Nobel laureate Nadia Murad discuses the effects of genocide by ISIS on the Yazidi’s at USIP. Courtesy U.S. Institute of Peace
Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor of genocide, spoke out about systematic genocide and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
As a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 2018 and the United Nations’ first Goodwill Ambassador for human trafficking, Murad calls on people around the world to act. Speaking at a World Oregon event at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on March 4, she asserted that “collectively, as a global community, we must commit to change…to actively seek change, because it is the responsibility of all of us, not just some of us.”
The Yazidi people, an ethnic and religious minority in Iraq, were a peaceful community of farmers and poor families cultivating the land for others in their village with limited access to education, water and electricity. “We didn’t have too much independence, but we were happy with what we had and [we] lived a life with dignity,” Murad said.
On Aug. 3, 2014, ISIS interrupted that peace when they stormed Kocho in the Sinjar District of Iraq, committing genocide on Yazidis because they would not convert to Islam. The Yazidi men were murdered and put into mass graves, while the boys under age 14 were taken to military camps. More than 1000 women and children were abducted to be sexually abused and used as slaves, according to Murad.
Murad was eventually able to escape to a refugee camp and was offered asylum in Germany. She lost her mother, six of her brothers and two nieces in the massacre. Nineteen of her nieces will grow up without their fathers. Murad’s story is only one of many experienced by Yazidi families who are still feeling the lasting effects of what happened six years after the genocide.
Murad spoke of the support—and lack thereof—from the United States government. While she has worked with the U.S. to provide security in Sinjar, in 2018, only five Yazidi refugees were granted U.S. asylum, with the number increasing to 20 in 2019.
Murad asked the audience “what it will take for a more welcome approach to refugees [in the United States].” When asked what she would say to others wanting to help, her response was “for people here, with access to education and the freedom to speak, [to] be a voice for the voiceless…for those that cannot speak for themselves.”
Murad said that she “has tried hard not to be the face of the cause, because it’s not one specific cause…[I planned] to deliver a message and not be the face, which turned out to be the case, but not [her] choice.”
She has since begun focusing on projects to redevelop Sinjar. She created Nadia’s Initiative to raise money for schools, medical clinics, temples and wash (water, sanitation and hygiene) services with local partners and support from France, Belgium and other countries.
Shannon Doyle, a high school student who attended the event, was grateful to hear Murad’s story.
“I often attend literary arts events with the English department at the [high school] and was excited when my mom bought the World Oregon packet of events,” Doyle said. She added that this was the first one she was able to attend, and she enjoyed the event.
When Murad was asked what she would say to survivors of sexual violence to help them move through the trauma, she said, “It is a difficult one, to deliver that message…I lived with my sister for the past few years, I have never heard her story, and she was taken too.”
She said that survivors deserve to “feel safe, not taken advantage of, feel respected and heard because some have difficult stories and it is not easy to talk about them publicly.”
When asked the question of how to create a stronger sense of tolerance and teach peace, she used ISIS as an example: “If we look at ISIS’ success in spreading their ideology, why can’t we, with access to more resources, promote tolerance like ISIS spreads hate?” she said.
Yousra Fathi offered her opinion on Murad’s answer, saying that “when people are suffering and impoverished, it is much easier for terrorist groups like ISIS to persuade them to join their cause.”
For ISIS to be brought to justice and held accountable for the genocide of the Yazidi people, Murad said, “They must be prosecuted in an international court, and not in Iraq.”
Murad’s words for the future are simple and clear: “Our homes, and our dreams were destroyed…never again.”