‘Close your eyes’

Iraqi teenager shares her extraordinary story of surviving the brutality of ISIS

Ferah. (The Associated Press / YouTube)

Ferah, then a 14-year-old girl, says she didn’t even know who or what ISIS was when the militants took over Mosul in June of 2014. Speaking using a pseudonym to The Associated Press, she recalled being forced to leave her private school, where her favorite class was English, and being forced to stay inside out of fear of militants who threatened girls and women with stoning over the smallest of infractions. She knew of a 12-year-old girl from a nearby neighborhood, she said, who was publicly executed for “adultery” after she was seen on the roof when a boy next door happened to be on his roof at the same time. While her married sisters and her friends fled the city, and her next door neighbors, who she’d known for most of her life, chose to join ISIS, Ferah began to lose hope that things would ever return to normal. Her outlet, she said, was her writing, which she did both on paper and online.

“Suddenly life robs you of what you love, as if it’s punishing you for a crime that hasn’t been committed yet,” she wrote on Facebook. “When you close your eyes, you’ll feel how horrible it is to have your hands chained and be unable to picture your future. You’ll curl up on the ground crying.”

The boredom, she said, was almost as bad as the constant fear. Fearful of her growing depression, she cut red, green, and blue butterflies out of colored pieces of paper, and hung them around her room alongside strings of white fairy lights. She also threw herself into a Facebook journal that swiftly picked up more than 6,000 followers — including a fellow Iraqi girl, Rania, who would become her closest friend. The girls shared an interest in interior design — a career that Ferah had hoped to pursue — and shared pictures of furniture with each other online. Her friendship with Rania, she said, “is absolutely the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced.”

On Ferah’s 16th birthday, July 19, 2016, ISIS cut off Mosul’s internet in order to stop spies from guiding American airstrikes. Alone once more, Ferah focused on writing and sewing as Iraqi forces fought their way toward the city. In January 2017, ISIS occupied her family’s house. Later, as ISIS was driven out of the city after nearly three years of occupation, the militants set fire to the home — destroying all the art, clothing, and writing that she had created. Eventually, however, her room would be repaired — and she would get to meet Rania in person.

Speaking to The Associated Press, she shared stories from her time during ISIS’s occupation, and how she’s moving forward with life now that she finally has her freedom.

Watch video of Ferah’s story below.

Read the full story at The Associated Press.


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