For the Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture, Nadia Murad sat down with Harvard Professor Jennifer Leaning for an on-stage conversation. Translating for Nadia Murad was Shahnaz Osso.
April 3, 2019 at Memorial Church
JENNIFER LEANING: Well, good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for coming out on what is actually a quite lovely day to meet Nadia Murad and her very accomplished colleague and interpreter, whom I will introduce in a moment. We have now an hour and 20 minutes. And I am delighted to be able to help start this conversation with Nadia.
As Bill has said, Nadia comes from the Mid-East. She is from the Yazidi community. And I will ask her to talk a bit about her experiences before the attack by ISIS in Daesh in August of 2014, which is really the pivotal moment for that community in Northwestern Iraq and was also very pivotal in both terrible and positive ways in her own life.
She is a survivor of that genocidal action. And we'll talk about that. She is an advocate for justice and restitution—two important big words. And we're going to talk about that. And she is the 2018 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Which all three of these identifiers are fairly extraordinary.
And to have this all bundled up as accolades and experiences for someone her age is a burden as well as an accelerant to the rest of her life. She is joined, and we will really be in conversation together, by Shahnaz Osso, who is also from the community, has been here for a longer time. And she flew in this morning from Lincoln, Nebraska.
We're all delighted that she arrived, given flights and the Northeast weather. And she has extensive experience working as an interpreter and translator with the Yazidi and other minority communities who fled the Mid-East. And I just want you to understand that we will be doing the translations in a mode that I find most easy.
And both Shahnaz and Nadia are very familiar with it, which is that I will talk to you, Nadia. You will hear this. You will look at Nadia and interpret. And then Nadia, you will look back at me. Or you can obviously look at the crowd. And then Shahnaz will translate. So it'll be a little bit of a round-robin of the three of us.
I also personally, and as a citizen of the university, would like to thank the Weatherhead Center and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies for sponsoring this event and for the very intrepid route you must have taken to secure Nadia's presence here, today. So I think it's a gift to all of us that we're having this conversation.
So a few notes about today's program. We will not have any questions. You will find that the back and forth of translation, et cetera, will consume this time quite productively. You may hear me talk with Shahnaz to get some clarification from her response from Nadia. And that's just the back and forth that will happen.
But it will all be on mic. And it will be instructive to you if I may not understand one of Nadia's answers. It probably means that some of you don't understand it either. So we'll work that way. So she wants to talk about her work since her terrible experiences in August, September, October, November of 2014.
We will be talking about the edges of that attack and her captivity. But we will not be delving into the details. I can tell you that there are a number of places where she has told her story. And one is very easy to Google. It's the December, 2016 testimony and briefing that she gave to the UN Security Council. Just Google her name, December, 2016, UNSC.
And it will just come right up. And that's a very important, and painful, and moving account. She also has a book that's out. And I think a copy of it is around for people to see. And the Harvard bookstore has ordered many more copies. So that will be available. And there is a wonderful report that you can see on her website that is called Sinjar 2018, Siege of Sinjar, which is a very thoughtful, and from a humanitarian standpoint, very wise document about what happened and what needs to be done, now.
So I commend those background points to you as you listen and think you have more questions. Some of them will be answered by the route I just outlined. And just to add to the background that Bill gave, Sinjar is in Northwestern Iraq. I'm hoping some of you have a copy of the map that we gave out.
It's not a great map. I wanted the topographical map, but that is hard. But in any case, that basically gives you a picture of the state of play in the war and the way that ISIS was moving across the swath of Northwestern Iraq at the time of this attack. And also, you can see in tiny print, there is Sinjar, right up there in that Northwestern sector.
And there is a mountain, which is a little hard to see, because it's not topographical. But there's a very important mountain that goes at right angles to the border between Iraq and Syria. And it's called the Sinjar Mountain. And that is a sacred place for the Yazidis. They've been there, I think, at least since 600 AD, maybe earlier.
And the community of Yazidis was about 500,000 before the attack. And they lived on different sides of the mountain—the south side of the mountain and the north side of the mountain. And it had different experiences in the ISIS attack.
The aspect of what she's going to talk about is all tied up in the US-Iraq fight to get rid of ISIS, going north, dealing with ISIS in Mosul, and as you are aware, in March of 2019, the last bastion, where there was a residential component of ISIS, has been bombed to oblivion on the Syrian side of the border.
But as you also all know, that's not the end. And there are a number of women coming out of those bunkers and hellholes who are now 72,000 of them. And other people from that area are now being held in Kurdish controlled areas of Syria. So this is an ongoing series of atrocities. And we're talking about a moment in time, which is pivotal for her and the Yazidi community.
Do you want to summarize any of that? Or did you understand what I said, pretty much?
And have I somewhat accurately portrayed it? Do you want to comment or make a correction?
NADIA MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She said you did very well in summarizing it.
LEANING: Thank you. Thank you. We didn't practice this. So I'm delighted this worked. So now, we're going to go into these questions. They've heard a little bit about how I'd like to proceed. But we'll change it up depending on how Nadia wants to reply, and where her thoughts take her.
But I thought it would be helpful, certainly to me and to you, for us to understand what living in the Yazidi community was like prior to this terrible attack. So what was your childhood like? What was it like growing up? Did you have to help in the field and weed the fields? Could you play? Just give us an idea of those good times.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She grew up with 11 siblings, 8 brothers and 2 sisters. And they all lived with their mother in a village named Kocho. And that falls closer to the Arabic territory of Iraq.
Learning about Yazidism all came through oral religion, because we didn't have a book that we could read every day. So my mother taught us through stories and just lessons here and there. And even as adults, we were still learning, because there's nothing that's written down to teach us about our culture and religion. It's up to previous generations to pass it on.
LEANING: This says something about why killing people wipes out a culture. This is clearly an oral tradition. And what did you do all day, as you were growing up?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): I went to school. I was the only one to go to school, because during the time that I was in school, it was peaceful in our village. I was the youngest of my siblings. And so I was able to go to school and learn during the mornings. And then at night, I would go and help my siblings on the farm and growing our crops.
LEANING: What kind of crops? And did you have any animals?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): When ISIS attacked, we had 120 sheep on our farm. We also grew all sorts of vegetables—tomatoes, cucumbers. But our most profitable one that we made a living off of was growing wheat and grains.
LEANING: Wheat. It's a dry area. So was there irrigation? How did you manage that with wheat? It takes water.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Sinjar has always been a very dry area. We've always had issues with water and getting rain. And so in order to be able to grow our crops, we would dig wells, sometimes down to 70 feet. But when you know that is your way of life and that's how you make a living, you're willing to go to all ends to make it work.
LEANING: Before I move on, is there something else you'd like to tell us about your childhood?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She said I would just like everybody to know before all of this happened, I didn't know that there was this sort of evil and suffering in the world. I thought the best thing after a long day was to go home and relax with my family. And I thought that was the best thing in the world. And I didn't know any better, that there was anything better than that or worse than that in the world.
She said I spent 21 years, me and my family, just having this simple life, this peaceful life. But since this has happened, I don't think we can ever go back to the way that things were before.
LEANING: This is an experience that, in a much less drastic way, all of us have as we grow up. We can't go home again, because it's always different. But what you're saying is extraordinarily profound.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She said not only wanting to go back to childhood itself, but even just going back to that simple time. Even to keep it for a little bit longer, even if the genocide did happen, just keeping that simple life, that peaceful life that we had for even 10 more years—and being able to go back to that mind state, anybody here would have thought going to a farm that is dry, and in the desert, and doesn't get water might have been difficult.
But for us, that was our life. And that's what we enjoyed. And it was peaceful for us. And that was all we knew. And she just wants to be able to go back to that and just experience that a little bit longer.
LEANING: Yes. Well, you were very young when things were taken away from you. So thank you for sharing this, because it's a big loss. And let's hope there will be a chance for you to return, but it will not be the same place. You know that.
MURAD: I know.
LEANING: Yeah. So give us, if you could, just a three or four sentence outline of what happened on that day, August 3, August 4th, 2014. How did you hear of what was happening? How did you try to protect yourself? And then it's over. And you are caught. Just quickly.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): On August 3rd, when they attacked, it was one of the hottest times of the year in Sinjar. And they had heard that ISIS was attacking Mosul, and Tal Afar, and other villages around them. But they didn't think that something this big would happen around them. But they knew it was kind of inevitable.
Her brothers were sleeping on the roof on August 3rd. And her, and her sisters, and sister in-laws were sleeping in the yard, because her brothers on the roof kept calling people on the phone to try and figure out what was happening. They spent the entire night on their phones. So her, and her sisters, and sister in-laws slept in the yard so they can actually get some sleep.
So first thing in the morning, the next day, they had heard that people were being attacked and that they were escaping to the mountains.
LEANING: So going up?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yes, escaping up the mountain to try and get to safety. And they were calling them on the phone to try and get a hold of them and figure out what was going on. Her and her family wanted to escape, as well. But like you said, there was just that mountain. It was their only place to go.
So they had heard that ISIS was attacking. And they were too far from the mountain. And so they didn't think that they'd be able to make it to escape from the mountain. They didn't have very many options, either. And they kept hearing people say so-and-so got caught, so-and-so escaped and is on the mountain. And Kocho, which is her village, is right on the edge of the Yazidi territory. So they were very quick to be surrounded by ISIS. And they had ran out of options, at that point.
LEANING: So let's go after that. Go to the last week. If you can give all of us that date, the last week of your captivity. And what were you thinking? And how did you begin to imagine your escape?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): When her family was finally caught by ISIS, there was about 48 of them that were all captured together. And her and her nieces were separated from the rest of the family. And then her nieces were separated from her, also. And the whole time, she was thinking when something like this happens, you have to think about yourself. Like will I survive? Won't I survive? And how will I do it?
She began losing hope and thinking that there's no way that the Yazidis will survive this. And she kept seeing that there was ISIS even going on TV. And everybody was hearing about what was happening. But nobody was coming to help. So as she was beginning to lose hope in the international community doing something, she started to have more hope in herself to survive, and hoping that God will take over and help her survive this.
LEANING: Were you able to move around a bit? I'm thinking just physically. Now, you're speaking of yourself as a survivor, already. You have to save yourself. Nobody's coming. You can't count on the family. Was there a wall you're going to have to get over? Was there a door you were going to have to get out of?
Just give us the scene of what you were imagining. If I go down there, he'll stop me. If I go here, maybe at night, he's out doing something. And I can do it. How were your plans evolving?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): It was actually very easy to escape. It was just difficult to survive past that. Many of her friends that she knew had escaped just simply through a door or a window. But once they would go and try to find a family to either take them in, or help them, or contact somebody, they would return them back to ISIS. So it was difficult once you got out to stay out and find somebody to help you and take you in.
LEANING: So let's create this scene for people here. Was it night or day that you chose to leave?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): It was closer to night.
LEANING: And were you in an unfamiliar part of your territory? Or did you understand where you were?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She was in Mosul. And that was the first time she'd ever been there. And so she did not recognize anything there.
LEANING: And did you know enough to know that you were going to have to get to Kurdish areas for help? And how far away was that? Or did you have a sense of a town or a village to go to? What made the difference between your not getting turned in and all your other friends who did?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She had hope in herself and had hoped that because she came from a very peaceful and well-known family that there was other people that were like her family and had a good heart, like her family. And so there was some very old homes there that she thought that maybe those would be a good idea. But she—
LEANING: Old homes in Mosul?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yes.
LEANING: That might have Yazidis in it, or just nice people?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Nice people.
And so she thought if there's people that are similar to my family in morals and values, that they'll recognize somebody that comes from a background like them and maybe take me in.
LEANING: I wondered about the 120 sheep that was on your farm. So your family was somewhat well-off, compared to others?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Her family wasn't very well off. Her dad only had one brother and one sister. And they were actually orphaned. And the only way to have real wealth in Iraq is to have land. And they didn't have any land. So they would actually farm other people's lands for them in order to be able to get to that level. And they just kept to themselves. They were very independent, and just did their work, and got by.
LEANING: So you knock on a door of an old house in the evening? Or is it, by then, morning? And what do you say to people when they answer the door?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): It was still evening. And she just knocked on the door. And everybody at that point in Mosul and in Iraq, altogether, knew what had happened to the Yazidis and what was going on. So she just knocked and said, "I'm a Yazidi. I've escaped. Will you help me?"
LEANING: Wonderful. So who answered the door?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): It was the father.
LEANING: The father? An older man?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yes.
LEANING: And what did he say? Give us a little sense of what the next five minutes was like? You knocked. He opens. You say you're Yazidi. "Can you help me?" What does he say? And how does it unfold?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): So he invited her in and started asking her more questions about who she was, where she was from. And the man showed some concern. Because if ISIS found out that he was helping her, then his family might be in danger, too. And she could tell, just from looking around, his whole family was home. And she could tell that they weren't affiliated with ISIS at all. And that made her feel more safe around them.
LEANING: And what do you think persuaded him? Or did the wife or other family members chime in? What do you think persuaded him to say, "Yes, I'm going to help you?"
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She said that he said that regardless of religion, they were all still Iraqis. They didn't agree with what ISIS was doing. And they didn't have any affiliation with them, either and that they need to take compassion. Because regardless of what her beliefs are and what their beliefs are, they're all still one Iraqi community.
LEANING: You're lucky in that regard, aren't you? That you found a good family.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yes. Not everybody was as lucky as her. Her sister-in-law did the same thing and escaped, knocked on somebody's door. And the person who answered the door did the same thing and invited her in, asked her some questions like which ISIS members she escaped from and things like that. And eventually, called those ISIS members and got her taken back.
LEANING: In some settings where people flee, there is a person who really helps early on. And it's critical. That can be somewhat life-affirming after your experience has deadened your feelings about humanity. And I'm going to just ask, but I think you get a sense that this is really important. This family—I'm not going to go into how long they sheltered you, et cetera.
But this family was pivotal, at least, initially. Really important, initially, in helping you get out and start another life. Is that correct?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She believes that if she hadn't found a family like this that had helped her, she likely would have either been returned or wouldn't have made it. So it is very important that they were willing to help her. And because of that, she was able to get out and have this safe and happy life—or somewhat happy life that she has now.
LEANING: Do they know what has happened to you? Does that family understand who you've become?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yes. She was able to tell them a little bit of her story while she was with them, as well. And so they know what was going on with her before.
LEANING: But now? Have you called them and said, "I got the Nobel Peace Prize," for instance?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She hasn't spoke to them directly. But when Mosul was freed, basically, her brother was able to tell them, and speak to them, and tell them what's been happening with Nadia and what's been going on. And Iraq is a very tight knit community, anyway. Anything that happens, everybody knows about it. So she's sure that they had heard about it anyway and know what's going on.
LEANING: That's great. Thank you. I'm going to move now to another set of questions, which is, when did you shift from finding a way to survive to finding a way to make a difference?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): This was never part of her plan. Her plan or her hope was just to get out and live somewhere safe with her family. But then people would come and start talking about what was going on and asking questions. And she felt that she needed to inform them that this is what was happening to us. So this is likely what's happening to girls still in captivity.
And something needs to be happening. And so it was never her plan to be a public speaker, or an advocate, or an activist. It just kind of happened. She felt that it needed to be done. But it was never part of a big plan for her.
She's not the only person to speak out on this or the only survivor to speak out on this. There's been plenty of girls before her and at the same time as her speaking about their experiences, as well, on a large scale and even writing their own books. But sometimes, one person's story just resonates with the world. And it's just what everybody else picks up on, and it just happens to become bigger.
LEANING: I think, of course, you're correct in what you're saying. Because it's your life. And you know what happened. But there are probably some factors in your thinking that made you get more organized about wanting to make a difference. And you may not identify them in you, yet. But as you said, the story of Yazidi came out. It was not that well-known, but it came out. And there were many testimonies that the newspapers found, et cetera. And I'm sure the women who survived were talking to each other. But then out of that mix of testimony, and anger, and grief, somehow, you took all of that feeling and began to say you wanted to campaign. How did that turn? When did you start using the word "campaign"?
Pause for a second, because I want to hear her words, now. What is she saying in a really direct translation, now?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): So the thing that pushed her is because she had always had this idea, if you do a crime such as murder, you need to be brought to justice. And so it wasn't just getting the story out. It was about bringing the members of ISIS that did these heinous crimes to justice, and bringing them in front of an international court, and making them pay for their crimes that they've done. And everybody, at some point, is going to be judged in front of a court for their sins.
LEANING: So as a little child, as a kid, you had a strong sense of right or wrong? And if somebody did something wrong, they should get punished?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Of course. She believes that there always has to be some sort of reconciliation for things. For example, if they had planted a bunch of wheat, and one of their neighbor's sheep got into their plants and ate all of it, the neighbor can't just say "whatever." They have to come, and apologize, and say, "We're sorry all your hard work went to waste. Let us pay for the plants. Or let us buy them off of you. Or here's a sheep to make up for it." So actions should have consequences.
As a kid, though, she thought that was the worst thing—was to have your hard work go to waste with the farm or the crops. She didn't know that there was something as horrible as a mother, like her own mother's hard work going to waste, raising 11 kids, and having them all be killed.
LEANING: So you're thinking about something that is overwhelmingly wrong. That was it. Now, I know that you have found some good friends and colleagues. And even that is a talent to reach out to people when you are feeling so overwhelmed with sadness. To reach out to people and have them come towards you, and you build something together. That, to me, is a really interesting aspect of your biography. That it's a short two years from August, 2014 until when one can see you before the UN Security Council in December, 2016. That is a long pathway to go. So I'm going to ask you about some of the friends, some of the people. Not everybody, but two or three that helped shape your agony—your pain into the search for justice. During those two years, who did you encounter? Who did you talk to?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She says that one of the very important things was the fact that many women were speaking out about the things happening. So a lot of the women involved had a big influence on the progress that has been made. Because in the history of all the genocides, in the history of Iraq, women haven't spoken out about the things that have happened to them during these sorts of events. And all of the women that were giving their accounts of things that happened to them and giving their stories and their side of things made a very big impact, and was very important, and set the stage for it, and pushed the whole process more. To be able to have them speak out against what has happened—and it caused an international outcry, because the women were finally speaking out about it. And it made everybody want to get more involved.
LEANING: That's a point we should underscore, isn't it? That in many of these situations, women who have been through sexual violence are not talking about it. They get quiet. And their husbands, and fathers, and brothers don't want them to talk. It's considered shameful. And the fact that something in your community, and your friends in your survivor community, including you, wanted to speak out about it is a remarkable accelerant, a remarkable boost to getting action taken. If you talk, then people understand. And that, I think, has made a very big difference.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): In the past, not just the Yazidis, but Iraqi women in general, they haven't spoken out about these things. And it's very important that they have been speaking out, now. Because in the past, it's even more of a stigma than it is here, in America. It's a very large stigma to talk about rape or things of that nature. And they oftentimes see it as bringing shame to themselves or even their village and their family.
But the women saw the roughest parts of what ISIS was doing. And they had to endure the hardest part of the genocide. And so being able to speak out against it was very important, because they are the ones that went through it.
LEANING: They are also the ones who survived with very deep scars. ISIS killed a lot of the men. Right? So if you're going to take charge of the cause for your community, the women, even injured, are going to be necessary. That's a question, even though I said it like a statement.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): The men were often killed. And she forgot to mention, they have found 71 other grave sites that many of the men and women were found. But in almost every war, women endure the most. And especially with this last genocide, they made sure that women endured the most and saw the most heartache and suffering. And if you ask any Yazidi woman, she has been through the most and will often say that she wishes that she were just killed like one of the men, rather than having to endure that.
LEANING: So let's talk for a moment, now. Let's change the subject a little bit. And I am most interested in your argument around genocide. And I'm going to ask you a couple of questions about that. Is that OK?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yes.
LEANING: So when you're growing up on your farm, you did not know the word genocide. And you didn't learn about it in school, because you were young. Yes? Yeah. And as you know, having worked on this topic, it is a very alive and current problem in the world—genocide. When did you realize that what you had experienced, you and your people—when did you realize that actually was a genocide?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She hadn't ever even heard the word genocide before this. But she knew when there was thousands of men being killed, and women being taken, and thousands of people being trapped on the mountain with nowhere to go and nowhere to escape, that they were calling it the Kurmanji word, ferman, which is a very common word that they all know. And it basically means "the end." And they didn't realize that was what that was—was a genocide.
LEANING: Genocide is the end. That's the aim of genocide, isn't it?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yes.
LEANING: To destroy, annihilate. And so when did you decide you were going to argue about that? You were going to make the case that what happened to the Yazidi was a genocide—a 21st century genocide. One of the most recent ones, now. What made you decide to use the word? Did you have a lawyer friend?
She's going to have to translate. So there were a lot of important people there?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yes. So after she had escaped, they started connecting the pieces and figuring out that ferman meant genocide in English, and that it was the same thing. And they worked with a lot of different, very famous, and very influential attorneys such as Amal Clooney, Luis Moreno Ocampo. And they met with other parliament members and started piecing together, figuring out that this was, indeed, a genocide.
So everyday, they're learning new information about what was happening. Different villages that were being killed, different mass graves that were being found, different areas of Sinjar that were being destroyed, basically. And it wasn't just Yazidi accounts saying this is genocide. ISIS actually came out and said our goal is to end Yazidis. And so it wasn't just them. They were actually recording what they were doing and letting the world see that was what they were doing.
LEANING: Yes, it was very blatant, wasn't it? Very, very explicit. Very clear from ISIS.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): So all the other minorities were also targeted. But they were given other options. They were told that they can either convert to Islam, they can escape into Kurdistan, or they can pay their way to not being killed. When they attack Yazidis, they weren't given these options. They were told you either are to convert or you get killed. And they said, regardless, if you do convert, the men will still be killed.
So they weren't given the options that the other minority groups were given. And they said outright that their goal is to end Yazidism and that they believe the Yazidis were kafirs or infidels. And they weren't people of the book. And so it was—
LEANING: You mean the Abrahamic tradition of—
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yes.
LEANING: Yes. You weren't Muslim. You weren't Christian. And you weren't Jewish. So therefore, you had to go.
So the Genocide Convention, as you know—I'm just saying this for the students in the audience who may not know all the different aspects of the Genocide Convention—first of all, you have to show the intent of the perpetrator. You've got to show that there was an intent to do all the following five acts. And you've got the ISIS leadership being very clear about what their intent was—to exterminate, annihilate, kill all of the Yazidis. So then the question is, do the acts themselves constitute genocide?
And one is to attempt to kill in whole or in part a population based on defining characteristics. And that one was fulfilled. The other is to make conditions of life so horrible—intend to make conditions of life so horrible that they cannot survive. And that sounds as if that happened, as well. Another is to make it impossible for that population to reproduce. And there are various subsets of that. But that was also the case in your situation.
And could I just note, and I'm interested in if you would comment on this, that when you have episodes of ethnic cleansing—that's the word we use. To get rid of an ethnicity. It comes out of the war in Yugoslavia.
One of the interesting features for us who study this, is whether actually they really try to kill the men. Because abusing the women, killing men is essentially a very, very good indicator of a genocidal mentality. So you don't have to give all the discussion I just did. But this question, that it is a feature of current genocides, where they will destroy the women. But they want to kill the men.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): When ISIS came in, one of the things that was happening was they were killing the men. Because the people that can carry on the culture and the religion are the men. Because they can reproduce. If a woman gets pregnant, that child is not Yazidi unless the man that she got pregnant with was Yazidi. So if they kill the men, then that's the end of the religion. That's the end of an entire race of people.
Even before ISIS existed or was a problem, in Iraq, on their passports, they put what their religion is. So many of the men that would work, even as interpreters or just working across state lines, where they had to show a passport, if they saw that they were Yazidi, they would often get killed at the borders and at the tools.
LEANING: It's interesting how human beings don't like different human beings. They go after them. It's a trait we see. And it is also something that, unleashed, can move into genocide quite quickly. We have to be careful. Don't you think? We have to look everywhere. Because you could see it, sometimes, in the early phases. And it's out there.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): So basically, she's saying if somebody doesn't like you because of your race, or your religion, or your background, they can just choose to ignore you or choose to walk away. But to be able to say that you want to end an entire race, or religion, or ethnic group is something very hateful and very strong. If there's a single person who decides that they specifically don't like that religion or don't like that race, they can recruit 100 other people and convince them not to like that race or religion. And that's when it becomes something bigger than it was, than just a simple dislike or disagreement about race or religion.
LEANING: It gets a different quality, doesn't it? It enters not just ugliness. It becomes evil.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yes. It has to reach a level where it's very powerful that somebody doesn't just not like you or doesn't agree with your beliefs.
LEANING: Now, we have ten minutes. And there is a set of questions around, legally, how are you going to get ISIS charged with genocide? And I don't think I'm going to ask you those. But I will say that if you have a comment on that, that would be great. Because there is a legal problem. ISIS is not a nation state. Neither Syria nor Iraq have signed or ratified the Genocide Convention. So it's going to have to be the UN or the state of Iraq pursuing the Yazidis. I think you understand this. But do you have a comment on the complexity that I'm just raising?
I made a mistake. I'm sorry. It's not that they didn't sign the Genocide Convention. Some of them did. But they haven't joined the International Criminal Court is what I meant to say. So it becomes harder for the court to work through this process. So I'm sorry for correcting myself. But please, go forward.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): So with Iraq not being part of the Criminal Court, they're not asking that they become a part of the Criminal Court. But they are trying to get their support on bringing them to justice in the Criminal Court. So they're trying to get Iraq's support. And they've been working on that for four, almost five, years now. But right now, it looks like their best option is going to be to go the UN route, and get their support.
So far, that hasn't had much progress either to bringing them to justice. All of the work that they've been doing the past four or five years is trying to bring ISIS to the Criminal Court and make them face their crimes. And she just wants to see at least one face the criminal court to give validation that all the work that she's been doing the past few years wasn't for nothing, basically.
LEANING: One of the things about getting the crime of genocide acknowledged and punished is documentation. And I know that you and your colleagues have been gathering evidence. You have a lot of evidence about the killings, the rapes, the mass graves. And that can stand you in a certain amount of power, whenever you can get the political alignment for prosecution. The evidence is very important.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): They have thousands of signed witness statements, and some on video, as well. But many of the women that came forward as witnesses don't want to show their faces. Because a lot of their captors are still alive. And they also have reports on the mass graves that were just recently dug up. And they've been working on that as well to get even more proof.
And with all the witness statements, if they do find some of their captors that were alive and are able to bring them to the criminal courts—that way, they have witnesses that can come forward and speak on their behalf and give their accounts, as well.
LEANING: The other major campaign that is linked to this is what you're calling restitution. At least, that's the English translation for it. I'm correct that you are seeking restitution, as well as justice?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): There's over 350,000 Yazidis displaced in refugee camps, currently.
LEANING: Say that loudly so people really hear it.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Oh, sorry. There's over 350,000 Yazidis in refugee camps that are displaced currently that went through the genocide. And all of their fates are very uncertain. And none of them really know what their future holds. And they would like something saying that they would be able to return back to their homes, because if they don't know what their fate is, that leaves them vulnerable to another group like ISIS attacking them again. And it would be very helpful and very good if they could have their homes repaired, and be able to return back to their homes, and be ensured safety there.
LEANING: So this is the difference, really, between reparations, the English word, and restitution. You're not asking for money or payment. You are asking—and I just want people to know that this paper, the Sinjar 2018, reads like a briefing by the entire international humanitarian community to the UN, saying they need demining, they need the land back, they need to have water pipes built in, they need to have their homes rebuilt, the kids need education. They need health care. And we have to create, in Yazidi land, a home where people can go back to. That's what the program is. It's nothing less and nothing more.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): So that's what they've been working on the last couple of years is trying to get those reparations. Right now, in Sinjar, there's no water at all. And the people that lived in Sinjar, they lived there their whole lives. That's all they've ever known. So when they left, they don't have anything left. That's all they have. And so even when they did have schools in Sinjar, they weren't very good. And they only had one hospital in Sinjar. And that hospital has been bombed, as well. So even if they were to return home, they don't have much to return back to.
Oh, and she's also trying to work with the different organizations, the American government, and the French government on demining Sinjar.
MURAD: It's almost finished.
LEANING: Good. That's the first step, isn't it?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yeah.
LEANING: This is a very tall agenda. A very steep hill to climb. Not only bring the perpetrators to justice in a world where that has proved clumsy to do, but also to create and recreate a homeland. You may not be able to go home in that deep, spiritual way. But for the 350,000 people who were scattered, it sounds as if the only way they are going to have a culture and a future is if they can come back together and live in Sinjar. Is that correct?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Yes. There's not very many Yazidis to begin with. There's only about half a million. And with the 350,000 displaced and in camps, there's also about 70,000 that have returned to Sinjar. And one of her concerns is that if Yazidis are spread all around the world, Yazidism isn't going to survive. And it's not going to stay, and they're not going to keep their traditions and culture going. And it's going to end up being dead like ISIS had intended.
LEANING: We've got it. I think we understand how extraordinary and difficult the road you have set out for yourself is going to be. But also how crucial it is. How absolutely crucial it is for the survival of the Yazidi and probably for your future happiness.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Thank you.
LEANING: And could I just ask you to say something for the people who've sat here and are clearly attached to you? Because they're not making very much noise. Very few people have left. They're listening. They're listening here. These are Harvard students, Harvard professors. What do you want them to remember from today?
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): She would like everybody to remember something that I always tell myself. There is nothing more difficult than having to leave everything you know behind—your family, your religion, your everything behind, just to get to a safer place. So if you can find someplace where you are safe and are able to practice your religion and have family, to just never let that go and never take it for granted.
And you are in a position where you can educate others about what is going on and also help out with what's going on in Iraq and what has happened to people with the genocide. And because you are in a safe place, where you are allowed to voice your opinions and take action on these sorts of injustices, you have more of a force and more power than many of the people in Iraq. So just using your power for good.
LEANING: Using your power for good. I think that is a place we can stop. Because this is a very important place, here, Mem Church. It's ecumenical. I've explained it to Nadia and Shahnaz; it's ecumenical, it has a long history. The men and some women who have died from the Harvard classes and the Harvard faculty in all the wars, their names are there.
So prices have been paid for us to be sitting here in these positions of knowledge and privilege. And I think this encounter, this conversation with you, Nadia, has underscored for us a), how fortunate we are, us in this room, and b), what deep responsibility comes with having good fortune. We are responsible for many things, now. And we need to help you accomplish your justice and your restitution. Thank you for sharing this time with us. Thank you very, very much. Shahnaz, thank you.
MURAD (VIA TRANSLATOR): Thank you.