When she was taken captive by the Islamic State (IS) group, Iman’s biggest dream was freedom. She won her freedom yet she didn’t abandon her fellows and began advocating for the freedom of other Ezidi girls and women still in captivity.
Iman has since taken part in many conferences and seminars in which she shared her horror story, only to urge the world to come to the rescue.
“Even after I was freed, I didn’t give up on life. I worked at an office tasked with rescuing Ezidi abductees,” says Iman.
In November 2019, Iman Abulla Ilyas, 18, was awarded the prestigious Mother Teresa Memorial Prize, in a ceremony held in Mumbai, for her efforts within the Office for Rescuing Ezidi Abductees.
The Mother Teresa Awards, officially called the Mother Teresa Memorial Awards for Social Justice, are international and national awards presented annually to honor individuals and organizations that promote peace, equality and social justice, and aim to encourage the cause of justice and peaceful coexistence.
What earned Iman the Mother Teresa Prize was the story of her courage and resilience in the face of a violent past she went through.
Iman, her sister, her two brothers and their parents who lived in Tal Qasab, a village in western Ninewa’s Shingal (Sinjar) district, were captured by Is fighters on August 3, 2014.
During fifteen months she spent in captivity, Iman was sold thrice among IS fighters as a sex slave.
“First they drew lots to decide which Ezidi girl each one would pick. I was given to a 40-year-old man named Jafar and was called Abu Karam. He raped me.”
Five days later, Iman was sold to another IS fighter for US$ 1,000. “The second one was worse than Abu Karam, his wife was even worse. She forced him to sell me to another IS fighter.”
Iman's third captor was Abu Ahmed, a physician from Ninewa. He offered Iman a chance to escape captivity.
“He said he would grant me my freedom if I memorized 102 verses of the Quran. I fulfilled the condition in four months and 4 days. Then he freed me.”
After a year and three months, Iman and her family were finally free. They were helped by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s Office for Rescuing Ezidi Abductees to leave Talafar, which was under IS control towards Duhok.
According to KRG figures, since 2014, more than 6,000 Ezidis have been kidnapped, the fate of nearly half of them remains unknown.
After she was rescued, Iman decided to advocate for the freedom of her fellow Ezidis. She shared the tragedies of Ezidi girls and women to disclose the brutality of IS, and to encourage the international community to do something.
On the anniversary of the August 2014 events in Shingal, Iman told her story for the first time. During the ceremony, the then PM of the KRG Nechirvan Barzani pledged support for the efforts of the Office for rescuing Ezidi Abductees.
“I gave a touching speech which drew the attention of the attendants.”
Iman was then member of the office, but later she left in order to complete her study.
Iman is now an 11th grade student. In the meantime she attends English language classes at the American University in Kurdistan-Duhok.
“I was delighted to receive the Mother Teresa Prize, although nothing in the world could erase the pain of capticity under IS. Yet, this will help me turn my griefs into victory,” she said.