In an interview, Lamia Haji Bashar, a Yazidi survivor of Daesh, shares her story
It seems a narrative straight out of a thriller. Only it isn’t. The puckered skin, the stillness of the left eye, the wrinkled cheek do not, will not, allow you to forget that this was a lived experience of blood and tears for 18-year-old Lamia Haji Bashar. In Delhi to attend the 19th Asian Security Conference hosted by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, she is a living testimony to the brutal horror of terrorism. Losing her father and brothers to the Islamic State or Daesh, whose fighters stormed her village in August 2014, separated from her sisters and mother, bought and sold and kept as a sex slave by numerous Daesh fanatics, beaten, raped, brutalised, and after many failed attempts, she finally escaped in April 2016. Acknowledging her trauma and courage, the European Union last year honoured her, together with fellow Yazidi victim survivor Nadia Murad, with the Sakharov Prize. Now a public advocate for her community, Haji Bashar narrated snippets of her experience with Daesh to Aditi Bhaduri on the sidelines of the conference.
Even as Bashar spoke to Governance Now, an Islamic State terror module, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, had bombed the Bhopal-Ujjain passenger train on March 7, injuring eight people.
Tell us about your journey to captivity and then to freedom.
On August 3, 2014, Daesh entered our village Kochu, which is a few kilometres east of Mosul in Iraq. I was then 14 years old and was studying in class IX. Till August 15, we were surrounded. Yazidis from other villages escaped, but we could not. Then on August 15, we were all rounded up and taken to a school where the men were separated from the women. [That was the last time she saw her father and brothers.] We were told to convert or be killed. The men were shot dead. Then the older women were killed. Four hundred men of our village were killed along with 18 old women. They were buried in a mass grave. Then the married women and those with children were separated from us [girls]. We were taken to Mosul.
WHO ARE THE YAZIDIS?
The Yazidis are natives of Kurdistan,norther Iraq, who practice an ancient syncretic religion. Their population is around 700,000. Ever since Al-Qaida, predecessor of ISIS, had declared them as infields, they had faced attacks and persecution by Islamic outfits. Daesh calls them as ‘devil worshippers’. The ISIS have attacked Yazidi villages, killed thousands of men and taken women as sex slaves. Lakhs of Yazidis are living in Europe after fleeing their homes in and around Shinjar Mountain.
In Mosul, my sister and I were taken to a hall where many Yazidi girls had been captured and taken. There, we were sold. A Saudi man bought me and my sister. We were taken to Raqqa in Syria. This Daesh fighter raped us for some days and then brought us to a place where he bought other Yazidi girls. Another Daesh fighter bought me at this place and I was separated from my sister. I tried to commit suicide. I tried to cut my veins because I was alone with him and continuously brutalised. One day I escaped from the house. I sought shelter with another family, an Arab Muslim family in the same neighbourhood. But they refused to help me and returned me to the Daesh fighter. Maybe they were scared. Thereafter, I was tortured even more. I was beaten up even more ferociously. One day, when we were travelling to another town, I tried to escape again. I jumped off the car but was caught. Because I was in Syria I was not familiar with the place and knew no one. It was hopeless. Even when I tried to escape, I was easily caught.
I was punished. They put me in a basement without any food and water for a week. Then I was sold to another Daesh fighter who brought me back to Mosul in Iraq. He brought me to his family and it was even worse. I was treated like a slave by his family and constantly made to work while he continued to rape me. I ran away from him, but once again I was caught.
Were there women in the family? Did they attempt to help you?
Yes, there were women but they were Muslims and collaborating with Daesh. They were as bad, treated me like a slave and tortured me, called me an infidel. None of the women had any mercy for me. No one tried to help even though I pleaded with them.
Was that the last family you lived with?
No. The next Daesh fighter who bought me made car bombs. He taught me to make suicide vests. I was kept for four months in captivity by him. I made yet another attempt to escape. This time, when I was caught however, this fighter took me to a Sharia court. There the judge, after hearing my case, ordered that my feet be cut off to chastise me. But the Daesh fighter said he would rather sell me and my feet were saved from being amputated. But I was punished. I was chained and thrashed and sexually tortured. And again I was brought to the slave market and sold. The next buyer was a doctor, an Iraqi surgeon from Haweja [town]. This doctor was a beast. He bought me and some other Yazidi girls. We lived as his captives for a year. Then I was able to contact a relative who paid an agent $7,500 to bring me to Kurdistan Region. One day, the three of us – another teenager Katherine and nine-year-old Almas – escaped. Unfortunately, we ran into a minefield. My friend stepped on a mine and it exploded. Both the girls were killed and I was badly injured. I lost an eye. I do not remember what happened, and woke up in a hospital. There the Air Bridge Iraq [a charitable organisation based in Germany] found me and took me to Germany for treatment. This was last year in April.
Did you see any Indian or Asians among the Daesh fighters?
Daesh has fighters from all nationalities: Afghans, Pakistanis, Syrians, Egyptians. I saw an Indian man at the last place where I was held captive. He used to make suicide vests and was trained to be a suicide terrorist.
How was your life before Daesh entered your village?
The Yazidi community is a peaceful community. We are a non-proselytising, ancient community. Most of us were farmers. We lived peacefully in the village with other Muslim families. We had no problems in the village.
How did you find the courage to escape so many times?
My suffering gave me courage. I had also tried to kill myself. But the more they tortured me, the more determined it made me to escape; to tell the world about their brutalities and their crimes. They are monsters. I did not see even one good person among them. I did not see anything good at all in all my 20 months of captivity.
What are you currently doing?
I’m living in Germany and I’m trying to lobby across the world, to raise awareness about what Daesh is all about, about their crimes, but most of all about their ideology. Daesh is dangerous not only because they kill but because of their ideology which they are spreading, especially to young people and children by indoctrinating them. I want justice for my community and I’m doing this in a humanitarian way, not in a political way.
It’s extremely difficult for me. When I narrate my story to others around the world, there is a lot of interest. But on the ground, nothing has happened to help my community. They continue to suffer.
What do you hope to gain from your activism?
I hope we can make Daesh accountable. I hope to see that an international court can be set up to try Daesh for their crimes. They forced us to convert to Islam. They called us infidels and kept torturing us. I begged them for mercy but they were monsters. I hope we can save and rescue the Yazidis who are still in their captivity. There are still about 3,500 Yazidis held captive by Daesh. The message I would like to give is that do not think that if you are in India, you are safe. Their ideology is such that it is harmful for all. And finally, I hope the world can unite to defeat Daesh.
(The interview appears in the March 16-31, 2017 issue of Governance Now)