Global Citizen recently sat down with Nadia Murad to discuss her life, ISIS, and the Yazidi genocide. After escaping sex slavery by ISIS, the brave survivor turned activist became a voice for the thousands of Yazidi women who are still suffering under the Islamic State.
Since 2014, the Islamic State has conducted a mass persection and genocide of the Yazidi people, a religious and ethnic minority residing in Northern Iraq. Nadia was only 19 years old when ISIS members killed her family and abducted her to serve as a sex slave in captivity with over 5000 other Yazidi girls and women. She endured three months of torture before she was able to escape and seek asylum in Germany.
Nadia is now an international spokesperson for Yazidi women who are still in captivity. She's addressed the UN and met with state leaders to speak on behalf of her people. She's also been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and landed on Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People for her human rights activism.
Read the full Q&A below.
Tell me about your life before Daesh arrived. What was your favorite thing to do? How did you see your future?
My life was pretty simple. I was just like any other Yazidi girl that lived with her family in the same home. I was going to school. I was in 5th grade in Iraq, which means I would have been in 11th grade here. My family members were farmers, so I farmed with the family as part of my life.
When I thought about my future, I always wanted to be a history teacher. I also wanted to be a makeup artist. I wanted to have my own salon.
What makes the Yazidi culture unique? What would you want people around the world to know about your culture?
The Yazidi culture has it’s differences but is just like many other cultures in Iraq. We are peaceful people, and we wanted to live in Iraq peacefully with the rest of the other people. Unlike what ISIS claims, Yazidis are not non-believers--we are not what they call “Kafirs.” ISIS wanted to eliminate the Yazidis from Iraq because they think we are “Kafirs.” The other thing that I want other people to know about the Yazidis is that this is not the first time this has happened to our people. That’s why our numbers are small. That’s why we are under half a million people in Iraq. We were always being prosecuted in that region and this is the 74th genocide--if you will--that has happened to the Yazidis throughout the years.
After Daesh captured you, what did you focus on to help your survival?
Because I was under so much pressure and fear, I could not focus on anything, honestly. I was afraid, and I was expected to be taken by some new ISIS member at any minute. I did not think that I would survive this. I always thought, ‘this is unjust and this is unfair and something has to change.’
Even in the darkest of hours, were there any examples of strength that you witnessed that really inspired you?
What gave me more hope and what makes me proud to be a Yazidi and proud of my community is that even when ISIS attacked us from all fronts, as a small minority with no force to face ISIS, we struggled and we survived and we did not give up. We survived in that mountain with no help for days or for weeks from people. Yazidis survived and we fought for ourselves. We did not give up even though we were smaller numbers compared to the forces we were facing from all around us.
After your escape from Daesh, what was your first impression of the refugee camps?
During captivity, I didn’t think much about my people or how they were living. But after I came and saw them living in these refugee camps… And honestly, not many even had a place in the camps, they didn’t even have a tent. Because people were outside at the time, especially under bridges and stuff. I didn’t think I would see my people living in such horrible conditions. And even the women and girls, like me, who escaped ISIS had to live in those refugee camps where they faced many horrible conditions and very limited services.
How were you able to leave the refugee camps?
I stayed in the refugee camps for almost a year. I was able to go to Germany through a German program and receive treatment. But there are thousands of women and girls who escaped ISIS and live there now and have still not received any treatment. They still, as we speak, live in those refugee camps.
After leaving the camps, you were soon seen as a spokesperson, telling your story to the EU, the UN Security Council and other leaders, how have people responded to your story?
Since I’ve been telling my story, people have been positively responding. I’ve been urging people to not only listen to the story but to do what they can to help with the situation.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry called the killing of Yazidis a genocide, do you think this will change the global perspective on the situation?
After hearing the statement from John Kerry and from the United States officially recognizing the genocide against the Yazidis, it was very important to me to hear that and it gave me some hope. Because until now, the Yazidi genocide was not being recognized officially by any government body. This gave us hope to continue and to go all the way with this.
In telling your story and getting world leaders to listen, what do you want to happen? What are the requests you want to make to them?
First of all, I would ask world leaders to stop this terrorism and extremism in the world. Second, I would ask them especially to stop this injustice that is being done to women around the world by these terrorists. Defeat this terrorism and give everyone the rights and dignity they need to live in the world.
People across the world have heard and been affected by your story, if you could ask them to support you what do you want from them?
I urge them now to stay away from the ideology of ISIS and groups like them. Do not get involved in acts like that and do not commit crimes against women and children around the world. Help me get my message to the world so people will stop joining groups like this.
Tell me about your ideal future. What do you want the world to look like, both your place in that world and the world around you?
My future is the Yazidis future. My future is part of the other communities that are suffering. What I want the future to look like for me and for them is that the international community gives them their rights and saves them from the persecution they are facing. I want the world to work together to prevent what happened to the Yazidis and other communities in Iraq from happening again.