In a heartbreaking coda to the inhuman horror of the Islamic State, women from the Yazidi religious minority of Iraq say their communities have told them to leave behind children fathered by the ISIS militants who enslaved and raped them, or else they will not be allowed to return home.
The Wall Street Journal on Thursday told the story of a young woman named Nisreen who was held as a slave by the Islamic State for three years. The third militant who “owned” her forced her into marriage and fathered a child with her.
The Yazidis were targeted for genocide by ISIS due to their unusual faith, which some Muslims deride as devil worship. The Islamic State took thousands of Yazidis as slaves, buying and selling them with open-air markets and Internet ads. The WSJ reported that to date, only about half of the 6,000 Yazidis taken as “spoils of war” by ISIS have returned home.
Some of the missing Yazidis are presumed dead, while others were forced to convert to Islam. A huge number of them were displaced into refugee camps, and some of them are not eager to return to Iraq.
But one other delicate problem keeps women like Nisreen from going home: one of the reasons her religion is small is that it does not accept converts. Under Yazidi tradition, the purity of their bloodlines must be maintained, so only children born to two Yazidi parents are accepted as members of the faith.
Yazidi leadership made a very controversial exception to the tenets of the faith by declaring that women raped or forced into marriage by the Islamic State would be welcomed back into the community, even though intermarriage has traditionally been seen as a one-way exit from the faith. The line was drawn at children fathered by ISIS militants.
The message is not subtle. “They are not our children. They are the children of Daesh,” declared one Iraqi Yazidi, using a derogatory name for ISIS.
As the Journal pointed out, the problem is exacerbated by Iraqi law, which considers children to automatically belong to the religion of their fathers, even when the father was an Islamic State monster.
ISIS captives are well aware of both community traditions and Iraqi law. Some of them are thought to have refrained from escaping or returning home after the fall of the “caliphate” because they knew they would lose their children. Nisreen told the Wall Street Journal she feared her own family would take her son away if she returned home, so she applied for asylum in the West. She said she is not yet certain if she will raise her son in the Yazidi faith.
The exact size of the total Yazidi population is difficult to estimate but is thought to be less than a million, and it might be closer to half that after the depredations of the Islamic State. There are concerns the relocation and exile of women and children victimized by the Islamic State like Nisreen may yet deliver a fatal blow to the religion ISIS wanted to exterminate.
Another well-known victim of the Islamic State horror found a happy ending this week, as Nadia Murad – a Yazidi who escaped from ISIS sexual slavery and became a prominent advocate for victims of human trafficking – announced her engagement to Abid Shamdeen, formerly an interpreter from the U.S. Army. The couple grew up on opposite sides of Mount Sinjar, the mountain where ISIS came perilously close to exterminating the Yazidis, and met after Murad gave a speech to the United Nations.
NPR’s Wednesday story on Murad’s engagement addressed the plight of women like Nisreen who fear returning home after rape and forced marriage to ISIS fighters. Murad and Shamdeen hoped their engagement could help the Yazidi community heal.
“I’m hoping the step we took will be an example for others to marry survivors,” said Shamdeen.
Murad hoped Yazidi survivors will learn “it’s possible to live their lives again and to not believe the propaganda of ISIS, that they will not be accepted back into the community.”
“The hope of ISIS was to break the Yazidi community. But for survivors especially, going back to their lives and getting married and making a life and working, it’s basically making sure ISIS did not succeed,” she said.