In the wake of ISIS’s genocidal campaign across Northern Iraq, over 10,000 Yazidi men, women, and children were either killed or enslaved. Now, three orphaned siblings—themselves victims of ISIS atrocities—lead a team of local rescuers and international investigators in the search for their missing family members, and for justice.
After having survived kidnapping and enslavement by ISIS, three orphaned siblings - Mediha, 16, Ghazwan, 14, and Adnan, 11 - must now attempt to rebuild their lives. Since the Iraqi government struggles to fund rescue missions, seven years after the Yazidi genocide, the siblings must turn to a network of local rescuers in the search for their missing mother, father, and baby brother.
The story takes place across three locations—Iraq, Turkey, and Syria—highlighting the atrocities of the past and the aftermath that will carry on indefinitely. Meanwhile, Mediha, the eldest sibling, now 16 years old, spearheads one of the only active investigations in Iraq to prosecute ISIS members for the crimes they committed against Yazidis.
Ghazwan was kidnapped in 2014, when he was only eight years old, and was trained as a “caliphate cub”—a child soldier and prospective suicide bomber. During his time with ISIS, he frequently rebelled, earning himself the reputation of a troublemaker. Yet, since his rescue in July 2016, Ghazwan has demonstrated an incredible level of resilience and kindness. Despite his young age, he has always had a firm grasp on right and wrong, who he is and where he comes from—a Yazidi from Sinjar.
In August 2014, when Mediha was only nine years old, she was kidnapped by ISIS and sold into sexual servitude. During her three years in captivity, she was owned as a sex slave by four different ISIS fighters who were psychologically, physically and sexually abusive to her. Mediha has since been able to identify one of her captors in a photo database of current and former ISIS members, but the search for his whereabouts is ongoing.
In 2014, when Adnan was five, he was kidnapped by ISIS and brought to Tal Afar. There, he was sold and kept as a house servant. In August 2017, ISIS lost control of Tal Afar and Adnan was rescued by the Office of Kidnapped Affairs, which was created in 2014 in response to the Yazidi Genocide and mass kidnappings. Adnan remembers very little of his time in captivity, and thus struggles to connect with and understand the trauma his siblings experienced.
Bashar, now twenty seven, spent two years as an ISIS captive in Tal Afar. He’s a cousin of the orphaned kids, but more importantly, he’s the lead rescuer on Barzan’s case. By using his connections with former ISIS members and tapping into his knowledge of the geography and practices of ISIS, Bashar is risking his own life and livelihood to bring Barzan home. He’s determined to fight back and create something good from a terrible experience.
The house in Til Qasab, near Sinjar Mountain, was once home to these three children and their complete family, but now stands in shambles in the aftermath of ISIS occupation.
Ghazwan holds a photo of his father, Ibrahim, who is presumed dead.
Dr. Nemam is a Swedish-Kurdish doctor and humanitarian aid worker. She divides her time between working as a doctor in Sweden and working in multiple capacities in Iraq and Syria. After the Yazidi genocide in 2014, she founded Joint Hep for Kurdistan, a non-profit organization which provides medical aid to survivors of war and genocide. Since then, her work has mostly focused on the continued rescue efforts of Yazidi women and their ISIS children, as well as the medical care of these survivors.
Bahzad is a Yazidi that grew up in the relative safety of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, yet he’s chosen to involve himself in the fight against ISIS as a volunteer rescuer. He’s responsible for rescuing Ghazwan—having bought him back from an ISIS fighter in Raqqa for $11,000. Although he’s not the lead rescuer in Barzan’s story, he’s an integral part of this family’s mission, and has taken on the important role of locating Mediha’s captors.
As Ghazwan, Mediha, and Adnan’s guardian, as well as the father to many of his own children, Omar is the decision-maker and glue that holds the family together. His escape from death is unlike any of the stories heard before. While almost all Yazidi men captured by ISIS were subsequently executed, Omar talked his way out of captivity, after being held for only 13 hours.
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