A girl with Kalashnikov

5 November 2021 | Stories of survivors, Video

A picture of a young girl walking down the road in the mountains with Kalashnikov on her back went viral. It was taken in August 2014.

At the time, terrorists from the so-called Islamic State were carrying out a genocide against the Yazidis in Sinjar. They murdered thousands of men, women and children. Men were often trying to defend their families against the fundamentalists. They were mostly killed on the spot, similarly to elderly women and infants that ISIS didn’t need. Their aim was to abduct women and children whom they used in a cruel way. Young women and girls were forced into sexual slavery. They were sold on slave markets or exchanged as “gifts”. Boys were trained for suicide attacks. For the terrorists, children were of lesser value than adults and their death was of lesser loss.

Hundreds of thousands rushed to flee. They didn’t know where to go. They were simply walking forward, in the opposite direction to where ISIS had come from. They took with them what they could carry, mostly money and documents. Very few took clothes, food or water. They were convinced that help would come soon. But it didn’t. Many refugees died of thirst and exhaustion. They were marching to the mountains in scorching heat of fifty degrees Celsius.

After several days, those who were lucky reached the border with Syria from where they were transported to Iraqi Kurdistan. Over there, they settled in the newly-built camps for internally displaced people (IDP). They were meant to spend only several weeks in the camp’s tents. Seven years have passed, and many of them still live there. Many people remained on the Mount Sinjar’s plateau where a large IDP was created as well.

The pictures from those days show the magnitude of tragedy that took place on those hot days of August. Among them, there is an iconic photo of a young girl carrying a machine gun on her back and a bottle of water in her hand. It appeared many times on social media, in articles, and it was painted on walls as a mural as well. Many wondered who that girl was. What was the story behind that picture?

I also wanted to know the answer, so I decided to use my contacts to find her. I managed to do that relatively fast. Then I waited for another trip to Iraq so I could talk to her.

The girl’s name is Shaha. At the time that memorable picture was taken, she was twelve years old. Today she is a grown-up woman. She lives with her husband, son and extended family in one of the IDPs. I visited her in October. She immediately agreed to a short interview. She said that despite thousands of people seeing the picture around the world, only one local TV station came to do a reportage about her.

We spoke about many things. I wanted to get to know her, to find out more about those events, and to ask her about her dreams. You can listen to her story in the movie on our YouTube channel and at the beginning of this article. Her dream is that more people will hear about the genocide carried out against the Yazidis and about the tragedy that befell her community.

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