Andrea DiCenzo
Andrea DiCenzo

DOHUK, Iraq—When Islamic State militants pushed into the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar in August 2014, they rounded up older boys and men from the Yazidi minority religious sect into nearby fields and executed them. Yazidi children and women were separated into groups and transported deep into ISIS-held territory. Nasreen Seedo, 28, and her family were among the lucky few who escaped.

“We were eating breakfast, but we didn't even get to eat it,” Nasreen told me. "Our neighbor came to the door to say that Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS] was on the street. If we had left one minute later it would have been too late." After a seven-day journey on foot, Nasreen and her family arrived in the village of Khanki, where Yazidis have deep roots.

Advertisement

The Yazidi community is now calling for the ISIS attack on Sinjar to be recognized as genocide. Nearly every Yazidi has been affected: thousands have been exiled, abducted, raped or executed.

Before the war, Nasreen had a mundane job in government administration. But since the attack on Sinjar, Nasreen has joined a small group of Kurdish and displaced Yazidi women who travel throughout Iraqi-Kurdistan to locate and aid Yazidi girls and women who have escaped ISIS captivity.

Advertisement

These photos, which I took between June and October of this year, tell their stories.

Basima, 16 years old from Tel Azair village near Sinjar town, lives on the outskirts of Shreya refugee camp. She was held by ISIL for five months before escaping by foot during the night.  Her and her sister have the option of temporary residence in Germany to receive psychological care but they do not want to leave Iraq until their mother, still believed to be in ISIL’s captivity, is released. They have not heard from their mother in five months.
Basima, 16, is from a village near Sinjar, but now lives on the outskirts of Shreya refugee camp. She was held by ISIS for five months before escaping on foot during the night. She and her sister have the option of temporary residence in Germany to receive psychological care but they do not want to leave Iraq until their mother, still believed to be in ISIS captivity, is released. The girls have not heard from their mother in five months.
Advertisement
Sitting in the back of one of Wadi’s SUV’s, Roujda Yunis, 24, and Nasreen Seedo, 28, chat excitedly on their way to Rwanga Refugee Camp on the outskirts of the northern Iraqi city of Duhok. Roujda, a Kurd from Dohuk, and Nasreen, a Yazidi from Sinjar, are one team from the Iraqi-German NGO Wadi’s female mobile unit. The teams specialize in traveling to displaced Yazidi communities within northern Iraq to provide emergency care to Yazidi women and children who have fled captivity from the Islamic State.
Roujda Yunis, 24, and Nasreen Seedo, 28, chat as they drive to the Rwanga refugee camp on the outskirts of the northern Iraqi city of Duhok. Roujda, a Kurd from Dohuk, and Nasreen, a Yazidi from Sinjar, are a team with the Iraqi-German NGO WADI’s female mobile unit. The teams specialize in traveling to displaced Yazidi communities within northern Iraq to provide emergency care to women and children who have fled captivity from the Islamic State.
German-Iraqi NGO Wadi team members shopping for second hand clothes to bring to two sisters they are visiting. The teams specialize in traveling to displaced Yazidi communities within northern Iraq to provide emergency care to Yazidi women and children who have fled captivity from the Islamic State.
WADI team members shop for second-hand clothes to bring to girls they are visiting.
Advertisement
The female mobile teams travel across northern Iraq in order to locate victims who have escaped captivity by the Islamic State. They provide social counseling for victims and help them reintegrate back into life with their families and their communities.
The female mobile teams locate victims who have escaped captivity by the Islamic State, provide social counseling for victims and help them reintegrate back into life with their families and their communities.
Seedo and Yunis listen to a survivor of physical and sexual abuse describe to them details from her ordeal. Speaking with victims of ISIL’s abuse is one of the main tasks for the Wadi female mobile units. Nasreen and Roujda have been traveling together to camps and private homes to meet escapees for ten months. Prior to ISIL fighters’ advance on Sinjar mountain, the Yazidis were considered a conservative community which rarely integrated with others or moved beyond their own communities. Having a Yazidi member of the mobile team is vital to the units ability to address the sensitive issues of escapees.
Nasreen and Roujda listen to a survivor of physical and sexual abuse describe her ordeal. Prior to ISIS’ attack on Sinjar, the Yazidis were considered a conservative community which rarely integrated with others. Having a Yazidi on the mobile team is vital to the unit’s ability to address the sensitive issues of escapees.
Advertisement
Sara, age six, cries for ice-cream in the hot summer heat of northern Iraq. Sara and her mother were in ISIL control for nine months before her family paid the ransom for her release.
Sara, 6, cries for ice cream in the summer heat of northern Iraq. She and her mother were in ISIS control for nine months before their family paid ransom for their release.
For escapees of enslavement by the Islamic State extremists, publicly showing their faces has become another source of terror. Escapee victims have reported torture by their captivates as a direct reaction to other family members speaking openly to the media. Because of the fear of further torture to family members still in ISIL captivity, women do not show their faces with Western media.
For those women who escaped enslavement by the Islamic State, publicly showing their faces has become another source of terror. Escapees have reported torture by their captors as a result of their family members speaking openly to the media. Because of the fear of further torture to family members still in ISIS captivity, women do not show their faces to Western media.
Advertisement
Sara, age 6, demonstrates how to tie naqab around her head; an act required of her when she was in ISIL’s captivity. Wearing naqab is not practiced by the Yazidi community, although wearing a headscarf, or hijab, is practiced. Like modern Islam, wearing the hijab is a choice. Some Yazidi’s choose to wear one, however, it is not a requirement and most only wear one while visiting one of the communities shrines or temples.
Sara, 6, demonstrates how to tie niqab around her head; an act required of her when she was in ISIS captivity. Wearing niqab is not practiced by the Yazidi community, although wearing a headscarf, or hijab, is practiced although it is not a requirement.
Nasreen takes a call from another one of her other cases, as Amo - held by ISIL - demonstrates the Muslim call to prayer movements that he learned while he was captivity.
Nasreen takes a call from another client, as Amo, who was held by ISIS, demonstrates the Muslim call to prayer movements that he learned while he was captivity.
Advertisement
Eyad, a refugee from Sinjar, has worked with a local smuggler to ensure the release of his family members from ISIL’s captivity. The teams try to access the woman escapees as soon as possible. Hearing of Eyad’s plan, the mobile team were able to provide access to emergency support immediately to Eyad’s cousins after they were released.
Eyad, a refugee from Sinjar, has worked with a local smuggler to ensure the release of his family members from ISIS’ captivity. Hearing of Eyad’s plan, the WADI mobile team was able to provide access to emergency support immediately to his cousins after they were released.
Asya, age nine, is another one of the teams cases. She was staying at her Uncle’s house and is the only member of her immediate family that was captured by ISIS. Her grandmother, mother, father, and two brothers all made it to the Kurdish region of Iraq safely, enduring months of painful separation.
Asya, 9, is another one of the team’s cases. She is the only member of her immediate family who was captured by ISIS. Her grandmother, mother, father, and two brothers all made it to the Kurdish region of Iraq safely, enduring months of painful separation.
Advertisement
Wadi team members Sara and Susan getting ready to leave one of the prefabricated container homes of two of their cases.
WADI team members Sara and Susan getting ready to leave one of the prefabricated container homes where two ISIS escapees live.
‘Shingal’: Sara and Basima show off identical ink tattoos they both share. Tatooing is a common practice in Yazidism, and as Sinjar is considered a special place for the Yazidi community many will have the Yazidi word for the area - Shingal - decorated on their skin. Sara fled Sinjar safely on August 03, 2014. Her and her family found refuge in Shreya village outside of Dohuk. Basima, one of Sara’s cases, was forced into sexual enslavement before family members paid her randsom eleven months later.
Sara and Basima show off identical ink tattoos. Tattooing is a common practice in Yazidism, and many have the Yazidi word for Sinjar—Shingal—decorated on their skin. Sara fled Sinjar safely in August 2014. She and her family found refuge in Shreya village outside of Dohuk. Basima, one of Sara’s cases, was forced into sexual enslavement before family members paid her ransom 11 months later.
Advertisement
Before the siege on Sinjar, Nasreen worked as an administrator in a local government division. She says it was an easy job. She liked it, but it never was very important to her. Since joining one of Wadi’s female mobile units, her entire day in devoted to visiting ISIL victims, speaking with them over the phone, and organizing upcoming visits.
Before the siege on Sinjar, Nasreen worked as an administrator in a local government division. She says it was an easy job, although it was never was very important to her. Since joining one of WADI’s female mobile units, her entire day is devoted to visiting ISIS victims, speaking with them over the phone, and organizing upcoming visits.
Nasreen and her siblings hang out outside of the unfinished house that are staying in after they fled Sinjar. They received a call in the morning of August 3, 2014 from a neighbor alerting them that ISIL was on their street. The family was sitting around their family kitchen table about to have breakfast together. They escaped on foot walking for seven days to this house in Khanke Village which is owned by a family friend who took in the family.
Nasreen and her siblings hang out outside of the unfinished house they have stayed in since fleeing Sinjar.
Advertisement
Exhausted from the day of visiting the camps, Nasreen lies down for a rest before preparing dinner and making phone calls to plan the next day’s schedule with her cases in the camps.
Exhausted from a day of visiting the camps, Nasreen lies down before preparing dinner and making phone calls to plan the next day’s schedule.

Andrea DiCenzo is an American photojournalist based in Erbil, Iraq.
Andrea DiCenzo is a San Francisco-born photographer whose work focuses on humanitarian issues throughout the Middle East.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter