On Aug. 15, 2014, Islamic State fighters who had surrounded her small Iraqi town for days ordered Nadia Murad and other Yazidis to walk to the local school, where men were to head upstairs, women downstairs. A sight along the way terrified the 20-year-old even more: backhoes at work. She’d seen videos of Islamic State fighters filling mass graves. One of her eight brothers said no, that couldn’t happen. The militant extremists weren’t about to kill a whole village of people.
Later that sweltering day, the militants shot dead five of her brothers and her mother, along with hundreds of other Yazidis. Murad and other young women were soon sent to religious courts to be registered by a photo and number as property of fighters who could then do with the women as they wished.
On Monday, Murad’s eyes were downcast, her voice soft, her memory fractured as she spoke in Washington, one of the many cities around the globe where she has traveled as part of a desperate Yazidi campaign for help. Murad is so traumatized she cannot remember how long she was held captive before escaping.
Four days after Secretary of State John F. Kerry declared Islamic State crimes against religious minorities to be acts of genocide, the push is on for justice. Murad’s D.C. tour — which included stops at offices of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the State Department — was part of an effort to shed light on the meaning of the word genocide. If the Obama administration agrees that the ancient Kurdish minority and other groups — including Shiite Muslims and Christians — are victims of genocide, what will be done?
Advocates such as Murad are seeking a broad variety of actions: the documentation of war crimes evidence such as mass graves, the rescue of young Yazidi men and women still held by the Islamic State as fighters and sex slaves, and the granting of refugee status in the United States to persecuted religious minorities.
The State Department on Monday said it is already helping to provide security around mass graves and is training security forces.
But Murad and experts at the Holocaust Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide say much more must be done.
Murad’s presence was a dark reminder that Yazidis and other religious minorities in Iraq had been begging for help for years, to no avail — including before and during the 2014 massacres in Sinjar.
“No one even tried,” Murad said Monday through a translator, describing to a group of a few dozen genocide experts and journalists how the disabled, elderly and men were killed. “If they’d tried and failed, fine, but no one even tried.”
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