Near-death at Mt. Sinjar

As we heard the gunshot sounds and woke up, I knew a terrible day was coming.

It was a dark, hot summer night and there was no electricity. Therefore, people in my small, crowded village, located in the southeast of the city of Sinjar, were sleeping on the rooftops of their houses. My mother and I had been sitting at home and waiting for my father, who went with some friends to see soldiers around the town, when I felt sleepy and went to bed. After sleeping for only two hours, I was suddenly awakened without any idea of what was going on. I convinced myself that I had dreamed, so I went back to bed and tried to close my eyes again.

In a minute, the villagers were all awake and screaming, so I realized that something was wrong. Because I did not know what I should do, I just hurried to see if my father was back home. I was also afraid of the darkness, gun sounds and people’s voices, but I was a little more relaxed when I saw my parents in their bed.

Then we were informed that ISIS ( Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) forces were attacking the city, and local soldiers were firing back. We immediately went downstairs and waited to know what would happen. After several hours, the situation was turning worse. The gunfire separated everywhere and at that moment, all we wished was to see the sun again. Finally, it was the morning, but the attack was continuing and getting worse. We ate breakfast with my uncles’ families, whose houses were next to ours. Even though it was our last meal there, we enjoyed eating it together under the sound of guns before receiving unexpected news.

Someone knocked at the door, and my mother opened it. It was our neighbour who was a soldier and was fighting during that night. He was breathless and couldn’t speak. After a minute of silence, he cried: “What are you doing here? ISIS is coming toward us!”

My mother was shocked and could not believe that we had to leave the village as soon as possible. She was screaming:  “Hurry up! Let’s go, or we will be captured!”

We were all shocked and were not able to even think. So some of us quickly got in the car, but others were left. At that moment, I was imagining what if ISIS captured us. Or thinking about my brother, who was not able to come with us because the car was small and we were more than fifteen people. I was also thinking about ISIS violence that I had watched on TV, and I was sure we would be treated the same way, and even worse.

We left without looking behind us, and I just took an old picture of my grandmother and my school cards.

The roads were all crowded with people and vehicles. My father left us somewhere around the village and went back to bring those who were left at home. I was just running through unknown routes. My eyes were full of tears and I was hardly breathing, while I looked behind to see if my father’s car was coming. 

Eventually, we all reached an abandoned village close to the Sinjar Mountain. We stopped there to take a rest and eat something, because it was lunch time. But ISIS was expanding their control, and they eventually arrived at that village as well.

We were sitting behind a hill when they started separating men and women from each other. We were so frightened, so we just looked silently and did not move. Then they started shooting at men. At that moment, I closed my eyes to not see what they did, but I was able to hear women and children screaming and the sound of gunshots that I will never forget.

After that, they put all the females and young people in buses and took them. We kept silent until they all left the area, and then we decided to leave that place as quickly as possible. However, there was no road to take us out — except the mountain, which was our only chance to escape death. Therefore, we went to a place that was closer to the mountain, but because the water was scarce there and the temperature was over 40 degrees Celsius, we had to wait until midnight to climb. We were also not familiar with that place.

We tried to take a rest, so everyone slept in a tractor truck for two to three hours. But I stayed awake and looked after my two little sisters, until my older uncle told us that it was time to start hiking. It was 1:00 A.M. We only had two bottles of water, and nothing to eat. When we started climbing, I thought that I would give up and not continue, because I had never before climbed even a small hill.  However, while we were climbing, I imagined that I was one of those climbers I had watched on TV programs.

After nineteen hours of walking, we arrived on the northern side of the mountain, where we were not sure if we would escape or not, but where we believed there was still a better chance for salvation. We settled in a small, abandoned village where there were hundreds of other people who also ran away that night. We stayed with an elderly woman who brought food to the mountain because she was from the north, and she got there with her son’s car. We spent six days there. At night, we slept on rocks, and in the morning we stood in a long line, waiting our turn to get a bottle of water (because there was only a small spring of water, but hundreds of people). ISIS attacked the mountain everyday with different types of guns, but some local fighters responded. Sometimes, we climbed those highlands because we were afraid that ISIS might be able to reach that village as well.

Ultimately, we were informed that a humanitarian corridor was opened along the Iraqi-Syrian border. Because we did not have a car to drive to Syria, having left our own car in the south, we decided to get there by walking. But before starting, a friend of my uncle told us that he would take us with his tipper truck. There were more than fifty people inside the tipper. Even though we were close to the Syrian border, it took us fourteen hours to reach there — because the vehicle was so old, slow, and full of human beings.

I thought I would be pleased if I left the mountain and reached Syria, where I had always dreamed of traveling. But I felt the opposite. My eyes were looking behind to the Sinjar Mountain where I left all my dreams and hopes, and I was not able to stop thinking about those people who were killed or kidnapped. 

The journey has taught me one thing that I will remember forever. It is not easy to forget and start from the beginning. But life won’t stop in any situation, and we have to keep going. No matter what we face, we will always be able to wake up and start over.