Sahir’s Story: A family escaping ISIS

Editor’s Note: The following is a first-person narrative of the journey of a Yazidi refugee named Sahir who fled with 27 of his extended family members from ISIS persecution in Iraq. Yazidis are an ethnically Kurdish religious community of less than 500,000 members. The community, strongest in Iraq but also present in regions of Syria and Armenia, has been persecuted by ISIS in their campaign to eradicate non-Muslim influences from Iraq and Syria.

Some portions of this post have been edited.

My name is Sahir Noah and I’m 18 years old. I’m from Iraq and I am a Yazidi. I used to live with my family in Northern Iraq in a town called Baadre. On August 3, 2014, ISIS attacked Shingal City and all the nearby villages where my Yazidi people were living. On that dark day, ISIS came into Yazidi villages and didn’t let anyone leave. They separated males from females and kids. They asked first for any money, gold, and weapons and then they asked who was willing to convert to Islam. They took groups of males who refused to convert to the sides of villages to shoot and kill. More than 35 mass graves have been found in some Yazidi villages, but we expect there are more because other Yazidi villages are still under ISIS control.

On that day, thousands of Yazidis went to the top of Shingal Mountain, a 72km long mountain range near the Yazidi villages. They stayed there days without food and water. Hundreds died because of hunger and thirst. The Khocho village suffered the worst destruction and death from ISIS. They killed about 600 people from this village and kidnapped the females and kids. All of this is still happening to Yazidi people now.

They took females and all kids to Mosul, Tal Afar (cities in Iraq), and Syria. They took females from 9 to 50 years old for themselves as sex slaves. Yazidi women are suffering, dying million times daily. ISIS sells the women to each other for 5 -10 dollars to buy cigarettes. They taught kids the Quran, prayers, and how to fight and cut human heads off!!

We hear these stories from Yazidi women and in videos that ISIS shares on social media, stories more horrible than anything I have seen in my life or even in movies. One woman who fled ISIS told us a terrible story of a mother and her son. ISIS killed the child, cut him up, and boiled his body. His mother said she was hungry so ISIS gave the meat to her. After she started eating the meat, ISIS told her that “You are eating your son’s meat!!”

And all that happened and is still happening and no one really cares. No one is protecting us. There were more than 8,000 Kurdish Peshmerga forces who ran away before ISIS came to Shingal and they didn’t shoot anyone!!

ISIS has killed about 5,000 Yazidis and kidnapped 4,000 more. ISIS is doing worse than killing the woman and children who are kidnapped. They are killing kids’ dreams, putting gun in their hands instead of toys!! They killed our dreams and feelings. They destroyed our lives!!

As many Yazidi families became disappointed, hopeless, and feel dead inside, our family took our bag of personal belongings and started searching for a new life. My family has 7 brothers and 4 sisters. Three of my brothers and one of my sisters are married, with 5 children between them. My brother-in-law and one of my brothers with his wife and daughter left Iraq before us because the rest of us did not have enough money. A smuggler asked for 3500€ ($3,900) for each person to get out of Iraq, so we had to deal him our house. He promised he could get us to Serbia, where there were NGOs helping people.

On the 9th of February we fled from our home to Istanbul, Turkey. After one day of rest, the smuggler sent 89 people together in one bus from Istanbul to Edirne [near Turkey’s border with Greece and Bulgaria]. Then they asked us to walk through the forest without any light. Each of us held a personal bag, some carried babies too. It was raining, then snowed about 20cm, and there was wind!! Three leaders (smugglers) told us that we were supposed to be walking for half an hour. But after 30 minutes, the leaders told us that it will be more than 5 hours, walking on mountains and crossing rivers …They told us that the weather is so freezing that most of the babies will not make it.

After some discussion, we decided that we would not try that risk [walking 5 more hours over the mountains]. The smugglers decided to run away and hide themselves. My brother tried calling the Turkish police. Sometimes there was no answer, sometimes they said they didn’t speak English. One woman talked with my brother in English and gave him her phone number so he could send our GPS location of exactly where we were. But no one came for help, even after he told them, “Don’t let these kids die here, just get us out from here.” But they didn’t care. One of my sisters had an infection in her kidney, she was really in pain. I thought she was going to die. We made three fires to warm us, but the rain kept putting it out.

We were all afraid, shouting and crying, but the moment that made me feel the most scared was when I saw my brother slap his 9 month old son to check if he was still alive!! After suffering for 5 hours, a group walked to a nearby road and stopped a car. The driver called 3 buses for us and we all started running to the buses to survive.

At that time, my sister couldn’t walk because of her kidney pain. With tears in my eyes, I held her arm and walked to the bus. The bus took us back to Istanbul, which was 4 hours away. We tried another 5 times [to cross from Turkey to Bulgaria], always suffering. Once, after walking half an hour to get near the Bulgarian border with just my family of 28 people, two Bulgarian Policemen with their dogs saw us. Two leaders (smugglers) who were with us tried to run away, but my family decided to sit down and not run. The police let the dogs catch one of them (the smugglers) and bite his body. They hit him with a stick, then took 4 phones from my family and let us go back [to Turkey]. So we walked and waited for a bus again.

After trying 6 times to get into Bulgaria and failing, we decided to go to Greece by boat. It took three tries. During the first time, we got to the middle of the sea and then at 11am, the boat driver turned us back because of the police. The next time, the motor of our boat broke so we had to come back. And on the third time, we successfully reached Lesbos Island.

Three days later, we heard that the Greek border with Turkey closed. We spent one week on the island and then we went to the port for two days. Then they put my entire family on a bus and we went to Ritsona camp.

Editor’s note: In Fall 2016, most of the family was resettled in Saint-Nazaire,
France, where they are today.

Author Nick Courtney

Hailing from Buffalo, NY, Nick is a junior Accounting and Applied Math double major at Notre Dame. He is an avid runner and fan of ND basketball and Buffalo Bills football.

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