Located primarily in the Nineveh Province of Iraq, the Yazidis are an ethnically Kurdish people, but with their own distinct religion and culture.
Since ISIS began seizing large tracts of populated land in Northern Iraq in 2014, at least 500,000 Yazidis have been driven from their homes, and many thousands killed and kidnapped.
Often, when ISIS takes over a Yazidi town or village, they execute all the men and “take possession” of the women and children. A recent report estimates that at least 2,700 Yazidi children have lost one or both parents to ISIS since 2014.
Yazidi brothers Yosef and Fidduy, 14 and 12 respectively, were taken captive when ISIS overran their hometown in Nineveh Province. They were held for 18 months, before managing to escape. The boys are now living with relatives at an IDP (internally displaced people) camp in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. GOAL met them there less than two weeks after they escaped from ISIS.
Yosef told us some of what he and his brother had experienced.
“When Daesh (ISIS) found out we were brothers, they told Fidduy to punch me in the face as hard as he could. They made him do it three times. This was to show that our loyalty was now to them and no longer to each other as brothers. My lips were bleeding, but I didn’t blame Fidduy. They made him do it. He was crying as he punched me.”
“There were a lot of us Yazidi boys taken prisoner around the same time. Daesh made us take religious lessons every day, when we had to learn parts of the Koran off by heart in Arabic, and then recite them to the class. If anyone made a mistake, or forgot a line, they would be punched and kicked by the teacher.
“They showed us lots of videos of executions, where people were made to kneel on the ground, and then shot in the head or beheaded. We were not allowed to turn away or close our eyes. You would be beaten if you did that. We were taught how to shoot guns, and how to take them apart, clean them, and put them together again.”
"There were bombs exploding and bullets flying all around us, but we weren’t afraid"
“Daesh was always talking to us about suicide bombing. How it was glorious to go among the enemy and kill as many people as you could by blowing yourself up. They told us that once we were trained, we would be given the opportunity to be martyrs. None of us wanted to kill anyone. We just wanted to go home.”
“They showed us how to make suicide belts, and most of our spare time was spent doing that. Each belt was inspected, and if it was not done properly you would be beaten in front of everyone else.”
“Every day there were beatings. You were always scared of making a mistake, or asking the wrong question, or not giving the right answer if someone asked you something.”
“Some boys were very badly beaten for trying to escape, but all of us were determined to run away if we ever got the chance.”
“About three weeks ago the Peshmerga [the military forces of the Kurdistan region of Iraq] attacked the town where we were being held. There were bombs exploding and bullets flying all around us, but we weren’t afraid. We were happy, because we knew we might be rescued from Daesh. Some of us ran towards where the bombing was coming from and, within about five minutes, we met Peshmerga soldiers. They took us to the Kurdish authorities, who brought us here to live with our relatives. We are so happy to have escaped from Daesh, and to be back with family and our own people.”
With that, we took our leave of Yosef and Fidduy. Just two ordinary-looking boys in Barcelona football shirts with Lionel Messi’s name on the back. One would never guess what they have been through.
By David Adams (GOAL Communications)
GOAL is providing critical services for families newly displaced from the Shirqat District (along the Mosul corridor) in Salahuddin Governorate, Iraq
NOTE: To protect their identities, we have not used the boys’ real names in this article and have obscured their features in the accompanying photographs.