Yazidis, and we are going to be Yazidis. We are not going to change our religion, no matter what,” Ibrahim said defiantly, with Pirali translating her words.
She wept as she passed along her message to the civilized world: “Save our people that is in ISIS captivity. They’re killing kids in front of our eyes, and they’re bombing them.”
On Tuesday, a Kurdish official told CNN that the bodies of between 1,300 and 1,500 Yazidis have been found in the area around Sinjar, interred in 35 mass graves plus over 100 individual graves. The Kurds believe they will find more mass graves as more territory is recaptured from the Islamic State. The official who spoke to CNN believed there are up to a dozen mass graves in a single village still controlled by ISIS and identified as a site of mass killings by the United Nations.
The United Nations has formally accused the Islamic State of committing genocide against the Yazidis.
Unfortunately, Yazidis in northern Iraq who only recently returned to their homes have been displaced again, as Kurdish and Yazidi militia battle ISIS fighters in the region. The Kurdish Regional Government is seeking to persuade armed Yazidis to break away from the PKK — a militant group engaged in separatist violence in Turkey, which recruited and trained many Yazidis to fight ISIS in the Sinjar region — and join the Kurdish Peshmerga instead.
The world’s largest Yazidi temple, seen by many as a sign of renewal for their religion, is currently under construction in Armenia. Yazidis are a large and respected minority in Armenia, but many of them have relocated to Europe, Russia, and the U.S. in search of jobs, due to a slow economy.