By The United Nations
A Healing Arts story by Yazda and Upstream in collaboration with Community Jameel and CULTURUNNERS.
In 2014 the self-declared Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) seized control of northern Iraq and launched a campaign of genocide and other mass atrocity crimes. Their main targets were the Yazidi people, Christians and other ethno-religious communities.
Persecution extended to anyone not abiding by Da'esh's distorted ideology – even other Muslims. The survivors have shown extraordinary courage, agency and resilience in the face of unspeakable horror. This is their story.
Untitled (2017) by Ivana WaleedThe United Nations
“When I stand in front of this picture, I think it is me, and when other women stand in front of it they should think the same, because this woman represents every one of us.”
Ivana Waleed, Yazidi Activist and Survivor
A Girl From Nineveh (2013) by Thabit MikhailThe United Nations
People of Nineveh
For generations, people of different ethnic and religious groups have co-existed in Nineveh. This complex patchwork of peoples until recently included Christian descendants of the ancient Assyrians, Shia Turkmen, Sunni Arabs, Shabaks, Kaka'i and Yazidis.
Together, these small communities embodied a rich, unique cultural heritage, little known to the wider world.
Nineveh, Northern Iraq
Nineveh Governorate has an estimated population of 2,453,000 people as of 2003. An ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse region, it was partly conquered by Da'esh in 2014.
Yazidi Girl in Traditional Robes (2018) by Jamil SoroThe United Nations
The Yazidis are a unique ethno-religious group, whose origins stretch back more than 6,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. Their homeland is Sinjar, a remote province of mountains and plains.
Yazidis have often been misunderstood by their neighbours as 'heretics and devil worshippers'. They have historically experienced persecution on this basis.
“Every time we said we were Yazidis, people took distance from us, went away from us. We wanted to say who we are, but we were afraid what would happen, afraid that they would not treat us as fellow humans.”
– Jamil Soro
Stealer of Dreams (2018) by Hussam SameerThe United Nations
The rise of Da'esh
After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, increasingly violent sectarian divisions became rife. The door was opened to terrorist groups from which Da'esh traces its lineage.
This instability, along with bitter conflict in neighbouring Syria, facilitated the rapid spread of Da'esh's violent extremist ideology and hate speech. By 2014, an estimated ten million people would be living under Da'esh control.
The Temple of Betrayal (2018) by Saher ShakerThe United Nations
"This is genocide, a holocaust, it cannot be worse!"
In August 2014 Nineveh's ancestral lands made headlines around the world. Da'esh launched a brutal attack on the minority peoples of the Sinjar district.
Da'esh ruthlessly exterminated thousands of men, teenage boys, and some women judged to be past child-bearing age. Younger boys were spared – only to be indoctrinated and forced to fight for Da'esh.
Yazidi women and girls were abducted, beaten and trafficked into a life of sexual enslavement and violence. Thousands of people fled in terror – but not all escaped.
In just a few days, an estimated 9,900 Yazidis were either killed or kidnapped. Their way of life was swept away by a wave of horrific violence and cruelty.
Getting the eldery out of Sinjar (2014) by Zmnanko IsmaelThe United Nations
Barefoot up the mountain
Mount Sinjar is a sacred place for the Yazidis. As Da'esh attacked on August 3rd, it became a place of refuge as around 50,000 people fled their homes to escape the extremists.
Fleeing Sinjar (2014) by Zmnanko IsmaelThe United Nations
Many made their way up the mountain's upper slopes; some carrying children, some barefoot.
Fleeing on truck (2014) by Zmnanko IsmaelThe United Nations
Far below, Da'esh forces encircled the mountain, firing on vulnerable families.
Young girl in Sinjar (2014) by Zmnanko IsmaelThe United Nations
The Yazidis were now under siege, without adequate food, water or medicine. A humanitarian catastrophe loomed.
Children in Sinjar (2014) by Zmnanko IsmaelThe United Nations
The world responds to images of the Yazidis besieged on Mount Sinjar: RAF and US aircraft make humanitarian air drops.
Genocide is a process, not an isolated event. For three years the people of northern Iraq suffered under Da’esh’s brutal occupation. In a climate of fear and violence, many were demeaned and dehumanized on a daily basis.
According to age and gender, Yazidis were either executed, forcibly converted or enslaved. But they were not simply 'victims'–many resisted their captors courageously. Some managed to escape and were assisted or hidden by civilians.
Untitled (2017) by Suhalia Dakhil TaloThe United Nations
“The work is a metaphor, representing every powerless and voiceless survivor.” – Suhalia Dakhil Talo, Yazidi Survivor
The Darkness is covering me (2017) by Salam NohThe United Nations
“Please open your door to help those persecuted. These people have lost everything, and they just want to have a new, simple life.” – Salam Noh
ISIS Bullet Hole Painting (Assyrian Horse) (2016) by Piers SecundaThe United Nations
A crime against humanity
Da'esh's campaign included the systematic desecration and destruction of minority ethno-religious sites and iconography. They were determined to purge all other ethnic faiths from their new 'caliphate', including Shia Islam. Centuries of heritage were destroyed within days.
“I wanted to show in some respects the tragedy of the erasure of these important cultural objects” – Piers Secunda
The Destruction of ISIS (2018) by Thabit MikhailThe United Nations
By December 2017, it seemed Da'esh had been defeated in Iraq. Yet the liberation did not mean suffering was at an end. The activities and consequences of the genocide perpetrated by Da'esh still continue today–long after the initial attacks of 2014.
Thikran and Mother (2021) by Newsha Tavakolian / Magnum PhotosThe United Nations
The situation now
Today, many survivors still languish in camps for the displaced. Others left Iraq for lives abroad. Many more are missing and may still be captives of Da'esh. Survivors everywhere remain traumatized by unspeakable suffering – particularly the c.3,500 women and children who were able to escape their enslavement and today are key witnesses of the atrocities.
The genocide is still ongoing...
12,000 people are known dead, including up to 5,500 Yazidis.
250,000 people are still living in IDP (Internally Displace Person) camps.
130,000 have returned to Sinjar.
2,800 are still missing or in captivity–mainly women and children.
2 Da'esh militant brought to justice for the crime of genocide against the Yazidis.
“They (children) need more care because we saw many horrible things, and our minds are now tired because of Da'esh. Governments and the United Nations must do more to help children.” – Thikran, Yazidi Child Survivor
VR Participant ZKM (2021) by Felix GrünschloßThe United Nations
VR Experience: The Forgotten Voices of Sinjar
Premiered at the Iraqi Parliament in 2020, The Forgotten Voices of Sinjar VR experience has been shown to people across Iraq. This short film captures the reactions of Iraqis after they watch the VR experience.
"Nobody's Listening is a tribute to the courage of the survivors of genocide and amplifies their call for justice.”
Amal Clooney, International Human Rights Lawyer
Tree Sculpture (2021) by Felix GrünschloßThe United Nations
We are listening
Progress is being made to recognize the genocide internationally and seek justice for its victims in Iraq. Successful advocacy by survivor groups and civil society contributed to the Law on Yazidi Survivors being adopted by the Government of Iraq in March 2021. The law recognizes Da'esh's crimes against the Yazidis, Turkmen, Christians and Shabaks as genocide and calls for reparations for the victims.
Reconstruction of Sinjar is underway with major support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID has rebuilt schools, healthcare clinics, and homes and restored water and electricity. However, much more needs to be done.
To date, Germany is the sole government to prosecute Da'esh fighters for genocide.
The battle for justice goes on.
Alice W Nderitu, UN Special Adviser, Prevention of Genocide
“Supporting all victims, acknowledging their suffering and ensuring that they have access to proper accountability processes constitutes an essential requirement for trust-building, healing and reconciliation. This is especially true in post-genocidal societies. There should never be any space for denial of their suffering nor of the crimes committed against them. Art and virtual reality contributes to bring their experience to the open, and with it their collective plea to redouble our efforts to ensure that such crimes are never committed again. This call must never be ignored.”
Nobody’s Listening is a 'Yazidi Cultural Archive' story organized by Yazda and Upstream. It is presented by Healing Arts under the auspices of the WHO and produced by CULTURUNNERS and Community Jameel in collaboration with the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, and Blessed Foundation.
Curator and Exhibition/ VR Producer: Ryan Xavier D’Souza. Involved at Yazda: Haider Elias, Ahmed Khudida, Natia Navrouzov, Delkhwaz Haciy, Saman Hussein, Henrieta Mrazova, The Yazidi Survivors Network
Art Director & Co-Curator: Dijon Dajee
Exhibition Design, Graphic Design and Production: Easy Tiger Creative
Script: Steven Swaby
VR Experience: Surround Vision
VR Director: Mary Matheson
Legal Advisor: Güley Bor
Clinical Psychologist: Dr. Sarah Whittaker
Catalogue Copywriter: Dr. Alexander Gross
An evaluation of the impact of the archives on the psychological wellbeing of participants is being produced with support from Arts + Health @ NYU and the WHO Arts & Health Program.