What if we had to choose between conversion, death, or escape to a foreign land?
That’s the tragic choice the Yazidi people face in Iraq – ongoing genocide.
The genocide committed by ISIS in 2014 saw some 10,000 Yazidis killed and kidnapped and approximately 400,000 Yazidis displaced. Yazidi farmland, villages, and shrines in Iraq’s historic Nineveh province were left in ruin. Most of their ancestral land has been confiscated, littered with landmines, with shrines destroyed.
The situation is dire but by working directly and pragmatically with Yazidi families, religious leaders, and expert partners, we want to help heal these horrific and historic atrocities and regenerate Shingal.
The genocide committed by the Islamic State in 2014 left the Yazidis, an historically-persecuted ethno-religious minority, largely displaced from their ancestral homeland in the Nineveh governorate of Iraq. An estimated 300,000 Yazidis now live in or around Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Iraqi Kurdistan. They are subject to ongoing human rights abuse, exposed to floods, fires, and extreme weather, and live in squalid conditions. There is insufficient physical security, such as housing and healthcare, and no reliable access to clean water, food, schools, and jobs.
A small number of Yazidis returned to their homeland of Shingal prior to June 2020, but the infrastructure is largely destroyed. Many of these people are living either in tents on the mountain or in houses that do not belong to them. Nearly everyone is dependent on humanitarian aid. Facilitating sustainable resettlement, especially around Mount Shingal is the likeliest way of destabilizing and revitalizing the Yazidi homeland.
Yazidis are suffering from four interconnected threats that must be addressed simultaneously: religicide, ecocide, suicide, and factocide (misinformation/false narratives). “Religicide” refers to a genocide designed to wipe out a specific religion, such as the 2014 genocide by the Islamic State. A report by Yale University’s Genocide Studies Program concluded that the genocide has effectively continued due to the harm set in motion by the Islamic State and the current conditions in which the community lives. “Ecocide” refers to the systematic and well-documented destruction of Yazidi towns and farmland by the Islamic State, which hinders the Yazidis’ ability to return to their homeland. Displaced Yazidis also face what Doctors Without Borders has termed an epidemic of suicides, driven by post-traumatic stress disorders and depression from surviving displacement, genocide, the murder of their families and friends, and kidnapping, enslavement, and rape by the Islamic State. “Factocide” refers to ongoing disinformation about Yazidis, calling them “devil worshipers” and creating fear and false information about their culture, history, and aspirations.
It is imperative to the survival of the Yazidis to develop integrated programs that will affirm the worth of Yazidis as a religious group, rehabilitate their land, improve their living conditions, and counter systemic and historic discrimination, including harmful narratives against them.
We propose facilitating the return of a number of Yazidis to ancestral villages at the base of Shingal Mountain, where they lived prior to forced removal by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Providing them with the equipment and materials that allow them to resettle and rehabilitate their own land through regenerative farming practice will enable them not only to make a livelihood for themselves but to rebuild roads and basic infrastructure, address needs such as water, food and electricity shortages, rebuild shrines, and provide sustainable work opportunities with a positive impact on the broader community. Resettling in their ancestral villages in close proximity to their religious shrines removes some of the psychosocial factors that contribute to the epidemic of suicide and depression. It is critical to restore access to their holy sites on Shingal Mountain in order to reduce a collective sense of hopelessness and separation from their native land, and to enable the practice of religious rituals, including funerals for those killed by the Islamic State. In this way, we hope to address and combat religicide, ecocide, and suicide. We also hope that this project will raise awareness about the Yazidis and help counter some of the disinformation that proliferates regarding them, by highlighting their intrinsic worth as a religious and ethnic community.