Nadia Murad returns to Kocho: ISIS genocide, trauma and world’s failure


Nadia Murad returned to the Yazidi village of Kocho on Thursday, June 1. The video (below) shows her exploring the village, it is harrowing, shocking, as she cries and journalists film it. But it is also testimony, like Jews returning to their homes after the Holocaust. Like the commemorations in Rwanda of human skulls from the genocide. Local journalists are present, but the international media and community seems absent, numb once again to suffering and genocide. Saying “never again,” but not meaning it. Vian Dakhil warned about the genocide in August 2014. Now it is 2017 and we are seeing the full affect of ISIS crimes. Yet no ISIS members are on trial for genocide, yet.

Nadia Murad was one of the survivors of the ISIS genocide of Yazidis and selling of thousands of women into slavery in 2014. After she escaped she became a tireless campaigner for recognition of what happened to her minority group.  The story she told was horrific. She wanted to be a teacher, she told Time in 2015.  “I did not know anything…I did not know anything about what ISIS was or what it was going to do.” When ISIS arrived in her village of Kocho, initially they didn’t do anything. “Then, on Aug. 15, 2014, the fighters told everyone to walk to the school on the outskirts of town. It was lunchtime. On their way, Nadia and her family saw ISIS fighters.”

In scenes reminiscent of the Holocaust, they carried out their crimes: “The fighters separated the men from the women, and put Nadia and some other women on the second floor of the building. Then they murdered 312 men in one hour, according to a U.N. spokesman, including six of Nadia’s brothers and stepbrothers.” After genociding the men, they took the women to Mosul, where they kept them in a house to sell them to other, mostly Arab Sunni Muslims and some foreign volunteers, the only people left after ISIS completed its ethnic cleansing and expulsion of the minorities of Mosul. ““There was blood and there were fingerprints of hands with the blood on the walls,” of the building where women committed suicide, Nadia told interviewers.

In Nazi-like precision, ISIS kept a list of the women it traded for rape. “Every morning in Mosul, the women would be required to wash. Then, Nadia says, they would be taken to the Shari‘a court, where they would be photographed. The photographs would be posted on a wall in the court, along with the phone number of whichever militant or commander currently owned each woman, so that fighters could swap women among themselves.” Until she escaped in November 2014, she was abused and raped.


Blindfolds ISIS put on victims before they were murdered and dumped in a mass grave near Sinjar. December, 2015. (Seth J. Frantzman)

“They continued to commit crimes to my body until I became unconscious.” They celebrated enslaving and abusing women, like the Nazis celebrated their crimes. “‘This is not my wife, she is my sabia, she is my slave,’” Nadia says the ISIS members would boast. The survivor has re-told these stories again and again, re-living the trauma of gang rape. She recounted how ISIS members would force the rape victims to pray and then rape them. She spoke at international forums and to newspapers and magazines, urging them to care about the genocide of Yazidis.

But the world has begun to forget, even the parts of it that once cared, about this genocide. Even extraordinary reports like the one at Daily Beast recounting the crimes ISIS committed against women, have disappeared from the web (cached they still exist), making space for other articles perhaps. The Daily Beast interviews with survivors from Kocho (Kojo) recounted similar horror. “There were about 70 of us. They put us all in a big room, locked the door and did not give us any water until the next day. Then one day they brought us to another building. On the front it was written something like “selling place”, and there I was sold to a 40-year-old man from Saudi Arabia.” She was sold again to another man, “The man who bought me said that he had to sleep with me to make me a real Muslim.” Another woman recalled, “They took us to Solakh village where they separated the children from the old, and on one side the young and the beautiful: we were taken to Mosul, and I don’t know what happened to the older ones. I don’t know what happened to my mother….Sheiks and emirs came and looked at us. They were buying us. A man bought me and took me to Tal Afar: when we arrived I was forced into marriage. That night he tied my hands and legs and he blindfolded me. Then he raped me. He hit me with a whip.” Her owner was a bomb maker and used her to hide from coalition airplanes, sending her out so it appeared civilians were around.

Another survivor from Kocho recalled, “Then they took all the men away, we did not know where. Later a 13-year-old boy came back, crying and full of dust. He could not stop crying, and then he told us that the men have all been killed, but we could not believe him…They kept moving us for weeks, and we ended up in Tal Afar again. One day one ISIS fighter came and took a picture of me with his phone.”

She recalled foreign fighters as well. “They wrote our names on papers around our necks, and sold us. Ten of us were sent to Aleppo, and I ended up with another woman and my nephew in a large villa. There was an American man there, who did not speak Arabic. He told us that we were his servants.”

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A site of a mass grave west of Sinjar, December 2015. (Seth J. Frantzman)

I read these accounts and often had to stop. This was the face of the Holocaust, precisely the same in its nature and ideology and treatment of people, except with a vicious religious sexual violence, replacing the Nazi race superiority violence. And yet there was not one single protest on a college campus in the West for these women. No one raised money for the survivors. No one seemed to care.

Murad’s story is symbolic, like Elie Wiesel for the Shoah. Kocho was the center of this mass murder, but it too is symbolic of larger ISIS crimes, larger themes in the evils of ISIS. ISIS crimes didn’t begin in Kocho or end there. They began earlier, not with the August 3 offensive, but with the mass murders at Camp Speicher. ISIS massacred Arab bedouin tribes, it expelled Christians. It destroyed archaeology, history, shrines. Like the Nazis it wanted to re-make the landscape, to “cleanse” totally, the land of everything it hated.

Unfortunately although the world did take notice of the pragmatic war aims of defeating ISIS, with some 68 countries signing on to help, and although Kurdish fighters and Shia militias and many other groups, fought heroically against the ISIS advance in 2014, stopping it and then rolling it back, the genocidal aspect of its nature sometimes eludes us. It’s bombing campaign in Europe, it’s attacks in Afghanistan and now in Asia, its beheading of Copts in Libya, all this is part of a new Nazi-like genocidal movement.

Dozens of mass graves from ISIS crimes were discovered after Peshmerga liberated Sinjar in 2015. But everyone knew that more would be found at Kocho and elsewhere. I documented some of these in 2015. In that time there were few social services for survivors, with some 400,000 Yazidis in refugee or IDP camps, the abilities of the local authorities to provide what was needed was impossible. Many families were still trying to help their loved ones escape.

In late May 2017 the Hashd al-Shaabi (a mostly Shia militia affiliated with the Iraqi government) overran numerous ISIS positions and liberated former Yazidi villages, now empty, near Qairawan, Baaj and Sinjar. Nadia Murad went back to see what was left of her village. Photos posted online show her touring the area with Kurdish and Iraqi security as well as members of the Lalish battalion, which is affiliated with the Hashd al-Shaabi. The video is shocking and traumatic, showing Nadia crying as she enters a home. The photos and video bring tears to one’s eyes.

The tragedy reminds us that the slogan “never again” is hollow. In 2014 ISIS broadcast its intentions on twitter, it’s followers debated the desire to rape and sell “war booty” and “kuffar.” After several years Twitter removed more than 600,000 ISIS accounts, but that’s just a tip of the iceberg. ISIS was popular in the Middle East in 2014, people shared its videos and enjoyed them. I watched people in East Jerusalem watch with interest as ISIS members executed Shia at Camp Speicher. to pretend that this is not the case denies history. 50,000 volunteers joined ISIS from all over the world, after the genocide and beheadings of men like Steven Sotloff and Jim Foley and burning to death of the Jordanian pilot. Like modern day slavers and colonists more than 5,000 EU citizens joined, to take part in a new kind of genocidal colonialism. They wanted to be the great “masters” of slaves, just like Europe had once birthed those who went to the New World to enslave and rape, now it birthed a generation of Jihadists who came to rape Syria and Iraq, to mass murder indigenous minorities. There is a reason that Europe didn’t come to the aid of the Yazidis that its citizens were butchering, because to do so would admit that Europe helped export genocide, as it has in the past. How much funding has been given to Yazidi survivors from Europe? Any? If you allow 5,000 citizens to engage in genocide, shouldn’t you at least pay the same amount they paid for airplane tickets to get to the genocide, to help the survivors? Any help for them as refugees?

The genocide was on twitter and live-streamed. Auschwitz was at least “secret.” Here we had genocide in 2014, everyone knew, and very little was done. Of course there are many heroic Kurds who stood against ISIS, who stopped these new Nazis. There are members of the Hashd who stopped ISIS at the gates of Baghdad. But the people who could have helped stop this didn’t do enough. It shows genocide can happen, openly, and almost nothing is done.

The least people can do today is watch Nadia Murad in Kocho. We watched Vian Dakhil in 2014 plead for people to care. Now in 2017 it has come full circle.

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