DUHOK GOVERNORATE, Iraq -- For over three years, 12-year-old Dalshad Elyas Haji was a slave. The boy, a member of the Kurdish Yazidi religious minority, was abducted by the so-called Islamic State group in 2014 and sold off. Now, he lives in a refugee camp in northern Iraq's Duhok Governorate with his 31-year-old father Elyas, who is striving to reconnect with his boy through layers of trauma and the baffling changes they have wrought.
It was the morning of Aug. 3, 2014 when Elyas was startled by a loud blast that echoed through the town of Qahtaniyah, in northern Iraq west of the city of Sinjar and close to the Syrian border. They were under attack by IS. Elyas called his wife Nadiya, who was at a relative's house, but couldn't reach her. Nadiya, Dalshad, and three of his siblings had tried to escape to the Sinjar Mountains, but were captured by IS fighters.
The five family members were bussed to the strategic city of Tal Afar, and were held captive in a large hall there until October. They were given food but not blankets, and had to sleep on the bare floor. The five were then moved to Mosul, where Dalshad's two elder brothers were held back while the rest of the family was transferred to Syria. The older boys were never heard from again.
Later, "a man named Abdulrahman bought us and locked us up in a house," Dalshad tells the Mainichi Shimbun.
Abdulrahman, who carried around two guns, took Nadiya as his wife and slave. Dalshad was forced to speak Arabic, an unfamiliar language to him, when talking to his mother and little sister Aliya, now 8, as the family's native Kurmanji Kurdish dialect was prohibited. The three family members were beaten when they refused to perform Islamic prayers, and they had to eat a terrible-tasting spice bread at every meal. Abdulrahman often attacked Dalshad's family as "Kafir," an insulting term meaning nonbelievers. The three cried themselves to sleep each night, covered with a single thin blanket.
One day, Nadiya was resold to another person. "Take care," she said in Kurmanji as she bid a tearful farewell to her children. Aliya was also sold off, and Dalshad was bought again by a different couple. This couple, who sold slaves back to their families, contacted Elyas. He managed to raise $12,000 from relatives, nongovernmental organizations and other sources to get his son back. They were finally reunited last December. Elyas hugged Dalshad, who had become rail-thin. "It's me, father," Dalshad said in an Arabic dialect.
Dalshad stopped going to the school in the refugee camp after two months because he could not speak Kurdish. Elyas feels Dalshad smiles less than before and has become short tempered, though he can now speak Kurdish without any trouble. He sometimes sees Dalshad sitting up at night, his face blank.
The damage from the boy's ordeal has ostensibly been mended through psychiatric counseling, but when asked what he wants to be in the future, he answers, "An officer in the Iraqi army, so I can kill any IS fighters that come."
Aliya had returned to her father's side a little earlier, but Nadiya remains missing. Elyas, who says he still loves Nadiya but remarried because the children "need a mother," welcomed Dalshad back.
The 12-year-old says, "I've grown and become stronger, but I do want to see my mother again."
The father peers into his son's face as he talks, wishing his beloved child will recover, bit by bit. The scene feels somehow awkward, and yet heartwarming at the same time.
(Japanese original by Kohei Chiwaki, Osaka City News Department)