Aurora Mardiganian and Farida Khalaf were young women who were kidnapped during genocide, held as slaves, including sex slavery, escaped, and learned to live with their history of being abused. Aurora was 14 in 1915; Farida was 16 in 2013. Does a young woman ever really recover from such an ordeal?
Aurora Mardiganian was an Armenian girl who lived with her parents, brothers and sisters in the town of Tchemesh-Gedzak, 20 miles (32 km) north of Harpoot, Turkey. (Her name was actually Arshalus, which translates as “The Light of the Morning” or in Roman mythology, Aurora, goddess of the dawn.) When the Armenian genocide began in April 1915, she was 14. She, her mother, sisters, and younger brothers were separated from her father and older brother, who were killed. On Ottoman deportation orders, the gendarmes (police) marched the women westward out of town towards Arabkir. One night an infamous tribe of Kurds, the Aghja Daghi Kurds, kidnapped Aurora and several other girls.
In her “autobiography”, Ravished Armenia, she recounted the beatings, whippings, and rape that she and hundreds of others girls endured during captivity by various groups (Kurdish bandits, Turkish gendarmes, Chechens, Arabs, and even a few German soldiers). The word rape was not used at that time in “polite society,” but her descriptions of how the young women were “forced to be concubines”, “molested”, “violated,” or most commonly, “ravished”, make it clear what happened. Aurora spent a year in captivity, and then another year on the run, evading her tormentors. Between the beginning of her ordeal in 1915 until finally arriving at Erzerum in 1917, she had travelled about 1,400 miles (2,250 km) in a circuitous route, mostly on foot. The Russian army had recently captured the city, and the ABCFM mission was back in business. Aurora caught a glimpse of Dr. Frederick MacCallum, a Canadian missionary, and approached him for help. He was familiar with her story. He’d been busy “buying” young women back from their captors for $1 each, using ACASR money for the purpose. As Aurora put it, they were sold willingly to MacCallum because “knowing the Russians would liberate these captive Christian girls if they found them, were glad to sell them at this price rather than risk losing them without collecting anything.”
Dr. MacCallum and the Armenian General Andranik Ozanian arranged for 16-year-old Aurora to go to Tiflis, Russia [now Tbilisi,Georgia], where she was met by ACASR representatives. They took her to Petrograd, Christiania, Halifax, and ultimately, New York.
Farida Khalaf’s story is horrifically similar to Aurora’s. Farida, a 16-year-old a Yazidi girl, was kidnapped in August 2013 in her village of Kocho, Iraq by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria recently determined that ISIS is committing genocide against the Yazidi people, and that sex slavery is being used as control and as a recruitment tool. The ISIS invaders in Kocho separated and killed the men, including Farida’s father and older brother. The women, girls and boys were taken away to Raqqa, Syria to be bought and sold, and physically and sexually abused. During her captivity, she was raped and beaten—-once, as CBC reporter Nahlah Ayed noted, “so badly she lost sight in one eye and couldn’t walk for two months.” She repeatedly tried to escape, and after four month managed to make it back to northern Iraq, re-connecting with her mother and younger brother.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria recently determined that ISIS is committing genocide against the Yazidi people, and that sex slavery was part of it. In fact, the New York Times reported that it’s being used as a recruitment tool “to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.” One rapist told his young victim that “according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever” and that by raping her, “he is drawing [himself] closer to God.”
Recovery from Sex Slavery
Farida is one of the fortunate victims, if fortunate is the right term. She survived; she escaped; and she and what is left of her family were chosen to relocate to Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, where the local government is committed to providing traumatized Yazidi women with housing and the therapy they so desperately need. It’s a huge task. German psychologist Jan Ilhan Kizilhan acknowledges that these young women must not only deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but need to somehow restore their faith in humanity. He is hopeful that, with the support they’re receiving, it can happen with a couple of years. Now, in 2017, as a 20-year old, Farida is recovering. She has learned German and has written a book. Let’s hope her future is brighter.
Psychotherapy was in its infancy in 1917, so Aurora wouldn’t have received any help for PTSD. She did get some resettlement help, but at a tremendous cost, which I’ll write about in another post.
Sadly, on January 2, 2017, Yazda, a charitable organization whose mandate is to help Yazidi survivors of sexual slavery, abuse and torture by ISIS, was shut down by the Kurdistan Regional Government. Yazda’s executive director Murad Ismael stated that more than 600 traumatized women and girls in refugee camps are now left without therapy, support and medical services. It’s unknown how many Yazidis are still being held as slaves but recent estimates are in the thousands.
In October, the Canadian parliament unanimously adopted a motion to support the resettlement of a number of Yazidi women and girls. The commitment was to be fulfilled within four months, which is February 2017. The deadline is fast approaching and the need is great. Perhaps Canada and other “safe countries” should follow the example of Baden-Wurttemberg. Soon.