With Ash on Their Faces

With Ash on Their Faces

Yezidi Women and the Islamic State

By Cathy Otten


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ISIS’s genocidal attack on the Yezidi population in northern Iraq in 2014 brought the world’s attention to the small faith that numbers less than one million worldwide. That summer ISIS massacred Yezidi men and enslaved women and children. More than one hundred thousand Yezidis were besieged on Sinjar Mountain. The US began airstrikes to roll back ISIS, citing a duty to save the Yezidis, but the genocide is still ongoing. Today, over 3,000 Yezidi women and girls remain in the Caliphate where they are bought and sold, and passed between fighters as chattel. But many others have escaped or been released. Otten bases her book on interviews with these survivors, as well as those who smuggled them to safety, painstakingly piecing together their accounts of enslavement. Their deeply moving personal narratives bring alive a human tragedy and challenge common perceptions of Yezidi female victimhood.


This is an intelligent and perceptive book about one of the great tragedies of our age. It is also an inspiring story of resistance and survival that everybody should read.

– Patrick Cockburn

There are two constants in the modern history of genocides: they are recognized too late and their victims, particularly if they are women, are presented as passive sufferers. Cathy Otten’s important and morally urgent book tells the story of an ongoing crime and a history of strength and resistance. Told with great care but with neither sentiment nor sensationalism, With Ash on Their Faces, needs to be read by all those who care about justice—and by those too occupied with global power to care.

– Lyndsey Stonebridge, author of The Judicial Imagination

Otten tells the Yezidis’ remarkable story with a deft and detailed hand in this revealing account of suffering, endurance and survival. An essential read for anyone interested in the plight and resilience of one of Iraq’s most persecuted minorities.

– Anthony Loyd

Woven through with heart-breaking, terrifying accounts of its survivors, and demanding an understanding of their community’s historical persecution, Otten’s searing chronicle of ISIS’ genocide of the Yezidis is compelling and devastatingly necessary.

– Sareta Ashraph, former Analyst, UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria

The best kind of humanist journalism: lucid, transparent, grimly realistic.… (N)o book has covered it better.

– Los Angeles Review of Books


Part I The Fall of Sinjar
1 "You are under our protection"
2 "We fought for six hours and nobody came"
3 "They were killing our men in the valley"
4 "There was almost no life but you could see people moving"
Part II The Women of Kojo
5 "He told me about marriage, he told me about love"
6 "We asked him to destroy her"
7 "I would burn him alive"
8 "All those ISIS motherfuckers are no good"
9 "Bucca was their school"
10 "No one can bring back the dead"
Part III The Accomplice
11 "I was a hunter on Sinjar Mountain"
12 "If it wasn’t for her, I couldn’t have done it"
13 "I see them in my dreams and they are selling me"
14 "I belong to ISIS and my family are infidels"
About the author