The Islamic State took hold of the northwestern territory of Iraq in 2014 after killing an estimated 5,000 Yazidi men, according to the United Nations. Thousands of Yazidi women and children were then taken captive. The women were raped and many were sold as sex slaves or servants while the young boys were forced to convert to Islam and become soldiers for the Islamic State.
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Although the Yazidi stronghold in Sinjar has since been liberated, 3,500 women, girls and some men are still being held captive by the terrorist group. The majority of captives are Yazidis, as the most recent report by the U.N. notes. The crimes by the fighters “may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide,” as the report suggests.
Father Patrick Desbois watched the scene on his television screen, witnessing the images of terrified Yazidi women and children trying to escape the Islamic State militants in northern Iraq. He was gripped with concern and unease as he saw no Yazidi men alongside the women and children after they had been slaughtered. Although prior to seeing such images in 2014 Desbois had never heard of the Yazidi, he felt a spiritual calling to begin an investigation on the mass killings and other atrocious acts by the fighters on the non-Muslim minority group. He sought to raise awareness about the ethnic group who were faced with so much suffering.
Desbois already had a reputation as a sleuth who takes investigating mass-murders into his own hands. He created an organization in 2004 called Yahad-In Unum which seeks to uncover and denounce genocide and he discovered sites where Nazis had killed and buried Jews and Roma, who are also called Gypsies, in the former Soviet Union.
However, the Yazidi cause is one that is happening in real time. The Los Angeles Times shares Desbois’ words on the subject.
“I couldn’t just stay on the mass killings of the past. But I had no door to enter into Iraq.”
While traveling on business in Brussels back in winter of 2015, Desbois stepped into a barber shop which was run by Arabs. The priest told the barber that he was interested in learning more about the tragic Yazidi situation, and the man responded by whispering in his ear that he was Yazidi
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The barber and his family helped Desbois to get in touch with primary contacts that he needed so that he could begin his mission. Two months later the priest was on his way to northern Iraq.
By way of a project called Action Yazidis, Desbois now collects testimony from survivors who have escaped slavery and the imprisonment of the IS. Accounts are pieced together by way of interviews that are referenced in separate statements, photographs, and other sources and written information.
Every bit of information comes directly from the victims, including day and time that the Islamic State fighters arrived, and where individuals were at the exact moment they were captured, as well as who was with them.
Survivors are asked to draw details about what they remember, illustrate the camp they were held at and where they entered. The goal is to document the horrific experience and to “to rebuild the topography from the first day of being captured to the day of escape,” said Desbois.
Each of the accounts gives a grim outline as to the methodology of the Islamic State. Militants steal from their victims, much like the Nazis did to their victims. Families are separated and newborns are taken from mothers and given to Muslim families. Boys that are as young as 9 are taken to prison to be converted to Islam and sent to terrorist training camps to learn to shoot rifles and fire rockets, as well as learn how to blow themselves up if necessary.
Girls are examined to determine whether they are able to have children. Desbois communicates that virgins are sold off to the highest bidder, mothers are forced to be servants, while older women are saved to be used as human shields against attacks.
“In Daash, everyone has a purpose,” Desbois said. The publication shares the account of one woman.
“One 42-year-old woman who spent almost two years in Islamic State captivity with her four children recalled one fighter breaking her 6-year-old son’s teeth and laughing at him, and then hitting her 10-year-old daughter so hard she urinated. ‘He would beat my children up and lock them up in a room,They would cry inside and I would sit outside the door crying. I begged him to kill us, but he said he didn’t want to go to hell because of us.'”
[Featured Image by Chris McGrath/Getty Images]