In yet another harrowing chapter in the tragic plight of Iraq's Kurdish Yazidi population, eyewitnesses have described how girls raped by Muslim fighters from the "Islamic State" (formerly ISIS) committed suicide en-masse after returning to their families, as evidence of systematic rape by Islamists against non-Muslims continue to surface.
Among the tens of thousands of Yazidi refugees trapped in the Shingal mountains while fleeing IS's deadly advance through Iraq, several survivors told Kurdish Rudaw TV how a group of three girls were returned after being abducted and raped - only to hurl themselves off a cliff after being traumatized by their ordeal.
A Kurdish reporter said the mother of one of the girls had given an interview in front of the camera, but claimed Kurdish fighters from the YPG militia had seized the camera and erased the interview - possibly in an attempt to avoid sowing panic.
The mother reportedly told of how in their desperation the girls begged other refugees to kill them, but when no one would comply they killed themselves.
The YPG is the dominant Kurdish force in Syria and has taken control of some areas across the border in Iraq since IS swept away Iraqi forces earlier in the summer. It has been credited with putting up a stiff resistance against Islamist forces and helping to save many Yazidi and Christian refugees, but has also criticized as authoritarian by its opponents.
Another woman said she also witnessed what happened to the girls.
"They [IS] took the girls by force and raped them, and after they returned they killed themselves," she said.
Some Kurds say the systematic rape of Yazidi women is yet more evidence of no less than a genocide against their people by IS.
As the Islamic State rampages through northern Iraq, witnesses say they have made a point of slaughtering any men who refuse to convert to Islam, and taking women and children as slaves. In one incident on Friday, 80 Yazidi men were executed and around 100 women and children kidnapped in the tiny Yazidi village of Kojo in northern Iraq.
The Yazidi religion is indigenous to Kurdistan, and Yazidis themselves are ethnically-Kurdish. But unlike many other Kurds, they largely avoided intermarriage with surrounding Arab tribes and thus a many of them maintained a strikingly fair "Aryan" complexion, with blond hair and blue eyes. By raping their women, IS fighters "complement" the slaughter and forced-conversions of the Yazidis by impregnating them and breaking their bloodline, according to one leading Kurdish activist.
"The Kurds and Yazidis are originally Aryans. But because the Yazidis are such a closed community they have retained a fairer complexion, blonder hair and bluer eyes. They don't marry non-Yazidis," Adnan Kochar, chairman of the Kurdish Cultural Centre in London, explained to the Daily Mail.
"ISIS have taken around 300 women from Sinjar to give to jihadists to marry and make pregnant to have a Muslim child. If they can't kill all Yazidis, they will try to smash the blond bloodline," he said.
Last week, the Special Representative of the UN's Secretary-General on Sexual Violence (SRSG) in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov condemned "sexual violence" being employed by Islamic State terrorists against non-Muslim women and children.
"We are gravely concerned by continued reports of acts of violence, including sexual violence against women and teenage girls and boys belonging to Iraqi minorities," read a joint-statement.
“Atrocious accounts of abduction and detention of Yazidi, Christian, as well as Turkomen and Shabak women, girls and boys, and reports of savage rapes, are reaching us in an alarming manner," Ms. Bangura and Mr. Mladenov added, saying that some 1,500 Yazidi and Christian persons may have been forced into sexual slavery. That number is now likely to be much higher as Islamists have since made further gains.
But on Sunday Kurdish Peshmerga forces, aided by US airstrikes, have reportedly made gains and are advancing on the strategically-important Mosul Dam, which was seized by IS on August 7.
Many Yazidi men have enlisted to Peshmerga forces to help push back the Islamists and reclaim their homeland from IS's self-styled "Caliphate".