Stories from Kurdistan

Kurdish Yazidi Activists Receive EU’s Sakharov Prize for Human Rights

The following article was originally published in Ekurd on December 13, 2016.

STRASBOURG,— Two Kurdish Yazidi activists Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar, who escaped sexual enslavement by the Islamic State group, have accepted the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for human rights and said they would continue to be a voice for others suffering a similar fate.

Lamiya Aji Bashar, 18, said the EU’s top human rights prize was one “for every woman and girl who has been sexually enslaved” by IS.

With poignant testimony that silenced EU lawmakers, she and 23-year-old Nadia Murad spoke of their personal fate and escapes. The focus of their message, however, was a demand that the international community protect their people, a minority of 500,000 living primarily in northern Iraq.

The two winners and thousands of other Yazidi women and girls were abducted, repeatedly raped and traded among IS fighters after the Iraqi area of Sinjar fell to Islamic State extremists in August 2014. Murad escaped after three months while Bashar tried to flee four times before finally escaping in March. As fighters pursued her, a land mine scarred her and left her unable to see out of one eye.

“They wanted to take our honor but they lost their honor,” Murad said at the ceremony. Both are now demanding that those responsible face an international court for war crimes.

Among the finalists for the prize this year were the Crimean Tatars and a former Turkish newspaper editor.

In October the European Parliament has awarded its Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought and expression to Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar.

The award, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, was created in 1988 to honor individuals or groups who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The two Yazidi activists talked to Deutsche Welle about what the prize means to them and how the EU can help the Yazidi community.

Max Hofmann (DW): Given the situation we have now in Iraq, the fight for Mosul, and the many women still in the same situation you were in, do you have hope for those who are still in Iraq at the moment?

Lamiya Aji Bashar: Frankly yes, we have hope. We cannot stop hoping. We are hopeful that the captives will be liberated and freed, yes. We look forward to the day when Daesh (the Arabic acronym for Islamic State, or IS) will be held accountable for the crimes and I hope that the captives will be liberated and freed.

Nadia Murad: For me, it is not about hope. We should combat Daesh. We should stop the interaction between Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Then Daesh will be diminished as a force and will lose ground – and then we will liberate the girls and women in an easier way. So it is not a question of hope. We have to combat Daesh so that we can liberate everybody.

Q: Do you think enough is being done at the moment, to liberate women who are in the same situation that you were in?

Murad: No, for more than two years now the captives are still with Daesh. Those who were liberated, liberated themselves. They did not know what their fate would be – either death or liberation. I think the world has not done enough yet. Daesh has taken women from their houses, they sell them. These women do not know when Daesh members will come and get them. So there were no parties that supported Yazidis to liberate their women. There are some people who go and pay huge sums of money to liberate some girls and women. But that is not enough. You know that the sums of money do not go to Daesh but to those who actually jeopardize their life in order to go and liberate women.

Aji Bashar: Yes, for more that two years now, most of the captives have not been liberated yet. Many countries lay down their arms – they do not do anything. Some people try to liberate their acquaintances through other people, but it is a dangerous adventure. So far, we have not seen enough that has been done to liberate our children, our women, from Daesh.

Q: If you could influence these things specifically, what would you like for example the European Union to do about this? Would you like it to send soldiers, for example?

Murad: Yes, we want to combat Daesh. Normally it should not be by soldiers, or from one country to another. No, there are people who fight Daesh. What we need from the European Union is to support us in order to hold IS accountable in front of the ICC (International Criminal Court) and to protect us, so that the European soldiers can protect us in safe zones. Daesh has created havoc in the area of Yazidis, where the Yazidis live. We want a construction fund, we want stability and prosperity to come back to our region. And Europe should also open its doors to those who are victims.

Q: In the current situation, do you think it would be better for the Yazidi community to go into exile or to stay put? What would your recommendation be for the community back home?

Murad: I cannot advise – I am a victim. Two long years have now passed by. My request is we that should be protected in our region so that the genocide cannot be redone, and the doors should be open to women Yazidis – because if they are not protected, the Yazidis will just disappear. We cannot let those captives be captives for many years.

Aji Bashar: My recommendation or my advice is that, if we cannot have this international protection for our region, I think people should leave that area and request international protection elsewhere. The Europeans, the West, should open the door for our people, because we cannot accept this state of affairs for two years. We cannot accept Daesh killing our women or recruiting children as soldiers.

Q: Of course there is a lot of discussion at the moment, especially in Europe. Many EU countries say they don’t want more migrants from the region. Do you think Europeans understand what people like you and others – and other women – are going through?

Murad: Yes. Of course, there are people who refuse the inflow of refugees. There are other countries who welcome the refugees. But before 2014, before the emergence of Daesh, I did not intend to come to France or to Europe to request support. I did not want to be a refugee. But I am obliged today. We are oppressed, we are killed, we are raped, our belongings are taken from us. Now people should help us. We do not want to be refugees, but this is our fate now.

Q: What does a prize like the Sakharov Prize mean to you? Do you think it can really change things?

Aji Bashar: This prize is very important for us. For all of us, not only for Nadia and I. It is very important for all the women who are tortured or that are victim to Daesh. The world will see, will hear our voice, will listen to our story and will take steps to defend us.

Murad: The Sakharov Prize is very important for us, for us victims. It is a huge support from the European Union and for the Yazidi community. But the Sakharov Prize will not stop Daesh. The European Union should combat Daesh, should hold Daesh accountable, should bring peace and stability to stop this extremist ideology. We do not want the re-emergence of this ideology, we do not want these crimes to be committed again. Yes, the prize is immense to disseminate our voice, because Daesh changed our status, not as women but as captives. But Sakharov brought dignity and honor to us.

Islamic State group has captured most parts of the Yazidi Sinjar district in northwest Iraq on August 3, 2014 which led thousands of Kurdish families to flee to Mount Sinjar, where they were trapped in it and suffered from significant lack of water and food, killing and abduction of thousands of Yazidis as well as rape and captivity of thousands of women.

Those who stay behind are subjected to brutal, genocidal acts: thousands killed, hundreds buried alive, and countless acts of rape, kidnapping and enslavement are perpetuated against Yazidi women. To add insult to injury, IS fighters ransack and destroy ancient Yazidi holy sites.

According to Human Rights organizations, thousands of Yazidi women and girls have been forced to marry or been sold into sexual slavery by the IS jihadists.

A Yazidi member of Iraqi parliament Vian Dakhil, said last August that 3,770 Kurdish Yazidi women and children still in Islamic State captivity.

The EUUS, UN and UK parliament recognize Islamic State killing of Yazidi Kurds as ‘Genocide’.

Find the article above in Ekurd.

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