Raqqa- She was trafficked into Raqqa as a slave by ISIS but managed to escape. Now Yazidi fighter Heza is back to avenge the horrors she and thousands of others suffered.
“When I started fighting, I lifted some of the worries from my heart,” she says, surrounded by fellow Yazidi women in Raqqa’s eastern Al-Meshleb district.
“But it will be full of revenge until all the women are freed.”
She and her two sisters were among thousands of women and girls from the Yazidi minority taken hostage by ISIS as it swept into Iraq’s Sinjar region in August 2014.
“When the Yazidi genocide happened, ISIS snatched up the women and girls. I was one of them,” Heza recounts.
ISIS separated Yazidi females from the men in Sinjar, bringing the women and girls into Raqqa.
Over the course of her 10-month captivity in Raqqa, Heza tried to commit suicide several times.
“They took us like sheep. They chased us and humiliated us in these very streets,” Heza tells Agence France Presse.
Heza was bought by five different ISIS militants.
Her voice strained but her brown eyes still sharp, the young fighter says she prefers not to detail the abuses she suffered.
Finally, in May 2015, she escaped from the home where she was being held to a nearby market, and she found a Syrian Kurdish family who smuggled her out of the city.
Heza underwent intensive weapons training, and when the Syrian Democratic Forces announced their fight for Raqqa in November 2016, she and other Shengal Women’s Units (YPS) fighters were ready.
“When the Raqqa offensive began, I wanted to take part in it for all the Yazidi girls who were sold here in these streets,” she says.
“My goal is to free them, to avenge them.”
“When I entered Raqqa, I had a strange, indescribable feeling. Despite the enormous pain that I carry, I felt joy,” the fighter says.
The United Nations has qualified the massacres ISIS carried out against the Yazidis during the Sinjar attack as genocide.
Rifles are lined up in neat rows inside the abandoned home used by the YPS as their base in Al-Meshleb.
Yazidi women in brand-new uniforms gather around a crackling walkie-talkie for news from the front. Some of them, like 20-year-old Merkan, have traveled far to join the fight against ISIS.
Her family is originally Yazidi Turkish, but Merkan and her 24-year-old sister Arin were raised in Germany.
When they heard about ISIS’ infamous sweep into Sinjar in 2014, they were outraged.
“I could never have imagined a world like this. I didn’t expect things like this could happen,” Merkan says.
“I was in so much pain,” says the tall woman.
Her older sister decided to travel to Sinjar in late 2014 to join the YPS, and Merkan followed in early 2015.
“I only had one goal in front of me: liberating the Yazidi women, and all women who were still in ISIS’ clutches.”
She had scribbled a similar pledge on a wall behind her.
“Through strength and struggle, we Yazidi women fighters came to Raaqa to take revenge for the August 3 massacre,” the graffiti says, referring to when ISIS entered Sinjar.
“We are avenging Yazidi girls,” it adds.
Fellow fighter Basih is sitting quietly in a neighboring room, chain-smoking cigarettes in the muggy July afternoon.
“We suffered the ugliest forms of injustice. Our revenge will be proportional to it,” she said.