How do you begin to tell the world about suffering and abuse so dark, so deeply shocking that they could never comprehend it? How do you make them understand the trauma and fear you have lived, when you cannot even understand it yourself? How do explain what it is like to lose 18 members of your family to execution or enslavement by ISIS? How do you open up the most private and terrifying details of your life? How does a woman raised to be modest, go about uncovering the sexual abuse and rape she has endured – especially to a global audience?
It seems impossible and yet Nadia Murad decided she must … so that the atrocities the Yazidi people suffered would come to an end. She believed if her story was told on the world stage, there would be a response. Help would come. Healing might happen. The torture may stop. Nadia tells her story,
“so that one day we can look our abusers in the eye in a court … and tell the world what they have done to us. So my community can heal. So I can be the last girl to come before you.”
For her courage and determination to be a voice, Nadia has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. This award acknowledges her bravery in the face of unthinkable abuse and hardship, but it does so much more than that. This Nobel Peace Prize speaks to all the Yazidi people who have suffered; it says, we see your trials, we recognise your great travail, we bear witness to what has happened to you.
Nadia was captured in August 2014 when ISIS attacked the Sinjar region. She was subjected to months of abuse as a sex slave before she escaped her torturers. On that day in August life changed forever for the Yazidi people living in her hometown of Kocho. Over 300 men were taken behind the local school and executed; the boys were taken away to be indoctrinated. Older women were also killed; young women and girls sold at slave markets. Four years later, thousands of Yazidi women and children are still missing.
Nadia suffered beyond what most human hearts and minds can bear. She was beaten, raped and imprisoned. She tried to escape and failed. For this she was savagely beaten and gang-raped by six militants until she became unconscious. “Every strand of hair on my head, every part of my body got old. I got worn out by what they did to me, and now I am totally different in every way. I never imagined that these things could happen, and I can’t really describe them in a way to make you understand,” she said.
Like many Yazidi people, she didn’t know what her fate would be from one moment to the next. She describes the waiting, the not-knowing: “Our hearts were constantly full of fear as we had no idea when they could come for us.”
Nadia escaped from ISIS but she continues to work to end rape and sexual assault in warfare.
“I will go back to my life when women in captivity go back to their lives, when my community has a place, when I see people accountable for their crimes,” she says.
In Toowoomba, Australia, a community of Yazidi people are endeavouring to rebuild their lives, trying to heal from the horror of the attacks against them and their safety. They work at making a new life in a new country where they are not always understood. Each day is a challenge as they seek to move past what has happened to them. But like Nadia, they are full of courage and hope that they can salvage their destinies from the ruins; they are determined to take back their dignity and their right to live in freedom and safety. We honour them.
Written by Tracey Heers