Baghouz. With the final offensive against the terrorist militia “Islamic State” (IS) in Syria hopes were high that thousands of missing Ezidi women and children would be freed. Almost five years ago, the IS terrorist organization kidnapped and enslaved up to 7,000 Ezidis from the northern Iraqi Shingal region and committed a genocide against the civilian population. Many assumed that the majority of those missing persons were held in the last IS stronghold Baghuz in eastern Syria. The joy was great when 60 Ezidis in Baghuz were able to escape from captivity, which nurtured hope for the time being. But the fate of hundreds of children seems to be irreversibly sealed. A brutal reality which the battered Ezidi minority must face and which the international community has to accept blame for.
According to an official list, the number of Ezidis still missing stands at about 3,000, most of whom are women and children. The enslavement, systematic rape and trafficking of Ezidis was an essential part of the IS ideology that celebrated the “reintroduction of the Islamic tradition of slavery” in the IS magazine “Dabiq”. The abduction of thousands of children and the mass rape of Ezidi women and girls was planned from the beginning of the genocide. The New York Times described the policy of the IS as the “theology of rape”.
Ezidi children were separated from their families and transferred to IS households in Syria and Iraq, were they were supposed to be educated as Muslims. The transfer of children to another group by force constitutes a genocide offence according to the UN Convention. The IS had the intention to deprive them of their Ezidi identity. In captivity they were forbidden to speak their mother tongue and given new Arabic Islamic names. The example of raped Ezidi girls shows how strictly the IS oriented itself by its interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith. The preachers of the IS declared that the rape of Ezidi girls was only allowed from the age of nine – and thus gave paedophilia a licence. Freed girls and women unanimously report how IS members followed this doctrine. “He tied my hands [to the bed] and gagged me. Then he knelt next to the bed and bowed down to prayer,” a 12-year-old Ezidi girl said. “After the prayer he raped me. Then he prayed again.” Female IS members who also abused enslaved Ezidi women in their households legitimize the enslavement and rape of women and girls to this day.
The Ezidi boys, on the other hand, were educated to become new jihadists. Daily indoctrination with violence glorifying videos of beheadings and suicide attacks were supposed to take away their inhibitions and break their will. When the boys refused, the IS punished them with physical and mental torture. Many of these children witnessed their parents being murdered before their eyes. A trauma that these young souls could hardly cope with and made them susceptible to manipulation. Several of these abused Ezidi boys were sent to the frontline by the IS in Iraq and Syria as fighters and suicide bombers. In 2015, the IS published a propaganda video featuring two kidnapped Ezidi boys aged 11 and 12 committing suicide attacks against Iraqi troops. The video was released by the IS on a Ezidi holiday. Both boys died.
Years of physical and psychological abuse resulted in many of these children hardly being able to speak their mother tongue and sometimes not remembering the names of their parents or their villages. The younger the children were at the time of their abduction, the less likely they were to be identified as displaced Ezidis. Among the tens of thousands of IS members who have surrendered to the Syrian-Kurdish forces in Baghuz, there are still hundreds of these children. There are no efforts to identify them. They are left to their fate and the IS is given a victory. Even if they are defeated militarily – they managed to turn hundreds of the “unbelieving” Ezidis into Muslims.
Recognizing young children after almost five years of imprisonment also presents a challenge for the parents – if they survived. Often, however, they do not get this opportunity at all because no photos are taken of the children who are with the IS families and have surrendered. DNA samples are not being collected either which would allow to identify them. The fact that many of the missing children could be identified with simple pictures is shown by examples such as those of the ÊP editorial staff.
Within a few hours, family members of several children, who fortunately remembered their origins and had been freed in Baghuz, were found. In the case of the boy Farhad, the ÊP editorial team took exactly nine minutes to find the boy’s uncle and mother. The boy’s picture was sufficient for this. In the case of the 10-year-old Dilbirin, it took ÊP editors eight minutes to locate a cousin of him who has been part of the Baden-Württemberg program for traumatized Ezidi women.
However, many children can only be identified by a DNA test. Such a broad DNA search for missing Ezidi children will, however, not be conducted. The expense for the international coalition would be too high and the interest in the Ezidi community is too little. The Ezidis have neither the means to carry out such efforts themselves, nor do they have the political influence to demand such a mammoth task from the international community.
Family members therefore rarely succeed in freeing their youngest members if their trail has not been lost. In one of the most recent cases, an uncle followed his nephew’s trail until he was able to buy him back for a horrendous sum of 30,000 US dollars. 10-year-old Kiran spent half his life in slavery. He also was renamed Ahmed. His father, Kiran says, was killed by IS terrorists before his eyes, his sister sold as a slave. His mother, who was first taken with him to Baghuz in Syria, died shortly afterwards. Kiran’s uncle followed his nephew’s lead until the opportunity arose to buy him out.
Rarely can families raise such sums once they have the opportunity to buy their relatives’ freedom. The “Office for the Rescue of Kidnapped and Abducted Yezidis” in the Kurdish city of Duhok, which is subordinated to the Prime Minister’s Office, was set up specifically for this purpose to deal with this issue and pay the ransom. In the past, the Kurdish government boasted several times about the office’s work. Affected families, however, had to pay 10,000 US dollars in advance before the office sprung into action. This sum cannot be raised by many of the impoverished families who still live in refugee camps today. Without the help of Ezidi NGOs, which advance the money, paying the ransom would be almost impossible for many families. If the ransom payment went smoothly, the 10,000 US dollars would be paid back to the families. In at least three cases this did not happen. The rampant corruption in the region does not stop at that office either. The Iraqi government has also made no effort to help the Ezidis find and buy their relatives kidnapped by the IS.
According to unconfirmed reports by activists, Ezidi women and children were also kidnapped to other Islamic countries. Several activists claimed to have statements and reports confirming this. The place of refuge for many IS fighters and enslaved Ezidi women and girls is Turkey. The women and girls are also said to have been taken to Saudi Arabia. However, there has been no confirmed case so far.
Overrunning villages in the 21st century, enslaving thousands of people, raping thousands of young girls and offering them for sale on the open street, torturing young children and bragging about it openly in a magazine, was considered impossible by many or too much to imagine. But that is exactly what happened. Before the eyes of the international community. Now, the same international community is abandoning thousands of children to their fate as the global public does not seem willing to help them.
It has not been the first attempt in the Ezidi history of destroying their existence and torturing them psychologically. Again and again, women and children have been abducted in the past centuries to be brought to an Islamic environment and to be deprived of their identity.
Therefore, during the current and ongoing genocide, Ezidis have no choice but to painfully accept this reality. Ezidis, who like Essa are longingly waiting for the return of their relatives, will be bitterly disappointed. This genocide will also persecute them for generations to come. There can only be justice if the perpetrators are brought to justice for their crimes: before a special UN tribunal.