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Moving Portraits Of Yazidi Genocide Survivors

The Yazidi Genocide is an ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Yazidi people in Syria and Iraq, perpetrated by the Wahhabist terrorist organization known as Daesh (ISIS). Here are some of the portraits of the survivors.

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The Yazidi People

The Yazidis are a Mesopotamian ethnic/cultural minority that have inhabited what is now modern day Nineveh Governorate, Iraq for millennia. The Yazidis number about 700,000 worldwide, with over 90% living in Iraq and Syria.

They have been targeted for eradication by ISIL largely because they are not Muslim and refuse to convert to Islam; instead, they generally practice a faith that is a confluence of ancient Mesopotamian religions, the three major Abrahamic religions, and Zoroastrianism, among others.

The most well-known instance of this genocide occurred in August 2014, when ISIS forces entered the Northern Iraqi city of Sinjar, and summarily executed some 2,000 Yazidis there; this has come to be known as the Sinjar Massacre. In total, ISIS is estimated by the UN to have killed at least 5,000 Yazidis (including the incident in Sinjar), with an additional 6,000 Yazidi women and children being abducted and sold into sexual slavery.

Here follows the personal accounts of eight Yazidi survivors of this ethnic cleansing/genocide.

Lamiya Aji Bashar


Lamiya Aji Bashar, 18, was an ISIS-held sex slave who was captured in 2014 and tried escaping many times before finally succeeding in 2016. During her escape, she faced a land mine which blinded her in one eye and disfigured her. Her two companions were killed. She was subjected to beatings and forced labor of making bombs and suicide vests. In an interview with the Associated Press, she said, “I managed in the end, thanks to God, I managed to get away from those infidels… Even if I had lost both eyes, it would have been worth it, because I have survived them.”

Nadia Murad


Nadia Murad was taken from her home village, Kocho, in 2014 to become an ISIS sex slave. Her mother and brothers were killed. She and other sex slaves were forced to convert to Islam and “marry” their ISIS captors--a prospect which entailed, in her words, “rape and torture.” She was able to flee and cross the border into Kurdistan with a fake ID. From the displacement camp, she was eventually sent to Germany where she lives with her sister and speaks out against ISIS and for the Yazidi people.

Khansa Shamdin


Khansa Shamdin was displaced from home and her job as head of surgery at a Syrian hospital once the war reached her town. Knowing the pain she endured while fleeing from oppression, she volunteered for the Barzani foundation to provide medical aid to around 20,000 Yazidis in the Mount Shingal region. Many of the residents in the area live in tents nearby Shamdin’s caravan, enduring the bitter cold in exchange for having access to prompt medical attention. Her work would result in the doctor being nicknamed the “doctor on the mountain,” where she would see between 120-150 patients a day. Many of these patients would be victims of ISIS abuse.

Niswan Zalud


Niswan Zalud, 22, is one of a few remaining Yazidi in the city of Shingal. Once a populous metro area, the city is now largely abandoned after ISIS militia came in and pillaged the area, killing residents and taking prisoners to strengthen their cause. Zalud’s uncle's daughter was one of these prisoners as she and other residents would be shipped off the ISIS capital of Raqqa. Zalud, along with the remaining city dwellers, are now defenseless and at the mercy of ISIS, have to go through each day wondering if they will survive another ISIS kidnapping run.

A bearded Yazidi man


In the east of Shingal, a bearded Yazidi man carries an AK-47 to the battlefield. Over 8,000 Yazidi men and women have joined the Kurdish peshmerga since August 2014, when the war began. The war transformed a once, peaceful and passive community, to an active community participating in armed conflict. Before the war took over the community, there was a saying that “no matter how bad things became, no one would commit mass killing, rape, and slavery”. But now, Yazidi’s can’t stand going to bed without a rifle next to them.

Um Janar


Um Janar is a Yazidi woman from Sinjar, a small town in the north of Iraq where 5,000 Yazidi men were killed by ISIL in 2014. ISIL soldiers then proceeded to violate her and her daughters, and kill the rest of her children through poison. She recounts that ISIL killed elderly women, and processed the remaining women, separating them by age and marital status. Young boys aged between 7 and 10 were taken from their families to be trained as soldiers. After two years in Sinjar, she was sold to a number of ISIL members, before being sold at what amounts to a slave market for $14,000. She eventually survived, only to return to a world where her family, neighbors, and all others in her life were either dead or being held prisoner.

Shamo Alhamy


Shamo is a 50 year-old mechanical engineer by trade, who now lives in Chicago after fleeing from the Yazidi genocide with his wife and eight children in 2009. Back in Iraq, he was a farmer after a falling out with Saddam Hussein’s government left him barred from using his degree to find a job. When he saw what the IS was doing to his people, Shamo took the opportunity to move to the United States and provide a life free of war and violence to his family. Meanwhile, back home, his relatives struggle to survive in refugee camps, and among militants who force the men to convert to Islam, or face beheading, sell the women into sexual slavery, and indoctrinate young boys into joining their ranks. His daughter Shahnaz states that “almost every Yazidi you speak to will tell you a painful story of how they lost a loved one.” While he and his family lament the violence and instability in the region, they hope for a better future and a permanent home for the Yazidis.



Jinan, an 18-year old Yazidi was kidnapped, beaten, sold, and raped. Kidnapped by an Islamic State group for three months, Jinan and dozens of other women were subjected to violent acts in the slave market. “They tortured us, tried to forcefully convert us. If we refused we were beaten, chained outdoors in the sun, forced to drink water with dead mice in it.” Men swept through the market, picking, choosing, and paying for the women that they wanted. Jinan was sold in exchange for a pistol gun.

Since the Sinjar Massacre in 2014, hundreds of thousands of Yazidis have relocated to the United States, Germany, Russia, Armenia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, among other countries in a mass exodus. But, thousands of Yazidis still inhabit areas in Iraq and Syria which are threatened by ISIL, and the looming threat of genocide will likely continue until ISIS is defeated or destroyed.

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