“My story is just one story among thousands of Yazidi families,” said Nadia Murad, a human rights activist who was formerly held captive by the Islamic State.
Murad spoke to an audience of approximately 200 community members on Wednesday, recounting her story of surviving ISIS’ brutal genocide and her current work as a human rights activist.
“For thousands of years, the Yazidi minority coexisted with many religions. The Yazidis have never had any problem,” she said.
Standing behind the podium with an interpreter by her side, the 24-year-old moved the audience with her calm yet commanding presence. Despite having expressed worries about communication challenges in a recent CNN interview, Murad's speech to the University community transcended any possible language barrier.
Since escaping captivity, Murad has worked to help those who are still victims of the ongoing ISIS genocide. In 2016, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the Iraqi government, and she also became the first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the United Nations.
Murad stressed that despite practicing a faith different from Islam, her ethno-religious group of around half a million has always coexisted peacefully with others in the northern Nineveh Province of Iraq.
Yet, everything changed in August 2014, when ISIS began making its way from Mosul to the Sinjar region, which is mainly inhabited by the Yazidis.
“We were terrified at the news that ISIS was committing crimes against minorities,” she said.
According to Murad, some members of the community had heard about the potential threat and subsequently fled to the nearby Sinjar Mountains. However, most individuals, including the elderly and disabled, were unable to leave before ISIS arrived. Furthermore, ISIS supporters in neighboring villages made it difficult for Yazidis to escape unnoticed.
Within the timespan of a couple months, ISIS succeeded in its plan to massacre approximately 5000 Yazidi men, as well as enslave thousands of women and children. Among those killed were six of Murad’s brothers.
“They gave us two options: Convert to Islam or die,” Murad said. Murad added that ISIS rationalized the genocide as exterminating a faith it deemed inferior in order to better the Muslim community. ISIS militants labeled the Yazidis as “not people of the book,” Murad explained.
After forcefully converting the remaining Yazidi women to Islam, ISIS members then proceeded to abuse the women mentally, physically, and sexually. Murad, who was among the enslaved population, said she was raped repeatedly.
“They distributed us amongst themselves,” she said.
In 2015, Murad was able to escape with the help of a neighboring family. She was given a fake ID and was smuggled through various checkpoints. After briefly residing at a refugee camp in Iraq, she found refuge in Germany.
Since then, Murad has spoken multiple times to the United Nations to raise awareness about the genocide and encourage national leaders to do their part to halt this ongoing violence.
Murad created Nadia’s Initiative in the hope of helping victims of genocide and human trafficking and so that she may “have a role in rebuilding their lives and their communities.” She is also currently working with international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to bring justice for these victims.
When asked about how she finds the motivation to continue working, Murad cited her mother, her six brothers, and countless other members of the community who have either perished or are still enslaved.
“My work is not done because I have survived,” she added. “I still suffer every day because the rest of my community is suffering.”
The event took place on April 19 at 6 p.m. in McCosh 50 and was sponsored by the Edge Lecture Series.
This story has been updated to state the correct name of the lecture series.