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Jan 05 2019

Yazidi women in Europe resorting to suicide to cope with alienation and trauma

Increasing numbers of Yazidi women are committing suicide after moving to Europe from their war-torn homeland. Experts not that this is caused by a number of factors, including coping with war trauma while living in a foreign country and the alienation they feel from their previously tight-knit community.

The rate of suicide among Yazidi women has increased in recent years, particularly in Germany, according to Sabriye Sevgat, who works at the Yazidi Women's Council in Germany.

"Suicides can occur in every age group of women and in every social group. There is no limitation. Suicides were more common among young people five years ago. Then it stopped. But it's been happening again over the last year. Most of them are young women coming to Europe after the war. But there have been women who killed themselves here for many years," Sevgat told Ahval.

"My body is here, but my soul is there. I miss it a lot. I am not too fond of the air here [in Germany]. I don't like it here," Mecbure Dündar, a Yazidi woman who has been residing in Germany since she was 13, said.

 Mecbure Dündar
 Mecbure Dündar

Dündar added she could never belong in Europe.

"There's everything here except the spirit of the human brain. We belong there. I go to my hometown for the holidays. But there's a life waiting for me here. I come back because I have to. When I come back, I come back crying."

Sevgat stated that even though the Yazidi community in Germany dates back to the 1960s, the community’s traditional culture has continued to survive, causing a contradiction for Yazidi women. While Yazidi women in Europe look contemporary and strong on the outside, many have a different life at home.  

"When you come home, you have another personality. You live in one country, but you live in another culture. Our society is not an open one. Some topics remain taboo. For example, pre-marital relations. If something happens [between a couple], then the family name becomes tarnished."

According to Dündar, domestic violence is increasingly becoming a problem for Yazidi families in Europe in recent years due to a breakdown in community ties.

"There is sometimes violence in the family. In the past, our communication was better. However, this is not the case for the new generation. Everyone is in their own world and alone. They find themselves helpless. They don't see respect and love. There is a coldness in relations between families. Therefore, suicides might occur. They do this because they feel alone. But we have to get in touch with and touch each other."

A breakdown in Yazidi community relations in Europe has exacerbated living conditions among Yazidi women who immigrate to Europe from war-torn regions. The Yazidi community once occupied areas in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iran, however, have been largely displaced through attacks and the enslavement of Yazidis by the militant group Islamic State (IS).

In August 2014, the Islamic State attacked Mount Sinjar, kicking off an assault on the community that many estimate resulted in the deaths of between 2,000-5,000 Yazidis and the kidnapping of more than 7,000 Yazidi people. Of these, women and children were rounded up to be used as IS slaves.

Gül Güzel, who has taken part in several studies about Yazidi woman held in IS captivity, points out that being sexually assaulted is enough for women to be excluded from the Yazidi community.

Gül Güzel
Gül Güzel

"They are excommunicated from their own community. Women are going through massive trauma. They are completely isolated here. They are here but their souls are there in their own land. Yazidi women don't trust people who come from outside, and most of the things they've been through stay with them,” according to Güzel.

"The women kidnapped by IS were referred to as ‘’contaminated.’’ We mounted a massive resistance for Yazidi women during the massacres. We revolted against this word. Most of the Yazidi women said ‘’if those women have been contaminated, then we have been, too.’’ Men didn't put up a fight in the face of this female resistance."

One major reason for the isolation felt by Yazidi women, is that women who have been enslaved and assaulted by IS are seen as being "defiled," Sevgat noted.

Sociologist Fle Jiyan noted that the Yazidi women who come to Europe are unable to both simultaneously overcome this trauma and adapt to this new lifestyle in Europe, which is what has lead to the recent uptick in suicides.

“This captivity completely changes their lives. When they get to Europe, a new life begins. It’s better for them to go back to their old lives for their recovery. I think that the suicides are not because of their old lives but because they’ve started new ones. If they stay close to home, then they'll recover more quickly. But they don't go back there but to Europe for a new life here. They need to get used to a new life in Europe. They can get used to a new life, but they can't survive their trauma here," Jiyan stressed.

Sevgat agreed that Yazidi women cannot process the trauma they experienced at the hands of IS.

“Many women suffered severe torture. Their children were killed in front of them. Many women who come here don't accept psychological support. They live with everything they've been through. This is a heavy burden. In this case, this is an important cause that triggers suicides," Sevgat explained.