Escaping the slavery of ISIS

arts and culture

By Utami Kusumawati

While being held captive by the Islamic State, Shireen Jardo Ibrahim wanted to end her life.

The young Yazidi woman who now lives in Lincoln said she could no longer bear the torture, frustration and humiliation of being an ISIS slave for nine months.

“I just hated myself and wanted to commit suicide,” she said through an interpreter.

Even after escaping ISIS and finding relative safety in a refugee camp, Ibrahim still thought about suicide.

“But my brother, Qahtan, always consoled me. ‘Do not worry. You will always be our sister and we will still respect you as our sister. Many women also experienced the same thing with you.’”

During captivity, Yazidi women, if not killed, were sold as sex slaves — for as little as a few dollars — from one ISIS group to another.

During her enslavement, Ibrahim was beaten, shocked by electrical wires and forced to ingest drugs and undergo a mysterious surgery.

Today, Ibrahim tries to put her traumatic past behind her as she studies English and awaits her application for asylum. She wants to be a lawyer so she can help fellow Yazidis.

Ibrahim was one of about 6,800 Yazidi living in the Sinjar Mountain region who were kidnapped by ISIS in August 2014. More than 27 of Ibrahim’s relatives were kidnapped. Only seven have been released. The fate of the rest, which includes her father and stepmother, is not known.

Before being captured, Ibrahim was a cheerful woman who loved to dress up and be with her large family. Her favorite dress was a bright long-sleeved shirt and black long skirt. She enjoyed spending time with her 10 brothers and five sisters after working at a farm near the town of Rambusi.

“I worked at the plantation with all of my sisters to pick fruit and vegetables and sell them,” she said.

Ibrahim’s mother had died and her father remarried, so she became the caregiver for her brothers and sisters.

“I could not go to school because I took care all of my siblings.”

Her happy life turned tragic on Aug. 3, 2014.

On that day Ibrahim was preparing for Ida Chle Havine, a mid-summer feast and religious celebration in which Yazidis come together to for fellowship and prayer. Ibrahim, her sister and several nieces and nephews were busy fixing rice and chicken when her uncle called with frightening news: ISIS had attacked the neighboring villages. He told them to leave immediately for Mount Sinjar.

“My family and I got few things ready and rode in a pickup truck toward the mountain,” she said. “Before we reached the mountain, the truck’s engine broke. So, we continued walking. In the middle of the journey, ISIS soldiers came with three cars and captured all of us.”

Raqqa was where the worst torture happened, she said.

“I was shocked by electric wires until I could not walk and drink,” she said. “I suffered so much.”

But the most horrifying incident was the mysterious surgery in Mosul.

“The worst thing was they performed abdominal surgery on my body,” she said. That experience still haunts Ibrahim because she doesn’t know what happened; doctors who later examined her said they were unsure what procedures were performed and why.

Nine months after her kidnapping, Ibrahim said she was released near Kirkuk by one her captors who was trying to evade coalition forces in the area. She was taken to the Bacid Kendala refugee camp in southern Kurdistan, where she was reunited with Qahtan and another brother, Brazan.

I want to help female Yazidis who are still in captivity,” Ibrahim said.

Today, she is starting to rebuild her life in Lincoln. She came to the U.S. for the first time in September 2016 to speak at a forum in New York at the invitation of Nadia Murad Basee Taha, an ISIS survivor and a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. During her stay in New York, she met with Yazda President Haider Elias and others.

“I asked them whether I could stay at the U.S., and they answered ‘yes.’ So, I went with Haider to Texas and from there moved to Lincoln on June 2017,” she said. In Lincoln, Ibrahim lives with a Yazidi family.

Ibrahim said many people in Lincoln have provided her with help and support. She studies English so she can continue on with law school. In October, she testified about the plight of Yazidis at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C.

“I want to help female Yazidis who are still in captivity,” she said.

Salima Mirza and Hussein Hskan provided translation for the interviews in this story.


posted in as the final project of MOSAIC class.

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