You don’t need to know Kurdish to understand the sadness that has seeped into Nadia Murad’s soul. In August 2014 Murad was captured by ISIS in her village of Kocho, Iraq and sold into sex slavery where she witnessed unspeakable atrocities. Today she is a Yazidi refugee. She is one of 5,200 Yazidi people abducted by Islamic State in Iraq whose lives were torn apart because religious extremists saw them as “kafir” or “nonbelievers.” Her dreams of being a teacher were destroyed in an instant three years ago, when ISIS tore through her town, murdered six of her brothers and held her captive for months. Her captor’s failing to lock a door was her gateway to freedom, as she escaped, found her way to a refugee camp and now is one of more than a thousand Yazidis who were accepted into a refugee asylum program in Germany.
Murad’s, bravery in telling her experiences to international audiences all over the world is extraordinary.
She was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations last year as an advocate for her people and is explaining to the world that the crimes waged against them must not go unpunished.
With the help of organizations like IsraAID, which she calls “more functional than many governments,” and Yazda, a non-profit formed to help victims of genocide, she has been able to able to tell her story to a global audience. For Murad, the parallels between the Yazidi experience and the Jewish one in Europe 70 years ago are striking.
“We think our case is relevant to what they have been through in the Holocaust. It’s the exact thing we are going through,” Murad told The Jerusalem Post via a translator, late last week in Tel Aviv. “We think they’ll understand our case more than anybody else. We have been in many countries, meeting with governments for help for the Yazidi communities. I always wanted to come here to Israel, a lot of victims wanted to come and ask for help from the government and people of Israel.” With the aid of human rights relief organizations mentioned above as well as Knesset member Ksenia Svetlova who is hosting a conference at the Knesset on Monday in remembrance of the genocide, Murad is here to raise awareness about what was done to her community.
Her public advocacy stops around the country includes visits to Yad Vashem, speaking to a delegation of young professional women hosted by the American Jewish Committee and speaking at Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
In many ways, Jewish resilience after the Holocaust has served as a beacon of hope for the people whose lives have been torn apart since the rise of ISIS three years ago, Murad argues. In August 2014 several hundred thousand Yazidis fled their towns and villages in northern Iraq, many ending up living in displaced person’s camps in the Kurdistan Region. Thousands were murdered by ISIS and buried in forty mass graves in scenes similar to those of the Holocaust from 1941-42 as Germany’s Einsatzgruppen death squads slaughtered Jews in the Soviet Union.
Murad, like many people in her community, is eager to learn from Israel to see how Jews were able to build anew after such devastation.
“Before this genocide, I had little information on the Jewish community because we don’t have many Jewish people in Iraq,” she explained. “I had zero knowledge about the community until I started this campaign and saw Jewish communities support us.” As an example, she recalls a transformative meeting with the grandmother of Yazda’s Australian director who was a Holocaust survivor.
“Nikki [Marczak, the Australian director of Yazda] took me to Australia to meet holocaust survivors, to see their resilience and how they rebuild their communities. Their ability to stay strong and keep their culture…it’s an example. I personally fell in love with doing that. The Jews are an example. We should do the same,” she said.
Yotam Polizer, Co-Chief Executive Officer of IsraAID agrees with that assessment. He recalled working in Greek refugee camps where Yazidis would often come to him and say the very first country they want to go to is Israel.
Polizer assumed they were interested in Israel because of desire for financial support. He was proven wrong when they told him unequivocally, “We don’t want your money, we want your mentorship.” Supporting Murad’s initiative then, was a natural one for IsraAID and they were able to bring her here to Israel. “We’re not a faith-based organization, but we’re guided by Jewish values and we, too, find this special connection between the Jewish and Yazidi people,” Polizer said.
According MK Svetlova of the Zionist Union party, the concept of “never again” that was intoned after the Holocaust means that “people would never stand idly by while crimes against humanity were happening,” she told the Post.
However, in 2014 the mass murder of Yazidis did happen and laments that almost nothing was done to prevent it. “This is why it is a moral obligation of the state of Israel to acknowledge this terrible crime because of our history….we have an obligation to stand by every people in the world in times of crises like these.”
After two years of public speaking, Murad, like many of her people, yearn to go back home. “Many of my people are still in refugee camps.
We have hope for them. Not everyone will be accepted for asylum. But those who want to come back, we hope to find justice for them,” she said.