Many Yazidi women captured by the Islamic State (IS) group have been forced into slavery. After months of speculation while photos claiming to show their plight circulated online, the group finally confirmed these rumours in its online magazine Dabiq. However, all of the photos of these slave women circulating on social networks are fake. Even though the jihadists boast about enslaving these women, they keep them hidden away.
“It’s slave market day”
Many opponents of the IS group – especially Kurds – shared this video on social media at the end of October. In it, a group of men, described as IS fighters, laugh uproariously as they joke about buying and selling female slaves from the Yazidi community.
One says: “Today is distribution day; it’s the will of God.”
The person filming then goes from one fighter to another, asking each one if he wants a Yazidi woman and if he’d “be able to manage her.” The men burst into laughter.
One then says that he plans on checking the woman’s teeth first, while another says that the price varies depending on the eye colour of the woman for sale.
These alleged jihadists, who seem to be playing up for the camera, are not identified in the video, nor is the location where the video was filmed.
However, this would not be the first time that the IS group has bragged about having female slaves. On numerous occasions in the past few months, members of the jihadist organisation – notably Westerners – made it known on social media that they had been given or bought women captured during battle.
Slavery justified by IS leaders
This practice was both acknowledged and even justified by the leaders of the IS group. In the French and English versions of their online magazine Dabiq, IS group members told how they had enslaved women from the Yazidi community after the battle of Sinjar in Iraqi Kurdistan in August.
In the article, the Yazidi were described as “a pagan community… of devil worshippers’ [Editor’s note: The Yazidis are ethnic Kurds whose ancient religion has some ties to Zoroastrianism]:
After their capture, the [Yazidi] women and their children were divided between the Islamic State fighters who had participated in the operations in Sinjar as dictated by Sharia law. A fifth of the slaves were also transferred to Islamic State authorities as a form of khums [tax].
The text then explained that Christian and Jewish women could escape this terrifying fate if they paid the jizya, a tax imposed by the Islamic State.
IS jihadists use religious texts to justify the enslavement of "infidel women," citing a hadith from the Prophet that says “Allah wonders before those who enter into Islam in chains.” They also claim that keeping slaves prevents men from sin, as sex with slaves is considered an alternative to marriage.
Moreover, the jihadists also say that the Prophet himself predicted that when “the slave girl gives birth to her master,” we would be nearing the eagerly anticipated end of the world. Or, in other words, that enslaved concubines are needed to breed soldiers for jihad. According to the jihadists’ interpretation of Islam, any children that these women have will be considered Muslim.
The IS group texts claim that these Yazidi women “convert voluntarily to Islam”. However, numerous eyewitness accounts collected by human rights organisations show evidence of forced conversion.
A reality illustrated by false images
In the past few months, several photos alleging to show the enslaved women have been widely shared and reposted on social media. The photos have also been used by some traditional media sources. But, in reality, these photos are fake images of the real plight of Yazidi women.
Various media sources said the above image showed captive Yazidi women. In reality, this photo was taken in Lebanon during the Shiite ceremony of Ashura during which women reenact the battle of Karbala. These photos were first posted on the website of French daily Le Monde in 2011.
The photo below was also widely shared on social media. Once again, it is actually a scene from an Ashura ceremony.
Finally, this Reuters photo has also been used to illustrate articles about Yazidi women detained by the IS group. However, this photo is actually part of a series on daily life in the Syrian city of Raqqa. These women are not captive Yazidis, but seem to be students walking towards a school.
Finally, a communiqué bearing the heading of the ‘Islamic State in Iraq’ was recently shared across social media. The statement – attributed to IS leaders – said that fighters in Iraq had chosen to fix a price for Yazidi and Christian women as a way for the organisation to make money.
But the authenticity of this document is highly questionable. For one, the communiqué is dated 21 Dhou al hijja 1435— which corresponds to October 2014 on the Gregorian calendar. By this time, the IS militants in Iraq no longer used the name “Islamic State in Iraq” but already referred to themselves as the “Islamic State” or the “Islamic Caliphate".
Moreover, according to Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadist movements, the wording of this communiqué is uncharacteristic of the group. For one, it did not use the word “sabaya,” the term the IS group normally uses to refer to women captured during war.
No images, but terrifying testimonies of escapees
To the best of our knowledge, no authentic image of these captive women has been shared by the IS group or by any independent news source. There are no reliable figures either – the number of captive women ranges between hundreds and thousands depending on the source.
But while the IS group seems to want to control all information about these captured women, some women have managed to escape and tell their stories to the media.
In mid-October, NGO Human Rights Watch published a report based on the stories of 18 young women, two of whom were contacted while they were still held hostage by the IS group. The women shared horrifying stories of forced conversions, forced marriages, rape and sexual violence. "Some of the victims were mere children", said Fred Abrahams, a special advisor to the organisation. One girl reported being bought for 1,000 dollars. A Yazidi father explained that the organisation agreed to return the son they had taken hostage in exchange for his two daughters.
Although they are particularly hated by the jihadist organisation, the Yazidi are not the only minority targeted by the IS group. Numerous Christians, Shiite Chabaks and Turkmen people have also been held hostage by the organisation.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.