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- Jasmijn Groot -

As heavily public opinion was breathing in the necks of the refugees who made the perilous journey to Europe in order to escape the terrorist organization Islamic State, just as quickly had it forgotten the issue once the headlines began to report on a new conflict. IS was declared defeated, so we could all move on. But in the process, we have turned our eyes away from those who can't. It is precisely for these reasons that filmmaker Reber Dosky made the documentary Daughters of the Sun. In this intimate film, that you can't take your eyes off of, he follows nine young women, all part of the northern Iraqi Yazidi community, who share their stories with each other in a refugee camp, while at the same time, they try to carry on with their lives. During a special screening in Filmhuis Alkmaar in cooperation with Movies that Matter on April 6, Dosky and six of the women from the documentary talked about the importance of being seen, in an impressive discussion, moderated by Carla van Os, researcher at the Groningen Study Centre for Children, Migration and Law.

As the camera pans over a desert landscape, a group of Yazidi women sets up a jet-black tent together with a man they affectionately call Uncle Hussein. Inside the tent, Hussein lets the women gather by a light. They then take the floor one by one, so that they can talk about their experiences after the attack on Sinjar and its surroundings by IS in August 2014, where they used to live. The Yazidis are an ethnic group, who believe in the benign angel Melek Taus. Their religion was not tolerated by IS. Upon the organisation's arrival in the region, Yazidis were forced to convert to the Islam. The men were executed in cold blood if they refused. The women and girls were separated from their surviving male relatives and trafficked as slaves.

With the lens focused on the women, splashing off the screen as they stand against a black background, the audience can do nothing other than look at them and listen to their words. Every single one of these women were kidnapped out of northern Iraq. They all speak of a long imprisonment in an underground space without daylight. Everyone has been sold like cattle on the marketplace of IS controlled cities to affiliated families, with price tags and all attached to their bodies. They have been traded several times amongst different households and sold several times anew to the highest bidder. One was mainly given household chores, another was expected to please her owner. All were deprived of their freedom and subjected to mental and physical abuse – some for years at an end.

Outside of the tent, the women try to move on with their lives. They all live in the makeshift homes of a refugee camp. They find pastimes in work, such as making clothes, but also in leisure activities in the nearest town. Uncle Hussein is not only their biggest support, he is trying to buy the freedom of another Yazidi girl who has ended up in Turkey. However, he stumbles over the nuanced issues surrounding the issue of the Yazidi community, preventing him from obtaining the necessary funds. From the Iraqi home front, identified bodies are regularly transferred back to the camp, answering the women's questions about whether their relatives are still alive. But the hopes of many, that they would eventually be united with them, are dashed. The women are young, they are alone in the world, they are isolated and finds themselves in limbo.

In a symbolic way, the women, together with their uncle Hussein, burn down the black tent. To destroy the horrors they have shared with each other. To put it all behind him. To turn darkness into a beacon of light, perhaps for what is yet to come. But also to eliminate the colour of IS from their lives, director Dosky adds– IS fighters were always dressed in black. However, the voiceover reminds us: "the wounds heal, but the scars remain."

And then the darkness of the room switched back to light. Six of the nine women in the documentary take their place in front of the audience. Sharing the film with the audience is clearly an emotional affair for them. For us, who could do nothing but listen to the horrors they experienced, as we were almost hypnotised by the darkness of the tent and the theater, it is also poignant to witness these women in the flesh. They have joined director Dosky to draw attention to their story. One of the protagonists, Merhoulba, says: "I tell my story, because many do not dare to speak. To offer a ray of hope, just like in the tent. But also to show that IS has not been able to grind me down and that I have not lost my hope." Another protagonist, Sarab, along with Dosky, adds that they are currently in a kind of no man's land. Despite Uncle Hussein's assistance, they desperately need professional help, which is not available. On top of that, no one wants to take it upon themselves to make up for the education that the women have missed out on. They would love to go back to Sinjar, but as of present, they are unable to, because of the complex underlying relationships. There seems to be no option than to lighten the grey area in our collective memory with this documentary and remind us that an entire generation of this community has been torn apart and traumatized.


Daughters of the Sun is now playing in a number of selected cinemas in the Netherlands. To support the women from the documentary during their stay in the Netherlands, you can make a donation here.


Image: Jos de Putter, Dieptescherpte BV (2023) Daughetrs of the Sun.


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