DAHUK, Iraq – The 26-year-old Yezidi mother is facing a heartbreaking choice.
His family is preparing to emigrate from Iraq to Australia and start a new life after the suffering inflicted by the Islamic State group on their small religious minority. She is desperate to accompany them, but there is also a person she can not bear to leave: her 2-year-old daughter, Maria, fathered by the state fighter who enslaved her.
She knows that her family will never allow her to bring Maria. They do not even know that the girl exists. The only parent who knows it is an uncle who took his mother's daughter and placed her in an orphanage in Baghdad after their release from captivity last year.
"My heart hurts in my chest every time I think about leaving it. She is a part of me, but I do not know what to do, "she told The Associated Press at a displaced camp in northern Iraq.
The woman spoke as long as she was identified only as Umm Maria, or "mother of Maria", lest her family and community discover her.
The torments of Umm Maria report the gaping wounds of the Iraqi Iraqi religious minority in the hands of the Islamic State group. When militants invaded Sinjar, in the heart of northern Iraq, in northern Iraq in 2014, they inflicted on the community an almost medieval fate. Hundreds of Yazidi men and boys have been massacred, tens of thousands have fled their homes, and activists have taken thousands of women and girls into sexual slavery, treating them as heretics worthy of subjection and punishment. rape.
Women were divided between ISF combatants in Iraq and Syria and, in the following years, were traded and sold as movable property. Many women have had children from their captors – the number of children is not known, but they are probably hundreds.
The Nobel Peace Prize this year focused on victims of sexual violence, especially the Yazidis, when one of ISIS-abducted women, Nadia Murad, was named co-winner of the award.
Many, but not all, women have returned home, the "caliphate" of the extremist group in Iraq and Syria having been shot down. While some of them do not want to have anything to do with babies born of rape and slavery, others, like Umm Maria, want to keep them.
But Yazidi families most often reject children.
It is a reflection of the deep-rooted traditions of the Yezidi community, which seek to preserve their identity among the predominantly Muslim population, who for centuries considered the ancient faith with suspicion. The Yazidis, who speak a form of Kurdish, keep their community closed, their rituals little known.
They have always rejected mixed marriages and children of non-Yazidi parents. In this case, the task is even greater since the fathers were the same Sunni Muslim radicals who had sought to annihilate the community. Under Iraqi law, children are considered Muslims.
The community has taken a relatively progressive stance towards mothers. In traditional Iraqi society, rape can stigmatize the victim. But the Yezidi spiritual leader, Babashekh Khirto Hadji Ismail, issued a decree in 2015 stating that the women enslaved by the militants are "pure" and that their faith is intact. The declaration allowed women to be welcomed back into Yezidi society.
But not the children.
Khidr Domary, a prominent Yezidi activist, acknowledged that the island traditions of the community needed reform and said management had been flexible in addressing the trauma left by IS, known as the acronym Arab group, Daesh.
He says that in theory, mothers can bring children back to their communities, but they will face intense pressure from family members and neighbors.
"It is difficult even for the mother to bring a child to live among us when it is possible that her father Daeshi has killed hundreds of people on her own, including relatives of the mother," she said. he declared.
Umm Maria was taken captive with other women in August 2014, when militants stormed Sinjar, near the Syrian border. She was eventually taken to Syria as a slave of a fighter of the Islamic State, which she only knew by her pseudonym, Abu Turab.
Abu Turab was killed in fighting in 2015. His family sold him $ 1,800 to another activist, an Iraqi whom she identified as Ahmed Mohammed. He took her to Mosul, Iraq, where she lived with her first wife and children. Shortly after giving birth to Maria, he was also killed in the fighting in 2015.
She was sent to a "guest house" of the Islamic State, where wounded ISIS fighters received first aid or rested at the front – and used women Yazidies for sex.
When Iraqi security forces attacked Mosul, women moved from one neighborhood to another to escape the bombing raids. In the summer of 2017, at the time of the fall of the city, Umm Maria escaped into government-controlled territory, although she was injured during the bombing.
At the hospital, an uncle persuaded Umm Maria to give them the child until she was cured, promising to return Maria to her later.
"If I had known that they had planned to put her in an orphanage, I would never have given her," she said.
Umm Maria saw the child – now about 3 years old – only once since. Several months ago, she visited him at the Baghdad Orphanage, where she spent two days with Maria.
"She did not recognize me, but I recognized her," said Umm Maria. "How can I not be, she is a piece of me."
Many Yazidis consider that it is more essential than ever that the community protect its identity at a time when it is struggling for its survival. It was estimated at around 700,000 the number of Yazidis before 2014. Since the IS attack, nearly 15% have reportedly fled the country, mainly to the west. Nearly half of those still in the country live in camps for displaced people scattered in northern Iraq.
About 3,000 Yazidis are still missing or in captivity. Of these, experts estimate that only a third could still be alive.
The Yazidis are also trying to find their place in a country where the social fabric has been torn apart by ISIS. Although there was always tension, the Yazidis lived side by side with their Muslim neighbors in a northern region that is home to many minorities, including Christians and Kurds.
At present, the Yazidis are deeply suspicious of Arab Muslims, accusing them of sympathizing with the Islamic State and even sometimes joining the militants in the slaughter and enslavement of Yazidis. The community also said that the central government had not done enough to recover Yazidi women. It was largely up to families to raise thousands of dollars to buy girls or wives, or pay smugglers to escape them.
"We have become so unhappy with Muslims that we now tell our children not to be like Muslims when they are mean to each other," said Abdullah Shirim, a Yazidi businessman.
Shirim reportedly saved dozens of Yazidi women in captivity through a network of business contacts, smugglers and bounty hunters.
The community is fighting to integrate thousands of Yazidi children affected by the war. Those whose parents are missing or deceased are usually cared for by the extended family, but if family members can not afford it, they end up in orphanages. Children captured by the IS and raised as Muslims must be reintegrated into the Yezidi religion. Boys forced to become child soldiers must be removed from the violent violent training of the Islamic State.
In the midst of these traumas, there is little sympathy for children engendered by activists.
Another Yazidi woman, aged 21, who asked to be identified only as Umm Bassam, recounted how, when she had left the territory of the Islamic State in Syria in August, she had contacted her family and asked if she could bring back her 9 month old son. , Bassam, begotten by the SI militant who held it.
Their response: "We can not allow a Daeshi baby to live with us."
Umm Bassam has been in captivity for several years. The state fighter who detained her – an Iraqi woman – took her to the other side of the Syrian border in the summer of 2017, as the regime of militants collapsed in Iraq.
In Syria, she gave birth. She, the ISF fighter and their child had to flee from town to town as militants lost ground in Syria. Eventually, the fighter smuggled him into a Kurdish – controlled territory, while he escaped into the desert with other militants.
In the Kurdish city of Qamishli, Syria, Umm Bassam has been found in a house with other liberated Yazidi women, many of whom also have children.
After the rejection of her family, she gave in and agreed to leave Bassam to the Kurdish authorities. They tried to reassure her, she said, telling her that the child would be cared for in an orphanage. They said that at least 100 children had been left behind by Yazidi women.
"I hugged him until they took it from me," she said. They told him, "Do not worry, in 10 days he will not remember you anymore and will not recognize you. We will make him forget everything.
But Umm Bassam remembers – every detail. Her son was plump and fair-skinned, with a beautiful face, she said. He had a mole under his armpit.
Back in her community, separated from her son by borders, traditions and leaders, she no longer sees the choice. She will bury everything. She's going to get married, she says. She will build a new family.
"I'll pretend I've never seen anything. I will try to forget everything and start a new life. "
AP Mideast regional photo editor Maya Alleruzzo contributed to this report.
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