SOUL CRY: Missing Fathers

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They needed to be treated at home. They needed therapists in Iraq and in the Middle East, so that patients could converse in their own language, amid their own culture. But his vision would require the adaptation of Western psychology to a non-Western society. Around 80 percent of mental-health research is conducted in America, Canada and Europe, and patients from other countries have different perceptions of disease and healing.

In Iraq, people suffering from psychological disorders often consult religious healers or rely on home remedies, in part because of the stigma around these disorders. Transcultural psychotherapy, a relatively new field, is all about taking such cultural context into account.

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Kizilhan has been advancing the field for decades in Germany. In , he joined the Michael Balint Clinic, where he founded a program that treats Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Persian and Russian immigrants in their native languages. For example, he explained, the Yazidis used different metaphors for pain. Had she drunk too much alcohol? Family also had to be a part of the process of healing for Yazidis. Women who were raped needed to talk to their family, so psychotherapy sessions would have to include group therapy.

And while Western society emphasizes the individual, the Kurds — who have faced transgenerational and collective trauma — rarely talk about themselves as individuals. Duhok seemed like the ideal location — safe in the mountains, in a place that had never been under ISIS rule, and close to the Yazidi camps. With funds from Germany, Kizilhan founded the program in The first students — a mix of ethnic and religious groups — matriculated that February, and this November they will graduate as licensed psychotherapists.

Every semester, the professors fly to Iraq for two weeks and then remain in touch with students over Skype and email. The institute is already training its top students to become teachers. Aasma Ibrahim, a third-year student, worked with a local NGO in the camps before she applied to the program. Maybe it induces flashbacks or intrusions. Mohammed Saeed, another third-year student, thought the patients had a right to be skeptical. They think they are crazy. They all have their own trauma that can flare up in their conversations with patients.

This is why, every March, the students fly to Germany for two weeks to discuss their own mental health. They talk to psychologists about how to deal with their traumatic experiences and how to manage the psychological toll of working with trauma patients. Survivors from 18 countries were invited to participate. During a panel, a Muslim woman from Bosnia talked about being raped and losing her family.

Seated next to her was a Yazidi girl. After they had shared their stories, they looked each other in the eyes, then starting crying and hugging. They had the same story.

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Well telling me to think about him and things will get better they always do, does not help the pain go away. I can't offer legal advice and I won't try. I am missing him so much right now. Do you think I should see a doctor? I'm not even divorced, just seperated and have 3 hours of driving time between them and me but I can already feel the crushing reality that sometime soon I'll have to explain to them daddy dosen't actually live with them. Instead of spending nice days doing family activities we take turns with the kids with her one weekend and me the next.

In the winter, the mountains of Duhok are snow-covered, and in the spring the rivers flood with rain. When I visited the camps in April with a translator and a photographer, it had been just weeks since the fall of ISIS. It was a holding pen for the newly displaced, filled with both innocent civilians and ISIS loyalists. Since Yazidis had been victims, they were sent home as soon as they were identified as such.

Busloads of newly freed Yazidis were arriving at the camps every week, reuniting families after years apart. It was twilight when we arrived at the Qadia camp, close to the Turkish border and high on a hill near the mountains.

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Families lived along dirt roads in rectangular trailer homes. We searched for a family from a Yazidi village called Kocho who had just returned from captivity. A year-old boy who had been imprisoned by ISIS for three years showed us the way. The mother, Amina Ammu, was She was with her two children, Mohammed and Sarab, 10 and 15, and her year-old nephew, Teyman, whose parents died in the fighting. Sarab wore jeweled pants and heels, and she talked while tapping on her phone. Sarab rolled her eyes often and told me and the photographer that we were useless. She had just returned from Syria the day before — it was only the second day she had seen her mother in five years.

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Mohammed had been back for a week. He had big eyes and a baby voice, and he wore his favorite soccer jersey. Teyman had also gotten back a day earlier.

The Cry of a Child

His leg was full of shrapnel. He had gone to fighter school and learned to kill infidels. Sarab started to laugh. She was on the porch, wearing a black robe and a black veil. Many children changed significantly while living in captivity, where they saw other children used as suicide bombers and human shields.

To train a child to kill, ISIS began with small acts of aggression. The boys would get a slap from an ISIS fighter — one of the trainers — and then be told to kick another boy.


Violence becomes a mode of being, a way to solve problems. I assure you that in America, take New York, if one person will declare a dictatorship, 30 percent of people will be able to torture or kill other people. If physical violence persists for too long, and if trauma goes unresolved, it can have a self-perpetuating effect, creating a culture of violence. Instead of fighting and killing each other, maybe we should talk to each other? ISIS had hoped that the children would carry their ideology back into society, sickening it from within.

But children are much easier than adults to deprogram. Even in Mosul and other Islamic areas, victims were forced to follow a perverse version of Islam. By this spring, almost all the recently freed children had lived in the Islamic State for five years — often a majority of their lives.

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When the photographer, the translator and I met Delivan, he had been back in Iraq for a month. He sat on a rusty propane tank and drummed his feet. He is very angry and beats us. He beats me, and he beats all his brothers. I asked him what happened, and he said the other kids used to stone one another on a daily basis. Delivan was sold to another family, along with his older brother, who had been an ISIS fighter. The night he was discharged, he accidentally caught his shirt on a hand grenade and blew himself up. The shelling never stopped, and people died all around him.

Delivan slid off the propane tank. He was suddenly confused about who we were and what we wanted. At the start of the program in , Kizilhan met NGOs and social workers practicing psychotherapy in the camps. Kizilhan and his team set up a few meetings with NGO workers in the camps and recommended that they work together.

Psychotherapy is a scientific method. Stabilization was necessary, after all, before the psychotherapy could begin. He asked the social workers to recommend cases to his students. The situation was desperate, and counselors were doing the best they could under difficult circumstances. Ilyas Barakat was one of them.