news Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30

Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | January 27, 2015 | 2.17 pm IST

As the ISIS continues its barbaric march across Iraq and Syria, a tiny community has been under siege, its members traumatised and brutalized. The Yazidis are an ethnically Kurdish community spread out mostly in northern Iraq in and around Mount Sinjar. Their religious beliefs have overlaps with Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism but are still outside of the Abrahamic faiths. 

For more on the community's history and beliefs, see The Guardian report. The community has been historically persecuted for its beliefs by various rulers in the past. The newest persecutors are the ISIS, who have captured around 3,500 girls and women of the community and have forced them into being sex slaves. Several activists have been trying to rescue these women and girls and have had limited success. Recently BBC Arabic telecast a 30-minute documentary on one such activist Nareen Shammo, as she rescues a Yazidi woman from the ISIS. Slaves of the Caliphate was made by freelance producer and documentary filmmaker Namak Khoshnaw.

Nareen Shammo 4

A still from the film Slaves of the Caliphate telecast by BBC

The News Minute spoke to Nareen Shammo, a Yazidi herself and a former journalist, on her work and the difficulties she faced in trying to rescue the women who have been captures by ISIS. She says that although there is international media attention on the plight of the Yazidi community, it was governments of the international community which needed to do more to help the Yazidi refugees and also the women who were rescued from the ISIS fighters. In an email interview, Shammo answered a few questions for The News Minute:

(The language of the text has been retained as it is, with minor editing so as to clarify certain remarks made by Ms. Shammo.)

You have helped free Yazidi women from the ISIS. Newspaper reports have said that you use mobile phones to track the women. Can you elaborate on this?

I used three source to communicate with the kidnapped women which are mobile, Arab people who live under the ISIS control and information from those women who had managed to flee from ISIS captivity. First, I contacted with families who have lost their members then I could take as much information as I can about them especially their mobile number. At the beginning, some women and girls could hide their mobile from ISIS militant and then they were calling me from prisons. Later, ISIS militants take their mobile and prevent them from making any calls unless they agree (give permission to the women). This come after IS distributed Yazidi girls and women on (among) their fighter and allied and married (the Yazidi women to) them (ISIS fighters). Here, some of fighters were permitting Yazidi girls and women to call their families in order to invite them to convert to Islam and then I could get some information from this way too.

Once rescued, how are these women helped to re-unite with their families? What happens if they cannot be re-united with their families? What are their needs – medical / social / psychological / emotional after they are rescued?

I would like to start to make it clear that all the families of the abductees are now displaced and living in camps and structures building where no adequate food, medicine, clothes and other basic things are available. However, they are trying their best to help their liberate members who had returned back from ISIS prisons. Those who managed to flee are not getting any support as the governments did not help them. They are living in a miserable condition with their IDPs (internally displaced persons) families where no basic aids for life are available. 

The women and girls who returned back are in very difficult psychological situation because almost all of them have been raped many times from more than one ISIS fighters after they have been sold to different people for the purpose of sex enslaver. Those women and girls need everythings especially psychological treatment and rehabilitation but the most important things is they should transfer them to other countries as they cannot live any more in Iraq where they have been raped (and) sold under the phrases “Allah o Akbar” and they are hearing same phrase everywhere in Iraq.

We have some people who have committed suicide as because of their miserable situation. Me and my team which called "Initiative for Ezidis around the world" we are trying to provide those people with moral and financial support but our effort is not enough therefore, the international community and organization should take (them) in and rescue them.

How do you assess the possibility of rescuing the remaining women who are held captive by ISIS?

It is too difficult and dangerous to answer this question as we are still trying to release as many as we can and to do that we have secrete ways to help them to either flee from ISIS regions or by paying money. In this month, we were able to release 5 girls, the oldest one was 17 years.

With the release of the documentary, there has been some amount of international attention on the plight of the Yazidi women. What are your views about this? What has the nature of this attention been, and is it enough. If it is not enough, what in your view is lacking and what needs to be done?

Yes, I can see attention from global media as well as from philanthropists and activists, but from states (governments) I cannot find an actual move so far. As I mentioned earlier, it is impossible to rehabilitate those women and girl in Iraq for many reasons such as lack of centre of rehabilitation as well as lack of experience. In addition, some psychological reason as I mentioned earlier. Therefore, Through you, I appeal to all States and the world to stand with us and move to liberate our hostages as girls and women are subjecting to rape many times everyday which make them pregnant and our abducts (abducted) child (children) are leaning jihadism to be the next generation of terrorist.

I read that you yourself belong to the Yazidi community, and you were a journalist. How did you come about making the decision to help these women? 

Yes I am a Yazidi and I devoted my time for sake my nation that faced one of the largest genocide or ethnic cleansing in the history of the world in Augustus 2014. I found that we are as a nation, alone and nobody care about what happen to us, and the simple evidence is that until now there is no serious plan to release more than 5000 Yazidi hostages. In addition, more than half million Yazidis have been displaced and they are now facing unknown future after they lost their houses, belongs (belongings), holy temples and their lands. Despite of this big genocide and mass exodus there is no serious attention from neither Iraqi nor Kurdistan government to help those innocent people after they have left them within (ISIS) hand during their withdrew (withdrawal) without resistance. Therefore, as a human being first and then as a Yazidi individual, I found that it is time to stand with my people through exploiting my relationships with international sides so that I can help my people who are the first appeared in Iraqi land before 6000 years with Sebian nation. Here, it is worth to mention that I am not the only one who are working, but we have many other Yazidi activist who doing their best on this issue.

Could you talk about the difficulties of working as an activist in a conflict zone?

The most difficulties I have faced at the beginning of the crisis was to speak about the reason of the crisis, who is responsible for that. Additionally, It was too difficult to speak with only Yazidi identity in a country where only political interest are dominant. All of them are trying to hide the truth and shrinkage the Yazidi issue. Therefore, it is difficult to work in a such country as a woman and then as a journalist. Later on, I have got threaten from different sources, the level of threaten increasing day by the day. Finally, ISIS promised me with killing 5 times especially after the release of the film. Therefore, I am trying to work and move in secret ways as ISIS have sleeping hives everywhere in Iraq and Kurdistan and even in Europe, if I am not exaggerating.

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.