Nadia’s remote Iraqi village was a haven of peace – till ISIS slaughtered the men and enslaved the women21 February 2018
By Paul Martin
A thigh bone protruded from the large pit, about half the length and breadth of a football field, just outside the small village of Kocho in a remote part of Northern Iraq.
“ISIS is gone from here,” said a local villager, one of only 100 people who’ve returned to the village. “We have hardly started on the horrible job of digging up the bones of our 400 loved ones, buried here.”
[On the 4th anniversary of its capture by ISIS, I watched as children of the missing and the dead were brought back for half a day, and locals sang laments and visited the killing locations.]
Nadia Murad, who jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize, was one of 1300 local girls and women who heard the shots on August 3 2014 as ISIS killed all the males – except for boys from 4 to 12 who were to be trained as boy soldiers to fight for ISIS, carrying out the most brutal form of Islamic jihad for many centuries.
The females, herded into the village schoolroom the classrooms have remained empty ever since then – were pulled out screaming and taken in trucks to Mosul, the second biggest city in Iraq. Known as Nineveh, it was made world-famous by the story of Jonah and the whale in the bible.
Nadia still shivers as she re-tells her story.
“We all started to scream and moan, like we were injured. We tried to vomit on the floor. We tried to make ourselves so unattractive they would not want us. But they did they took us all, one by one, claimed as a sex slave. They chose the most beautiful girls first and examined ran their fingers through our hair sand touched our months and groped our breasts. The guard said: yes, they’re all virgins – like he was selling some nice fruit.
“I screamed and I howled. I slapped away their groping hands. Some girls curled themselves on the floor. And some girls threw themselves on top of their staters or closer friends saying, take me first, not her.
“But it was no use. You with the pink jacket,” he said. “Get up.”
“I was picked by a huge, fat guy called Salwan, a high-ranking ISIS fighter. He dumped another Yazidi girl who’d been captured earlier, and was shopping for a substitute sex slave: me.
“On a floor below us a soldier was registering all our names and the soldiers’ names in a book. I realised this fat guy would crush me as he would rape me, and he smelled like rotten eggs, though he’d also sprinkled cologne on himself.
“So when I looked down and saw some sandals with thin ankles, I fling myself on this guy and said: 的beg you, please choose me.He said to the fat guy: She’s mine and as he was much higher ranked in ISIS, he got his way. The soldier with the book registered my captor and his ‘prize’.
She tried to escape, but was immediately caught and the ‘punishment’ was a night-long gang rape and whipping from her slave-owner. She also had to make a false conversion to Islam in front of an ISIS Islamic court -but this seemed to make no difference to her slave-owner’s raping and beating.
She was sold on, and later managed to bribe her new ‘owner’ to let her try to make a mobile phone-call to her nephew. He agreed after first putting honey on his toe i.e. his penis, and making her lick it off.
After her 3 months’ ordeal in the ISIS heartland she managed to escape, and by luck knocked on the door of a house in Mosul where a Muslim family took her in, gave her a body and head covering and, crucially, an ID card of a young woman who looked like her. The ID card described her as a Muslim, so she managed to get through an ISIS checkpoint and reached safety.
She has since discovered that her mother, and six of her brothers, are dead. And her homeland is laid waste. Three brothers and her two sisters survived.
“One of my brothers was shot and thrown into the pit,” she says. “Though wounded, he hid under dead bodies until Isis left, then crawled out and made it to safety.”
Astonishingly, sixteen other Yazidis survived under the dead bodies. Most are now in refugee camps. But the rest of the 400 males died.
Ever since then she has shown astonishing bravery in pleading with the world to help her persecuted minority, the Yazidis. Even before the ISIS onslaught, there were only 500,000 in the world, mostly in northern Iraq, and they were despised by hardline Muslims as devil worshippers. Nadia however says it was God who saved her, and she prayed to him for freedom every night. She always believed in God because our religion teaches that whatever happens to us, good or bad, is in God’s hands,Nadia says.
“I spoke at a United Nations event and now I’ve won this Nobel peace prize, getting this great honour also comes, I realise, with great responsibility. I will use all the half a million dollars to help make sure ISIS and other such terrorists can never rise again. But I can’t do it alone. Even this money a drop in the ocean.
“The first thing I want to do is find ways to buy back those girls and women who still remain held captive as sex slaves by ISIS. Yes I know at least a few are still alive.
“Their ‘husbands’ or slave-owners have phoned us. They want to sell our girls and women back to us, for around 20,000 to 30,000 dollars each .
“ISIS claims their men will fight to the death and go to Paradise. Yet as they are trapped and surrounded in a part of Syria, they now want to bribe their way out, to save their skins.
“I know it’s wrong to be helping these criminals escape, but the lives of our sisters and mothers and daughters come first.”
Then she also wants an international campaign to take away the thousands of mines and explosive planted by ISIS and by Iraqi and US forces in the areas where Yazidis want to return to. (They now live in refugee camps .) And then money to rebuild their destroyed villages and their main town, Sinjar.
She also appealed in diplomatic language for Muslim leaders to change their attitude to Yazidis and stop labelling them as devil-worshippers who have no right to exist.
“ We have been attacked many times over centuries because of our religion,” Nadia says.
“ISIS targeted us for genocide specifically because of our religion.
“Our goal is to ask for peace and to build peace. Without peace – even if we rebuild our homeland – there is no life.”
Showing signs of exhaustion, Nadia is planning to keep out of the limelight from now until her Nobel Prize awards ceremony next month.
“Each time I speak I have to re-live these awful experiences. I’m taking myself back to this time of terror. But telling my story honestly is the best weapon I have.
“I’ll keep on talking till as many ISIS terrorists as possible are put on trial and pay for their many crimes against girls and against our whole societies. I want countries to take in our traumatised refugees. Germany has taken over a thousand, but hardly a handful have been accepted by Britain.
“It’s scandalous. Some notorious ISIS killers have managed to mix into the local population not far from the areas they once ruled so cruelly. Why has no-one arrested them? No-one seems to care.
“President Macron of France promised last year to come personally with me to see my homeland. I want other world leaders – like Mrs May – to promise that too and then to actually come.
“They should see the conditions our people are suffering in refugee camps, especially as the cold winter approaches.
“A single person cannot achieve anything like all that’s needed. We need an international effort, including the participation of victims themselves, to bring back regions destroyed by war. The world should bear its moral and legal responsibility to victims of sexual violence and to stop it happening again and again.
”I want to help victims of rape not just by ISIS against Yazidis, but in wars worldwide.
“And above all else, I want to be the last woman in the world with a story like mine.”
NADIA MURAD ON HER NOBEL PEACE PRIZE:
Getting this great honour also comes, I realise, with great responsibility. I share it with all persecuted minorities including victims of sexual violence in every corner of the world.
Many Yazidis are still unaccounted for, 3000 Iraqis women and children remain in captivity. The total destruction will take many decades to restore.
I will stand up for persecuted minorities in the ME and worldwide against sexual violence…
A single person cannot achieve this, and we need an international effort, including the participation of victims themselves to bring back regions destroyed by war. The world should bear its moral and legal responsibility to victims of sexual violence and to stop it happening again and again.
The criminals must be held accountable, especially in the case of systematic rape by ISIS and other terrorist groups.
Survivors deserve a safe passage home or a pathway elsewhere.
No more politics getting in the way: every human deserves to live.
MORE COMMENTS IN RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS
I need to bring a voice to those who do not have a voice. I get half a million dollars. All 100 per cent of my money I commit to the work I do. I commit 20,000 to 30,000 dollars to buy back Yazidis from their capture.
The money cannot rebuilt villages destroyed by Isis. It cannot feed or take back 300,000 Yazidis to bring back to their homes or get through their winter.
The money cannot investigate and protect 49 mass graves. It cannot rebuild all of Sinjar…
We have not been able to provide much help, but we have started de-mining. What is needed most now is security and the rebuilding of their areas.
It’s four years (since their capture). We hope they are alive but we consider them dead. Some of them, women and children, call occasionally. Some of their captors want money so they can go elsewhere (now they are surrounded).
What is your message to Islam especially after winning this peace prize?
We have been attacked many times over centuries because of our religion.
Our [main] goal is to ask for peace and to build peace. Without peace there is no life (even if we rebuild).
ISIS has even showed videos of what they have done. Yet we have seen no justice in law, especially for Yazidi women. They need to be punished in law for their crimes. We don?just want them to be killed – that is not justice.
Some of these Isis members are probably roaming around free in liberated areas.
UN Security Council team: I met with the man who will conduct its investigation. The US and UK government have agreed, but as of now we are unable to go, because the UN team does not yet have the resources.
Survivors – those who come back mostly do not have any family to come back to, or a home, or resources to restart their life. They go to camps. Germany has taken over 1,000 Yazidi survivors. Canada has also brought many. Australia has allowed over 200 survivors to resettle there.
Many need not only medical support but also therapy in the camps.
I visited Sinjar in May last year. Our areas are mainly destroyed. In October 2018 I visited President Macron and he promised we would visit Sinjar together in the future.
The situation in Sinjar is dire. Just 100 families in total have returned. Mass graves are in the open but are not examined and not protected.
Political conflicts stop people getting back there. Some survivors in campos in Kurdistan have to go back via parts of Mosul where they were held as sex slaves (It means: terrible traumatic memories), yet there is a checkpoint they could pass through very close from their camps, yet it remains closed.
In captivity did you get an idea of what ISIS is?
They wanted to take back humanity 100 years back. But we were targeted specifically because of our religion. We have been attacked many times over centuries because of our religion.