Danish yazidi: The massacre is stuck in my head
Gulla Khalaf is a Yazidi and will give a lecture in connection with an exhibition of paintings produced by Yazidi women in Iraq as part of Mission East's trauma treatment following ISIS attacks.
Trauma after trauma after trauma. It is a miracle that Gulla Khalaf can stand upright.
Already in her life, she had to flee from Saddam Hussein's persecution at 8 years old.
She was shaken to her core when she heard and saw the massacre of the Yazidis in her village in 2014 and was told that her aunt had been burned alive.
And she was branded for life when she found out that the terrorist group ISIS captured little girls as young as 5 years old and sold them as sex slaves for a pack of cigarettes.
Gulla Khalaf will give a lecture at Odense Main Library in Denmark on Saturday 21 May. It happens in connection with an exhibition of paintings produced by Yazidi women in Iraq. The paintings speak a clear language about completely unimaginable atrocities committed by ISIS fighters against the Yazidi minority on August 3, 2014 in their capital city of Sinjar in northern Iraq.
Sister disappeared for nine days
We visit Gulla Khalaf and her husband Rosh and the couple's two children in a residential area north of the Danish city of Odense. Her mother serves Yazidi dishes at a plentiful dinner table and I think: How can these people live a normal life?
Gulla is a primary school teacher and Khalaf works in a food company. But when ISIS attacked the Yazidi capital Sinjar - Shingal in Yazidi - on August 3, 2014, the whole family fell into despair. Gulla had to report sick for a whole month.
Only Rosh managed to keep his head just above water. Although his family were also affected and he did not hear from his sister for nine days. It turned out that she had fled alone up Mount Sinjar with her one-and-a-half-year-old child and had survived without food and drink for days.
Children died of thirst
We let Gulla tell the whole story herself:
- When we heard that Mosul had fallen to ISIS in the summer of 2014, we became uneasy. We called our family in Sinjar and said they should take care and flee to the Kurdish areas. Then a month passed, then we heard…
Gulla can hardly hold back her tears.
- I remember that I came from work and saw my mother sitting completely ready to cry. I heard what had happened and saw the horrible pictures on the television. We could not get in touch with our family.
Then three days passed and Khalaf finally got hold of his cousin. They had fled in good time and had reached the Kurdish areas.
- We saw pictures of children who had died of thirst up on Mount Sinjar. And then we all broke down mentally. Because we had old traumas. This was like getting new traumas in a much worse way.
Fled with baby up the mountain
A week passed where the family lived in uncertainty about who had survived and where they were…
- We heard nothing from my mother's side. Her whole family is still missing. My mother's cousin with nine children had completely disappeared. And we have not seen a shadow of them since.
Gulla Khalaf takes a break. Her mother has been listening to the interview for a while, but now she is moving into another room. The experience is still an open wound.
- Finally we heard from my husband's sister, who had a little girl of one and a half years, says Gulla. - We did not know where she was for nine days. It turned out that she had ended up alone up on Mount Sinjar with her little girl. And had been hiding there for nine days! Without water, without anything.
It was chaotic that first month.
- Also, my husband's little sister was pregnant. So it was even worse. We kept calling and asking those they know, their neighbors, etc., but it turned out they had been taken the first day.
A sex slave for a pack of cigarettes
There are about 65 small villages around Sinjar, Gulla Khalaf explains.
- Our small village was one of the first that ISIS attacked. There were not very many from the city who escaped. It was very nerve-wracking to sit and not know what had happened to one's dear family. And violently distressing to see pictures of the dead, many of them elderly people who could not manage to escape. My mother's aunt was burned alive.
Gulla is silent for a moment.
Then she tells about a piece of news that shook them all:
- After about 15 days, we heard that ISIS took girls as young as five years as sex slaves. Imagine being able to take girls as young as five years old and sell them as sex slaves for a pack of cigarettes!
The first two months after the attack were terrible for Gulla and her family.
- It was just chaotic. I get goosebumps when we talk about it.
"The worst I've experienced"
When she thinks back to the atrocities that the UN, Britain and other countries recognize as genocide, she cannot understand what the terrorists would want out of exterminating the Yazidis.
- To this day, I cannot understand what they have gained from attacking us in that way. But when I hear old stories from my grandmother, where her forefathers tell how they have been attacked - as many as 74 times throughout history to the present day - then it dawned on me that the current assault had religious reasons. They cannot accept that we are different. That we have another religion. They even claim that we worship the Devil. My grandmother once told me that the great-grandmother had said that at one time there were only 3,000 Yazidis left in Sinjar.
- We have never been able to breathe a sigh of relief. The August 3, 2014 massacre is the worst I have experienced in my life. I have experienced a lot before I came here. But that massacre has stuck in my head and will stay with me for the rest of my life.