Shilan’s Story: A Yezidi Woman, Displaced from Sinjar
By Aihan Jamal Taha and Jambally Mohammed
Two years after ISIS’s bloody onslaught on the peaceful Yezidi communities living in the mountainous regions of Northern Iraq, the displaced people are still reeling from the tragedy that befell them. Shilan Khemo, a mother of three sons and four daughters, all under the age of thirteen, miraculously escaped death with her family when dozens of ISIS gunmen suddenly invaded their hometown, Sinjar, on August 3, 2014. Sinjar is a medium-size city of about 80,000, west of Mosul city, and just about 500 km from Iraq’s border with Syria. As a member of the Yezidi community, a Kurdish minority inhabiting a region of Iraq that extends from northern Ninewa province to the west, Shilan and her family were forced, like thousands of others, to flee their homes at dawn, as the gunmen rampaged through the local streets in a fleet of armed vehicles.
Pregnant, exhausted, and terrified, Shilan did not know what do to. Her husband loaded her and their seven kids into the family car–the only property they could take with them—and drove them north to Sinjar Mountain, in the hope to find a safe haven there. Shilan tells Women Across Frontiers the story of their escape toward the mountain, out of Ninewa and to Dohuk city, a major city in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. She says, “in our great luck, we had in the car a Muslim neighbor who bravely responded to the ISIS gunmen when they stopped us on the way to the mountain and questioned us about our religion. They let us go only when the man pretended that we were all Muslims and did a prayer.”
The “rocks and shrubs” on the bare mountain offered the exhausted families some protection but the horrible scenes of people, especially children, dying of thirst, hunger and fatigue after a long walking journey are still with Shilan. She is still tormented by the disgusting scenes of “dogs eating the bodies of dead children.”
Shilan and her family were first accommodated along many other displaced families in a public school building in Duhok, where she gave birth to her seventh child. She could not have managed the difficult birth had it not been for the Kurdish women who came from nearby houses to help her in her moment of need. Now Shilan and her growing family are living with several other families in an uncompleted house in Dohuk.
Although the Kurdish community showed great kindness and international aid organizations provided basic humanitarian assistance, Shilan still gets nostalgic for her life before ISIS overran her town. “In the past, we were living in peace and harmony with our Muslim neighbors; but the terrorists have separated us and now we are stranded, homeless, and with no livelihood. In Sinjar, we had a small farm from which we got a humble income to spend on our life necessities. Now, my husband is jobless and our kids no longer go to school. They keep on asking me every day when we will return home in Sinjar so they can see their friends“, she says and starts crying. “We are no longer able to endure this life of hardship and suffering. I need to undergo a surgical operation and we don’t have enough money to pay for it. I don’t know to who to turn. I feel we are outcasts in this world.”
As a refugee, Shilan feels she has no female friends with whom she can share her suffering. She misses her girl friends and shares memories of them working together on their farms back in Sinjar. Shilan hopes to go back one day and rebuild the house which she and her husband built tirelessly for many years, but which was blown up by ISIS within a few seconds.
TOP PHOTO CREDIT: UN Photo/Martine Perret.