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In Northern Iraq, Yazidis Gather To Mark The 5th Anniversary Of An ISIS Massacre


In a remote part of northern Iraq, in the abandoned farm village of Kocho, there was an anguished memorial today. Yazidis gathered to mark the fifth anniversary of an ISIS massacre, part of the militants' attempt to eliminate their religious minority. ISIS killed the men and took women and girls as sex slaves. NPR's Jane Arraf was at the commemoration. And a warning to our listeners - some of the descriptions are disturbing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Foreign language spoken).

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: In the school central to the massacre, there dozens of women dressed in black.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: They're surrounded by photos of their loved ones - More than 400 people taken away from here by ISIS and shot in the surrounding fields. The women move in a circle beating their chests. Individually, each person's story is a tragedy - collectively, it's genocide.

The mourners include the sister of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Nadia Murad. Six of the Murad's brothers were killed here by ISIS. Their mother was killed in a nearby village. ISIS believed Yazidis were infidels to be wiped out. Kurdish forces had retreated, leaving them defenseless. Shelan Shehab was 15 when ISIS forced them into the school.

SHELAN SHEHAB: They brought us in here. This room was full of women. And we were actually looking from these windows, and we saw them putting our dads and brothers and cousins and uncles in kind of - these type of cars. They put them in there, and they started shooting guns.

ARRAF: She never saw them again. Shehab and her sister were taken to Mosul, raped and beaten until they escaped 10 months later.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: Outside, volunteers are digging graves. One of them is Sofian Mando Hammo, a Yazidi activist.

SOFIAN MANDO HAMMO: It's heartbreaking to prepare the grave for around 250 dead bodies. They have been sent to Baghdad for the DNA test. They will bring back it to Kocho again.

ARRAF: There are still bodies unidentified, graves unexcavated. A group of women stand on a ridge overlooking the field where some of them are believed buried, and they call to their loved ones.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: She's calling out the names and singing to her loved ones who have been buried in this mass grave. This might be the saddest song in the whole world.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: Jane Arraf, NPR News, in Kocho, near Sinjar Mountain, Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.