Members of Iraq’s Shia Turkmen community have been the targets of brutal persecution by so-called Islamic State (IS). One woman, who asked not to be named, told BBC Turkish’s Mahmut Hamsici about her ordeal at the hands of militants from the Sunni jihadist group.
Warning: Some readers may find details of this story upsetting
“We lived in the al-Alam district of the city of Tikrit before IS came into our lives.
I am a Shia Turkmen and my husband is a Sunni Arab. He was an imam and a well-respected person in our community. The mosque where he would lead the prayers was just next to our house.
We didn’t know who was a Sunni and who was a Shia before. Nobody would talk about that. There wasn’t any kind of hostility in our community.
We had a big house in which a few young female Turkmen teachers lived as my tenants. One of them had a baby.
I have two children – a girl and a boy. They attended the same school where the teachers worked. Every day, they would go to school together.
‘They took my husband’
When IS entered Tikrit [in June 2014], they executed many soldiers at Camp Speicher.
Some soldiers who escaped the massacre began arriving in our town after crossing the River Tigris [which flows between al-Alam and the city centre]. Then IS came after them.
There were Turkmens among those escaping. A few of them took refuge in my house when they realised that I was also a Turkmen.
We helped some of them to flee by dressing them in women’s clothes. My husband hid three soldiers – who were Shia from Basra – in the mosque.
One day, IS came at three o’clock in the morning. They had realised that we were helping soldiers.
They found the youths from Basra immediately and killed them. They took my husband, too. I haven’t received any news from him since then.
They came back again later, blew up our house and told us to leave.
I started to walk with my two children, the Turkmen teachers and the baby, my stepdaughter – the daughter of my husband’s other wife. But later, IS stopped us and took us to a garage along with other women from the area whom they had rounded up.
‘One by one, the girls died’
We were about 22 women and children. They separated the girls from the women who were married. There were five girls and they started to rape them in front of our eyes.
“My big sister, please help us, save us from them,” the girls cried.
I tried to cover them with my body and said to the men: “I swear on the Koran that they are not virgins, I am begging in the name of Allah, please don’t do it.”
One of them hit me and another one bit my shoulder really hard.
They raped my stepdaughter, who was 18 years old, as well. She died immediately afterwards.
The other girls were in their early 20s. The men raped and hit them at the same time. They were bleeding profusely. One by one, they too died.
I looked at the faces of the men raping them and realised that I knew two of them.
They were from a Sunni Arab village close to al-Alam. Many people had joined IS from there, but many other Sunni Arab villages strongly resisted IS.
‘I didn’t feel a scorpion bite me’
We were then left alone in the garage.
There was nothing to eat. I lost so much weight that a crust formed over my face. Our brains stopped working properly. Once, a scorpion bit me and I didn’t even feel it.
IS left an old man in charge of the garage. But he liked us a lot and would give us water after the rapes.
Once, he brought a goat and milked it for our children. It was so nice for my children that they felt it was like sugar.
One day they came to us, divided the group into two and took one group away.
I stayed with my two children, one woman and the baby of the Turkmen teacher, who had died after being raped.
“They will take you too, you must leave here straight away,” the old man told us one night.
He took us to a road out of the area, and went back to the garage.
Later, I would find out that IS had executed the old man because he helped us run away.
‘The baby died in my arms’
We started walking through a desert area. It was raining, everywhere was muddy and we didn’t have proper clothes on us. There was nothing to eat, so we had to eat grass.
The teacher’s baby, who was wrapped in a blanket, died in my arms on the way.
After five days, we reached the Maktab Khalid area of Kirkuk. We had managed to escape.
I initially stayed at my old aunt’s house in the city.
But the family of the young woman who escaped with me rejected her, saying that it was a matter of honour for them. She is now in Iran and getting psychiatric treatment.
Later, I searched for my husband but could not find any trace of him.
I also looked in vain for the graves of my stepdaughter and the old man who helped me escape.
The families of the victims are to be found everywhere. They are united in sorrow.
My children still feel bad. My son has been very silent since witnessing the events in the garage.
I eventually tried to return to al-Alam, but I could not manage it. There was nothing left.
I am now trying to survive on the money I earn from caring for an old woman.
At the moment, I am just living for my children.”