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ISIS leaves behind scars long after the "Caliphate" falls apart

Navanti analyst Khalid Fatah writes about the plight of Yazidi women who had children from ISIS fathers, and must give up their children if they wish to reintegrate into their communities.
The Yazidi Lalish Temple. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Yazidis are ethnic Kurds who follow an ancient religion based on holy texts passed down for thousands of years in the area known as Mesopotamia. The Yazidis are scattered in several countries of the Middle East and Central Asia including Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Georgia, and Iraq. In Iraq, most are distributed in the Sinjar district, located west of the Iraqi city of Mosul, as well as the Shiekhan area, east of Mosul, where the holy Lalish Temple resides.

On August 3rd, 2014, ISIS attacked Sinjar city and the surrounding areas along the Syrian border, where they killed Yazidi men and kidnapped women and children as spoils of war. According to the organization’s extremist ideology, Yazidis are infidels. The secrecy surrounding Yazidi religious rites has led ISIS, as well as many others, to incorrectly assume the Yazidis worship the sun, or the devil, or that their religion is intimately connected to Zoroastrianism.  

In September 2015, the Kurdistan Peshmerga Forces, supported by the US-led International Coalition, liberated the Sinjar district from the terrorist group—an operation that left behind enormous destruction. Four years later, the fate of many kidnapped women and girls remains unknown. Some of the kidnapped women returned to their families after suffering abuse, torture, human trafficking, and rape, which left behind deep physical and psychological scars. Others had children during their time in ISIS captivity, whom conservative Yazidi society refuses to recognize as Yazidis. These mothers have two difficult options—either give up their children to an orphanage run by the Kurdistan Regional Government in order to return home to Sinjar, or stay in self-imposed exile and keep their kids.

Yazidi refugees who fled Iraq for neighboring Syria. Source: DFID

A 17 year old Yazidi girl spoke anonymously, under the initials H.M., to a Navanti researcher. She recalled what happened to her and her child, born of an ISIS fighter, after she was freed by Iraqi forces:

“They were taking all liberated women to the Lalish Temple, which is the holiest temple for Yazidis located in the Shiekhan area [in Dohuk province], where Baba Sheikh [the top Yazidi religious authority]…baptized the survivors. He baptized me but refused to do so for my daughter. At that moment, I realized I had to choose between two difficult options, either to give up my daughter or to live with her in a special care house run by the KRG away from my family. In the end, I had to give her up. I learned later on that she is with a good family from Erbil city.”  

“Since they adopted her, I feel like they took my soul from my body.”

Yazidi children in Iraqi Kurdistan. Source: Defend International

Legal and religious laws prevent reintegration and healing

The legal and religious cases of the Yazidi women who had children with ISIS fighters are very complex and challenging. In the Yazidi faith, a newborn must have Yazidi parents in order to be integrated into the community. But despite the Iraqi constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion, the Iraq Personal Statute states that all babies born of an unknown father are registered as Muslims along with their mother, even if they don’t identify as one. This law applies to all Christians, Sabean Mandaes, Yazidis, and others. 

For Yazidis, these legal precedents have had profound social effects. The minor children born to unknown fathers with ties to ISIS are legally considered Muslims, but this cannot be accepted in a closed conservative society such as the Yazidi community. An expert in Yazidi Affairs, journalist Khider Domili, told Navanti from Dohuk province, “if a Yazidi woman already had two children and then gave birth to two other children from ISIS fighters, the entire family will be considered Muslim because they are minors with an unknown blood line.”  

“This problem is not just related to the Yazidis, but all the people from ISIS controlled areas are facing the same issue," Domili added. "There are about 2,000 such children in Mosul, around 1,000 in the city of Ramadi, and similar numbers in Hawijeh and Fallouja. All of them have unknown fathers who were ISIS fighters..the Iraqi government evades this subject because according to the current Iraqi laws it cannot be addressed.”

To read Khalid Fatah's full piece on the crisis facing Yazidi children born of ISIS fathers, click here.

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