The photographs show small feet clad in boots or sandals. Some of the shoes are shabby and worn, spattered with dirt that hints at long distances travelled. But the most haunting shows sandalled feet in pink socks with a childish daisy pattern – a reminder not just of how young the girl wearing them must be, but of the innocence that disappeared the day she and the other faceless girls in the pictures were taken as slaves by ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) militants a year ago.
What the kidnapped girls, all members of Iraq's minority Yazidi community, endured in captivity is “unimaginable”, says Cheman Rashid, an Iraqi project-coordinator working to support those victims who managed to escape.“They were raped, physically abused, beaten and starved. They were humiliated because of their religion.”
The eldest among the stolen Yazidi girls were just 24, Cheman says. The youngest were not yet nine. They were taken when ISIS fighters swept into their village in Iraqi Kurdistan on August 3 2014, slaughtering the men and abducting women and children. Why? For no reason other than their ancient faith. Combining elements of Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam, their centuries-old belief system is not recognised by ISIS, which has denounced the Yazidis as “devil worshippers”.
According to Cheman, 49, around 5,000 Yazidi women and girls were taken by Daesh (an acronym for an Arabic variation of the group's name) when it turned its gaze on the Sinjar area of Iraq that summer; to be held prisoner, trafficked as sex slaves, or forced into marriage. Hostages were given price tags, and it's thought an office was even set up in Mosul to handle “sales”.
Some girls were taken across borders to be sold in Syria and other countries, reducing their chances of being recovered to virtually nil. Others simply disappeared.