With Ash on Their Faces

sub-heading:
Yezidi Women and the Islamic State

“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

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

—Ryan Boyd, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Contemporary testimony [grounded in a] wealth of historical context ... an urgently necessary chronicle of the Yazidi genocide.”

Times Literary Supplement
₹1,499.54

Adding to cart… The item has been added
  • 256 pages
  • Cover illustration by MOLLY CRABAPPLE
  • Paperback ISBN 9781682191088
  • E-book ISBN 9781682191095

about the bookabout

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.

The headlines have moved on but thousands of Yezidi women and children remain in captivity, and many more are still displaced. Sinjar is now free from ISIS but the Yezidi homeland is at the centre of growing tensions amongst the city’s liberators, making returning home for the Yezidis almost impossible.

The mass abduction of Yezidi women and children is here conveyed with extraordinary intensity in the first-hand reporting of a young journalist who has been based in Iraqi Kurdistan for the past four years, covering the war with ISIS and its impact on the people of the country.

Otten tells the story of the ISIS attacks, the mass enslavements of Yezidi women and the fallout from the disaster. She challenges common perceptions of Yezidi female victimhood by focusing on stories of resistance passed down by generations.

Yezidi women describe how, in the recent conflict, they followed the tradition of their ancestors who, a century ago during persecutions at the fall of the Ottoman empire, put ash on their faces to make themselves unattractive and try to avoid being raped.

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 other 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.


“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

“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

About The Author / Editor

Photo © Alice Martins Cathy Otten is an award-winning journalist and author of With Ash On Their Faces: Yezidi Women and the Islamic State (OR books 2017). Cathy directs the Journalism Initiative on Gender-Based Violence at Rutgers University, and is a Visiting Global Associate at Rutgers University’s Institute for Women's leadership. She is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bolton in the UK. The Los Angeles Review of Books described With Ash on Their Faces as: "The best kind of humanist journalism: lucid, transparent, grimly realistic.… (N)o book has covered it better.” She is a former reporter for the Independent and has written for the Guardian, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, American Scholar, and more. In 2018, she won the One World Media New Voice Award and was a finalist for the Kurt Schork courage in journalism award.

Read An Excerpt

A car carrying “Leila” drew close to her family’s home in a camp for displaced Yezidis in northern Iraq. Her female relatives, dressed in black and brown shawls, sat around the sides of the room chatting in quiet voices. Next to the door was a small kitchen unit and, beneath it, a pile of black sandals to be slipped on before the women went outside onto the muddy roads of the camp.

It was mid-afternoon on an early spring day, just after a rainstorm, and outside the air was fresh and mountain-bruised. I asked the women where they were from. “Kojo,” one of them gave me.

A few moments later everyone turned toward the door. They had heard car wheels crunching on the gravel outside. Leila entered the room and collapsed into an older woman’s arms. They began to cry. A small girl with pigtails ran in behind her, looking bewildered.

Leila wore a cream headscarf, a long black skirt, and a denim coat that was too big for her. Her face was red and scrunched up with tears washing her cheeks. The women wailed as she was carried into the room clutching her grandmother’s breast. Everyone was crying now and the grandmother began to sing.

The relief that Leila and the small girl had returned was tangible. But in the grandmother’s mournful song there was also a lament for the women still held captive, and deep grief for the men from their village who had been murdered in their village.

**

Leila sank into a corner of the room surrounded by a dozen members of her extended family who were gathering to receive her, women with olive skin and tired eyes. Each woman bent down to touch Leila and kiss her cheeks, welcoming her back. Her grandmother continued to sing.

Leila had been kidnapped a year and a half previously, taken from Kojo, a village below Sinjar Mountain. Her captors took her across two countries and then kept her locked in a house more than three hundred miles away, before she was able to escape.

She had been enslaved by ISIS, the militant jihadi group that captured large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014 and embarked on a policy of exterminating the Yezidi religion, killing its men and taking its women into slavery because of the tenets of their interpretation of Islam. The genocide is still ongoing and has only partially been revealed.

in the media

With Ash on Their Faces

sub-heading:
Yezidi Women and the Islamic State

“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

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

—Ryan Boyd, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Contemporary testimony [grounded in a] wealth of historical context ... an urgently necessary chronicle of the Yazidi genocide.”

Times Literary Supplement
₹1,499.54

Add to Cart

Adding to cart… The item has been added

about the bookabout

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.

The headlines have moved on but thousands of Yezidi women and children remain in captivity, and many more are still displaced. Sinjar is now free from ISIS but the Yezidi homeland is at the centre of growing tensions amongst the city’s liberators, making returning home for the Yezidis almost impossible.

The mass abduction of Yezidi women and children is here conveyed with extraordinary intensity in the first-hand reporting of a young journalist who has been based in Iraqi Kurdistan for the past four years, covering the war with ISIS and its impact on the people of the country.

Otten tells the story of the ISIS attacks, the mass enslavements of Yezidi women and the fallout from the disaster. She challenges common perceptions of Yezidi female victimhood by focusing on stories of resistance passed down by generations.

Yezidi women describe how, in the recent conflict, they followed the tradition of their ancestors who, a century ago during persecutions at the fall of the Ottoman empire, put ash on their faces to make themselves unattractive and try to avoid being raped.

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 other 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.


“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

“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

About The Author / Editor

Photo © Alice Martins Cathy Otten is an award-winning journalist and author of With Ash On Their Faces: Yezidi Women and the Islamic State (OR books 2017). Cathy directs the Journalism Initiative on Gender-Based Violence at Rutgers University, and is a Visiting Global Associate at Rutgers University’s Institute for Women's leadership. She is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bolton in the UK. The Los Angeles Review of Books described With Ash on Their Faces as: "The best kind of humanist journalism: lucid, transparent, grimly realistic.… (N)o book has covered it better.” She is a former reporter for the Independent and has written for the Guardian, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, American Scholar, and more. In 2018, she won the One World Media New Voice Award and was a finalist for the Kurt Schork courage in journalism award.

Read An Excerpt

A car carrying “Leila” drew close to her family’s home in a camp for displaced Yezidis in northern Iraq. Her female relatives, dressed in black and brown shawls, sat around the sides of the room chatting in quiet voices. Next to the door was a small kitchen unit and, beneath it, a pile of black sandals to be slipped on before the women went outside onto the muddy roads of the camp.

It was mid-afternoon on an early spring day, just after a rainstorm, and outside the air was fresh and mountain-bruised. I asked the women where they were from. “Kojo,” one of them gave me.

A few moments later everyone turned toward the door. They had heard car wheels crunching on the gravel outside. Leila entered the room and collapsed into an older woman’s arms. They began to cry. A small girl with pigtails ran in behind her, looking bewildered.

Leila wore a cream headscarf, a long black skirt, and a denim coat that was too big for her. Her face was red and scrunched up with tears washing her cheeks. The women wailed as she was carried into the room clutching her grandmother’s breast. Everyone was crying now and the grandmother began to sing.

The relief that Leila and the small girl had returned was tangible. But in the grandmother’s mournful song there was also a lament for the women still held captive, and deep grief for the men from their village who had been murdered in their village.

**

Leila sank into a corner of the room surrounded by a dozen members of her extended family who were gathering to receive her, women with olive skin and tired eyes. Each woman bent down to touch Leila and kiss her cheeks, welcoming her back. Her grandmother continued to sing.

Leila had been kidnapped a year and a half previously, taken from Kojo, a village below Sinjar Mountain. Her captors took her across two countries and then kept her locked in a house more than three hundred miles away, before she was able to escape.

She had been enslaved by ISIS, the militant jihadi group that captured large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014 and embarked on a policy of exterminating the Yezidi religion, killing its men and taking its women into slavery because of the tenets of their interpretation of Islam. The genocide is still ongoing and has only partially been revealed.

in the media