Despite the passage of over six years since the genocide of the Yezidi people in Shingal, main land of the Yazidis in northern Iraq, at the hands of ISIS, and over two years since the territorial defeat of ISIS’ last stronghold in Syria’s Baghouz, kidnapped and missing Yezidis continue to surface.
The North Press Agency reported that last Tuesday, the Yezidi House in northeast Syria’s Jazira region followed up on a source which told them that there was a missing Yezidi child living in Syria’s infamous Hawl Camp, which houses Iraqi refugees, Syrian IDPs, and thousands of wives and children of ISIS members.
Soon after Erdewan Khader’s father obtained information that his now-teenage son was alive and in Hawl Camp, he coordinated with the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) in the camp, as well as the Yezidi House, to rescue him, according to the North Press.
Stolen as a child
In August 2014, the Islamic State attacked Shingal, the homeland of the Yezidi ethnoreligious minority, killing thousands, abducting tens of thousands, and displacing nearly half a million.
Among the victims of this genocide was Erdewan, who at the age of only nine was taken captive along with his mother, his three sisters, and one-year-old brother while they were visiting a relative. His father and older sister were spared, as they were in Duhok, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, at the time.
Dressed in a black Adidas tracksuit, sitting outside the home to which the Yezidi House brought him after his rescue from Hawl Camp, Erdewan recounts to the North Press Agency his kidnapping and the years of captivity and wandering that followed.
“They separated us from our families. Then they took us to Mosul; we stayed there for two months. I stayed for two years moving between Mosul and Tel Afar. Then we came to Raqqa, then they took us to Abu Kemal with the Cubs [of the Caliphate] and the other Yezidis,” he explains, referring to ISIS’ religious and military training program for children.
Despite having escaped his nightmare only days earlier, Erdewan speaks to the North Press confidently; his manner of speech reveals an intelligence that is surprising for someone who spent many of their formative years held captive by a terror group with no education or exposure to the outside world.
“We were not able to disobey [ISIS]; we were afraid of them,” he recalls.
“They taught us to pray, fast, and read the Qur’an. At first they taught us to pray slowly, then recite a small surah from the Qur’an.”
Over the years, ISIS shuffled the young boy between several locations, including Tel Afar, Mosul, Raqqa, Abu Kemal, and Hajin.
In addition to being taught the religious beliefs of the Islamic State, Erdewan and 300-400 other Yezidi children were taught to use weapons and given advanced training. He was forced to wear ISIS clothing and banners, and though ISIS wanted him to fight, he was wounded in a bombardment and could not engage in combat.
While he states that he and his brothers were generally treated “well,” they were not allowed to leave the school and house where they lived, and sometimes they were beaten by ISIS members if they were not obedient. Some captive Yezidis managed to escape the group’s clutches and flee to Shengal.
Escape from the caliphate
Before the start of the final campaign in Syria’s Baghouz which marked the territorial defeat of ISIS, Erdewan was able to visit his siblings every month or two, and his sister even passed him a note with his father’s phone number on it. However, he lost it when he was forced to change his clothes.
With the start of the Baghouz campaign in early 2019, during which the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) liberated the area, many ISIS members, including some of Erdewan’s friends in the Cubs of the Caliphate, began fleeing.
“They were telling us ‘if you go to them, they will slaughter you,’” the boy recites what ISIS told him about the SDF. “’They are infidels; do not go to them…they are fooling you into surrendering.’”
However, with his friends fleeing, he decided to have himself smuggled out of Baghouz, despite his learned fear of the SDF. He went to Shaddadi, where he stayed briefly before entering Hawl Camp as a visitor and attempting to locate his family there.
He ended up staying in Hawl Camp for two and a half years, posing as a Syrian named Ahmed due to his continuing fear of the SDF, until this week, as his uncle arrives to return him to his remaining family members in Iraq.
Head of the Yezidi House in the Jazira region Farouq Tozo stated that while many of the over 400 Yezidis rescued from ISIS by Yezidi House encounter severe difficulties in mentally recovering from their ordeal and re-entering society, Erdewan is intelligent and self-aware despite all he witnessed. He has, however, forgotten the Kurdish language.
Until today, Erdewan still does not know what has become of his mother, brother, and three sisters. As for the future, he only hopes to be quickly reunited with his father, his sister, his religion, and eventually his mother tongue.
The ISIS attacks n the Yazidis in Iraq that began on 3 August 2014 resulted in thousands being killed: the United Nations estimates that 5,000 Yazidi men died in the massacre. Yazidi men who refused to convert to Islam were executed and dumped in mass graves; many boys were forced to become child soldiers. An estimated 7,000 Yazidi women and girls, some as young as nine, were enslaved and forcibly transferred to locations in Iraq and eastern Syria. Held in sexual slavery, survivors reported being repeatedly sold, gifted, or passed around among ISIS fighters.
ISIS gained full control of one third of Iraq till 2017 when Iraq announced regaining full control of the provinces of Nineveh, Anbar, and Saladin and parts of Kirkuk and Diyala. The terrorists lost their last stronghold in Syria in 2019.