GENEVA, February 23, 2016 — Professor Dr. Dr. Jan Ilhan Kizilhan is a German psychologist who has helped to repair the shattered and broken lives of countless Yezidi women who have suffered at the hands of ISIS.  Professor Kizilhan, who was born in Turkey and is himself Yezidi, brought 1,100 of these women to Germany for intensive treatment. Today at our 8th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, in front of human rights victims, dissidents and activists as well as hundreds of members of the public, he accepted the 2016 International Women’s Rights Award for his life-saving work.

Below are some extracts from Professor Kizilhan’s address:

On the horror of ISIS crimes:

“I tried to understand simply as a person: as a father who was facing these women and saw them cry, their bodies convulse, full of shame and pain – such as the eight-year-old Rinda who looked into my eyes, hoping that I could explain to her why she had been sold eight times, raped and tortured hundreds of times for more than ten months. I could not give her an answer to that WHY. Why is the human soul still so grim in the 21st century, so dark and evil?”

“This terror surmounts our human understanding of barbarity and suffering; it affects thousands of innocent people.”

“Not only do they kill and enslave people, they also destroy cultural heritage sites, monuments and statues that are part of our human memory and therefore our identity. Thus, they also want to kill our past so that mankind loses its collective identity. I wonder how full of hatred against our values they have to be to even destroy “rocks” with such fanaticism.”

“A 26-year-old woman whom I examined in northern Iraq told me that she had three children. She said her two-year-old daughter had been killed by ISIS and started to cry. Her six-year-old son was sitting behind his mother, with his hands and feet trembling but quiet apart from that. Suddenly, her five-year-old daughter came up to me with a smartphone, showing me a lovely-looking two-year-old girl: her sister Lozin. Like nearly all the other women I’ve treated, the mother told me about the ISIS attack, her abduction, enslavement and raping. When I asked why her daughter had been killed, she reported that the 5 year old girl had been bought by an ISIS emir. She had to read the Qu’ran every day. But since her mother tongue was Kurdish and her Arabic wasn’t good, she made mistakes while reading and couldn’t recite everything. Thus, in order to punish the mother, two-year-old Lozin was put into a tin box in the blazing heat. The mother was not allowed to retrieve Lozin from the box for seven days. Otherwise, the ISIS terrorist threatened, he would kill the other two children. In the evenings, Lozin was allowed to eat something, but would immediately throw it up. After seven days, this ISIS terrorist retrieved Lozin from the box and immersed her in ice-cold water, whereupon one of her eyes dropped out. Two hours later, the same terrorist returned and battered Lozin’s back several times until her backbone broke. Two days later, Lozin died. When seeing her little body, he lifted it up into the air and dropped it to the floor. He said, ‘This is how all disbelievers have to die!'”

On the psychology of ISIS

“These culprits obviously lose any kind of individuality. They become non-persons and kill themselves and others for an imaginary higher goal of an unbelievable, non-discussable and infallible belief.”

“They even believe that by killing their victims, they rescue them from the “misery of disbelief” […] In the end, these terrorists have left behind any reality known to us […] Feelings such as empathy with the others’ mourning and sorrow are suppressed to an extent that they can even kill children or behead and bury hundreds of people alive.”

“As we can see with ISIS terrorism in Iraq and Syria, such apocalyptic notions result in a dehumanization of humans. Within this conceptual framework, the others become non-humans and have to be killed.”

“On 25th January, we were able to talk on the phone to some Yezidi children who didn’t want to go home and (like ISIS members) said that the Yezidis were disbelievers and had to die. They reported 270 Yezidi children to be among them and that all of them would fight for ‘true faith’.”

Below is Professor Kizilhan’s full speech:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for the invitation and the opportunity to talk to you at such an important conference.

After the terrorist attack by ISIS and its brutal and immane activities in Syria and Iraq, the German state of Baden-Württemberg has set up a program with the aim of bringing 1,000 women and children who had been in the hands of ISIS to Germany for medical treatment.

As the medical-therapeutic head of this program, I talked to, examined and interviewed more than 1,400 people last year. Many of them told me stories that were hard to believe. Whenever I thought that it couldn’t get any worse, another girl would approach me and tell me about experiences that were even more gruesome.

As a scientist, I can classify these crimes along various political, sociological and psychological theories. But I tried to understand simply as a person: as a father who was facing these women and saw them cry, their bodies convulse, full of shame and pain – such as the eight-year-old Rinda who looked into my eyes, hoping that I could explain to her why she had been sold eight times, raped and tortured hundreds of times for more than ten months. I could not give her an answer to that WHY. Why is the human soul still so grim in the 21st century, so dark and evil?

In Europe, we hoped after the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” that such ferociousness would not occur again. But exactly this scenario of terror, fear and horror has returned to Paris later that same year. Obviously, the terrorists’ war is not limited to Iraq and Syria any more, where hundreds of thousands of people are persecuted, taken hostage, tortured and raped. The terrorists have managed to spark fear in Europe. With this perfidious strategy, they want all of us to be afraid. They want to induce political chaos and destroy our achievements of freedom, democracy, philosophy, morality and ethics – that is, the way we live and want to live.

The western world and the regional actors in the Near and Middle East have underestimated ISIS due to their political and economic interests; many intelligence services made use of ISIS and allowed it to become the grueling “Islamic State” it is today. However, ISIS is different from Islamist terrorist organizations as we know them. It pursues a totalitarian-fascist ideology, utilizes Islamic symbols and proceeds with an as yet unknown destructiveness. It distributes its form of terrorism across the whole world and doesn’t take any pity on people who don’t submit to them. The number of potential perpetrators and supporters is huge; terror has many religious and ideological faces; it utilizes modern media and creates transnational networks; civilian casualties are taken into account, even intended; the terror of ISIS aims at spreading fear and horror; attackers kill themselves on an unprecedented scale, maltreat, rape, and sell young girls, behead people in front of rolling cameras and post the films online. This terror surmounts our human understanding of barbarity and suffering; it affects thousands of innocent people.

ISIS started this destruction as early as three years ago in Iraq and Syria. Not only do they kill and enslave people, they also destroy cultural heritage sites, monuments and statues that are part of our human memory and therefore our identity. Thus, they also want to kill our past so that mankind loses its collective identity. I wonder how full of hatred against our values they have to be to even destroy “rocks” with such fanaticism.

I have to admit that the death of men, women and children is nothing new in the course of wars and violent conflicts in the history of mankind. The mere fact that violence is tolerated and applied in a society as a means to an end changes its nature and character – from a feature of the individual to a feature of the community as a whole. Regarded historically and presently, violence has a long-lasting effect on how a society develops, how it handles its conflicts and how its children and grandchildren are likely to act. If physical violence prevails in the long term – and this is the case in the Near East –, then it has such a long-lasting influence on societies that a culture of violence emerges. It has left its traces in nationalist ideologies of the current countries in the region as well as in their religion: a patriarchal perspective in conjunction with the exertion of violence in all areas of life. This leaves a stamp on the actions of individuals and makes them distrustful towards any member of their societies. Each group might have been victim, but also perpetrator. Therefore, it is of no surprise that Islamicised terrorism enjoys some degree of sympathy and support in the Muslim populace, since there are no other actors whom to trust either. It seizes this “opportunity” to reinforce this distrust and instability with pure force.

Why this negation of humanity?

Violence that is designed to kill people requires an explanation about the ones who exert it as well as about their victims. Since life is seen as being something sacred and this saintliness is violated by the exertion of physical violence, the offenders need a principle in order to justify these immoral and inhuman actions.

The ISIS terrorists legitimise their deeds with the Islamic religion and justify it with (among other things) their own humiliation by their own or imperialistic countries.

Thus, a 26-year-old woman whom I examined in northern Iraq told me that she had three children. She said her two-year-old daughter had been killed by ISIS and started to cry. Her six-year-old son was sitting behind his mother, with his hands and feet trembling but quiet apart from that. Suddenly, her five-year-old daughter came up to me with a smartphone, showing me a lovely-looking two-year-old girl: her sister Lozin. Like nearly all the other women I’ve treated, the mother told me about the ISIS attack, her abduction, enslavement and raping. When I asked why her daughter had been killed, she reported that the 5 year old girl had been bought by an ISIS emir. She had to read the Qu’ran every day. But since her mother tongue was Kurdish and her Arabic wasn’t good, she made mistakes while reading and couldn’t recite everything. Thus, in order to punish the mother, two-year-old Lozin was put into a tin box in the blazing heat. The mother was not allowed to retrieve Lozin from the box for seven days. Otherwise, the ISIS terrorist threatened, he would kill the other two children. In the evenings, Lozin was allowed to eat something, but would immediately throw it up. After seven days, this ISIS terrorist retrieved Lozin from the box and immersed her in ice-cold water, whereupon one of her eyes dropped out. Two hours later, the same terrorist returned and battered Lozin’s back several times until her backbone broke. Two days later, Lozin died. When seeing her little body, he lifted it up into the air and dropped it to the floor. He said, “This is how all disbelievers have to die!”

This ISIS terrorist refers to an explanation pattern that is well-known, that is that disbelievers have to convert or be killed. He categorizes the Yezidis as an extremely negative group and therefore negates their humanity. In this terror group’s perception, all disbelievers, such as Yezidis, Christians, Jews, Yarsan etc. are evil, malicious, immoral and inhuman. This is the most simple, most effective and most all-encompassing way to explain why humans were and still are to be killed.

These culprits obviously lose any kind of individuality. They become non-persons and kill themselves and others for an imaginary higher goal of an unbelievable, non-discussable and infallible belief.

Suicide and murder of humans becomes the obsession of “a matter of course”. The evilness of one’s own actions is twisted in a dysfunctional way to be good. On another, more delusional mental level, they even believe that by killing their victims, they rescue them from the “misery of disbelief”. The culprit, who could be killed himself, is infected with the belief that he thus becomes a ‘martyr’, that is immortal. In the end, these terrorists have left behind any reality known to us. To kill the “disbelievers” in a suicide attack is a goal that makes any dialogue with or approach to these people impossible, since they see death as liberation and believe that they will go to paradise. Feelings such as empathy with the others’ mourning and sorrow are suppressed to an extent that they can even kill children or behead and bury hundreds of people alive.

As we can see with ISIS terrorism in Iraq and Syria, such apocalyptic notions result in a dehumanization of humans. Within this conceptual framework, the others become non-humans and have to be killed.

If consistently and systematically applied, this ideology also has an effect on children who have been captured and trained as child soldiers. ISIS abducts Yezidi, Christian, Shiite and other children from various ethnic and religious groups and teaches them Islamic religion and the use of firearms, until they are obedient and fanatical enough to be used as cannon fodder on the front line.

On 25th January, we were able to talk on the phone to some Yezidi children who didn’t want to go home and (like ISIS members) said that the Yezidis were disbelievers and had to die. They reported 270 Yezidi children to be among them and that all of them would fight for “true faith”.

The children are drilled and exploited in similar ways as child soldiers in Africa. They are educated to become immane and are finally supposed to take action against their own families. In the camps, they are “trained” to beat, crucify or bury other children alive if they do not comply with ISIS rules. The ones who are not sent into combat serve as footmen for the emirs, as guards or as spies in the villages and camps in which Yezidis or other religious minorities are being held captive.

Some children who have been released changed significantly. They defend Islam and ISIS although they may be Yezidis; they threaten to decapitate their own families unless they join ISIS. The children are supposed to carry the pathological ideology of ISIS into their own society and hollow it out from within.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Within this project, I also got to know many strong girls and women. They have gone through hell, experienced the worst a human being can experience. Nevertheless, they fight for survival, confronting these horrifying memories every single day; they fight for hope even though the question of why this has happened to them remains unanswered. They want their future back, and they want to regain faith in humankind. Death and the desire for safety, closeness and love go hand in hand. Therefore, we have to help the people who had to endure this suffering.

Resistance against war and genocide as well as accommodating traumatized refugees are among the core values of human dignity we should advocate together in the western world.

I would have liked to see us helping even more people who had to experience these atrocities. Unfortunately, only 1,100 people could be brought to Germany for medical treatment. However, every life is a life that has to be rescued. I haven’t lost hope for peace in the Near East and hope for many projects so that – especially locally – many hundreds of thousands of people can receive the help they desperately need.

Thank you very much!

Information and multimedia on the 2016 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

Speakers

Program

Twitter | Hashtag: #GS16

Facebook

Photos (high resolution)

Facebook Photos (quick uploads)

Blog Post Summaries of the Speeches

Webcast: Live on Feb. 23rd from 9:15 am to 5:30 pm CET at www.genevasummit.org

Videos (to be posted after the panels)

Media Coverage of the Geneva Summit