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ALM Feature

Yazidi victims of Islamic State heal wounds, grow independent in Germany

Despite the tragedies they suffered at the hands of the terror group in their homeland in the Iraqi Kurdistan province, many Yazidis in Germany are now prospering in their new lives.
Yasmen and Jan

STUTTGART, Germany — Yasmin, a Yazidi woman who survived rape and torture at the hands of the Islamic State (IS), made international headlines seven years ago after dousing herself in kerosene and lighting a match. The flames melted her nose, eyelids, ears, lips and chin and fused her fingers into an unusable mass. Today, some 160 surgeries later, Yasmin, 24, is a poignant symbol of the resilience of hundreds of Yazidi women who were offered sanctuary in Germany where they are shattering the boundaries of their patriarchal Middle Eastern culture and seizing control of their own lives. 

“I want to study law, to become a lawyer,” Yasmin said in fluent German over coffee in Stuttgart’s main square. Clad in a black jersey top, a matching chiffon skirt and a rhinestone-studded belt, Yasmin has recovered her facial features crafted from her own skin and ribs. Her fingers are functional, her nails varnished in a coral color. Yasmin flashes an engaging smile, saying she is very excited as she will soon be getting new ears.

Yasmin’s self-immolation at a displacement camp in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Dahuk province was triggered by a flashback. She heard voices outside her tent and believed IS militants had come back to torment her. She decided at that moment that death was a better fate. “The path to recovery is hard but these girls are incredibly brave. Knowing what they have been through, it’s miraculous,” observed Jan Kizilhan, an ethnic Yazidi trauma psychotherapist who is treating the victims. When he first encountered Yasmin, she was lying on a mattress in blazing temperatures at an unfinished construction site in Dahuk. “She looked at me, smiled and offered me tea.”

Kizilhan was in Iraqi Kurdistan as part of Operation Sonderkontingent, or “special contingency,” a $106 million scheme involving the transfer of 1,100 Yazidi women and child victims of IS to Germany in 2015 and 2016. Their stories continue to haunt him. 

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