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Nadia Murad: The face and voice of the Yezidis

By Paul Iddon 28/1/2019
Nadia Murad delivers a speech after being awarded co-laureate of the 2016 Sakharov human rights prize at the European parliament in Strasbourg. (AFP/Frederick Florin)
Nadia Murad delivers a speech after being awarded co-laureate of the 2016 Sakharov human rights prize at the European parliament in Strasbourg. (AFP/Frederick Florin)

In August 2014 the Islamic State (ISIS) subjected the Yezidi minority of the Shingal region to an infamous campaign of genocide. They killed at least 2,000 Yezidis, took thousands into captivity and displaced hundreds-of-thousands more. One young Yezidi survivor of that atrocity subsequently became the face of her persecuted people and has spent years advocating on their behalf.

For over three years now Nadia Murad Basee Taha has undoubtedly been the most famous and recognizable Yezidi on the world stage, where she has addressed international forums and met world leaders as part of her advocacy for Yezidi justice. She's frequently called for action against ISIS and urged the group's crimes against her people to be officially recognized as genocide.

Before the ISIS onslaught into her region, Murad had no interest in politics. When she received the Nobel Peace Prize last year she recalled her life before ISIS.

"I was a village girl living in Kocho, unaware of all conflict and how humans could kill each other in these brutal ways," she said. "My dream was to have a beauty salon in Shingal."

Nadia Murad speaks at the United Nations headquarters on March 9, 2017, in New York. Kena Betancur/AFP

On August 15, 2014, ISIS launched the infamous Kocho massacre. Yazidi males were separated from females and Nadia was put on the second floor of her school building from where she witnessed ISIS men, all speaking different languages, massacre over 300 of the village's men in a single hour.

ISIS murdered six of Murad's nine brothers on that fateful day as well as her mother. Then she was taken by ISIS to Mosul for distribution as one of many Yezidi sex slaves for ISIS members. Murad was raped several times by multiple ISIS men.

"At some point, there was rape and nothing else," she later recalled in her memoir. "This becomes your normal day."

Other Yezidi women suffering multiple rapes and abuse took their own lives.

"I did not want to kill myself - but I wanted them to kill me," she later told Time Magazine.

Any Yezidi who attempted to escape and was caught suffered an even more depraved fate. Murad learned this after her own first attempted escape, after which she was brutally gang-raped. None of the ISIS men she met and was enslaved by showed even a tincture of regret for any of their grotesque actions.

Murad later seized a successful chance to escape, at the end of 2014. A
Muslim family, who were not affiliated with ISIS, helped her escape to the sanctuary of the Kurdistan Region after one of the ISIS rapists holding her captive left his house unlocked.

From Kurdistan she managed to make it to Europe.

Her ascent to becoming the face and voice of the Yezidis on the international stage began little more than a year later.

On December 16, 2015, Murad briefed the United Nations Security Council on the issue of human trafficking in conflict and spoke about her own ordeal. That was the first time the Security Council, certainly the most important body of the U.N., received a briefing on this issue.

She pleaded with the world powers that make up the council to wipe out ISIS, describing the crimes against humanity the group was committing.

"Islamic State has made Yezidi women into flesh to be trafficked in," she told them.

In September 2016 Murad became the first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking for the UN's Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC).

Upon her appointment then U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Murad's "exceptional courage in speaking out."

"She gives a much-needed voice to trafficking victims who continue to suffer, and who demand justice," he said.

Murad's ability to speak out about the unmentionable abuse perpetrated against her was often pointed out by world leaders and officials she met over the years.

In March 2016, when Newsweek asked her how she summoned the strength to publicly speak about what happened her she said it was: "Because this thing happened to us and it's still happening to us, to let people know what's happening to us so they can help."

"I will keep going because none of us have a future with ISIS being around," she added.

Also in September 2016, the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who represents Murad and has sought legal action against ISIS leaders, addressed the UNODC and said she was "ashamed as a supporter of the United Nations that states are failing to prevent or even punish genocide because they find that their own interests get in the way."

"I am sorry we have failed you," she told Murad.

On May 3, 2017, Murad met Pope Francis in the Vatican City for the first time. They reportedly discussed the plight of the Yezidis, the need for some kind of safe zone in the Nineveh region for ISIS victims and possible ways to rescue Yezidis still in ISIS captivity.

Murad also urged the Vatican to recognise ISIS crimes against Yezidis as genocide. Pope Francis "expressed [the] Vatican's support for the Yezidis and other religious minorities."

The following June Murad returned to Kocho for the first time since the massacre there. She visited her damaged family home and the school where she witnessed the murder of her family. Seeing her former hometown and scene of the crime brought her to tears.


Nadia Murad's visit to her Yezidi hometown Kocho village in Shingal, on June 1, 2017. Photo/ Rudaw.

"What remains of the village is the bones of our brothers, our fathers, and mothers," she remarked.

The next month she visited Israel and also, upon addressing the Israeli parliament, urged the Jewish state to recognize crimes against Yezidis as genocide "in light of our people's common history.

In her position as goodwill ambassador and Nobel laureate Murad has consistently discouraged violence or rivalries from tearing apart her region since that would prevent the hundreds-of-thousands of Yezidis from returning safely to rebuild their former homes.

In early March 2017, when Rojava Peshmerga forces briefly clashed with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)-backed and trained Yezidi Shingal Protection Units (YBS) paramilitary Murad quickly called for de-escalation and restraint. She urged all sides to exercise "self-control and follow a rational policy to stop the current internal conflict."

Similarly, after the Shiite-majority Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary pushed ISIS from Kocho in May 2017 Murad warned against a possible division of the Yezidi region through the presence of rival groups competing for territory and influence. She opposed a scenario wherein "opposing factions will fight for control on our land - not to advance the dignity of our people."

Upon meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in December 2018 she strongly urged him to cease Turkey's airstrikes against suspected PKK targets in Shingal, insisting that Ankara needs to work with Baghdad to find a solution to cease bombing so that Yezidis can return to their region and begin rebuilding.

Also in December Murad visited Iraq and the Kurdistan Region and helped push for the reopening of the Duhok to Shingal road, which had been closed following the Iraqi military's takeover of Shingal, a disputed Kurdistan territory, from the Kurdistan Region in October 2017.

Last October Murad, along with gynecologist Denis Mukwege, was named as the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize recipients "for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict."

"I share this award with all Yezidis, Iraqis, Kurds, other persecuted minorities and all of the countless victims of sexual violence around the world," she said in a statement after the announcement.

In December, when she actually received the prize in Oslo she said some progress has been made in alleviating the plight of the Yezidis. However, she was very critical of former Iraqi government, saying it did nothing to help the Yezidis since the genocide, adding that even before the emergence of ISIS her people "did not have the freedom to express our rights."

During her December trip to Iraq Murad met Iraqi President Barham
Salih who said she "embodies the suffering and tragedies Iraqis have gone through in the past and represents the courage and determination to defend rights in the face of the oppressor."

Salih also called on Iraq's parliament to pass a law recognizing the
Yezidi genocide, describing it as a "heinous and a rare crime in history."

Also, after Murad met the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani during the same trip he "expressed full support to her activities for peace and helping Yezidi victims and carrying their voice in the world."

Barzani said he supported Murad's endeavour "to bring ISIS terrorists to justice and to have the Yezidi case recognized as genocide."

In her personal life, Murad got engaged to another Yezidi human rights activist named Abid Shamdeen in August 2018.

"The struggle of our people brought us together & we will continue this path together," she tweeted.

With hundreds-of-thousands of Yezidis still unable to return to their homeland and the fate of many others who disappeared into ISIS captivity still unknown Murad is likely to continue advocating on her persecuted people's behalf in the years to come.


AA | 28/1/2019
May Allah Khode protect you Yazidis and non-yazidis and the Kurds and spread peace on this earth
peshmarga | 28/1/2019
to dear nadia,i have lost my cusin so my close friends i dont think i can ever recover from that ms or more than likely miss nadia ,they were called peshmarga ,brave warrier which they fought for kurdistan and they lost their life ,just really surprised that you didnt mentioned not even the name of peshmarga madam.if you cannot read this please ask for interpreter as im prety sure you have got lots of them ,as a kurd im really disapointed in you.
Kk | 29/1/2019
The Yazidis are being persecuted because they are Kurds. So the sufferings of the Yazidis is the suffering of all Kurds..

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