Iman Abdullah was 13 when ISIS opened the gates of hell and turned 2014 into the darkest of years of her and her people’s lives. Iman had led a calm and simple life till then. She was living in the village of Tal al-Qasab in the Sinjar district, where her family had a small shop selling food.
Iman had not even reached the spring of her age, when she was abducted by ISIS fighters and became one of the some 6,000 Yazidi women and children people who fell victim to kidnapping, captivity and rape, according to the United Nations. Some 10,000 others were killed. Iman was separated from her family, and offered as a “cheap” commodity on the ISIS slave market.
“An ISIS member with Iraqi citizenship bought me,” she said. “He was nicknamed Abu Karam, but quickly grew tired of his goods. As soon as they ‘expired,’ he wanted something else.”
But to do so, he had to first sell Iman. An ISIS doctor bought her. He too held Iraqi citizenship. Iman’s Arabic was quite weak, as it was not her mother tongue. The doctor offered her a deal: “Memorize the Quran and take your freedom.”
It was a next to impossible task. But every evening Iman would sit in front of him and he would listen to her reciting the verses. It took her one month and four days to memorize 101 pages of the Quran, which was enough for the doctor to keep his promise and release her.
He took her to a religious court in Mosul to obtain a document proving the Yazidi girl had become a free Muslim woman and could not be sold ever again as a slave to anyone.
At that time, Iman’s family resided in the city of Tal Afar, west of Mosul. They too had been forced to convert to Islam. Their job was to take the ISIS livestock. Having obtained her “freedom document”, Iman moved in with her family.
More than a year after the family was kidnapped, the Kidnapped Yazidi Rescue Office (KYRO), through an intermediary, managed to get Iman and her family out. They became residents of the Sharya camp for the displaced, which is home to over 15,000 people.
The liberation was a true miracle for Iman and her family. By then, they had lost all hope. They suffered a lot from a lack of means on the one hand and the strict ISIS supervision on the other.
During the battles that led to the liberation of ISIS-controlled areas in Iraq in 2017, and later also in Syria, hundreds of Yazidis managed to escape. But, according to KYRO ,the fate of thousands of others remains unknown,
After her release, Iman had two options: stay home in a very difficult psychological state or go back to school. She chose the latter and went on to work for KYRO to help convince Yazidi abductees to return to their families.
ISIS had told them that they would be killed if they dared return to their families. Iman helped explain this was not true. She is very proud of her work for KYRO, although helping the kidnapped made her both happy and sad, as she had to hear many painful stories.
In 2019, wearing the Yazidi uniform, Iman was in the Indian city of Mumbai on behalf of KYRO to receive the Mother Teresa Award for outstanding humanitarian work. At the ceremony, people cried, as Iman told her story and the stories of other survivors.
Iman recently turned 20. She wants to learn English and study law, as she wants to become a lawyer to defend the Yazidi cause internationally and, who knows, maybe one day reach the level of Yazidi activist Nadia Murad, who in 2018 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Today, Iman lives with her family in a rented three-room house in the town of Sharya near Dohuk in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Due to the recent fire that devastated some 240 tents in the Shariya camp, she and her family were once again displaced.
Although their tent did not burn down, the fear that this may one day happen haunts Iman. “The summer here brings many surprises,” she said. “We do not know what the future holds for us.”
Iman knows she will not return to Sinjar any time soon, as the city still has not been reconstructed, due to the conflict between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, while many armed groups with different loyalties remain, including: the Popular Mobilization Forces, Yazidi fighters loyal to the pro-Kurdish Party of Labor, as well as the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga.
Meanwhile, Iman left her job at KYRO to fully devote herself to studies. As soon as she passes her exams, she hopes to enter university to study law. And so she spends her time bent over books, suffering from heat and darkness in the middle of summer, due to the many power cuts.
But those who lived the hell of ISIS and managed to get out, can overcome a lack of electricity to fulfill their dreams …