Stolen in­no­cence

Emirates Woman - - Features / Global Affairs -

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.

CHE­MAN RASHID

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