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In the wake of the devastating ISIL genocide against the Yazidi community in 2014, the story of Azad emerges as a beacon of resilience and hope amid unimaginable darkness. Hailing from the tranquil town of Hardan in Sinjar, Azad was just a 9-year-old boy filled with aspirations of a bright future. With a family of eight, he cherished the simplicity of life, relishing his studies and nurturing dreams of one day becoming a doctor or teacher.

However, the tranquillity of Azad’s world shattered when the ruthless grip of ISIS tightened around Sinjar. Suddenly, innocence was eclipsed by terror as Azad and his family faced the horrors of abduction and separation. In a cruel twist of fate, ISIS tore apart the fabric of his family, snatching away his father, brother, cousin, mother, and sister, leaving Azad and his fellow male relatives at the mercy of their captors. “I was too little and didn’t know what was going on,” he says, reflecting on that terrifying time.

Forced into the confines of the so-called “Sharia Institute”, Azad and his peers found themselves thrust into a nightmare, stripped of their childhoods and thrust into a twisted curriculum of violence and oppression. Dreams of classrooms and playgrounds gave way to the harsh reality of combat training and indoctrination. The echoes of brutality reverberated through the halls as ISIL enforced their reign of terror with ruthless efficiency, subjecting disobedience to unspeakable punishments.

ISIS employed various methods of torture if the boys violated any of their rules, such as beating with cables or wooden sticks. After this period, Azad and his friends at the Institute endured a siege and bombardment that was no better than before.

“We were forced to participate in battles, in a war that wasn’t appropriate for our ages,” Azad shares sadly, recounting being moved across locations including Badush, Tal Afar, and Mosul, for five terrible years of captivity.

Yet, amid the darkness, a flicker of hope endured. Azad and his friends clung to the distant promise of freedom, their spirits unbroken despite their hardships. Enduring years of confinement and displacement, Azad’s resilience never wavered. Through the relentless siege and relentless bombardment, he remained steadfast in his determination to defy the tyranny of ISIL.


“They moved us to Baghouz and then to Al Hol Camp,” he remembers before he was moved to Khansour, and an IDP camp for displaced Yazidis. “After that, I joined the Jiyan Foundation to take part in some psychological sessions, where I noted an improvement in my psychological state,” he says.
Upon his liberation, Azad found solace and healing in the compassionate embrace of the Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights. Through therapeutic sessions and psychological support, he embarked on a journey of healing, reclaiming fragments of his shattered psyche and piecing together the remnants of his fractured spirit.

“When Azad first came to us, he was suffering from severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He exhibited a range of distressing symptoms, such as self-harm and difficulty communicating with both his family and society,” says Nada Salm, a psychotherapist at the Jiyan Foundation in Nineveh. “As psychotherapists, we conducted several sessions with Azad to help him overcome his issues, and our psychiatrist prescribed medication to aid his recovery. Our social worker also provided support to help Azad face the challenges he was experiencing. In addition, our legal team guided him and helped him understand his right to reparation based on Yazidi Survivor’s Law.”

Today, as Azad reflects on his journey, he does so with gratitude and resilience. His journey from victim to survivor is a testament to the indomitable strength of the human spirit. With each step forward, he carries with him the echoes of his past, transformed into a beacon of hope for others who have endured similar trials. Through his resilience and determination, Azad stands as a testament to the enduring power of hope in the face of unspeakable darkness. “I have improved greatly since my first therapy session, and I encourage everyone who has been through similar circumstances during the previous period to visit therapists and begin their healing journey to overcome what we have been through and alleviate our pain,” he says.

Supported with funding by

The Jiyan Foundation’s impact is made possible through the support of the German Federal Foreign Office.

Rima returned from Germany to Iraq in 2018. The 33-year-old shares her powerful story of resilience and transformation, and the support she received.
The married mother-of-three’s life took a tragic turn in 2013 when her son was killed in an explosion in a Baghdad market. After suffering from depression for two years because of this tragedy, Rima and her surviving family made the difficult decision to flee their home country in 2016 and seek safety, which they found in Germany. However, the journey to Germany was difficult, and initially, the family was placed in a refugee shelter. They were grappling with grief and depression because of their loss, and uncertain of their future.
Despite the hurdles, their situation gradually improved, and Rima gave birth to a baby girl. After residency was granted, the older children enrolled in school and regained stability.
However, the shadow of distress loomed as Rima’s mother-in-law fell ill, prompting the family to urge them to return to Iraq. Reluctant to go back, the stress took a toll on her husband, leading to his hospitalisation and a subsequent decline in his mental well-being. The challenges intensified with the tragic deaths of Rima’s father-in-law in 2021, thrusting the family into another period of instability as they returned to Baghdad.
After their return, Rima experienced a significant decline in her psychological well-being as she grappled with the challenges of readjusting to her old life amidst the ongoing instability and adversity faced by her family.
Amidst these hardships, Rima found hope through the Jiyan Foundation’s center in Baghdad. She sought out its services after seeing the positive transformation in her husband’s friend, who had received prior psychological support from the center.

"When she first came to us, Rima was hopeless about the future, and had trouble sleeping," says Hoor Adnan, a psychotherapist at the Jiyan Foundation in Baghdad. “However, she has made remarkable progress in just eight sessions and improved her sleep. We encouraged her to channel her energy towards her strengths and interests, such as her passion for sewing.”

Somatic problems—for example, different kinds of pain—are often symptoms of mental health challenges, and Rima is no exception. In cooperation with the therapist, our medical team offered her the necessary support and resources to manage her health effectively and maintain optimal well-being.

Rima's heartfelt message resonates with the importance of seeking psychological support when facing psychological crises. “Everyone has vulnerabilities,” she says. “These vulnerabilities should not be ignored; they need timely intervention to prevent mental health crises from worsening and leading to further repercussions.”

At Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights, the commitment to providing mental health, medical treatment, and supportive services is evident in Rima’s story. We support survivors of trauma, terror, domestic violence, and human rights violations, contributing to the rebuilding of lives in Iraq.

For privacy reasons, the client’s name was changed.

Supported with funding by

The Jiyan Foundation’s impact is made possible through the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and Johanniter International Assistance.

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"I see many people who have principles, who live their lives according to their principles to help their communities. These people process their trauma, maybe quicker or more effectively, because they have an outlet or a reason to grow. When people focus their efforts on building a better society and preventing past atrocities from reoccurring, they tend to respond better to treatment than those who live without these principles."

How did you start working with Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights?

I first met Mr. Salah Ahmed in 1993. At the time, Saddam Hussein was in power, and this was just after the Anfal Genocide. I am with Mr. Salah as my friend as my brother. Well, in 2003 Mr. Salah told me he wanted to introduce psychotherapy and trauma treatment to survivors of torture in Iraq. Back then, it was called the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims. From that moment, I gave myself to his mission. As you know, today Jiyan Foundation is providing life-saving mental health and medical support to the survivors of human rights violations across the country. In this way, I see that Mr. Salah has accomplished much more than what he set out to do twenty years ago.

I, myself am a psychiatrist, and have been working with Jiyan Foundation since the beginning.

You started working for Jiyan Foundation when it was the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims. You have seen it go from one center to now more than ten facilities. That’s a big leap in the size of the organization and the number of patients that you are seeing.

Yes, right. You know the story of chemical weapons, torture, and political violence; people commonly live with trauma. Through this, I’ve seen two things. Number one, I’ve been around long enough to see recurrent trauma, a collective and transgenerational trauma, when a group of people are exposed to the same homicide, torture or event. These events change the fabric of our society for generations to come.

Second, what’s important, in my experience, I see many people who have principles, who live their lives according to their principles to help their communities. These people process their trauma, maybe quicker or more effectively, because they have an outlet or a reason to grow. When people focus their efforts on building a better society and preventing past atrocities from reoccurring, they tend to respond better to treatment than those who live without these principles. This is of course, just my personal experience.

As a psychiatrist did the types of patients you see change over time?

In terms of the classification of the kinds of symptoms and mental disorders, yes absolutely. You know every ten or fifteen years we have changes and updates to the classifications or terminologies used in our work; this is all academic. However, the symptoms we see tend to repeat themselves. This is in part why experience as a psychiatrist or mental health professional is so important. When you have experience, when you are a good listener to the patient, you will pick up on things.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is very common with people in Iraq. Many people suffer from childhood trauma, sexual abuse, and violence that lasts their entire lives. I had one adult patient for example, who was suffering from instances of sexual abuse she experienced as a child. She had not spoken about these events for her entire life, and it just lived in her mind like a toxin.

So when you do get a patient, like the one you just described who was sexually abused, how do you how do you begin to address it with that person?

The patient is usually seeking help with many abnormal symptoms. I mean physical symptoms, and in this case, she is not focused on her mental health because she’s focusing on her physical pain. In many cases, these are psychosomatic symptoms, a physical distress caused by psychological trauma. In these cases, the patient is coming in for medical treatment, and she will see a medical doctor. After examining her, the doctor will refer the patient to me. Commonly, our patients at Jiyan Foundation meet with both medical and mental health professionals, and many of them come in seeking relief from physical symptoms.

When I meet with the patient, they will often describe their own anxiety in public spaces or other hints that point to a past occurrence. After a few sessions, the patient and I will begin to develop trust, and only then can we begin to talk about these past traumas.

Sometimes the trauma is so strong that the patient may require medication to help them function in their day-to-day life. These are the sorts of things I address as a psychiatrist.

The goal, of course, is to address these traumas so that the patient can lead a normal life without fear, anxiety, or the need for medication. It’s for this reason that Jiyan Foundation uses a holistic approach to recovery, It’s why our patients usually have sessions with physicians, psychotherapists, and a psychiatrist. We all work together on each individual to provide the best treatment we can.

What would you say is the most important lesson for people to take away from your experience working with Jiyan Foundation?

I’ve learned in my years that no one can heal alone. You cannot take a traumatized person away from their family and bring them somewhere alone. We must bring the whole community into the healing process. We must educate and include the community to support each other.

Second, we must have principles and goals to work toward. These principles for equality, justice, and human rights provide us with purpose. As humans, we are much more successful when we have family, community, and principles we can hold dear. I love Jiyan Foundation because we take these lessons to heart, and build our programs based on these things.