Shireen Ibrahim has trouble recounting the horrors she’s seen. The Yazidi woman wept at times while describing the eight months she spent enslaved by ISIS, and how the persecuted minority is enduring the attempted genocide.
Speaking on Friday to the Women in the World Summit, in Kurdish with activist Feryal Pirali as her translator, Ibrahim recounted how the trauma began when she tried to flee Islamic State militants in August 2014. Having heard of the atrocities committed by the group, she and her family were desperate to hide from the genocidal extremists.
“They captured me when we were running to the mountains,” Ibrahim said in her interview with Women for Women International founder Zainab Salbi. She and her family were taken taken back their hometown of Sinjay, in Iraqi Kurdistan. There, they were held as slaves. Only half of the 40 family members taken prisoner remain alive today.
In captivity, Ibrahim was forced to convert to Islam. She also witnessed the extremists kill some of her friends. To avoid being raped, Ibrahim first pretended to be married to her cousin. But the ruse did not work for long. After two months the ISIS fighters discovered she had lied and forcibly separated her from her cousin. “They did not believe me and they took him,” Ibrahim said. She never saw him again.
Ibrahim said she never was raped, but she was subject to abuse. Once, after she tried to escape, her captors “did every bad thing they could do to me.”
Ibrahim was sold and resold repeatedly. At one point, however, she became so sick that her owner let her go free. Today she lives with some of her family members in northern Iraq in a camp for Yazidi victims of ISIS violence.
Her translator, Pirali, who left Iraq in 2010, had her own stories. One of her friends was pregnant during an ISIS assault and wasn’t able to flee. Extremist fighters, Pirali explained, sliced open her friend’s stomach and took out the fetus. “They raped the baby, and they raped her, and they thought she was dead so they left her behind.”
Pirali’s friend somehow survived, though her baby did not.
The event served as a sobering reminder of the ongoing abuses perpetrated by ISIS against the Yazidis — as well as a call to action. “We are a people,” Pirali told the summit. “We are Yazidis and we’re not going to change our religion no matter what. My message is to save our people.”
Additional reporting by Pieter Colpaert.