The Islamic State entered Kocho, a Yazidi village in Iraqi Kurdistan . They took all the inhabitants to the school and separated them into groups: men, pregnant women, older women and single girls. In the latter was Lamia Aji Bashar, who was then 16 years old, along with her three sisters.
“It all started there,” he recalled this Thursday at the diplomatic delegation of the Government of Iraqi Kurdistan in Madrid. In the mouth of Aji Bashar, “everything” means 20 months of ordeal as a captive and sex slave of ISIS in which she was sold to five men and given away to another. The European Parliament recognized the struggle of Aji Bashar with the last Sakharov prize for human rightsalong with Nadia Murad, also a former captive and sexual victim of ISIS.
“The older men and women were killed and buried in a common grave. We were bussed to Mosul and then to the Aleppo area under ISIS control. There were many men there, from different countries.” One day, the emir of the group, who was Saudi, urged one of her sisters and her to convert to Islam. “I said no. She grabbed me by the neck and lifted me off the ground. My sister implored her to let go of me, she kissed her feet until she did. She then shouted: ‘So you don’t want to convert!’, And they raped us both”, she recounts in a distant and monotone tone in Kurmanyi, a dialect of Kurdish.
Some 250 girls, some as young as eight years old, were held captive at that site. “ISIS members arrived and chose us: ‘I want this’, ‘I am’. In the sharia (Islamic law) court there was a piece of paper with my photo on it and my price below it. Five times they bought me and one more time they gave me to another man, ”she recounts.
Aji Bashar remembers when one of her “owners” forced her to help him make vests for suicide bombers and assemble car bombs. He says that at no time did he perceive compassion towards her or a hint of humanity in his treatment. “They were animals in human bodies. Each one worse than the other. She was trying to talk to them, but they were animals”, she sentences.
The brutal and extremist interpretation of Islam carried out by ISIS legitimizes the murder of men and the rape of women considered infidels. Aji Bashar is Yazidi, a Kurdish ethno-religious group of half a million people that professes one of the first monotheistic religions and has traditionally been accused of worshiping the devil for venerating the fallen angel Taus.
Aji Bashar tried to escape four times. After each failed attempt she was punished. Finally, she made it in April 2016 thanks to smugglers paid by her family. She was accompanied by two other Yazidis: Almas, 8, and Katherine, 20. Both died while crossing a minefield. Aji Bashar was injured in the explosion. The scars on her face and her diminished vision of her remind him daily in the mirror of that moment.
“I was happy to be alive, although in my head I was terrible thinking about the suffering of the rest of the captive women and children,” she laments. The United Nations estimates that more than 3,000 Yazidis – the vast majority of whom are women and children – remain in the hands of the jihadists. The figure has been reduced by around half since 2014 between escapes, purchases by families from their “owners” or releases by ISIS.
His village was liberated from Islamic State occupation in May. “I was very happy to hear it, but now it’s all rubble, graves, mass graves,” says Aji Bashar, who now lives in Germany. Last December he received the Sakharov Prize. “It made me feel that there are people who see our pain,” he says. She tells her story to raise awareness of a tragedy that thousands of women have experienced and defines herself as a simple “messenger” with three requests: that ISIS be tried by international criminal justice, that the victims receive psychological treatment after their release and Let the world help the refugees. Many of the former captives suffer from deep depression and it is not uncommon for them to contemplate suicide, according to Amnesty International .
Although the ISIS presence in Syria and Iraq is currently in decline, Aji Bashar prefers to stay in Germany and become a school teacher. And return one day to Kurdistan? “Of course, but there is no international protection for us. And, as Yazidis, we are afraid that we will suffer another genocide like this again.”