Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Abandoned, Forsaken, Alone

"I have heard nothing of my husband and daughters since the day that Daesh [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] took us."
"I cannot sleep at night; I think and I think and I think."
"They are in God's hands. We depend on God to take care of us. We believe in Him. I have no power, so I ask God to release them."
Ayshan Murat, Sinuni, Iraq
Matthew Fisher / National Post
Matthew Fisher / National Post     Ayshan Murat stands with her two sons, Jamal and Hachem (in her arms) who were released last year in Syria
"[ISIL did] terrible things."
"You can understand the meaning of 'destroyed' if you come here. Yazidi women were taken. Yazidi men were killed."
Aziz Chanem, Sinuni, Iraq

"I don't think anybody could really understand the depth of human suffering that has happened here. The kind of trauma and kind of cruelty that these people have endured is something beyond what many of us have ever heard of or thought of."
"How they keep going through the injury and assault and abuse that they have suffered is amazing to me."
"They cannot finalize within themselves whether they are dead or alive or in captivity. They live in perpetual grief that can be very taxing."
"I am inspired by many of the women that have returned from intense suffering and intense abuse. They decide for the sake of their children they are going to get better and they work at making themselves better. They work at providing as comfortable a home as they can in their tent or unfinished building. Many of these women are inspiring to know because of the courage they show. They try to leave behind what has happened to them."
"We can help them with material things. But what they want is faith and hope."
Marigold Vercoe, Australian psychiatric nurse, humanitarian worker, Sinuni, Iraq

Yazidis' religion is an unique and ancient one, with various influences and origins. Their religion is particularly scorned by the barbarians of Islamic State. ISIL in its Sunni-sect-inspired Islamism has tormented and threatened and slaughtered Shiite Muslims, and Iraqi Christians, but it has reserved its very special atrociously inhumane treatment for Iraqi Yazidis. The men corralled and subjected to mass slaughter, women and children taken as slaves to be sold, and young women and girls as bartered sex slaves.

When Islamic State first marched into the ancestral geography of Iraq's Yazidi population around the city of Sinjar and the many towns in the area, they cleansed the city and the towns through killing and kidnapping. Those Yazidi men, women and children who managed to escape the deadly noose that closed around them, fled up nearby Sinjar mountain two years ago, and with winter oncoming, they were without food and potable water and shelter.

Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP / Getty Images
Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP / Getty Images    A file picture taken on August 13, 2014, shows displaced Iraqi families from the Yazidi community crossing the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq
Both Iraqi and Syrian Kurds mounted a rescue of the trapped Yazidis, helping them off the mountain and into Kurdish territory. The Iraqi and Syrian Kurds had a falling out with the Syrian Kurds wanting to continue aid, comfort and haven for the Yazidis, guiding those they rescued toward Syria, while the Peshmerga warned the Syrian Kurds to vacate Iraqi Kurdish territory. The international community save for a brief flyover by American planes dropping supplies, did nothing. There are still thousands of Yazidis trapped on the mountain awaiting rescue, facing another winter.

The United Nations has given technical refugee status to Syrians fleeing their government, but have ignored the plight of the Yazidis. Without the official status of documented refugees it is difficult for countries offering to take in Syrian and Iraqi refugees to focus on taking in Yazidis as the most vulnerable and in need of help. To be eligible for UN refugee status people cannot remain in their native countries, but must move elsewhere.

Iraqi and Kurdish governments, along with international organizations, have discovered mass graves teeming with the skeletons of murdered Yazidis; some were shot, others buried while still alive, where leg bones and jaws can be seen in a field around Sinjar city which has since been retrieved by the government of Iraq. And where electricity and potable water are in short supply. Yazidis are slowly returning to the city where it will take a monumental effort to return it to the status and condition its residence once enjoyed.

Sinjar was once the cultural hub of the Yazidi community, where almost 100,000 resided. Now it is abandoned, its streets and buildings bearing the hallmarks of the violent ISIL invasion. There are booby-trapped bombs silently waiting to be set off, there are tunnels everywhere, ISIL-built and -used as cover for airstrikes and escape routes.

ISIL is complacent in its treatment of non-believers, with codified strict rules "on taking captives and slaves", published as guides. Women could be beaten, according to Koranic instructions and girls as well, avoiding the head. Women between 34 and 40 years of age are to be sold for $75, and those between age ten and 20 years valued at $130, while girls under the age of nine had a price tag of $172.

Ayshan Murat spoke of her nightmare when her family was captured two years earlier by the jihadists. She and her two young sons spent 14 months in captivity until her father-in-law and other relatives paid ISIL a ransom of $20,000 for their release. No one knows what had become of her husband and their three daughters after they were captured in their farming village at the foot of Sinjar mountain. Separated, she and her boys were taken to Syria and her husband and their girls, nine, seven and five were sent to Mosul.

She hopes that God will answer her prayers.

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