Yazidi teen, now an enslaved teenager, claims she cannot go home.



BARZAN. Syria — Roza’s tormentors were defeated, but she is still held captive by the horrors she suffered.

She was just 11 years old when she was taken captive and enslaved in 2014 by the Islamic State along with thousands of Yazidi girls, women and children.

Torn from her family, in Sinjar the enclave belonging to the ancient religious Yazidi community, she was taken to Syria where she was sold several times and repeatedly raped. She had a child. A boy she lost. She speaks very little of Kurmanji Kurdish now that she is 18 years old.

Barakat fell into the shadows after the defeat of IS 2019 and opted to hide in the chaos that followed the worst battles. Their wives and children were taken into detention camps as IS fighters were being arrested. Barakat was free, but she couldn’t go home.

“I don’t know how I’ll face my community,” she told The Associated Press, speaking in Arabic, as she nervously played with the ends of her long dark braid, the red polish on her dainty fingers fading.

Her IS captors kept telling her for years that she would not be accepted if her return was granted. “I believed them,” she said.

Barakat’s tale, corroborated by Yazidi and Syrian Kurdish officials, is a window into the complicated realities faced by many Yazidi women who came of age under the brutal rule of IS. Many people are traumatized by the past and find it difficult to deal with it. However, the Yazidi community has difficulty accepting them.

“What do you expect from a child who was raped at 12, gave birth at 13?” Faruk Tuzu is co-chairman of Yazidi House. This umbrella includes Yazidi organisations in northeastern Syria. “After so much shock and abuse they don’t believe in anything anymore, they don’t belong anywhere.”

Unless they consent, the AP will not usually identify victims of sexual assault.

Barakat spoke with the AP in a safe house managed by Tuzu’s group. This was just a few weeks after the leader and Islamic State group was killed in a raid in northwestern Syria.

She ignored the news and said it didn’t matter.

IS first sold Barakat from her father to an Iraqi named Tal Afar. She shudders as she recounts how he “made me call his wife ‘mother.’” After a few months she was sold to another man.

Her IS captors finally gave her an option: Convert to Islam, marry IS fighters, or be sold once again. She said she converted to Islam in order to avoid being sold. They chose a Lebanese for her and he ferried food for IS fighters.

“He was better than most,” she said. She gave birth to Hoodh at 13 years old. At the peak of the militants’ self-proclaimed “caliphate,” they lived in the city of Raqqa, the IS capital.

She begged her husband once to find out about her older sisters, who were taken just like she was. She was hopeful that her parents would still be alive.

Some weeks later, he told her he found one of her sisters, holding up a photo of a woman in Raqqa’s slave market where Yazidi girls were sold.

“How different she looks,” Barakat remembers thinking.

Barakat fled her husband and father to Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria, where IS rule was eroding. Then, she went to Baghouz, which became IS’s final stand. Baghouz was captured by the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (U.S.-backed). Women and children were offered safe passage.

Barakat could easily have identified herself as Yazidi at this point and sought refuge. She instead clutched Hoodh in both her arms, and walked out the town with other IS women.

Tuzu said that today, more than 2,800 Yazidi children and women are still missing. Others have broken ties and started new lives outside of the community. They fear that if they return they would be murdered. Others are afraid of being separated from their children by IS members.

Iraq’s Yazidi community has forced women returning to Sinjar to give up their children as a condition to return. Many had been told that their children would go to Syrian Kurdish families. However, hundreds ended up in orphanages in northeastern Syria.

The Yazidi community has been raging over the fate of the children for years. The Yazidi Spiritual Council in 2019, which is the highest authority among Yazidis called for members to accept all Yazidi survivors from IS atrocities. The council clarified its decision days later by excluding children who were raped in IS.

“This is our mistake, and we recognize that — we didn’t allow the children to stay with their mothers,” said Tuzu.

He confirmed that some Yazidi wives are still at al-Hol camp. This camp holds tens or thousands of children and widows, mostly IS members’ children.

Many missing Yazidis are scattered throughout Syria and Turkey. Others live in clandestine areas in Aleppo, Syria, and Deir El-Zour. Tuzu thinks that most of them may have moved to Idlib rebel province, where al-Qaida has a dominant position but IS is also present.

Barakat, along with other IS women, walked out of Baghouz in March 2019. She chose to go to a nearby village over ending up in a camp and instead of going into a camp. She was assisted by IS sympathizers and took a smuggling route to reach Idlib in northwesten Syria where she found a home for IS widows. Her husband was murdered in Baghouz.

Here, Barakat’s story diverges from what she told officials. She initially told officials that she had left her son in Idlib for work. According to her, Hoodh was killed in an airstrike in Idlib.

When pressed to clarify, she said: “It’s hard. I don’t want to talk about it.”

With the help of a smuggler she was able make her way to Deir el-Zour. She eventually found employment at a clothing shop, and began saving money for a new home in Turkey.

While she still hoped to make it to Turkey, Kurdish security forces took her hostage last month. She was waiting at al-Tweinah in order to be taken to Turkey by smugglers crossing the border from Syria to Turkey.

For days, she was held and interrogated.

“I did everything to hide that I was Yazidi,” she said. She told the investigators she was from Deir el-Zour, and was hoping to get medical treatment in Turkey, but they didn’t buy it.

One held up an old photo found on her mobile phone — a young Yazidi woman in an IS slave market — and asked her to explain.

“The words just came out: ‘That is my sister,’” Barakat said.

After the truth was revealed, Barakat was moved to a safe place in Barzan in Syria’s Hassakeh region, where she was welcomed by the Yazidi community.

“I was in shock to hear their kind words, and to be welcomed the way I was,” she said.

She isn’t ready to go back to Sinjar just yet. All her family members were either killed or are still missing.

She wonders what is left to return to. “I need time, for myself.”

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