Preface. This is a gruesome post you may want to skip.
My main interest in this book was what will happen to the hundreds of millions forced to flee in the future because of the crash of civilization as oil declines, topsoil vanishes, sea levels rise, fresh water disappears, droughts / hurricanes / tornadoes / fires, invasive species and pests ruin crop production and a hundred other calamities occur in the future. Potentially you if you live long enough…
But mainly oil decline will be at the root of it all, since with oil fires can be fought, fresh water pumped for over a thousand feet down, topsoil amended with natural gas fertilizers, pests crushed with oil-based pesticides, and so on. Fossil fuels allow 6.5 billion extra people to be alive today.
Although this book is about Christian families in Iraq and their Muslim terrorist oppressors (the Daesh who call themselves the Islamic State, see wiki here for more info), these atrocities are a common pattern I’ve seen in other books about what refugees go through. In the future even more civil wars will erupt everywhere that depends on oil in any way as resources and energy decline. Various groups will try to take control of regions and kill those not part of the in group.
Basically what happens, and has occurred throughout human history is that men and older women are killed, nubile women sold as wives, and children become slaves. There are many examples to be found in the old testament, such as “The Israelites war against Midian, and “slew every male”. They take captive the women and children, and take all cattle, flocks and goods as loot, and burn all cities and camps. When they return to Moses, he is angered, and commands “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves” (Numbers 31). There are a lot more examples from the bible in Wikipedia at “The Bible and violence”.
Those without a place to go, and water and food along the way often don’t make it. Many of the survivors randomly knocked on doors seeking help and got it, though we don’t know about those who knocked on the wrong door and were turned in to their captors.
Read the depressing accounts of escapees below for details.
Dunya Mikhail. 2018. The Beekeeper. Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq . New Directions.
I didn’t ask my students if they knew that the letter was now being written in red on doors, notifying residents that they must leave their homes or else face death. Reduced to an N, those Nasara — “Christians” — were shaken out of sleep by megaphones blaring all over town that they had 24 hours to get out, and that they couldn’t take anything with them; and just like that, with the stroke of a red marker across their doors, they would have to abandon the houses they’d lived in for over 1,500 years. They’d leave their doors ajar and turn their backs on houses that would become Property of the Islamic State. But I didn’t explain any of this. My job is to teach Arabic,
Abdullah translated what Nadia said into Arabic for me: I was at home when my husband, moving the telephone away from his ear, told us, “We have to leave now, Daesh is nearby.” That was a Sunday morning, the first Sunday in August, when we fled our home in the village of Sawlakh, east of Sinjar, along with our neighbors and their families. I walked with my husband and our three children alongside a caravan of nearly 200 people
It was very hot outside and we had departed without any water or food or diapers. We headed up into the mountains, stopping every hour so that we could rest a bit, especially for the sake of the exhausted children. We found a vegetable farm and stopped to pick tomatoes — we were so thirsty. That’s when we were surrounded by Daesh fighters. First they loaded the men, then the women and children, onto big trucks, taking us to Mosul.
When they unloaded us in Mosul, they separated the virgins from the married women; they also set apart children over the age of twelve.
Then they took us to a school in Talafar where we stayed for eighteen days, studying Quran. They forced us to recite verses in that filthy place, even as we were dying of hunger and thirst. They told us that we were infidels, that we must convert to Islam because it’s “the true faith,” and that we’d have to get married. Then they transferred us to another building near Raqqa, in Syria, where they put us up for auction.
They handed me a slip of paper with the name of the buyer written on it, informing me that it was my marriage certificate. I had no idea what they’d done with my husband and his father and his brother and all the rest of our relatives who’d been with us in the convoy. The man who’d bought me told me I was now his wife.
We stayed there for three months, and during that time we made hundreds of rockets. My children and I worked twelve hours a day for them. They gave my five-year-old daughter the most dangerous job, tying together the detonation lines.
At any moment a mistake could explode the bomb right in her face. Along with another female captive, I would load the rockets into a truck. She was a Yazidi from my village, and she had two children. We became so close that we conspired to escape together.
The seven of us stood in front of the bakery with both anxiety and hope.
A man gestured for us to get into his car. He took us to Manbij province, northeast of Aleppo, then to the Euphrates. The plan was for us to cross over to Kobani in a skiff. But we saw dead people lying in the road, which sent our children into a panic, making them shake and cry. I felt like I was going to throw up and my friend covered her eyes. The driver had to take us back to Manbij, where we spent the night in a house whose inhabitants seemed to have fled. The smuggler explained to us that most of the homes there had been abandoned after Daesh’s assault. It was a very small house that still smelled of people, as if they had just left. We stayed the night there, but too nervous that the Daeshis would find us, we counted the minutes until morning, unable to sleep. After the smuggler picked us up, we headed for a rural area east of the Euphrates. There he instructed us to get out of the car and walk toward the river. We followed his instructions, continuing our journey on foot. After about half an hour of walking, we heard the sound of gunshots. We hid among the reeds in the marshes, huddled there for hours, afraid of what might happen at any moment. The smuggler was still with us but he had become extremely tense, especially when the children started crying. He ordered us to stay absolutely silent.
Once the sound of gunfire had subsided, we continued walking to the edge of the river, crossing in a skiff over to Kobani, on the Turkish border. There we were greeted by a group of people, mostly women. They took us to a hotel where we were able to rest for a few days. They gave us fresh clothes and then drove us to Dohuk Province in Iraq, where Abdullah and my mother-in-law lived. Now I live with her. She prays every day for the return of her son, my husband, my real husband.
Our work isn’t without danger, of course. Daesh gruesomely executed one of our drivers when he was caught. We were extremely sad to lose him. He was a young man, and I depended on him very much. In fact, up until now, we’ve lost twelve smugglers.” “How?” “Sometimes Daesh will propose letting the sabaya return to their families in exchange for a large sum of money. Those who are serious will release their sabaya in exchange for the money; yet there are others who claim they’re willing to go through with the exchange but then ambush the go-between when he shows up, killing him despite their previously agreed-upon arrangement.
About 25% of direct purchases from Daesh ended up with our smugglers getting ambushed.
I instruct the family to give the captive my telephone number so that I can make arrangements with her directly. Then we come up with a plan based on where she is. I use Google Maps to scope out the area — the old map of Syria I used back when I was selling honey is no good anymore because many of those regions have changed. Now I know all the neighborhoods in Raqqa, building by building. When the captive calls me, I pick a specific rendezvous point and a code word,
Once they get far enough away, she’ll be moved into a safe house, the same houses where smugglers warehoused cigarettes in the past. She’ll stay there for a few days, until the commotion caused by her disappearance dies down
After two or three days the driver will come back to the safe house and they’ll continue their journey by car, then on foot for another five or six hours. Sometimes the operation will include crossing the river to Turkey in a skiff and, finally, spending about twelve hours in another car in order to reach the northern border of Iraq, where her family will finally greet her. Sometimes I’ll follow the mission step by step; sometimes I cross over into Syria to meet with the smugglers, guiding and encouraging them. There’s no need for me to welcome back those captives but often I tag along with the family to the border region between Iraq and Syria because I love being a part of these moments. It’s indescribable, everyone bursting with ecstasy and tears and hugs; I’ve witnessed this over seventy times, and every time I can’t keep myself from crying.
Marwa opened the door at four in the morning, then closed it behind her and walked out into the street, flagged down a cab and got in. The taxi driver was stunned. As you know it’s rare to find a young lady hailing a taxi in the street at such an early hour. Where are you going? he asked her. She broke down in tears, telling him that she had just escaped from Daesh. Kill me please, I beg you, just don’t take me back to them. “I can take you to a neighborhood where the clans are sure to offer you shelter, he said. When they open the door, tell them: ‘I’m at your mercy.’ Arab clans won’t turn away anyone who knocks on their door and says that. Dawn was extremely quiet as Marwa approached a large house and knocked on the front door. “A woman opened the door. As soon as she listened to Marwa’s story she invited her inside.
But when the woman’s husband heard that she had run away from Daesh he refused to take her in. He didn’t want to shoulder the responsibility; he said that he would have to hand her over to the police. The wife pleaded with her husband to just let the girl be on her way; eventually she apologized as she said goodbye to Marwa at the door. Marwa headed somewhere else, this time knocking on the door of a smaller house. A man opened the door with his wife and children behind him. When she told them she was running away from Daesh they invited her inside. They sat down in a circle around her and asked her to tell them what had happened. She wept even as they tried to calm her down, telling her they weren’t going to abandon her. Their house and their furniture signaled extreme poverty — they didn’t even have a telephone. They promised that as soon as the shops opened in the morning they’d take her to the Internet café so she could use the phone. When Marwa called me, I didn’t have a functioning network yet, but I decided to make a few calls and find her a smuggler. Marwa ended up staying with that family for fifteen days. They shared their food with her and told her repeatedly that she was safe with them. By the time I found a smuggler we’d run into a snag: the owner of the Internet café found out that she’d escaped from Daesh and threatened the generous family that he would send her back if they didn’t pay him $7,500. The family agreed to the ransom even though they had nothing, asking the man to give them time to scrape the money together. The members of the family went from house to house, managing to raise $7,000. When they went to give the money to the Internet café owner, they asked him to forgive the remaining five hundred; he agreed and let Marwa leave with the driver. Marwa came back alone, without her mother or father or sisters or brothers. My brother and my sister and fifty-six members of my family, including cousins, are still missing.
We heard the booming sound of artillery. We had never heard such blasts, even in times of war. Twenty-eight of us gathered together — my mother, my siblings, and their families — all of us hesitant to flee. It isn’t so easy for a person to give up their home.
A lot of people died on the journey, including the ill, whose families had to leave them behind.
Those who had tried to go home were captured by Daesh after the withdrawal of Peshmerga forces.
My sister, my brother, my cousins, and all of their families were among those who had gone back and fallen into the trap. The worst thing I heard was that Daesh had separated the elderly from everyone else and had buried them all alive
We managed to reach the Syrian border on a road that was being protected by the People’s Defense Brigades. To tell you the truth, it was an unusual protection force, as it was mostly made up of women. Throughout that harsh and difficult journey we’d hoped an American or European plane would come to airlift us all to safety, but that never happened. Our convoy had about 350people, including women on the verge of giving birth, disabled people who were barely able to walk,
They threw us down there in shifts. Every 15 minutes they would lower down about a dozen men from the outcropping and open fire on them. They arranged us into rows, telling us to line up next to each other so it would be easier for them to shoot us. My brother was in the first shift. My other brother was in the second shift. I was in the third. I knew everyone down there with me; they were my neighbors and friends.
After they shouted Allahu Akbar, the sound of gunfire rang out, and once they had finished shooting us one by one, I was swimming in a pool of blood. They shot at us again, then a third time. I shut my eyes and prepared to die, as one must.” “How long did you stay like that?” “I was bleeding there for almost five hours.” “Where were you shot?” “In three different places. Once in my foot and twice in my hand.” “And did everyone else die?” “All except for one other man, Idrees, a childhood friend of mine. His feet were injured.
“You need tricks,” Badia told me when I asked her how she’d managed to escape Daesh. The first trick was to stop bathing for an entire month, until she smelled so bad that the fighters would stay away from her, refusing to buy her. The second trick was to claim that she was married, and that the little child beside her was her son. It took longer for married women to be sold. The third trick was to pretend she was pregnant in order to avoid being raped, even if only temporarily. The
We were a big family living in the village of Kocho — my mother and father, and my five brothers and five sisters. In the beginning we heard that Daesh had occupied Mosul; we heard that they were killing people there, raping women; we heard that they were coming toward us, that they were going to do the same thing to us. We didn’t believe it.
Daesh was a lie. And even if it wasn’t a lie, they would never make it to Kurdistan because the Peshmerga fighters would stop them. We had a hundred soldiers. Surely they would be able to protect us. We shared these rumors until late into the night. At two in the morning my father’s telephone rang. It was his friend from the village of Siba Sheikh Khidr. He said: “You have to leave. Daesh has reached our land. They’re going to kill us all.
We would take a few steps toward the door, then retreat. We’d make up our minds to leave, but then remain where we were.
A caravan of thirty families emerged and headed toward the mountains. We decided to do the same. We joined our relatives and friends, but just as we were about to leave, a group of Peshmerga fighters arrived, saying they would put Daesh in their crosshairs and stop them in their tracks. Everyone was fired up, including my father. We decided to stay and assist the Peshmerga, or fight alongside them.
Then we heard the terrible news that those thirty families that had set out before us had been stopped by Daesh, that they had killed all the men and enslaved the women and children. At that point the Peshmerga made up their minds to go assess the situation and then report back to us. They advised us to stay where we were until they returned with an update. They left and never came back. They didn’t send any word. They left us there, adrift. We never learned what happened to them.
Everybody was calling their relatives who had fled, trying to find out whatever they could about what was going on. None of the men picked up their phones. The women who answered their phones said that the men had all been killed.
Daesh had surrounded the area, and it was too late to get away. At 4 p.m. on August 3, 2014, Daesh came to our homes. Our first shock was seeing men we knew among them. They didn’t live far from our village. We even used to consider them friends. But now they had joined the ranks of Daesh. They behaved as if they were our enemies.
At midnight, all the children who were older than six were taken away from their mothers and sent to a training camp. In the morning they took all the older women, even the pregnant ones, and killed them all. They dumped them into fishponds
Some of the women and children died of thirst. At that point a man showed up with a bucket of water. But before we could drink any of it, he threw in a dirty diaper. I don’t know why he did this, but we drank the water anyway, despite the filth. We nearly died of thirst. I think they put some kind of chemical in the water because all of us got dizzy and nauseous and tired.
Ssomeone they called “the Caliph” came and announced that we would have to marry the fighters. We said: “We’re already married.” The Caliph said: “We killed all of your men. So now you’re for sale on the market.
They ordered us to bathe, but I went into the bathroom and came back out again without washing. I knew they were going to come and smell me, and cleanliness was dangerous in that situation. A month passed, and every day I began to smell worse. I didn’t even wash my face despite the fact that my eyes were itching from crying so much. They brought us fresh clothes to make us more enticing to the customers. They said: “Put on these beautiful clothes. The photographer will be here any minute.
“Nobody wants you, so we’re going to send you to Syria.” They moved us to a building in Raqqa. There I was reunited with my sisters, my brother’s wife, and my friends — they said they’d been there for two weeks. After thirteen days they sold us off, ten of us for each man. An American came and bought me along with nine other women. He took us to his house in Aleppo. His guards there all called him “the American Emir.” The first thing he ordered us to do was bathe. He pointed toward the bathroom, saying: “Get in line. Each and every one of you has to take a bath. Or else.” Then he brought us new clothes and told us to put them on.
He introduced himself to me, and said, in formal Arabic: “I’m an American. Tell me, when was your last period?” “Why are you asking?” “Because we don’t marry pregnant women.” “It’s been five months.” “Well then, I won’t marry you today. Tomorrow I’ll take you to the doctor to see whether or not you’re pregnant.” I went back to our room and Nada looked at me inquisitively. I said: “We’ve got to get out of here tomorrow. Otherwise the Emir is going to find out I lied, and then he’ll rape me.” Nada agreed that we would run away the next morning, as soon as the Emir left the house — he went out every day at 10 a.m., and didn’t come back until nine at night.
The Emir showed me photos of his family on his computer: his American wife, his one-year-old son, and his infant daughter. The two children were playing on swings in a park. He said he’d been a teacher in an elementary school. “Isn’t it haram for you to abandon two small children who might be wondering where their father is?” “I go to America every once in a while, to see my family, then I come back.
The next night he drugged me and then raped me five times. When he woke up in the morning, he said: “Don’t tell anyone that the boy isn’t yours. If the members of the organization find out, they’ll kill me. This has to be our secret.” “Whatever you say.” “We’ll raise him together, you and I. But I’m going to sell Nada.” “No. Please. I need her. I don’t have anyone else. You go to work all day — I can’t bear to be here without Nada.
After living with him for two months we tried to run away, unsuccessfully. We tried to run away four times, but the Daesh police brought us back each time. And each time he punished me with a beating. On the fourth time he was so angry that he strung me up by my feet and beat me mercilessly. Even worse, he left with my nephew, and when he came back the boy wasn’t with him. I was beside myself. I begged. I wept. But he didn’t care. A week went by and he wouldn’t speak to me. He didn’t tell me what he had done with my nephew.
It was 9 p.m. when he called me into his room. He said: “We’re going to Kobani to fight. We might be gone four or five days. I’m going to lock the doors. You can’t go out — not at all, not even to buy bread. Do you need me to bring you anything before we go?” “No. We have everything we need. Thanks.” We made a plan to break down the door and run away.
We got our Islamic clothes ready and started looking for something to break down the door. We found some small metal tools and used them to smash it. We had to work at that for hours. We didn’t go to sleep until we managed to finally break down the door at four o’clock in the morning, but waited until eight so we wouldn’t raise any suspicions. We hurried as far away from the house as we could. After about two hundred yards we saw a cell phone shop with a sign that read “International Phone.” We went inside. I still remembered the phone number given to me by a woman in that building where we’d been detained before we were sold. She told me: “Memorize this number.” Then I gave it to somebody else and told her: “Memorize this number.” I repeated the number in my head every day so I would never forget it. We were a few steps away from the phone. I told the shopkeeper that we wanted to use the phone but we didn’t have any money. He said: “Sorry. No free calls.” I asked him: “Do you know the Emir Abu Abdullah the American? I’m his wife. He went to Kobani. I need to call him to make sure he’s okay. I’m new here. I don’t know anybody else.
The little boy I told you about made it, the one who was in Daesh’s camp. He arrived with his mother and his younger brother.” “They were training to fight, right?” “Yes. Ragheb was forced to train for four hours every day, learning how to kill, how to chop off people’s heads. They would also teach him Quran for two hours a day, and fiqh for another hour. They have classes on everything, from how to wash your hands to sex education, from impurity to handling an animal, from genetics to just about anything you can imagine — and things you can’t even imagine. And finally a personalized sermon to convince him to die for God, so that he’ll be rewarded in heaven. They have special passes to get into heaven that are handed out at the end.
Both routes would eventually lead to Mount Sinjar, the same mountain refuge that had protected them from harm every time. They’d done this many times over the course of history: the people of the region, in times of danger, wouldn’t think about going anywhere else, they wouldn’t think twice.
The half of the caravan heading west reached the mountain, and survived, but the other half heading east, including Elias’s family, never made it there. The Daeshis were waiting in their path and they were captured. Daesh took them to Mosul
A week later the Mosulli driver brought Kamy three packs of cigarettes, which she kept carefully hidden. As soon as the Daeshis left, Kamy opened a pack, took pleasure in a kind of luxury, and breathed out some of her repressed anger. She found herself smiling at the generosity shown to her by the Mosulli driver. But the next day she saw something she would never forget: a Daeshi holding up two severed hands in front of the captives. He said those were the hands of the tanker driver who’d brought the captives cigarettes. Kamy nearly choked, as if she had inhaled all of the tobacco of the world in a single moment, thinking, I wish I were dead, I wish I hadn’t asked him for anything.
I ended up spending a year confronting those beasts along with the other young female captives from my village, in a house in the Deir al-Zor area in Syria. They raped us, beat us; they forced us to cook and clean and wash their clothes. During the day, they would take their weapons and go out. At night, they would come back and gather together to take drugs and recite religious verses. When they told us it was time for “Quran lessons,” this also meant that they were also going to rape us, because they typically did that right after prayers. They would take naked pictures of us with their cell phones, and before starting each “Quran lesson,” they’d exchange pictures of us with one another to see whether there was anyone who wanted to swap with them.
The main motivation for these Daesh men was sexual: they would kill anyone in order to rape women. In the end they would kill themselves to meet their houris in heaven.
Whenever Abu Nasir needed money, he would give me to someone temporarily, loaning me and then taking me back later. All I could think about was escaping but it took seventy days before I was able to steal the key from Abu Nasir. I managed to escape but the terrible realization was that my family was all missing.