For Ibtisam, a 15-year-old Yazidi girl, the six months after the Islamic State (IS) attacked her hometown could not have been crueler. Her mother and three younger sisters were taken from the village of Tel Qasab, near Sinjar, as spoils of war by the extremists, who control territory across Iraq and Syria.
After five months in captivity, each day not knowing if they would live to see the next, Ibtisam was freed along with some 200 other Yazidis, most of them elderly, sick or disabled.
Two of her sisters, however, continued to be held captive. Asked why she thought they had been kept while she was released, Ibtisam lowered her eyes and stared at the floor in embarrassment. She paused for a moment before responding, “They were more attractive.”
Ibtisam and the others who were released are now in Lalish, site of the holiest shrine for Yazidis, whom IS consider to be devil worshippers. Unlike Christianity and Judaism, the Yazidi religion is not acknowledged in the Quran.
Only the Yazidi community can fully comprehend the depth of the tragedy that has befallen them. Hundreds have been massacred, thousands remain in captivity and the majority of the Yazidi minority has been made homeless by IS.
Around 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from Lalish in the city of Dahuk, a family has taken in three underage girls who were used by IS members as sex slaves for approximately three months. Erivan Mehdi, whose family is caring for them, said, “They cry a lot, and they are often lost in their own thoughts.” One of the girls, Besma, a pseudonym, agreed to be interviewed on the condition her true identity not be revealed. Erivan accompanied her.