Throughout my career as a photojournalist, I have covered wars and traveled through countries torn apart by hatred. I am aware that man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds. But the atrocities committed against the Yazidi women of the small Kurdish community in northwestern Iraq had a profound effect on me. These were atrocities carried out in the name of religion, carried out by believers convinced that they are superior to others.
The young women and girls, some only children, who were captured by ISIS were raped and sold as slaves, treated as nothing more than objects. Some managed to escape this hell on earth, but others are still being held by their tormenters, in inhumane conditions, and in the name of Allah.
It was obvious what I had to do: the world had to know what was happening, the survivors had to tell their stories. I needed to use all my tact and diplomacy to overcome their reluctance to speak, to quell their fears, to overcome taboos and to break down the many walls of silence. Theirs is a highly conservative society based on a caste system, and honor killings are still carried out.
According to current figures, more than 3,430 women and children from the Yazidi community are still being held captive by ISIS. The Yazidi people realized the threat, and saw that they might quite simply disappear, so took up arms. In May this year, a special Women’s Defense Unit (YPG) was set up, and young Yazidi women have been training and learning to handle weapons. And they learn even more: most of them have never been to school, so here they discover friendship, self-esteem and a certain degree of freedom. In the Sinjar region, they fight shoulder to shoulder with the men, and are on the front line fighting the forces persecuting their own people.
The courage of these young women, both those on the battlefield and others attempting to recover and resume a normal life, was, for me, a source of energy and inspiration. When I tell the story of their suffering and distress, and also of their bravery, I feel that I have rediscovered the true significance of my profession, in all its nobility.
Alfred Yaghobzadeh, with the kind assistance of Flore Olive
The present report could never have been done without the assistance and support of Paris Match which has remained faithful to the spirit of photojournalism which I defend.