People gather at a ceremony in Duhok on August 3, 2018, to share stories of survival under ISIS and continued displacement. Photos: A.C. Robinson | Rudaw
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – “Leila” was sold 21 times under ISIS captivity, tortured by electrocution, beatings and raped repeatedly until her family were able to arrange her escape from Tel Afar.
"I want to kill myself," she told Rudaw English from her tent of one of the many Yezidi camps on the outskirts of Duhok.
It was on August 3, 2014, when ISIS overran Shingal, killing hundreds of men and taking the women and children captive after they were forced to convert into Islam.
"After we were taken to the government office to change our religion, we were returned by Daesh to our home in Shingal," Leila, age 24, explained, using another term for ISIS.
"We converted because we thought it would save our lives," she continued. "But then they began separating the men from the women. We were even separated by skin color. Those with fair skin were taken immediately, but the girls with darker skin were taken and sold later."
Leila herself has a darker complexion. Her brother said that she's already made two attempts to commit suicide within the last few months since she was freed. The family paid $16,000 to bring her back to safety.
"Today is a celebration for Yezidis," Leila said, "But I can't go out. We live in fear. We are safe in the camp but we are still afraid. Daesh has threatened an even bigger war on us than the one which happened in 2014."
Thousands of Yezidis live at this camp in Duhok, Kurdistan Region.
Leila lives in the camp with one brother and her mother. One of her sisters, who was also rescued by a large payment to ISIS, now lives in Canada. One of her brothers is living in Germany and her third brother is still under ISIS' captivity. They haven't heard anything of his whereabouts. She lost her father at a young age.
She also explained that ISIS told them they were under US authority. Those captured believed the United States had given ISIS weapons to help kill and capture Yezidis in the beginning.
"We love Iraq, but we cannot stay here. We can't return to Shingal and we can't continue living in the camps," she said.
"It's very difficult what we went through. They tortured us, hit us with their guns, shocked us with electricity. I can't forget those things. Sometimes I was sold every three days, or every week or every month," she said. "Many girls captured by Daesh killed themselves."
“Zinab,” age 23, also detailed her story. Although she said life was difficult under ISIS, she believes herself to be lucky as she was only "married" to one man during her two-and-a-half years in captivity, while many other girls were repeatedly sold, including her sister who was sold three times.
"We weren't allowed to talk to anyone nor have fiends. Sometimes I would see my sister, but I couldn't' say anything to her," she said.
Zinab and her sister we able to escape when Iraqi and Peshmerga forces, backed by the US-led international coalition, began the Mosul offensive in 2016.
"We saw many women running so we joined them to escape to safety," she said. She now lives with her other family members in the camp.
Although shy and reluctant to speak to media, she had only one simple message for the world.
"Please help us," she said. "Many of our girls are still missing."
This is a shared sentiment among most Yezidis; their number one priority is to return the missing.
Camps like this in the Kurdistan Region's province of Duhok have provided a safe haven for Yezidis since 2014.
Lukman Sulaiman Mahmood from Shekhan village, is an economics teacher at a local high school, but spends most of his time at the Yezidi holy temple of Lalish.
"The genocide is not the first and it's not going to be the last," he told Rudaw. "There have been 74 genocides against us so far. Many times people came to kill Yezidis, to take our girls, to destroy our temples and to change our religion."
He explained that it's nearly impossible to return to Shingal.
"The life is not good in Shingal. There is no place to stay. 70 percent of the villages are destroyed, and it's close to ISIS," he said.
"400,000 Yezidis lost everything within a matter of two hours," he continued. "We are a poor people now. We're living in tents. In the summer it's hot. In the winter, it's cold. We don't have anything."
He explained that he was concerned about the Yezidis who have immigrated abroad, and would prefer that the community stays to rebuild their homeland and be close to their holy temple of Lalish as well.
"The children will grow up away from their roots, learning the culture of another country," he said. "They can only say they are Yezidi, but won't know where they came from."
An estimated 2,500- 5,000 Yezidis were killed by ISIS when the group took control of Shingal in 2014 in a campaign of genocide. A documented 6,417 Yezidis were captured.
To this day, 1,102 Yezidis, mostly women and young girls are still missing, according to recent statistics released by the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Editors’ note: The names of ISIS survivors have been changed to protect their identity.
Related: Yezidis express feelings through art, music, performances in Duhok