Qayyarah, Iraq—On the cold concrete floor of a makeshift tent in Qayyarah refugee camp in northern Iraq, Azzi elegantly balances a slim Gauloise cigarette between the middle and index fingers of her left hand.
“I used to sell these cigarettes,” the 69-year-old grandmother of 28 says, smiling mischievously. “I did it right underneath ISIS’s nose.”
Almost three years ago, Azzi’s home city of Tel Abta, a city strategically poised between Mosul and Raqqa, fell to the Islamic State, prompting a radical shift in daily life for its residents, who were pressured to pledge allegiance to the terrorist group or risk death. If they chose not to convert, their survival depended on adhering to strict new laws—such as pants trimmed just above the ankle for men, and veils and gloves that completely covered the faces and hands of women.
Smoking cigarettes—one of Azzi’s most beloved social activities—was strictly forbidden. “They would raid our houses, looking for these,” she says, picking up a small metal ashtray with a few smoldering cigarette butts, playfully flicking it with her fingers so that the embers danced. “We had to spray perfumes to mask the smell if we left the house.”
Read more at the Nation.