NRT DUHOK – A non-profit organization has recently set up a center in the northern Kurdish city of Duhok to help Yazidi women and girls, who have survived sex enslavement at the hands of the Islamic State (IS) militants, lead a normal life again.
Yazda, the U.S.-based non-profit organization, was established in the aftermath of the IS capture of Sinjar in August 2014, hometown to the Yazidi community in northern Iraq. The aim of the organization is to help the Yazidis a minority sect in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria.
According to Executive Director in Iraq Matthew Barber, the group has so far helped over 800 Yazidi women and girls, offering them the psychological support they need to overcome ordeals of rape, torture and enslavement.
Besides trauma and medical support, the group is also providing humanitarian aid including food and clothing for displaced Yazidis living in a refugee camp on the outskirts of the city.
“Yazda has done a number of projects to support people in different way, men and women both. One form of this is through aid, giving clothing, giving food, giving different types of support to camps and locations where people that are displaced are living,” said Barber, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State which is also known as IS or ISIS.
“Yazda has received over eight hundred women and girls that have escaped from Daesh. They’ve come to Yazda, talked about their story, given their information. Yazda does a detailed intake interview with them to understand what their experience was and what their needs are now, what the situation is now,” Barber added.
IS has hounded ethnic and religious minorities in northern Iraq since seizing the city of Mosul in June last 2014, killing and displacing thousands of Christians, Shabaks and Turkmen who lived for centuries in one of the most diverse parts of the Middle East.
Hundreds of Yazidi women and girls have been captured, raped and tortured, and forced to convert to Islam and marry IS followers, according to rights groups.
Barber said that one of his group’s goal is to counter IS’ attempts to eliminate the Yazidis’ tradition and finish their religion and his group’s goal is to make sure that this religion and traditions continue to exist and be respected.
For this end and as part of its rehabilitation program, the group organizes trips for Yazidi women to Lalesh Temple for spiritual and psychological comfort. The temple is considered to be the most sacred place for the minority sect.
IS militants consider the Yazidis “devil worshippers” because of their faith, and believe Islamic law entitles IS fighters to rape, abuse and forcibly convert members of the minority sect.
Together with its humanitarian projects, Yazda also aims to document crimes committed by IS militants against the Yazidi sect including rape of hundreds of Yazidi women and killing of thousands of Yazidi men.
“Yazda is involved, hopefully soon, in starting educational projects for women who have escaped from Daesh, from IS. Yazda is also doing documentation work to record the history of what has happened in this place, so Yazda is doing a quite number of different projects all of which are to support the Yazidi community,” said Barber.
Yazidi women said the group’s activities have helped greatly in healing their psychological wounds.
Among them is 22-year old Sara Ahmed Mahmoud, a mother of two children who escaped the IS after 11 months in captivity and who is still haunted by painful memories of the abuse she experienced while in captivity.
“When I arrived here I was suffering from psychological problems and was advised by a number of my friends who have managed to escape Daesh captivity and who were enrolled in the group’s activities to come and participate,” she said.
“My friends told me that they have started to feel much when they attended activities organized by the organization, therefore, I decided to come. This organization helps all the women who have escaped Daesh, especially women like me who have no relatives and who have lost their husband and who have no money or salary, through registering our names and giving us a monthly payment,” she continued.
Mahmoud did not wish to talk about her experiences in captivity.
Others urge the group to work to help free their fellow Yazidis who are still in captivity.
“We call on the group to organize more courses to help fill our time and distract our attention from indulging in our past experience. We also want them to help our fellow Yazidi people who are still at the hands of Daesh. This is our main call and we hope that the world will hear our appeal,” said 24-year-old Diyana Jerdo Ibrahim whose 44 male relatives are still held by the IS militants.
“I saw the benefits that my friends got after attending courses organized by the group. They’ve become much better as these courses help keep them preoccupied and all the women are in need of such courses because our scars have not been healed yet,” she added.