The 28-year-old former journalist from Bahzani, an Assyrian town located in northern Iraq, has been dedicating her life to saving from ISIS the women of the Yazidi population, an ethnoreligious group. She has been able to rescue 700 female hostages, who were raped, sold on slavery markets and forced to convert into Islam. Metro talks to Shammo about her work and duty.
What are you doing to save Yazidi slave women captured by Islamic State militants?
The answer to this question contain secret details. But I can point out that, by getting information about the place where a hostage is based and her situation, the attempt for rescue is beginning.
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What led you to take on this brave challenge?
It is a humanitarian duty and my duty towards my people. What makes me take on this adventure is that I couldn’t see any other option for the Yazidi issue as we feel as Yazidi people that we are alone in this crisis. Yes, there is danger that people may not expect, but I entrusted myself not to stop my fight against the threat of ISIS.
Are you scared sometimes?
Being a Yazidi in Iraq means you are a worried and scared individually because of the societal view toward Yazidi people as we are a minority within a non-Yazidi majority. Additionally, Yazidi people are always a primary target of all Islamic terrorist groups.
Personally, it was a difficult day when I got a call, three months ago, from an ISIS member who threatened to cut off my head unless I stop my work. He added that he has many brothers in the area where I live. However, this was not more difficult than when I was speaking with a Yazidi kidnapped girl by phone, and suddenly ISIS picked up the phone and threatened to kill her.
This mission is much harder than what you can expect, what I fear from is to be a reason to hurt those whom I trying to rescue.
Reports say Yazidi captives are forced to donate blood to wounded ISIS fighters. What else are they forced to do?
I am not 100% certain that ISIS does take even the blood from our Yazidi daughters for their wounded fighters, but I do not rule it out because I heard from more than one source. I can also confirm that all of our girls who are above 10 years of age were raped and sold off in the slaves market.
All Yazidi hostages are forced to convert to Islam and read the Quran as well as to pray too. Those who refuse to convert receive no food and drink, and ISIS militants have left some children to die in front of their own families as a punishment of refusing to convert. i.e, the final fate was death for every Yazidi hostage who refuse to convert to Islam.
What was the most dramatic situation in which slave women were involved before you saved her?
Everything linked to kidnapped Yazidi is unforgettable; no matter what happens I cannot forget. I will probably need to switch my mind to forget this human disaster. Here is one of many painful stories: one girl tried to commit suicide several times after being raped. She contacted me after one of the suicide attempts and told me everything that happened to her. But she did not go through with the suicide because of her little sister. She said, “I will keep on my life so that I can bring my sister to my family. After that I will not live any more in this bloody world.” This girl is 14 years old. She is now living in a building structure after being released but her 8-year-old sister is still being held. She hopes and tearfully waits with her family every day.
How are you negotiating with ISIS?
I’m not the only one who working to free my people; there are friends who help me continuously. Many of those girls are not aware that we were the reason to release them, others knew the matter. I was in touch with some of them; they were chanting a phrase whenever I meet them (‘You said you will release us and you did it, it is unbelievable, Here we are with you right now”). They would say this with a big smile, and this would make me feel alive and give me motivation to continue.
Are you saving men too?
So far, we could not liberate a man, and this is because of the following: first, they are not selling men as they did with women and girls. Secondly, they killed men in a mass killing of the Yazidi villages before taking the women and children. One clear example is the mass killing at Kocho, one in Hardan, and others in Sibaia, Tul-azer, Quni, Solagh and many other areas in Sinjar city. They were killing all men who were refusing to convert to Islam immediately, and killing those who would not be able to participate in battles later. I hope that we can free all the Yazidi hostages. However, both the Iraqi and Kurdistan governments should be held to account, as they failed in their responsibilities to protect the Yazidi people. Both governments are now silent again about this humanitarian crisis.
Who are those women who were released doing?
Those who returned back are in very harsh conditions in camps and building structures, and they need emergence help as governments have no plan to improve their lives. With my friend, we are trying to support those who came back and lost their families as well as those who have family, captured by ISIS.
However, we are facing difficulties as their number of who returned has reached nearly 700 individuals. Those people need food, clothes, medicine as well as psychological treatment – they have seen all types of brutality and persecution like raping, beheadings, selling into slavery, and so on. Can you imagine that now women are living in refugee camps where they are sharing toilets and showers with up to 50 people?!
How can a Metro reader help?
I ask from every single person in the world to raise his or her voice with me for the liberation of Yazidi hostages from ISIS hands. They number nearly 7000, mainly women and children. Women are used as sex slaves while the children are used to learn jihadism to be next generation of terrorists. Here, we do not want our children to be terrorists or extremists as this is against our religion, philosophy and values.