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EU Sakharov Prize brings 'honor and dignity' to Yazidi women

Max Hofmann
December 13, 2016

Lamiya Aji Bashar and Nadia Murad have been awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. They talked to DW about what the prize means to them and how the EU can help the Yazidi community.

Nadia Murad und Lamija Adschi Baschar
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Kraufmann

DW: Given the situation we have now in Iraq, the fight for Mosul, and the many women still in the same situation you were in, do you have hope for those who are still in Iraq at the moment? 

Lamiya Aji Bashar: Frankly yes, we have hope. We cannot stop hoping. We are hopeful that the captives will be liberated and freed, yes. We look forward to the day when Daesh (the Arabic acronym for Islamic State, or IS) will be held accountable for the crimes and I hope that the captives will be liberated and freed.

Nadia Murad: For me, it is not about hope. We should combat Daesh. We should stop the interaction between Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Then Daesh will be diminished as a force and will lose ground - and then we will liberate the girls and women in an easier way. So it is not a question of hope. We have to combat Daesh so that we can liberate everybody.

Jesdidin Jeside Frau Mutter mit Baby Flucht vor IS Irak
Thousands of Yazidis were forced to flee when IS militants took over the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq in 2014Image: Getty Images/AFP/A.Al-Rubaye

DW: Do you think enough is being done at the moment, to liberate women who are in the same situation that you were in?

Murad: No, for more than two years now the captives are still with Daesh. Those who were liberated, liberated themselves. They did not know what their fate would be - either death or liberation. I think the world has not done enough yet. Daesh has taken women from their houses, they sell them. These women do not know when Daesh members will come and get them. So there were no parties that supported Yazidis to liberate their women. There are some people who go and pay huge sums of money to liberate some girls and women. But that is not enough. You know that the sums of money do not go to Daesh but to those who actually jeopardize their life in order to go and liberate women.

Aji Bashar: Yes, for more that two years now, most of the captives have not been liberated yet. Many countries lay down their arms - they do not do anything. Some people try to liberate their acquaintances through other people, but it is a dangerous adventure. So far, we have not seen enough that has been done to liberate our children, our women, from Daesh.

Bundeskanzlerin Merkel trifft UN Sonderbotschafterin Nadia Murad
Murad, who was appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador, met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in OctoberImage: Getty Images/Bundesregierung/S. Kugler

DW: If you could influence these things specifically, what would you like for example the European Union to do about this? Would you like it to send soldiers, for example?

Murad: Yes, we want to combat Daesh. Normally it should not be by soldiers, or from one country to another. No, there are people who fight Daesh. What we need from the European Union is to support us in order to hold IS accountable in front of the ICC (International Criminal Court) and to protect us, so that the European soldiers can protect us in safe zones. Daesh has created havoc in the area of Yazidis, where the Yazidis live. We want a construction fund, we want stability and prosperity to come back to our region. And Europe should also open its doors to those who are victims.

DW: In the current situation, do you think it would be better for the Yazidi community to go into exile or to stay put? What would your recommendation be for the community back home?

Murad: I cannot advise - I am a victim. Two long years have now passed by. My request is we that should be protected in our region so that the genocide cannot be redone, and the doors should be open to women Yazidis - because if they are not protected, the Yazidis will just disappear. We cannot let those captives be captives for many years.

Aji Bashar: My recommendation or my advice is that, if we cannot have this international protection for our region, I think people should leave that area and request international protection elsewhere. The Europeans, the West, should open the door for our people, because we cannot accept this state of affairs for two years. We cannot accept Daesh killing our women or recruiting children as soldiers.

Irak Lamia Hadschi Baschar Jesiden IS-Verfolgte
Aji Bashar managed to escape her Islamic State captors in March, on her fifth attemptImage: picture-alliance/AP/B. Szlanko

DW: Of course there is a lot of discussion at the moment, especially in Europe. Many EU countries say they don't want more migrants from the region. Do you think Europeans understand what people like you and others - and other women - are going through?

Murad: Yes. Of course, there are people who refuse the inflow of refugees. There are other countries who welcome the refugees. But before 2014, before the emergence of Daesh, I did not intend to come to France or to Europe to request support. I did not want to be a refugee. But I am obliged today. We are oppressed, we are killed, we are raped, our belongings are taken from us. Now people should help us. We do not want to be refugees, but this is our fate now.

DW: What does a prize like the Sakharov Prize mean to you? Do you think it can really change things?

Aji Bashar: This prize is very important for us. For all of us, not only for Nadia and I. It is very important for all the women who are tortured or that are victim to Daesh. The world will see, will hear our voice, will listen to our story and will take steps to defend us.

Nadia Murad
Murad says that the Sakharov Prize offers "a huge support" for the victims of ISImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B Weißbrod

Murad: The Sakharov Prize is very important for us, for us victims. It is a huge support from the European Union and for the Yazidi community. But the Sakharov Prize will not stop Daesh. The European Union should combat Daesh, should hold Daesh accountable, should bring peace and stability to stop this extremist ideology. We do not want the re-emergence of this ideology, we do not want these crimes to be committed again. Yes, the prize is immense to disseminate our voice, because Daesh changed our status, not as women but as captives. But Sakharov brought dignity and honor to us.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded annually by the European Parliament to individuals who have made "an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe."

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