Iraqi Kurdistan: Collecting Names of Missing Ezidi Women


bIraqi Kurdistan - collecting names of missing Ezidi womeny Terra Winston

Terra Winston joined CPT in 2012 as our Delegations Coordinator and works from our Chicago office. She, like most of our office-based staff, spends time in the field each year. She served in Iraqi Kurdistan during November and December.

In November, CPT intern Alicja Zasadowska and I drove seven hours through the mountains with our partners, the Zhyan group, to Duhok. There we visited the Khanke IDP Camp, currently home to several thousand families, mostly Ezidi*, from the Shangal Mountains (“Sinjar” in Arabic.) The families seem to be recovering well given the circumstances, but you can still see the scars of severe sunburn from spending days on the mountain with no shelter or water when they first fled from ISIS forces.

This visit was truly one of the most humbling experiences of my life to date. We spent a weekend collecting the names of 961 women kidnapped by ISIS (we noted the names of men on a separate sheet). I am sure we could have collected many more names had time allowed. We simply went from one UNHCR** tent to the next, sat with families, and heard their stories.

One man with whom we spoke named 66 missing family members, another, 28. At times, it felt as though the grief, like the list of names, would never end.

Along with sharing their stories, people expressed grave concerns about the freezing weather. One man lamented that he had “family members who died because they couldn’t escape ISIS, family members who died on the mountain, family members who died on the long walk to the camp, and now those who survived will die in their UN tents from the cold.”

Winter is fast approaching. Nighttime temperatures already sink to 42° Fahrenheit (6° Celsius). The families are no longer allowed to have heaters in their tents because heater fires already burned down two tents killing two adults and three children. The Kurdish Regional Government and the UN are trying to come up with solutions but are losing to the pace of oncoming weather changes.

Even amidst this sorrow, we watched children in the camp play soccer, braid one another’s hair and hug teddy bears and dolls. Parents held babies, cooked what food they could, and neatly folded blankets and tidied tents. Life continues and hope continues where it can.

*the Ezidi people prefer this name to “Yazidi”
**United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees