Exploring the impact of ISIS and rape on Yazidi communities in The Dark Wind

Image: Diman Zandi in  The Dark Wind

Image: Diman Zandi in The Dark Wind

Emma Jones

Sometimes when so many women in one community have suffered so much horror and shame, it takes a fictional character to speak for them all. 

That woman is Pero, the Yazidi heroine of Reseba, or The Dark Wind, a Kurdish film that is the recipient of a UNESCO prize, as well as being one of the winners at the year’s Dubai International Film Festival. It’s the first feature to examine the aftermath of the Yazidi genocide, and, in particular, its effect upon women. 

Pero, played by Iranian Kurdish actress Diman Zandi, is twenty three years old, the beauty of the village, and about to get married to her fiancé, Reko. Then she, and many other young women, are abducted by ISIS. We never see the graphic details, instead following Reko’s frantic search for her, until eventually, he can buy her back from slavery. Pero’s close-knit, loving family are now in a refugee camp, and she is brought back to them, physically alive, but in all other ways, dead.

There have been some Yazidi women willing to tell their story, such as in this BBC interview, but such is their perceived disgrace and shame, none want to show their faces on camera. Kurdish director and actor Hussein Hassan, and writer-producer Mehmet Aktas originally wanted to make a documentary about the Yazidis, but encountered the same problems.

However, the duo, based on many hours of interviews, decided to create a fictional story. After the surge from ISIS in 2014, they were now surrounded by one million refugees in their backyard, many of them Yazidis, and had a Kurdish frontline with ISIS four miles down the road. With a budget of two hundred thousand euros, they hired four professional actors, including Diman, and used the military checkpoints and the enormous UNHCR camp on their doorstep as the film set. 

The film is extraordinary – raw and authentic, while Diman Zandi is better than superb. She spent a month and a half living with the Yazidis in the same refugee camp, until at the end, she says she needed psychological counselling – the trauma of what she heard was too great. By not following the details of what happens with ISIS, but instead on the fallout on the return of the girls, The Dark Wind emphasises the devastation of the men and older women of the community – the mothers trying to deal with their daughters’ excruciating ordeals, the fathers filled with shame, for not protecting their families, for their loss of family honour. It’s no use as Westerners reeling in horror at these ideals; virginity is cherished in the Yazidi community, rape punishes their menfolk too.  

Aktas admits he faced opposition from Yazidi refugees, who thought it was ‘too soon’ to make a film about these events. But even this week, as we read about women in Aleppo committing suicide so they can’t be raped by soldiers, The Dark Wind is a reminder that rape is war’s ultimate weapon against women, whether it’s in Syria, Rwanda and Bosnia two decades ago, or against the Yazidis.  

Someone else may ultimately come up with a better-funded documentary once time has passed; but no one who sees this film can forget Pero. It’s fitting the first film to deal with this subject should be made in the heart of their community.

Watch the trailer below.


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