NEW DELHI: 21 year old Nadia Murad has seen it all. She was a student, living in the village Kocho in Sinjar, a remote area in Northern Iraq when Islamic State attacked it in 2015. They killed over 300 hundred men, including Nadia’s family members and took all the young women into captivity. Nadia was then taken to the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul to be held as a slave.

Nadia was just one among 5,000 women kidnapped by Islamic State that year as they attacked Northern Iraq. The women were “subsequently” distributed among the fighters to be raped and tortured. After enduring over three months in captivity, Nadia managed to escape and made her way to Stuttgart, where she received asylum.

Speaking at a UN Security Council meeting last year, Nadia said during the attack “we found ourselves faced with a true genocide” and the Islamic State “[attacked us] under the pretext that we were infidels.” While describing her personal ordeal she said that the women were “[taken] as war booty, as merchandise” by the terrorists who then went on to rape the women to “destroy the girls.”

As she was caught while trying to escape the first time, Nadia said she was locked up in a dark room with the guards. The guards then “proceeded to commit their crime until I fainted” she says as a punishment for daring to escape.

Why did the Islamic target Nadia’s village? The residents of the village and the nearby area are ethnic Kurds who practice the ancient religion of Yazidism. They are indigenous to Northern Iraq and are mainly concentrated around the Sinjar district in the Nineveh province of Iraq. A major thrust of the Islamic State’s vow to establish a “caliphate” involves raiding territory across Syria and Iraq and attacking Yazidi dominated areas amongst others, as they seek to get rid of the “infidels.” While the Islamic State has been infamous for attacking and killing multiple minority communities through its occupied area, the Yazidis have been witness to some of the worst violence.

Now, Yazidis despite being ethnically Kurdish, have a distinct and independent culture. They are monotheists, who believe in the power of the seven angels that are responsible for guarding the world. This is because the supreme being is seen to be at such an elevated level that he cannot be worshipped directly. The seven angels are seen to emanate from him and the peacock angel, called “Malak/Melek Taus” is the most important to Yazidis. It is seen as a carrier of both good and evil and this ambivalence is duly reflected in a lot of Yazidi myths. However this symbol is mistakenly seen by many as a sign of the devil. This is why the Islamic State claimed the Yazidis are “devil worshippers” or “pagan minority” during their attacks as they refused to even consider Yazidism as a religion.

The Yazidi have a long history of facing persecution due to their faith in the region, especially under Saddam Hussein’s Sunni government. This is why during the late 1990’s a growing number of Yazidis began to migrate to Europe. However, the devastation being meted out by the Islamic State is particularly acute. The Yazidi have very strong notions of purity which they seek to maintain by remaining a strictly endogamous community. This is why the Islamic State fighters believe that they have “defiled” the women that they rape and torture in captivity. The impact of the trauma is such that it was reported that many Yazidi girls that had been raped by the terrorists, committed suicide by jumping from Mount Sinjar after pleading the people to kill them.

On June 16 this year, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria concluded that the Islamic State is committing genocide against Yazidis that amounts to crimes against humanity and war crimes, in a UN-mandated human rights inquiry. The report by the commission said, “ISIS has sought to erase the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community.”

The plight of the Yazidis has been largely confined to interviews of distressed young girls as they escape their captives while failing to cover the large-scale systematic genocide of an entire culture. This is mainly because of two reasons. One, as highlighted above is the distinct nature of the Yazidi faith. Due to their understanding as “devil worshippers” by not just the Islamic State, the Yazidi have found official support hard to come by and have been reliant on Kurdish forces operating in the area apart from sporadic airdrops of aid by international actors.

Secondly, unlike other ethnic Kurd communities that are spread across Iraq, Syria and Turkey, often blurring borders, the Yazidis remain confined to northern Iraq where they have a history of being treated as second citizens. This means that they have failed to organize themselves for any sort of armed resistance to the Islamic State, the way Peshmerga or the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) have been able to in other parts.

Another major roadblock that the Yazidis have encountered deals with rehabilitation. A majority of the community has been displaced and is currently living in either makeshift camps or is holed up on Mount Sinjar in pitiful conditions. The ones trying to seek asylum in Europe have fallen prey to the trafficking mafia functioning in the area that has led to countless deaths. The humanitarian crisis due to unavailability of food, shelter and medicines has only exacerbated in recent months.

The International Commission of Inquiry had echoed these concerns while submitting its report. It had noted that “with no path to international criminal justice available, it is likely that the first such prosecution of ISIS crimes against the Yazidis will take place in a domestic jurisdiction. It is essential, that States enact laws against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.” Furthermore, it “urged international recognition of the genocide, and stated that more must be done to assure the protection of this religious minority in the Middle East, and the funding of care, including psycho-social and financial support, for victims of this genocide.”

So far these concerns have gone unheard in the international community that has been preoccupied with the ongoing military offensive in Fallujah, Iraq and near Raqqa in Syria. It seems unlikely that states that have had a history of persecuting the Yazidis themselves would be so forthcoming as to alter domestic legislation or direct resources exclusively towards the community. For this ailing community, international support remains the last straw of hope as it fights extermination. Nadia epitomized this call at the UN when she said, “I very much hope that humanity has not disappeared,” her hope seems to be dwindling.