He brought her back to his home, and the home of his ancestors in Sinuni, a small town in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq, as a picture. It is hanging on a beat-up wall.
“She was not only my wife, but also my role model,” said Rasho about Coli, which means “rose” in Kurdish. Seven years ago the hand of terrorism snatched her away from her family and took her to an unknown grave. There has been no trace of her since.
Since the 2003 US invasion, Rasho has had a small workshop repairing sewing machines. Before that he was a military man. In 2014 his life was turned upside down.
“My wife and I used to live quietly with our children, but calm has not been on our side since that fateful year,” he said. On August 3, 2014, Sinjar fell in the hands of ISIS. Numerous organizations have qualified the horrendous crimes the terrorist outfit committed against the Yazidi people as genocide.
Although he knows it is impossible for Coli to ever return, his heart still fills with longing whenever he remembers the old days. “She was the closest to my heart, soul and body,” he said. “Closer than any other person in the world.”
16 people accompanied Rasho when he left his house on August 3, 2014. But not his wife, daughter and son, because there was not enough space in the car for everyone.
“They were faster than us,” he said, wiping away his tears. “A group of ISIS militants entered our neighborhood. My wife, son and daughter tried to escape to another area. But the fighters caught up with them and prevented them from leaving, as they did with so many Yazidi families.”
Coli, however, was hiding a weapon inside her clothes. She had benefited from her husband’s military experience by learning how to aim and shoot.
They were part of a group of captured families when the emir (prince) heading the ISIS unit ordered girls and women to be separated from the men. Coli did not accept. She pulled out her gun and shot the ISIS leader known as Salim Al-Jazrawi.
“The other ISIS members immediately opened fire,” her 23-year-old daughter Sherihan recalled her mother’s final moment. “She fell to the ground. And I saw with my own eyes how her last breath rose up to the sky. She was 54 years old.”
Sherihan and her brother were taken away. She was first brought to a school in the village of Kocho and then transferred, with a group of other women, to the Syrian city of Raqqa. She went on to be sold five times to Iraqi, Syrian and Jordanian ISIS members.
In April 2018, she was liberated. When one of her brothers visited the Syrian city of Qamishli, the family received a call from someone claiming he could help find her. And, indeed, soon after an agreement was reached with the help of a mediator to free her for $13,000. The amount was to be paid to a smuggler and Jabhat al-Nusra member from Idlib.
In an 87-page report published in November 2014, Amnesty International revealed that Yazidi women were sold as “sex slaves.” According to the same report, children were given to jihadists as “gifts.”
Trade in Yazidi women was not limited to ISIS. It was practiced by various terrorist groups and despite the enmity between Al-Nusra, which used to be affiliated with al-Qaeda, and ISIS, they agreed in the buying and selling of Yazidi women and girls.
To this very day, Yazidi women are liberated from areas controlled by the Al-Nusra Front and factions identifying themselves as the Free Syrian Army supported by Turkey.
The kidnapped women who returned home were often liberated by paying money to intermediaries or a ransom to the kidnappers. Amounts vary from some $5000 to sometimes $50,000 per person.
“After the liberation of the northern part of Sinjar in early 2016, we went to search for my mother’s remains,” said Sherihan’s sister Diliman. “But we did not find anything.”
“During our displacement we used to live in Baadhra in the Dohuk governorate,” she continued. “Only after the liberation of Sinjar, we returned to our home and raised a large image of our mother. We are proud of what she did and her status of immortality.”
Rasho is still living the pain of not knowing the fate of his son, who – along with some 2,700 other Yazidis – was kidnapped by ISIS in 2014.
“We live in difficult conditions – with us are five of my missing son’s children,” he said. “When will life lift the curtain of worry and sadness for us, so that we can see the scenes of beauty and tranquility we were used to before?”
In honor of her heroism, a statue of Coli was erected in Sinuni on August 3. The statue was paid for by donations from relatives and people from her hometown. It was made by Iraqi-Assyrian sculptor Ninos and his father Thabet Mikhail.