In September 2016, when I arrived at a gloomy, two-star Econo Lodge hotel in Fort Lee, New Jersey, Daey*—which means “mother” in Kurdish—was sleeping. Zara*, who is not biologically related to Daey but has come to view her as a mother figure, was sitting on the bed next to her, despondent. I apologized for the disturbance, aware that they would be leaving the next morning for “home”—the camps for internally displaced people in Iraqi Kurdistan—and told them I had come because I wanted to learn about their lives. When I met them, it had been just over two years since the so-called Islamic State swept across the Yazidi people’s ancestral lands in northern Iraq, executing and abducting thousands of people.
I’d spotted the women a few days earlier at the UN General Assembly during the appointment ceremony of Nadia Murad Basee Taha as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. Daey and Zara had flown all the way from Kurdistan to support Murad with a delegation of Yazidis who belonged to an organization called Yazda, which gained prominence in the summer of 2016 when lawyer Amal Clooney announced she would represent Murad and other Yazidi survivors to bring a case forward at the International Criminal Court.
Like Murad, the women had come to the UN in New York to spread awareness about the thousands of ethnic-minority Yazidi men and women, including members of their own families, held captive by ISIS. Upon my arrival at the hotel, however, I learned I was the only person who’d reached out to them.
For Zara, who has 21 family members still missing, Yazda, a Yazidi-led organization based in Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, has given critical aid to her and her surviving family members. The group has provided psychological support, treatment for trauma, and medical aid to more than a thousand survivors in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria, according to its website. But, on January 2, security officers of the Kurdistan Regional Government shut down Yazda’s operation. According to Yazda, authorities cited an expired license and “political activity.”
By— January 20, 2017