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Finding Martine

Finding Martine: A Former ISIS Captive is Reunited With Her Father

In 2014, 8-year old Martine* was living with her family in the Yazidi town of Khanasoor in Northern Iraq. Up until that point, the most notable event in her life had been completing the third grade. Little did she know that her life would soon take a nightmarish turn. On August 3rd of that year, ISIS fighters overtook the region, killing hundreds in their initial assault and thousands more as their captives. When the dust settled, more than 10,000 women and children had been abducted and transported to ISIS strongholds in Syria and Northern Iraq.

Martine’s family attempted to flee, but most were captured. Only her father, Khudaid, and her brother were able to escape into the nearby mountains, joining more than 50,000 refugees left to fend for themselves in the harsh wilderness, without food, water, or medical care. “I witnessed many children die of starvation, thirst, fear, and cold weather at night, and hot weather during the day,” said Khudaid. After some time, Kurdish forces, supported by U.S. airstrikes, were able to create a safe corridor that allowed those who had fled to the mountains to return home. What they found devastated them: everyone they had left behind had been taken or was dead.

Martine was among those ripped from her home. The fall of Khanasoor began her four-year nightmare as a captive of ISIS. Initially, she and many other captives were held in an abandoned school in Raqqa where they were raped by ISIS fighters and forced to convert to Islam. After a month, most of her family became separated. “They put me with my older sister on one bus, and my other sister with the girls, and my brother with the boys,” she recalled. “The boys were sent to be laborers. The girls were to be sold into sexual slavery.”

Khudaid knew nothing about the fate of his family. He and his son relocated to Ainkawa (the Christian suburb of Erbil), Khudaid finding a job in a restaurant to support himself and his son. He never stopped searching for the rest of his family, traveling to areas where people were fleeing the conflict. He carried photographs of his family and asked if anyone had seen them. “They would say, I have seen this girl, but her name was not Martine, it was Mariam,” he recalled.

Meanwhile, Martine’s nightmare continued as she was bought and sold by different ISIS members, shuttled from village to village across Syria and Iraq. Living with an ISIS member’s family in Mosul, Martine was repeatedly raped and sexually abused. She recalls being forced to wear a hijab and, when she refused, she was beaten with a hose. She was also forced to read and memorize the Quran and, when her captor felt she wasn’t making enough effort, she was punished. “He did beat me up and would break the stick on me to three pieces,” she said.

Although her native tongue was Kurdish, Martine was only allowed to speak Arabic. Eventually she would forget her mother language. “I was not afraid, but I was alone without my family,” Martine recalls, “And those people didn’t like me or treat me right.” During the day she would weep and at night, she would dream of being reunited with her family. Escaping wasn’t an option, as Martine had no way of contacting her family — no safe haven to run to. “I didn’t have any phone numbers,” she said. “I knew how to escape but no phone numbers.”

As the war with ISIS shifted and ISIS began to lose territory, Martine eventually found her way to a refugee camp in Syria where she was recognized by someone who knew her family. The contact reached out to Khudaid, sending him a photo of a young girl — Martine — wearing a hijab. Her face and hair covered, only Martine’s eyes were visible in the photo. “It was very hard to recognize her and especially in the clothes she was wearing,” Khudaid said.

The night before he was to be reunited with his daughter, Khudaid was unable to sleep. He hoped it would be her, but there was no way to be certain. “We were sitting down and there were couches and women there and this poor girl was wearing a red head cover,” he said. “I looked at her because I knew the other women there weren’t her (parents) since they were older, and she looked at me and we both cried.”

Khudaid had found his daughter.

Now twelve, Martine is living with her father and brother, but her sisters, brother and mother remain in captivity. The Nazarene Fund is doing everything we can to reunite Martine and Khudaid with their missing family members. We are also supporting the family and providing counseling for Martine as she navigates her recovery. Our ultimate goal for this family is to help them emigrate to a new home where they can start to rebuild their lives.

*Both Martine and her father, Khudaid, insisted on using their real names and undoctored images for this story. They want to put a face to this tragedy. They want the world to see them.