Traumatized and Tormented: A Difficult Homecoming for Yazidis Kidnapped by IS

Kidnapped Yazidis are being reunited with their families following the victory over Islamic State. They include children who have been deeply traumatized. While in captivity, IS brainwashed them to think their parents were evil.

Alan, a Yazidi boy from Sinjar, was held in captivity by the Islamic State for four and a half years.

Younes Mohammad / DER SPIEGEL

Alan, a Yazidi boy from Sinjar, was held in captivity by the Islamic State for four and a half years.

Alan Ezdo, an 11-year-old with deep rings under his eyes, sits alone in his parents’ living room in Sinjar, a Yazidi town in northern Iraq. His legs twitch restlessly and he has a somber gaze. He alternately pulls on the ribbons of his hoody or sucks on the eyelets. He ignores his little brother, who is waiting for even a slight gesture of affection

In the morning, Alan briefly recognized his father and hugged him. Dakhin Ezdo, a tall man with a mustache, stands next to his son and talks happily about the encounter. Alan, on the other hand, has long since gone silent and become very withdrawn.

On this day in March, Alan had only been back with his parents for a week. Following his abduction by the Islamic State (IS), he had been separated from them for the past four and a half years. The last time he saw them was on Aug. 3, 2014, the day IS militias invaded his hometown.

His parents had tried to protect him at that time and had sent him ahead with his cousins, but the group ran straight into IS. Alan, who was 7 years old at the time, was kidnapped together with his cousins. His parents and their two youngest sons took a different path and escaped. The Kurdish autonomy government says IS kidnapped a total of 6,417 Yazidi children and women. In most cases, the men who were captured were immediately massacred, with a total of at least 1,293 killed.

A Trail of Death and Destruction

The list of crimes committed by the Islamic State is long and shocking. Yet the murder and enslavement of thousands of Yazidis in the Sinjar region still occupies a special place in history. The jihadis dismissed them as “infidels” who could be freely raped, enslaved and murdered.

IS almost wiped out the Yazidi community in the Sinjar region in what the United Nations has described as “genocide.” Of the roughly 550,000 Yazidis who lived in Iraq before the terrorists’ invasion, around 360,000 now reside in refugee camps. It’s estimated that 100,000 emigrated, including to Germany, where special programs for Yazidi victims of IS have been set up in various states, but also to Canada and Australia.

The IS “caliphate,” once as big as Jordan, has since fallen. A month ago, the largely Kurdish fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) liberated Baghuz, the last village in Syria under the jihadis’ control. Some 200 Yazidi women and children were recently able to escape IS’ clutches, including 50 from Baghuz.

Alan Ezdo was among those trapped in Baghuz, together with his cousin Lina Ezdo, a pale 12-year-old with black hair. They first fled to the Al Hawl camp, where most of the civilians are now staying, Lina says. Alan had remained silent during the security check by the Syrian-Kurdish led militias, who were fighting IS. But Lina told them in Kurmanji, her Kurdish mother tongue, that she and her cousin were Yazidis. The militias separated them from the IS supporters and brought them back to Iraq.

Perfidious Tactics

“I was so happy to see my parents again,” says Lina. She no longer wears a headscarf and has put on gold earrings that she was never allowed to wear when held by the Islamic State. And yet she also still doesn’t seem to be sure what is right and what is wrong. Whereas Alan usually remains silent, Lina is mostly evasive when her relatives ask her about the years with IS. It’s almost as if she feels obliged to her kidnappers and doesn’t want to betray them.

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