Jan Kizilhan, Psychologist and Trauma Therapist HARDtalk


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Jan Kizilhan, Psychologist and Trauma Therapist

Zeinab Badawi speaks to psychologist Jan Kizilhan, a Yazidi Kurd living in Germany who has helped bring over a thousand persecuted women from Iraq to Europe to begin a new life.


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Welcome to HARDtalk, with me, Zeinab Badawi.

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The so-called Islamic State may be coming under pressure

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in both Syria and Iraq, but still, accounts emerge

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of atrocities carried out by them.

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The minority Yazidi community has been amongst one of the most

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persecuted groups of people, living mostly in northern Iraq.

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They have been killed, forced to convert to Islam,

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and the women and girls have been held in sexual slavery.

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My guest is psychologist Jan Kizilhan, a Yazidi Kurd

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living in Germany.

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He's helped bring 1,000 Yazidi females from camps in Iraq

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to Germany to start a new life.

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How does he decide who should stay and who should go?

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Jan Kizilhan, welcome to HARDtalk.

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Thank you.

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What is your main goal, purpose, in rescuing

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these women and children, bringing them from Iraq to Germany?

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They are under pressure, psychological pressure.

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They have post-traumatic stress disorder because they were for

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moments in the hands of IS.

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Tortured.

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Violated.

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Exploited and a lot of things.

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Our main goal is to bring exploited women and girls for medical

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treatment and psychological treatment to Germany.

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You live in Stuttgart, the capital of the state

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of Baden-Wurttemberg, and the state runs a special project

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to rescue Yazidi women and children from these camps in Iraq.

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But you also help Shia Muslims as well as Christians,

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but mostly Yazidis.

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Why just the Yazidis?

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Actually, we didn't make any differences.

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The state government decided to bring in vulnerable women

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and girls who were in the hands of IS, but unfortunately,

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most of them are Yazidis, because IS targeted on 3rd of August

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2014 mostly the Yazidi areas of Sinjar.

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And the first two weeks, they killed more two and 3000 people,

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people, and then bring women and girls to enslavement,

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to assault them, to work at Mosul, at Tel Afar and other cities.

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As well, Christians were part of this, and Shias, but most

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of them are Yazidis.

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We heard in August 2014, when Sinjar, the town

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was controlled by Isis, fell to IS, and we heard

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the terrible reports of what happened to the Yazidi women.

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You yourself are a Yazidi Kurd.

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You were born in a small village in eastern Turkey

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to a very poor family.

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Your father was in fact illiterate.

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You then went to Germany when you were six years of age,

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joined your parents there, became highly, highly educated.

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You've got so many qualifications and degrees.

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You're a psychologist.

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Do you feel a responsibility, as an educated Yazidi,

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to help people in your community?

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Actually, you know, they are my people,

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so of course I feel responsible, but in the last ten or 15 years,

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I work also with survivors from Rwanda, from Bosnia,

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so I'm Professor in psychology and working very professional.

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When the state government asked me to help, of course, I have no way...

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I had to say yes.

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I speak the language.

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I know the people.

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I know the area, and we had just a small time of one year

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to find 1,100 people, to examine them and to bring

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them to a different kind of security, to Germany,

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which was very difficult.

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So I said, yes, of course, I will do that.

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You say it is very difficult.

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You have in fact made 30 visits to the camps in northern Iraq

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in the last two years to interview the Yazidi females who are held

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there, who were former sex slaves, really, for IS.

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What criteria do do you use to make this very difficult

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decision you referred to?

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I myself examining and interviewed the last year, 2015,

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about 1403 women and girls myself, and talked to each one.

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We had three different kinds of criteria.

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One criteria was, they must be in the hands of IS.

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And now living in some camps, refugee camps, in Iraq.

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They have post-traumatic stress disorder because IS

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violated and tortured.

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The youngest girl was eight years that I examined myself,

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and they assault eight times and raped hundreds of times

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during the ten months she was in the hands of IS,

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so she has a psychological disorder and needed urgently help.

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She had suicide ideas.

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She didn't want to survive, to live, she had no parents,

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or her parents were killed.

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So this was our duty, to say, we have to help.

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The third criteria was, in Germany, we should

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have the know-how to help them, with doctors, with translators,

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with social workers, with clinical work, and we used this

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criteria - to be in the hands of IS, medical criteria,

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psychological criteria, and we should be able

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to help them in Germany.

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Huge responsibility for you, really, to decide who should remain

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in the camp, with all the trauma and distressed that they have

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experienced, and who should then be taken to Germany for help.

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How do you feel, with such a huge burden on your shoulders?

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Not really good, because our job...

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The political decision was to bring 1,000 people, not more.

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But we have thousands of people who have this criteria.

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So we have to look very clear, and we specialise

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and target women and girls.

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We are talking about a patriarchal society.

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Even when women and girls were raped by IS, some of the people had

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problems with honour, and so-called dishonour problems.

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So we didn't take men, or we just said, it is very

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important to find these girls and to bring them, and just

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be honest, sometimes.

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I had one case that one women, who we decided, I was not clear

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if we should take her or not.

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But always I had this eight years girl in front of my eyes.

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She needs help.

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During my time in 2015 when I was in Iraq, about 60

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women killed themselves, committed suicide,

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because they were not able to live under this situation,

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in camps where 20,000 people live, in refugee camps.

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They have no doctors, no psychologists, they have

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nightmares, they had fear.

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Even I had one girl, 16 years old, she was in a tent and she believed

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IS had come back again, through her nightmare, and she took

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gasoline and burned herself.

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She was 80% of her skin was totally burned.

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So we had no choices.

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We had to bring them out of Iraq to Germany.

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She burned herself because she was worried that she would be taken

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by IS and health as a sexual slave, so wanted to make

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herself unattractive?

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Exactly.

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Not trying to kill herself?

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No, her fear was, I have to make me unattractive, to be ugly.

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If I'm ugly, they will not rape me.

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And so, she took just the gas and burned herself,

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just to be left alone, but it is a kind of

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post-traumatic stress disorder.

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They have nightmares, sometimes psychotic symptoms,

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and she believed at that time that IS was in front of the tent.

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So you choose people like that, who you feel that you can

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help back in Germany?

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But how do you feel about those you have to leave behind.

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It's a huge responsibility.

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Not very good.

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We talk to different kind of countries with different kind

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of state government.

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In Germany, we have 16 states.

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I hope even now, Canada or Britain, will take some of these very,

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very vulnerable women and girls for medical treatment

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very vulnerable women and girls for medical treatment

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to Europe or to Canada.

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Because there is still nearly 2000 Yazidi women and girls who were held

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by so-called Islamic State, and they are now living in camps?

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Yes, and the number will probably rise, because after Mosul and Raqqa,

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we have still 3400 women and girls in the hands of IS.

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What will happen with them when they are freed?

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They need urgent help.

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And for that reason, it is very important that another

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country can support these women.

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And you've explained about some of the cases

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that you've come across, but I wonder if you could give us

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some more examples of the kind of tragic cases you've come

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across when you are interviewing these women.

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The most case that impressed me, because I'm a father,

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I have to daughters myself, was a 26 years woman,

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who was taken in the hands of IS.

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She was from Sinjar, a small village, with three

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children, her husband, his father, his father-in-law,

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and 20 and other family members were killed in front

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of her eyes, executed.

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And they take them hostage for 30 months, and she has

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a two years old girl, and she was also killed by IS,

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and she is now in Germany.

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She is my patient.

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So her two-year-old child was killed before her very eyes,

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amongst other family members?

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Yes, and always she says, I can accept my husband

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and my father are killed, but how they can kill

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a two-year-old girl.

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What is your answer to that?

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Because you have written a book, The Psychology Of Isis.

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You have interviewed three former IS fighters

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in prison in Kirkuk in Iraq.

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What makes somebody commit such an unspeakably evil act?

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What IS is doing after 2014, they have a set

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of some Islamic elements.

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A new ideology.

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It's not Islam, but it's ideology.

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Ideology makes a person blind.

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The IS has two criteria, two categories.

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One is a worse person, who belongs to the caliphate of al-Baghdadi,

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and other people are infidels, like Yazidis, Shias and Christians,

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and they have just the right to be a slave or to be killed.

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And so they make us an object.

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We are not human, a kind of dehumanisation of the human.

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They kill a Yazidi, an eight-year-old girl,

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and they view her as not human, they are like chickens,

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they are actually not a human, they have no feeling of empathy.

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They don't feel anything if they kill Kurds,

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this kind of person.

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This is how it works.

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If you look back to the history...

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I'm from Germany, and we witnessed this with the Nazi regime.

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The Nazi regime was the same with Jewish.

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I put to use something that Scott Atran, an anthropologist

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who has advised the United Nations and the White House on terror,

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and he says, we have to acknowledge that Isis fighters more similar

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to ask psychologically than we might like to believe.

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-- to us.

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Violent people, members of militant political groups

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and religious groups are people, just like everyone else.

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It's unsettling to think that terrorists who commit violent acts

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are not psychologically disturbed or brainwashed.

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Do you agree with that assessment?

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Absolutely.

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I talk myself to 3 members of IS, and I examine interviews,

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and I can clearly say they have no psychological disorders.

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Maybe 1% of them have any psychological problems, but most

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of them are very normal people.

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They came from normal families, had a normal biological background.

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But this kind of ideology changed people.

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But is it brainwashing?

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Scott Atran says it is not brainwashing.

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But you think it is?

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No, it's not.

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This is a concept of life.

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It makes us different to believe that, because we are living

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in a democratic country, we believe in individuals, and they

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have another concept of life.

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This concept of life is very different to our own.

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They believe in a collective way of life.

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They believe every person has to do the same, otherwise

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they have to be punished.

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But your main focus, of course, is working

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with the victims of the IS fighters, and there are, globally,

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about 1 million Yazidis.

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430,000 of them live in Iraq, and others also in Syria,

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and about 500 in Turkey and other parts of the world.

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There are 300,000 displaced.

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They need help, don't they, in the region where they live?

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Shouldn't that be your main objective, rather than seeking

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to resettle them in the West?

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We did do both.

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First, when we did this special programme, it was emergency cases.

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If we didn't help these people, they wouldn't survive.

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To give you an example, we've been talking about 5 million

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people living in northern Iraq.

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We have 26 psychiatrists and psychologists.

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They are not able to help them.

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As I mentioned, about 60 people, women and girls,

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committed suicide themselves.

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So it was an emergency issue.

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We had to help, otherwise they wouldn't have survived.

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The second, you are absolutely right.

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We have to do more projects in Iraq and Syria.

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The people must live there under different conditions,

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so we've started now to set up an institution of psychotherapy

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and psycho-traumatology.

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We will start that in March 2017, to train psychologists, doctors,

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to be psychotherapists, because they should be able

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to help their own people in their own country.

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And that is what you are doing in northern Iraq?

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Yes.

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And you are flying out there later this month to do that?

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I think the displaced number is between 300,000 and 400,000.

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400,000.

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Could be as much as that.

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So when Nadia Murad and Lamiya Bashar, two Yazidi women

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who had been captured by IS and were awarded

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the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, they say,

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if the world cannot protect the Yazidis in their homeland,

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we ask Europe to give us a safe new home.

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That's what they said in December, last month.

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Are they wrong, then?

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Do you agree with that statement?

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I know Nadia because I examined her myself.

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She is one of the people of our programme, and also Lamiya,

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so I can understand, because what will happen

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after IS has gone?

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What will happen with Iraq?

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We are talking about nearly 450,000 Yazidis living in refugee camps,

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and about 800,000 living normally in Sinjar.

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What will happen then after this situation?

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What we are facing is, you know, the Yazidis face now

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the 71st time a genocide.

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Through the last 800 years, about 1,000,800 Yazidis

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were converted to Islam by force.

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About 1,000,200 Yazidis were killed in the last 800 years.

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So there is a kind of mistrust to the Islamic society,

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because every time they are massacred and face

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genocide by Muslims.

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So they need and they believe like Britain, like America,

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like European countries can help them to have a safe zone,

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and they will maybe have a kind of security, a feeling of security,

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at least, that they are not alone.

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That is the reason why I can understand Nadia Murad saying

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that we need a safe zone.

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Just picking up on that point of genocide.

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This is a point of fact.

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You say that genocide has been committed against the Yazidis,

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but not all members of the international community

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accept the term "genocide".

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The United Kingdom's government hasn't, for instance.

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The US state department has.

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But the point is, are you saying you agree with these two Yazidi

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women that the objective is that all Yazidis should be

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resettled in the West, because there is compassion fatigue

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now, isn't there?

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In a lot of western countries.

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People are saying, we don't want open door refugee policies.

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We've seen the kind of criticisms that Angela Merkel,

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the Chancellor of Germany, has been receiving because

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of her open-door policy.

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I believe, if we are talking about one of the oldest

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religions in the world, at least in the Middle East,

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the Yazidis have a history of about 4000 years.

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They should live like Christians, in their homeland.

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For that reason, we have a new scenario, political ideas,

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of how we can give them a feeling of security,

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give them a new structure.

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For me, the best way is to come back to Sinjar, to that area,

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but maybe the world community could help to make Sinjar reborn.

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It is totally destroyed.

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Maybe they can give it some ideas of how to live free,

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to give some militia, to give schools in Kurdish,

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to allow them to live like Yazidis.

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Benefits for them to remain in the region?

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Yes.

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Do you believe that the vast majority of these 1100 women

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and children who you have resettled in Germany, and you are hoping that

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more will go to Canada, for instance, of those former

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captives of IS who are still being held, do you think

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they will stay in Germany?

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They will never go back to the region, will they?

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In that time, when I'm talking to the women,

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because I'm still responsible for the medical and psychological

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issue for these women and girls, about 90% of them don't want to go

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back to Iraq, because the war is going on.

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Still we have IS in Sinjar, but what will happen in five

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years and ten years, I didn't know.

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Maybe if they have more rights, there is a democracy in Iraq,

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maybe they will go back.

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But most of them don't want to go back.

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And when Mrs Merkel also talks about the refugees coming

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to Germany, she says, the necessity of integrating these

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newcomers is very important, so that they adhere

0:19:400:19:42

to Germany's democratic values.

0:19:420:19:43

That's something you agree with, presumably?

0:19:430:19:48

Absolutely.

0:19:480:19:49

Our programme is very different.

0:19:500:19:51

All the women are visiting schools.

0:19:510:19:53

They are learning German.

0:19:530:19:54

They are now starting to work.

0:19:540:20:01

They have psychotherapy and medical treatment,

0:20:010:20:06

but they are living in 24 different kinds of cities in small groups.

0:20:060:20:11

They have a good contact with Germans, and integration

0:20:110:20:14

is very important.

0:20:140:20:15

All immigrants have to be integrated.

0:20:150:20:16

If you learn the culture, the values and the languages,

0:20:160:20:19

you have more competence for yourself and for this country.

0:20:190:20:25

And these women are very motivated, because they know what it

0:20:250:20:28

means to be tortured, to be not free.

0:20:280:20:32

They are now free, and they are very motivated, with high self-confidence

0:20:320:20:35

to do something with their lives, to have a job, to go to school.

0:20:350:20:40

We have children.

0:20:400:20:41

Our children are visiting schools, and they are very successful.

0:20:410:20:45

How are the children coping?

0:20:450:20:48

Because you talked about girls as young as eight being raped

0:20:480:20:51

multiple times, and that kind of unimaginable trauma

0:20:510:20:53

and experience they must have gone through.

0:20:530:20:57

How are they?

0:20:570:20:59

To give you an example, we have some children

0:20:590:21:02

between four and ten years old.

0:21:020:21:05

They are visiting now two schools.

0:21:050:21:09

The first question they asked me in Iraq was, do you have

0:21:090:21:13

in Germany schools?

0:21:130:21:13

I said, yes, we have schools.

0:21:130:21:15

Because they are motivated.

0:21:150:21:16

They want to go to school.

0:21:160:21:18

School means to give structure.

0:21:180:21:23

Every day they get up at 7.00am, they go to school, they come back,

0:21:230:21:26

they have orientation, they have security and

0:21:260:21:28

a feeling of safeness.

0:21:280:21:29

These three basics are very important.

0:21:300:21:31

If they have a feeling of security, they have orientation

0:21:310:21:34

and a structure, the children are very clever.

0:21:340:21:36

They can learn and they can cope with this.

0:21:360:21:41

We believe there are about 1000 children who were taken

0:21:410:21:44

by IS and used as child soldiers.

0:21:440:21:48

Have you come across any of them, any of these, in some of the ones

0:21:480:21:52

you have taken back to Germany, and how are they coping?

0:21:520:21:55

We have actually a small group of ten to 12 persons

0:21:550:21:58

who were soldiers, IS soldiers, and we need a social concept,

0:21:580:22:05

to talk with them, to be with them, and you need at least two years

0:22:050:22:10

to work with social work and psychologists with these people.

0:22:100:22:13

So we are talking about brainwashing in these cases,

0:22:130:22:16

they are brainwashed.

0:22:160:22:17

They need time, and they need to trust us again,

0:22:170:22:24

because they don't trust any person anymore, because,

0:22:240:22:28

for example, a six-year-old boy, the father ran away,

0:22:280:22:30

and he was alone with his mother.

0:22:300:22:32

They then took the mother away, and after, they came back together.

0:22:320:22:41

He mistrusted his father and his mother.

0:22:410:22:43

He said, they left me alone.

0:22:430:22:45

So it is a kind of feeling of children.

0:22:450:22:48

Bonding is very important.

0:22:480:22:49

They must feel they are not alone.

0:22:490:22:53

Your colleague, Michael Bloom, in this so-called special quota

0:22:530:22:55

project to bring Yazidis from northern Iraq to Germany, says,

0:22:560:23:00

more and more Yazidis understand that if they want to survive

0:23:000:23:03

in the diaspora, then they might have to reform

0:23:040:23:06

some of their teachings.

0:23:060:23:09

For instance, some of your customs, like endogenous marriage,

0:23:090:23:12

whereby a Yazidi should marry another Yazidi is one

0:23:120:23:14

of your customs.

0:23:140:23:16

But as people live in the West, they are going to be

0:23:160:23:19

losing these customs, aren't they, in time?

0:23:190:23:21

So the irony is, you rescue them as individuals,

0:23:210:23:24

as human beings, but as a community, the Yazidi community may be

0:23:240:23:27

threatened by assimilation.

0:23:270:23:28

Not really.

0:23:280:23:32

We are talking about 120 Yazidis who are living in Germany,

0:23:320:23:38

so since 15 years, the last 15 years, but we have a huge group

0:23:380:23:42

in the Yazidi community, so Yazidi women and girls

0:23:420:23:44

are not alone.

0:23:440:23:46

They have friends, they have Yazidi communities, they have

0:23:460:23:48

Yazidi associations, and so I believe they can survive.

0:23:480:23:52

All right.

0:23:520:23:54

Jan Kizilhan, thank you very much indeed for coming on HARDtalk.

0:23:540:23:57

Thank you. Thank you.

0:23:570:23:59

Hello. I hope you enjoyed the weekend.

0:24:210:24:23

For many it has been grey and murky.

0:24:230:24:25

HARDtalk's Zeinab Badawi speaks to psychologist Jan Kizilhan, a Yazidi Kurd living in Germany who has helped bring over a thousand Yazidi women and girls from camps in Iraq to Germany to start a new life. The so-called Islamic State may be coming under pressure in both Syria and Iraq, but accounts are still emerging of atrocities carried out by them.

The minority Yazidi community are one of the most persecuted groups of people in the Middle East. Living mostly in northern Iraq, they have been killed, forced to convert to Islam and the women and girls have been held in sexual slavery. How does he decide who should stay and who should go?