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Sixteen years and six months

· The story of a pregnant young woman from chains in Mosul to the refugee camp in Dohuk ·

“Desperate screams and sobs could be heard coming from the streets nearby. We were frightened, we didn’t know what to do. Many people ran to seek refuge and were hit by a volley of machine gun shots, others sought shelter in the small school gymnasium. We were in silence, whispering words of faith on our knees. 

Pablo Picasso, “Blue nude” (1902)

The Jihadists burst in and a deafening barrage rose above the people’s screams: my father fell, struck dead a few metres from me. All the others were thrown out of the school and heaped up in the courtyard. Only one poor woman could not go outside because her legs were paralyzed. She was to keep my father company, desperately thrashing her arms around for air in vain, asking for clemency, nailed to her seat”.

For 16-year-old Aria, who belonged to the Iraqi Yazidi community, the real nightmare began on the day when her village was attacked by men of the IS. She saw her father and brother killed and since then has had no news of her mother or her two sisters. She is now in a refugee camp in Dohuk, she is six months pregnant and recounts her nightmare that consists of torture, rape and degradation.

“It was on 9 June – she recounts on Skype, filling the computer screen with her thin face and large blue eyes – that Mosul, our city, was struck. During the attack the militia killed dozens of people. We women were the most frightened, we knew what would happen to us if they caught us. We had no time to flee. The IS men gathered the prisoners together, dividing them by sex and age. The first group consisted of young boys, another of girls, and a third of older men and women. From the latter the Jihadists took all they had: money, gold and cell phones. Then they left them there. As for us, they loaded us on to lorries having shot all the young men in the first group, including my brother”.

Aria, together with a group of about 25 girls, was taken to Baaj, a town to the west of Mosul, and locked into an old three-storey building. “Here they divided us again. I was left with the group of the youngest , I believe, prettiest. Our prison guards told us that after our conversion to Islam, we were destined to marry some glorious fighter. The other girls were condemned to becoming sexual slaves of the militia. One of them hanged herself in despair and yet another attempted to do so but the Jihadists stopped her and beat her until she bled”, Aria said, explaining that after this episode no other girl attempted to take her life.

“We were locked up practically in the dark for almost 10 days. We slept on the ground and ate only once a day. The Jihadists of the IS”, she recounted, “asked us several times to convert to Islam, threatening us that if we didn’t they would kill all the members of our family. Some gave in to their blackmail in order to save their father, husband or brother.

The United Nations have in fact calculated that after the fall of Mosul 1,500 women and children suffered violence. Forms of sexual violence were committed on a vast scale: among the victims were women, little girls and little boys. The crimes perpetrated ranged from rape to forced marriages and sexual slavery. The militia of the Caliphate are supporters of the total submission of the female element and impose it on the young women they kidnap and brutalize in the fighting zones. They even have recourse to blasphemous misinterpretation in order to give rape a theological justification (with the ploy of “temporary marriage” in war zones).

In particular women who belong to religious minorities, such as the Yazidi or the Assyrian Christians, are kidnapped from their villages, closed in prisons and set before a tremendous choice. Those who decide to convert to Islam are sold to combatants of the IS as brides, for a price that varies between 25 and 150 dollars. Women prisoners who refuse conversion are raped daily and condemned to a slow and agonizing death.

Her gaze lost in emptiness, Aria told us how after ten interminable days she was sold for 35 dollars to Hassan, a young Jihadist from Syria who took her to the house where he lived with other militia.

“He wanted to force me to marry him, but prior to my conversion he could not do so. He said that a true believer does not marry an infidel. For him, with my Yazidi faith I was a sinner. I refused and so he began to beat and rape me; ever more often, ever more harshly. One day he told me that he would wait another week and then have me taken to the other women, those who serve all the militia to enable them to vent their desires. I was desperate, I could think of nothing else but dying. “I paid 35 dollars, you understand. You’re useless, you’re no good to me”. One night the area we were in was heavily attacked. The men all left and I suddenly found myself on my own. I went outside and started running in the dark. I ran in the direction from which the sound of mortar fires was coming. I did not know what I would find but I thought that nothing could be worse. I ran and I cried. I ran and I prayed, ever more insistently without ever looking back. I don’t quite know how, but I arrived in the part of the city controlled by the Kurds. A group of women guerrillas took care of me for a couple of days and then helped me cross the frontier with Turkey. From there I arrived in this refugee camp. After a few months I found that I was pregnant. I wept bitterly. I thought once again I would do away with my life. In spite of my escape, in spite of my freedom, I felt profoundly defeated. I thought of my father. In fact I know that I died in that cursed prison in the hands of the militia. I cried and cried; but I’m going ahead. In a few months I shall have to give this child a name. I shall never be able to return to Mosul. I shall never ever be able to wipe out my shame. I am dead, but the light of life is within me”.

Silvina Perez




St. Peter’s Square

Jan. 18, 2020