Yazidi family rescues enslaved niece from ISIS member in Turkey

A Yazidi family from the Sinjar region of Northern Iraq has rescued their 24-year-old niece, Zozan K., from an Islamic State (ISIS) member who had kept her captive and abused her in an apartment in the Turkish capital city of Ankara, news website Duvar reported on Friday.

Zozan K. had cigarette burns and razor cuts on her body, with signs of repeated sexual abuse and malnutrition. An ISIS member bought Zozan on the dark web, years after her abduction from Sinjar in 2014, when ISIS attacked the mountainous homeland of the Yazidi people, whose faith dates back long before Islam to ancient Mesopotamian religions.

The capture of Sinjar by ISIS on August 3, 2014 marked the start of what Yazidis call a genocide, as thousands of Yazidi men were killed and their female relatives, especially the young women, were abducted and enslaved.

Zozan was 16 at the time. She spent four years in captivity before her family, who survived the same 2014 attack and had been granted asylum in Australia by the time she was discovered, was able to track her to the online slave market and monitor the sale of the young woman. Her photo was up only for an hour before she was sold.

The man who bought her was an Iraqi Turkmen, who took her to Mosul. Some 10 months ago, he moved the young woman to Ankara. Zozan was kept in the same apartment as the ISIS member’s two wives and four children, and was subjected to severe violence both from the man and the two women.

Her captor travelled back and forth between Turkey and Iraq. During one of his visits, mediators from the community stepped in and relayed the family’s wish to get their niece back. The man agreed to sell Zozan to her family, and the family paid him in Iraq. Meanwhile, in Ankara, members of the Yazidi community recovered the woman from the apartment she was held captive in after the money was paid. Zozan left Turkey shortly after.

After leaving, Zozan told her family about the continued sexual assaults and beatings she endured. The family did not make public any more details from her time in captivity and it was not stated if the suspect had been reported to the Turkish police.

Yazidi Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad - herself a survivor of the attacks - said in an interview with the Daily Show on Friday that there are still 2,000 Yazidi women and children in captivity. “More than 60 percent of the Yazidi community has been displaced,” she added.

“They came for me, my family, my community. They raped us, they killed my mother,” Murad continued, speaking about the horrors the Yazidis faced. Murad’s six brothers were murdered by ISIS, leaving behind their widows and 21 young children.

Children who survived the massacre and subsequent captivity by ISIS often suffer from debilitating long-term injuries, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, mood swings, and flashbacks, an Amnesty International report made public on Thursday said.

Many Yazidi women gave birth to children of ISIS members during their time in captivity. One of them was 22-year-old Janaan, who wants to be resettled abroad with her baby, according to Amnesty. “Please accept us, and accept our children,” she said.

Another Yazidi woman, 19-year-old Ayşe, gave her baby up for adoption in Ankara, where she was held under similar conditions to Zozan. Another Iraqi Turkmen ISIS member, a higher-ranking one, had held her captive in an apartment alongside his wife and four children, according to a 2019 report by Duvar.

Ayşe was 14 when she was captured, and she was moved around in Iraq between Tal Afar and Mosul so her family could not track her. She was also brought to Turkey in 2018. Her brother pursued the man who held her for a long time, and eventually succeeded in alerting Turkish anti-terror units who organised a rescue.

The family, to make sure they could leave Turkey as soon as possible, did not press charges. As such, the ISIS member who held her captive for more than four years did not face any consequences, and his current whereabouts are unknown.

Amnesty’s crisis response team director Matt Wells said the Yazidi women had been “enslaved, tortured and subjected to sexual violence,” and that they “should not suffer any further punishment”.

Boys who were returned to their communities often expressed feelings of isolation, and told Amnesty that they had not received any psychosocial, health, financial or other support afterwards.

One 15-year-old boy, Sahir, said he had to fight or die. “To survive, I did the fighting. It’s the worst thing that can happen to any human, the most degrading,” he said. He has yet to find the support he needed after his return. “I was looking for is just someone to care about me…and I have never found it.”

“I want (the Islamic State) to be held accountable for what they did to me,” 14-year-old Randa, who was forced to marry an ISIS member after she was captured at age nine, said.

Amnesty International is calling for the United Nations to prioritise Yazidi women and children for resettlement or humanitarian relocation.

Although the issue barely makes the headlines after the military defeat of ISIS, the horrors remain all too real for thousands of Yazidis, whether still at the hands of their captives or trying to rebuild their lives as refugees.

“I wish that our pain, what is happening to us right now, after six years of what ISIS did to us…I wish it was gone when they killed (ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi) or other ISIS members,” Murad said. “But this is not the reality.”

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.