The man who frees enslaved Yezidi women from the clutches of IS
https://syriacpress.com/blog/2021/06/20/the-man-who-frees-enslaved-yezidi-women-from-the-clutches-of-is/?fbclid=IwAR3DCRiY6usMx4Lp2ybDUzjVx3RiHU6h_kNQtkWUMNyW2Sxr92vyz5SwUk4" The terrorist militia IS is still holding around 2,800 Yezidi women as slaves. Mahmoud Rasho has made it his mission to find them. For him, this is life-threatening — because IS has targeted him. WELT met him. 20/06/2021 This article was originally published by Die Welt on 8 May 2021. The original can be found here. By Alfred Hackensberger, Sebastian Backhaus (photos) Gumar Gharbi feels like the end of the world. A village of 25 houses, many of them abandoned, a few clucking chickens and barking dogs. Far and wide, only flat land. Not even at night can you make out a light somewhere in the distance. “More than half of the families have emigrated from here to Germany,” says Mahmoud Rasho, one of the Yezidi residents who stayed. He does not want to give up his home village, which is located in the vicinity of the city of Hassaka in self-governing North and East Syria. “Someone has to stay,” says the man in the dark blue suit with a grin as he welcomes people to the large entrance terrace of his house. But the 38-year-old Yezidi is not only concerned with preserving his village. Rasho has another important task to which he has dedicated himself body and soul. As chairman of the Committee for Abducted Women in North and East Syria, he has been searching for Yezidi women abducted by the Islamic State (IS) for years. In 2014, the fighters of the terrorist militia invaded Sinjar, the home of the Yezidis in Iraq, like vandals. The jihadists murdered thousands of men and elderly women, burying them in over 70 mass graves. The younger Yezidi women, on the other hand, a total of 6,500, were abducted by the IS as labor and sex slaves. That was more than six and a half years ago. But not all of the stolen women have returned home. “Three thousand one hundred and forty-six are still missing,” Rasho begins. Over 300 are believed to have been killed. “And 2,800 women remain in captivity today.” Online Auctions are a Popular Marketplace Actually, this should hardly be possible. After all, the IS caliphate was crushed in 2017, and the last of the terror militia’s forces were defeated in Syria in 2019. “The fighters took their female slaves with them as they fled,” Rasho explains. Others, he says, had already been sold on before the demise of IS and exported like a commodity to other countries. International trafficking in women under the guise of Islam. “The women are now scattered all over the region,” says Rasho gloomily. They can be found in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, some have even turned up in Libya and Saudi Arabia. Only in February, the case of a Yezidi girl in Turkey became known, showing how widespread and current the problem still is. The Yezidi girl, only seven years old, had been offered for sale on the internet. The police pretended to be the girl’s family and auctioned her off as the highest bidder. Afterwards, they were able to locate the girl’s whereabouts and free her. Online auctions are a popular marketplace. In July 2020, a former IS member from Mosul offered a 24-year-old Yezidi girl he had bought on the internet two years earlier. She was living with his two wives and four children in Turkey — until the police found out about him too. There is simply no end to the suffering of the Yezidis. The disappearances have become a collective trauma for the ethno-religious minority. Half of the original 400,000 Yezidis in Iraq continue to live in refugee camps. The reconstruction of the destroyed Sinjar region is progressing only slowly. Even the electricity and water supply is still not functioning nationwide. “The Women were Brainwashed” The Yezidis are used to discrimination and persecution. They are an integral part of their millennia-old history. “We experienced a total of 74 genocides,” says Rasho, holding one of his two sons in his arms. On the wall in the living room hangs a picture of the blue peacock above the window. It symbolizes Melek Taus, the chief angel of Yezidism, a monotheistic natural religion older than Christianity. In the eyes of IS, Melek Taus stood for Satan. This falsely made the Yezidis “devil worshippers” — and inferior human beings, useful only as slaves. The IS religious authority set rules for slavery. Also for sexual abuse, because the fighters of the terror militia were supposed to rape Yezidi women “in accordance with Islam”. According to the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, a total of 13 Yezidi women committed suicide in the first two months of this year. They had all been prisoners of IS and could no longer bear their traumatic experiences. The Search for the Yezidi Women “Although it would only be positive for them, many women do not identify themselves as Yezidis,” says Rasho. “We encountered this phenomenon especially in Al-Hol camp.” He is referring to the largest internment camp for IS members in North and East Syria. It was originally planned for 20,000 people, but burst at the seams when IS was crushed in early 2019. More than 40,000 women and children left Baghuz, the terror militia’s last contested bastion on the Euphrates, at that time. Among them were 400 Yezidi women, only a few of whom revealed their true identities. Rasho made it his mission to find them. “The women were brainwashed,” Rasho explains. “Some were so small at the time of the abduction that they forgot their names, language and culture.” They couldn’t remember their parents or where they were actually from. “Others are still totally intimidated and very afraid,” Rasho adds. IS still controls the overcrowded Al-Hol camp. All women have to wear the black, floor-length abaya with the niqab as a face veil, which further complicates the search. Rasho and his staff have only been able to locate almost all the Yezidi women with great patience, perseverance and many tricks. “Of course, we interview the liberated women and present them with photos of other Yezidis,” says Rasho. “But that is not enough.” To succeed, it takes unconventional measures — and sometimes chance helps. For example, the 38-year-old recruited an Arab woman from Iraq. She had lost her child while fleeing. Rasho was able to find it for her. Out of gratitude, she became an informant in the camp and searched for hidden Yezidi women. Rasho also walked alone through the long rows of tents at night. On a cold, rainy day last winter, this is how he found two twelve-year-old boys. Their tent had collapsed from the wind and water. “They were freezing and whimpering,” he recalls. “I gave them tea, some food and blankets.” At one point he approached them about their long, light hair. “They identified themselves as Yezidis, knew other boys and girls, and they in turn knew others,” he recalls with a smile. “It was a huge chain reaction.” IS Threatens the Rescuers During the actual rescue operations, he and his colleagues are always accompanied by soldiers. It would be too dangerous alone. Rasho regularly receives threats from IS. “Once they even put a bomb with a remote detonator on the road,” he says. “But luckily I changed cars that day on my way home from Al-Hol camp.” Rasho suspects that there are still up to 50 Yezidi women in the internment camp. Last month, the security services had combed parts of the camp in a large-scale operation. They found weapons, computers, phones and were able to arrest some wanted IS leaders. But to Rasho’s great disappointment, they did not come across any Yezidis. Yet he was on the trail of five women about whom he had received promising information. They were eleven and twelve years old girls when IS abducted them. Rasho believes it is only a matter of time before they and all the others are found in the Al-Hol camp. He is much more concerned about the women who have been taken to other regions of Syria and other countries. Rasho is in contact with women in Idlib province, which is dominated by radical Islamists. He also gets messages from Iraq and Turkey. In Libya, he knows of Saudi and Palestinian emirs of IS who have taken Yezidi women there. “Freeing them is very, very difficult,” he says, somewhat resignedly. However, Rasho does not want to give up. He wants to keep going as long as there are still captive Yezidis, wherever that may be in the world. You can follow Alfred Hackensberger via Twitter @hackensberger and on his blog.