ERBIL, Iraq – They witnessed the slaughter of their families on Mount Sinjar, and then were forced by ISIS into sexual slavery. Now the “Sun Ladies” are ready to fight - for veangeance as well as survival.
Some 2,000 Yazidi women who were captured in the brutal August 2014 attack on their mountain stronghold have escaped and have taken up arms against their former tormentors. Driven by the fresh memories of unspeakable atrocities and the survival of their people, hundreds have signed up to fight the black-clad terrorist army.
“Whenever a war wages, our women end up as the victims.”
- Capt. Khatoon Khider, Yazidi female fighter
“Now we are defending ourselves from the evil; we are defending all the minorities in the region,” Capt. Khatoon Khider told FoxNews.com from the unit’s makeshift base in Duhok, Iraq. “We will do whatever is asked of us.”
Khider is one of 123 Yazidi women who have undergone training and taken their place alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, as they skirmish almost daily with ISIS and prepare for a looming assault on the terrorist army’s Iraqi base in Mosul. The women range in age from 17 to 37, and there are another 500 who are awaiting training.
They call themselves the “Force of the Sun Ladies,” a name that reflects the culture’s solar reverence. Monotheistic and embracing elements of several religions, Yazidi once numbered 650,000 in Iraq, nearly all on the northern Nineveh Plain. ISIS’ genocidal campaign to “purify” Iraq of non-Muslims led to the slaughter of thousands and displaced at least 200,000.
“Women were throwing their children from the mountains and then jumping themselves because it was a faster way to die,” Khider recalled. “Our hands were all tied. We couldn’t do anything about it.
“Whenever a war wages, our women end up as the victims,” she added.
Some managed to escape when coalition forces pounded ISIS from the air and broke its siege of Mount Sinjar. But thousands starved to death or died of heatstroke, and ISIS later systematically killed men, as well as women, deemed too old or too young to be sold into sexual slavery. Boys who could be brainwashed and conscripted as child soldiers were kidnapped.
Women taken as captives were ordered to convert to Islam, subjected to forced marriages and repeatedly raped. Several escaped after being sold off to low-level fighters, while others were ransomed back to their families.
Khider had no experience with weapons or combat when she approached the Peshmerga senior command and proposed the idea of a specialized all-female Yazidi force after having survived the assault on Mount Sinjar. She hopes that in forming the force, the women will be able to protect themselves and inspire other minority groups to follow suit.
“Our elite force is a model for other women in the region,” she said. “We want to thank all the other countries who help us in this difficult time, we want everyone to take up weapons and know how to protect themselves from the evil.”
The women willfully stepped into the line of fire as a support force to the Peshmerga on Nov. 13, the day the Kurdish forces took back their hometowns and villages from ISIS occupation. The newly formed unit engaged in direct combat and later helped clear streets and buildings rigged with explosives.
As with the Christians, Kurds and Iraqi military, they know the imminent battle to retake Mosul will be the real test. Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul is the terrorist group’s regional base. Most of the Yazidi women who escaped ISIS were held in Mosul and can help provide valuable intelligence, as well as boots on the ground. And fighting to free those left behind provides added motivation.
“We have a lot of our women in Mosul being held as slaves,” Khider said. “Their families are waiting for them. We are waiting for them. The liberation might help bring them home.”
ISIS has taken girls as young as 8 and traded them at the market for a few dollars. One mother who gave birth while an ISIS slave told FoxNews.com she was not permitted by her captor to feed her newborn son. When the baby cried, the Muslim militant beheaded him, she said.
“It’s important to us to be able to protect our dignity and honor,” a 19-year-old “Sun Lady” named Mesa told FoxNews.com. “My family is very proud; they encouraged me to join.
“I’m very proud to protect my people,” she said. “And after all that has happened to us Yazidis, we are no longer afraid.”
But one prospect frightens the Yazidi women as they prepare to fight ISIS. Yazidi boys kidnapped from Mount Sinjar have been drugged and brainwashed, and could now be fighting their mothers and sisters under the black flag of ISIS.
“Now there will be terrorist Yazidis, something that never used to be,” Khider added. “But we have many missions left. We will do whatever is needed.”
Mylee Cardenas contributed to this report.
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay