The harrowing story of a Yazidi woman who escaped from ISIS

by Charlotte Grimshaw / 07 April, 2018
Nadia Murad, left, with her lawyer, Amal Clooney, who accuses Isis of perpetrating “evil on an industrial scale”. Photo/Getty Images

Nadia Murad, left, with her lawyer, Amal Clooney, who accuses Isis of perpetrating “evil on an industrial scale”. Photo/Getty Images

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Iraqi woman Nadia Murad, who escaped from capture by Isis, pens a lament for her homeland. 

In 2014, Nadia Murad was a 21-year-old student living with her family in the village of Kocho, in northern Iraq. The US invasion had destabilised the country, disestablishing the secular Ba’athist order and sending the territory into sectarian chaos.

The people of Kocho were Yazidis, members of a minority ancient religion who had been the target of persecution for centuries. Kocho’s inhabitants had preserved delicate relationships with their Sunni Arab neighbours, but the destruction of Iraqi society increasingly isolated the group, until they were besieged by Isis, who regarded the Yazidis as devil-worshippers and came up with a sickening formal plan for their annihilation.

Murad’s powerful memoir of survival includes a foreword by Amal Clooney, the human-rights lawyer who has helped Murad in her call for Isis to be brought to justice over their treatment of the Yazidis. Clooney describes the Isis plan as a “bureaucracy of evil on an industrial scale”. The Isis “Research and Fatwa Department” deemed that Yazidis were “non-believers whose enslavement was a firmly established aspect of [Koranic teachings]”. This meant that Yazidi women could be bought, sold and systematically raped.

Isis even put out a pamphlet for the faithful, entitled Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves, a breathtaking piece of pompous depravity: “Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?” Answer: “It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse.”

Murad describes a happy childhood in a large, warm, close extended family. She adored her mother and siblings. The people of Kocho were a tight community, bound by their faith and history as outsiders in the region. They were poor, but their lives were meaningful, contented and full.

When Isis took over Kocho, they herded the villagers into a school. The men were taken away and shot while the women listened. Boys with no hair under their arms were spared. When Murad’s mother heard her six sons being shot, she silently laid her head in her daughter’s lap.

Isis separated the older women from the younger, and Murad’s mother was taken away and killed. The young women and their children were herded onto buses and distributed throughout Iraq and Syria, to be bought and sold by Isis forces as sex slaves.

In Mosul, Murad was passed from one sadistic abuser to another. Her suffering is almost too hard to bear, but it’s also impossible not to read on. The horrifying ordeal becomes an account of resilience and courage, as she manages to escape and is assisted by a Sunni family who risk their lives to help her reach Kurdistan.

This is an enormously worthwhile read if you can stand the descriptions of rape and genocide. It’s a call for justice, a story of survival, a fascinating portrait of the Yazidi culture, and a lament for the ruined, blood-soaked homeland to which Murad still yearns to return.

THE LAST GIRL, by Nadia Murad (Hachette $37.99)

This article was first published in the March 24, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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