Militants Are Raping Yezidi Women as They Flee — Then Shooting Them
Four Yezidi survivors recount Islamic State’s rampage
Around Aug. 7, Islamic State militants broke through Kurdish lines near the town of Hamdaniya in northern Iraq. As the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters fell back, hundreds of thousands of civilians fled for their lives—including many members of the Yezidi religious minority.
A pre-Abrahamic faith group, the Yezidi knew that the militants—da’ash in Arabic—would not hesitate to kill them. Sporadic U.S. air strikes would not save them.
As many as 100,000 Yezidis—pictured above arriving in a Syrian refugee camp in a photo by the AP’s Khalid Mohammed—climbed the Mount Sinjar to escape Islamic State, but the mountain posed its own dangers. There was no water, no food. The Iraqi army, the Pesh and the U.S. Air Force rushed emergency supplies, but it was too little, too late to save many of them.
War is Boring photographer Matt Cetti-Roberts spoke to four Yezidis whose families were caught up in the militants’ advance—or who directly experienced da’ash’s massacres. What follows are their own words, translated into English.
My cousin is missing. My relatives rang his mobile phone and da’ash answered. We asked him where my cousin is and they said, “We have sent him to Hell.”
We don’t like Iraq. All we do is die here. I have land worth millions of dollars and I would give it all up if it meant I could leave Iraq.
My family talked about what had happened to the Yezidi in the past, the way everyone always kills us. All the Yezidi want is to be left alone.
Last time this happened, many Yezidi went to Europe. Maybe in another 200 to 300 years, it will happen again. People just want to kill the Yezidi.
We went to Sinjar and stayed on the mountain for four days.
Some people went in cars, some walked. The people who walked didn’t have any food or water and were very tired.
We saw many families on the mountain and also we saw da’ash coming to the mountain, but they couldn’t come in because there were guards protecting the mountain with weapons.
We saw six da’ash fighters, they were in the Zorawa checkpoint when we were off to bury a dead friend as we were leaving for the mountain. They had very long beards, very long hair and were wearing short dish-dashes. Three of the fighters were Sorani [Kurdish, from the eastern side of Kurdistan], two of them were Turkman, the last man was Egyptian.
I saw them with my eyes, and I knew one was Egyptian because I recognized his accent when he asked me something.
At 1:00 PM on the fourth day, we started heading to Zhakho via the Hatine road and there were [Kurdish] PKK fighters at a checkpoint. We kept heading along along a track until the Iraq-Syria border. The PKK fighters gave us petrol and we went to a refugee camp for Syrians in Syria.
I left around 500 people behind on the mountain. Some of them dead. Some of them are still arriving in Zhakho.
We left the mountain at 1:00 and we arrived in Syria at 7:00. We stayed there for two days and then walked for three hours to get to Zhakho.
Me and my family got in a car that would take us to Feesh Khabur [a town on the borders of Iraq, Turkey and Syria] and there were many cars full of families going in the same direction.
After I got to Feesh Khabur, I returned to Yarmuk because I am a journalist and a Yezidi and I know the situation and I know what will happen. Because of our religion and culture we will not accept da’ash and I am sure that when they will get in they will kill us. Because of that we will not open our doors to da’ash and da’ash will kill us.
I went back with to Yarmuk in the same car that originally took us away from the town and I went to the mountain the same day at around 6:00 PM. I spent four days on the mountain. On the mountain I saw sick children who were ill because they had become dehydrated through vomiting and diarrhea and of the heat.
I saw dead children, a child dead in his mother’s arms. I saw a woman who had given birth prematurely. Because of this she had heavy bleeding and both her and the child were dead. Seeing the death of children and old people was a daily occurrence, because they were exhausted, hungry and thirsty, because of the heat.
I heard that humans can live a month without food. That’s true, because what we saw was most of the dead were children or old people. The children were those that were five years or younger and also the pregnant women who were close to birth, because there were no medicines and they were weak.
The first time when I left with my family, there were hundreds of cars taking the people and in Rabiaa township we could see them [da’ash] wearing the clothes of da’ash and with their black flag. They were not attacking the people who were leaving and were telling them to leave.
You could see that they were not from Iraq. They were going about their daily business in Sinjar and the towns around it. Most of the people who lived there had left. The women were raped and the men were killed.
It was Wednesday when I and 30 other people, most of them women and children, left the mountain as the first group—it was kind of an adventure.
We went from the mountain until we got to where [Syrian-Kurdish] PYD fighters were staying between Sinoni and Al Jazeera, around five kilometers from the Syrian border. When we were there, I phoned a friend in the PYD and they helped us.
I am now in Irbil, in my apartment that I have rented for a year and a half. Half of my family are living in my apartment. I returned to Sinjar 13 days into the situation because I am a reporter for many magazines and newspapers. Half of my family were in Irbil and half of my family were in Sinjar.
I left my mother. I had never met her before because my parents were divorced, and four other family. [Crying.] They were living in the the Al Jazeera [housing] complex in the northwest of Sinjar. It was the third day after da’ash arrived. They discovered where they were living and my mother was one of five families that were raped.
First they raped the women in front of the men, they then killed the husbands while the wives watched and then they killed the women. It was a massacre there. [Crying.]
And also on the 10th, my cousin was trapped in the same place and he tried run away, but he couldn’t. Da’ash captured him and killed him and his body is still there. We can not get it.
The same day when we ran away [from the mountain], my two female cousins who were behind us in a car as we left were captured by da’ash. One of them was pregnant and with her husband and her brother-in-law.
They were stopped in the middle of the street. They raped them in front of the people that were with them and I could see it from the back window of the car. Suddenly everyone was gone. They took them away.
Yesterday the brother-in-law managed to get back to the house in the complex, but the two female cousins and the husband, their fates are unknown.