A Yazidi woman who suffered for 10 months as a sex slave under the Islamic State group (IS) came to Washington to push for help for the traumatized, displaced Yazidi community in northern Iraq and the hundreds of others who remain in IS bondage.
Shireen Jardo, 25, met with several U.S. congressmen and federal officials along with Iraqi aid groups and media.
“I told them to rescue our people and our land from IS,” Jardo said in an interview with VOA on Friday. “I asked them: ‘How much longer should we wait until we hear a word on our people who are still under IS?'”
At least 9,900 of Iraq’s Yazidis were killed or kidnapped in an IS massacre in 2014, according to international organizations. While many Yazidis such as Jardo escaped, either through smuggling or ransom, rights organizations say about 2,500 Yazidis, mostly women and children, remain under IS captivity in Syria and Iraq. IS regards Yazidis as devil worshippers who have to convert to Islam or die.
Yazidi organizers say Jardo’s plight is emblematic of the broader suffering Yazidis have endured.
“Her story is something everyone should hear,” said Nemam Ghafouri, the founder of Joint Help for Kurdistan-U.S., an American-Kurdish organization that supports displaced Yazidis including Jardo. “She was sold five times, each time for a dollar.”
When IS attacked Sinjar in August 2014, Jardo and 46 members of her family were taken as prisoners.
IS took them to its stronghold in Mosul.
“They separated me from my family and put me in a prison with 13 other young girls and two older women,”Jardo said.
Jardo was later taken with hundreds of women and girls to IS’s defacto capital of Raqqa in Syria where militants started pricing them based on their appearances as a preparation to be sold.
“One day an IS member approached me and told me I looked attractive with my gold tooth,” she said. “I pulled off that tooth right after he left and I was bleeding for hours afterwards.
As IS started taking young Yazidi girls to the marketplaces of Raqqa, Jardo says she used several ways to outsmart IS fighters.
“I pretended to be completely mute and incapable of moving,” she said. “IS members did not believe me and started torturing me by using electric shocks and beating.”
As she attempted to keep up the ruse, “a group of IS fighters started firing guns around me and threatened to kill me if I did not talk,” Jardo said.
Ultimately, IS fighters were unable to put a high price on her because they believed that she was “a damaged good,” Jardo said.
But IS did not give up finding ways they could profit from her, Jardo said.
IS militants took her to a hospital in Mosul where she received unwanted surgery.
“I then screamed, ‘why do you want to kill me?'” she said, “They did not say a word and put me into sleep.”
When Jardo woke up, she found her stomach riddled with stitches.
“We don’t know why IS cut her stomach open,” said Katrina Kraemer, president of Joint Help for Kurdistan-U.S., who helped her get medical tests in Iraqi Kurdistan. “We can’t find that they removed any organs, so there is no explanation.”
Jardo said she was put into a house with some 300 disabled or sick people. She was later taken by some Mosul residents to a hospital for treatment after developing an infection from the surgery. The residents who helped her contacted smugglers, who took her to a refugee camp in the Iraqi Kurdish region.
There she became a rights advocate for hundreds of displaced Yazidis.
“With her recommendation, aid organizations provided 11 washing machines to women in the camp,” Ghafouri told VOA. “She also inspired Yazidi women to start a sisterhood program to share thoughts and ideas.”
Three of Jardo’s brothers are unaccounted for, she said.
“When Mosul was attacked, we were all thrilled thinking we will finally reunite with our families,” she said. “But Mosul is almost liberated now and we are still waiting for them to return.”