Stories from Kurdistan

Q&A: An El Cajon Activist On Counseling Women Who Escaped From ISIS

The following article was originally published in KPBS on December 15, 2016.

It’s estimated that ISIS has kidnapped 7,000 Yazidis, non-Muslim minorities, mostly from Northern Iraq. Many of the men have been murdered or forced into bonded labor, and the women and girls have been sold into sex slavery in places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Dilkhwaz Ahmed is an Iraqi woman who runs License to Freedom, a nonprofit in El Cajon for domestic violence victims. She has traveled to Iraq several times over the last two years to counsel Yazidi women who have escaped from ISIS.

Ahmed spoke to KPBS News.

Q. What have the Yazidi women endured after being captured by ISIS?

A. They’ve experienced being bought and sold in one week – 10 times. They’ve seen different guys, buying them, raping them, torturing them, killing them if they did not obey their needs.

Q. How old were these women?

A. They were raping girls as young as nine years old to 50 years old. They’re paying a lot of money to buy young women, 15, 10, 12 for $10,000 to $20,000.

Q. What story among the many stories you heard from the Yazidi women stood out for you?

A. One specific story is a story of a young woman. ISIS killed her husband. They took her 10-year-old daughter. She said in front of her a Saudi guy came and bought her. She told me that, `they took two of my kids – five and six years old – and they kill them.’ She was crying by telling me that she was not able to have a decent funeral for her kids. She was able to escape, come back, and when I asked her what stood out for her specifically, she said ‘my daughter. My hope is one day I can find her. I think she’s alive. But I just don’t know where she is now.’

Q. What did the women whom you met – the Yazidi women – what did they say about their ISIS captors and who they were?

A. They said they were from different countries. They were from Nigeria, Algeria. They were from Yemen. Even somebody told me there was a white guy from Australia. And her question was, ‘what were those people doing in my country?’

Q. What did these ISIS men say to the girls, to the women?

A. They said, `We ask them why do you do that to us? Why are you torturing us? I belong to a husband. How could you marry me?’ The ISIS men said, ‘just because you are not Muslim. God told us to do that to you.’

Q. You met these Yazidi women in refugee camps in the outskirts of Mosul in Iraq. These women have now been rescued from ISIS. What condition are they in physically? What condition are they in mentally?

Physically, they are suffering from a lot of injuries, of torture, of burns on their bodies. Some of them have a lot of miscarriages. Emotionally, they are suffering from a lot of nightmares and trauma. They are walking just with a body, just a body. They don’t know where they are walking to and where their next step will be. It’s just that they are alive but they don’t enjoy life.

Q. You’re a trained counselor. What do you tell them?

When I go there, my job is to support them to have a voice of their own and to make sure that they are not alone and to tell them that what happened to them is not their fault. So they need to speak out. Once they start to have their voice, this is the beginning of their healing.

Q. You’ve been to Iraq several times over the last two years since ISIS rose to prominence in 2014. You were last there in August. What compels you to help these women?

I’m Kurdish. And I’m a woman. I’m an activist. I’m an immigrant. In 1980, Saddam Hussein attacked Kurdish people and he killed 180,000 people. The entire world was silent toward Kurdish people. The story, it repeated itself with the Yazidi people. And nobody want to take any action. That’s what motivates me. I have a good life. I live in America. I’m enjoying freedom. So it’s time for me to give back some of the privilege that I gained during these 15 years of being in the United States.

This article originally appeared in KPBS.

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