Torn from her family in the town of Sinjar, the enclave of the former Yazidi religious minority, she was taken to Syria, repeatedly sold and repeatedly raped. She had one child, a boy whom she has since lost. Today, at 18, she speaks little of her native Kurdish dialect, Kurmanji.
With the defeat of ISIS in 2019, Barakat slipped into the shadows, choosing to hide in the turmoil that followed the worst battle. When IS fighters were arrested, their wives and children were crammed into detention camps. Barakat was free, but she could not return home.
“I don’t know how I’m going to cope with my community,” she told The Associated Press, speaking in Arabic, as she nervously toyed with the ends of her long, dark braid, the red polish on. her delicate fingers fading.
With the defeat of ISIS in 2019, Barakat slipped into the shadows, choosing to hide in the turmoil that followed the worst battle. | VOA
For years, her IS captors told her she would never be accepted if she returned. “I believed them,” she said.
Barakat’s account, corroborated by Yazidi and Syrian Kurdish officials, is a window into the complicated realities faced by many Yazidi women who came of age under brutal IS rule. Traumatized and lost, many struggle to come to terms with the past, while the Yazidi community disagrees on how to come to terms with them.
“What do you expect from a child who was raped at 12, gave birth at 13? said Faruk Tuzu, co-chairman of Yazidi House, a grouping of Yazidi organizations in northeast Syria. “After so much shock and abuse, they no longer believe in anything, they belong to nothing.”
The AP generally does not identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they give permission.
Barakat spoke to the AP from a safe house run by Tuzu’s group just days after the leader of the Islamic State group, believed to have played a key role in the enslavement of Yazidi women, was killed during an American raid in northwestern Syria.
She ignored the news, saying it made no difference.
ISIS first sold Barakat to an Iraqi from Tal Afar, a man older than his father. She shudders as she recounts how he “made me call his wife ‘mother'”. After a few months, she was sold to another man.
Eventually, her IS captors gave her a choice: convert to Islam and marry an IS fighter, or be sold. She converted, she says, to avoid being sold. She married a Lebanese they chose for her, a man who transported food and equipment for IS fighters.
“He was better than most,” she said. At 13, she gave birth to a son, Hoodh. At the height of the militants’ self-proclaimed “caliphate”, they lived in the city of Raqqa, the capital of IS.
Once she begged her husband to find out what had happened to her older sisters who had been abducted like her. She had lost hope that her parents were still alive.
A few weeks later, he told her he had found one of his sisters holding up a picture of a woman in the Raqqa slave market where Yazidi girls were sold.
“How different she is,” Barakat remembers thinking.
In early 2019, as the IS regime crumbled, Barakat fled with her husband first to the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour, then to the eastern Syrian city of Baghouz. become the last stand of IS. As the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces surrounded Baghouz, safe passage was offered to women and children.
At this point, Barakat could have come forward and identified himself as Yazidi and sought safety. But instead, she hugged Hoodh and walked out of town with other ISIS brides.
Today, more than 2,800 Yazidi women and children remain missing, Tuzu said. Some have cut ties and are building new lives outside the community, thinking that if they returned they would be killed. Others fear being separated from their children, fathered by IS members.
The Yazidi community in Iraq forced women returning to Sinjar to give up their children as a condition of return. (Representative image) | Unsplash
The Yazidi community in Iraq forced women returning to Sinjar to give up their children as a condition of return. Many learned that their children would be adopted by Syrian Kurdish families, but dozens ended up in an orphanage in northeast Syria.
The fate of children is at the center of an ongoing debate within the Yazidi community. In 2019, the Yazidi Spiritual Council, the highest authority among Yazidis, called on its members to accept all Yazidi survivors of IS atrocities. A few days later, the council clarified that the decision excluded children born of IS rape.
“It’s our mistake, and we recognize it – we didn’t allow the children to stay with their mothers,” Tuzu said.
He confirmed that some Yazidi women were still in al-Hol camp, which houses tens of thousands of women and children, mostly wives, widows and children of IS members.
Many missing Yazidis are scattered across Syria and Turkey, others are living in hiding in the Syrian city of Aleppo and Deir El-Zour. Tuzu expects the majority to have gone to the rebel province of Idlib, where al-Qaeda is dominant but where IS also maintains a presence.
After leaving Baghouz with other IS women in March 2019, Barakat slipped away to a nearby village rather than end up in a camp. With the help of IS sympathizers, she took a smuggling route and ended up in Idlib, in northwestern Syria, at a home for IS widows. Her husband was killed in Baghouz.
Barakat was still dreaming of going to Turkey when Kurdish internal security forces arrested her last month. (Representative image) | Unsplash
Here, Barakat’s story diverges from what she told officials. Initially, she told them that she had left her son in Idlib to find work elsewhere. She told the AP that Hoodh died after 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 made it to Deir el-Zour and eventually found work in a clothing market, saving for a new life in Turkey.
She still dreamed of traveling to Turkey when Kurdish internal security forces detained her last month, waiting in a house in the town of al-Tweinah to be taken by smugglers across the Syrian-Turkish border.
Also read: The specters of the Islamic State continue to haunt
She was detained and interrogated for days. “I did everything to hide that I was Yazidi,” she said. She told investigators she was from Deir el-Zour and hoped to get medical treatment in Turkey, but they did not buy it.
One of them held up an old photo found on her mobile phone – of a young Yazidi woman in an IS slave market – and asked her to explain herself.
“The words just came out: ‘She’s my sister,'” Barakat said.
Once the truth was known, Barakat was taken to a safe house in the village of Barzan, in the Syrian province of Hassakeh, where the Yazidi community took her in. “I was in shock to hear their kind words and to be welcomed as I was,” she said.
She is not yet ready to return to Sinjar. His whole family was killed or is still missing. What to return, she wonders. “I need time, for me.”
(Keywords: Turkey when Kurdish internal security forces, Yazidis, Syria, Syrian-Turkish border)