“Without the children, I would have killed myself.” Kocher, a Yazidi mother from Iraq, survived two years in “IS” captivity. The atrocities suffered have left her full of rage. Three of her children are still missing.
Since her return, Kocher has been wearing black only. Time does not heal all wounds, not, when you have returned from hell. Since her liberation from the “Islamic State,” (IS) Kocher, her husband Mahmood, and her five youngest daughters have been living on the barren plateau of Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq.
They are refugees stranded inside their own country. Their recent torments are not spoken about in the family: “It’s too late for me,” says 40-year-old Kocher, only hinting at her pain.
The claws of the past
Her thoughts constantly return to her three older children — her two sons, Saadon, who is 22 now, and Firaz, who is 18, as well as her 15-year-old daughter Aveen. Their whereabouts remain unknown. Only the vague hope of a reunion keeps Kocher from succumbing to the clutches of the past.
During her many sleepless nights, she is tortured by the question of why she is among the survivors. Her five daughters, aged four to 13, are also terrified at night. For Kocher, there is no doubt that “without the children, I would have killed myself.”
The genocidal attack
Kocher’s nightmare began on August 3, 2014 when IS militia invaded the Sinjar region of Northern Iraq, which for centuries had been the heartland of the Yazidi minority. For the self-proclaimed jihadis of the “caliphate” Yazidis were “infidels” and “devil worshippers.”
The invaders committed unimaginable atrocities, including mass executions, which the UN has classed as genocide. So far, however, no one has been held accountable.
In August 2014, some 50,000 terrified Yazidis headed up Mount Sinjar, the holy mountain of the Yazidi people, in a desperate bid to seek protection on the harsh and inaccessible terrain of a high plateau. Seeking refuge on their holy mountain seemed to be their only hope.
Together with other families from her neighborhood, Kocher and eight of her children braved the difficult serpentine road. Her husband Mahmood stayed behind to care for his elderly parents.
Kocher’s group had made it half way up the mountain when they were intercepted by IS fighters and either killed or enslaved. Weathered clothes, torn underwear and faded shoes strewn along the roadside still document how Yazidis attempted to escape their fate.
“They also took older women than me and forced them to marry five or six men,” says Kocher. Not once does she use the word rape. “They exchanged women for a cigarette and gave each other women as presents.”
Time and again, Kocher and other mothers were separated from their children. She lost contact with her two older sons, her daughter Aveen was forcibly married to an IS fighter in Mosul. They only brought her back to see her mother once. The girl was dressed in black and fully veiled, with bridal make-up on her face.A further humiliation: “It is one of the great pleasures of a mother to put make-up on her daughter’s face for her wedding.” Since that day, there has been no further sign of life from Aveen.
The burden of liberation