By The United Nations
A Healing Arts story in collaboration with Yazda, Community Jameel and CULTURUNNERS
Survivors Photographing a Traditional Yazidi Bracelet Maker (21th Century) by YazdaThe United Nations
In brave defiance of the 2014 genocide perpetrated by Da'esh, Yazidi women of different generations have come together to reclaim and revive at-risk cultural practices to preserve their heritage.
The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime according to international law.
Survivors Photographing the Deq Tattooing Process (21th Century) by YazdaThe United Nations
Sustaining traditional cultural practices is important to survivors, and those who remain displaced and living in camps, as a pillar of the cultural identity and link to their lives before the genocide.
The creators of this exhibition are passionate about preserving and protecting Yazidi Cultural traditions, especially those passed on from mother to daughter across generations.
Following a course of photography workshops, the participants embarked on a series of field trips to record the at-risk cultural traditions practiced by the elder women in the community.
Clockwise from top left: Elham, Suham, Zina and Enas.
Dazik (Bracelet) Making
Dazik, Yazidi traditional handmade bracelets, are a combination of spinning two strings of sheep’s wool, each separately, dyeing one of them in white, and the other in red; then spinning them together with the use of Tashi to get a single string of white and red combined. Yazidis wear Dazik around the neck or wrist.
“When we returned from captivity we wanted to protect our culture. Da'esh tried to exterminate our religion, our traditions and our customs. In response, we will keep preserving our culture, and show it to a new generation, so it will not be lost.”
Deq Tattoo on an Traditional Yazidi Tattoist (21th Century) by YazdaThe United Nations
Traditionally, Yazidi women would tattoo designs – most often dots – on their faces and hands. These unique markings are sometimes known as 'Deq' Tattoos.
Within a philosophy grounded in nature, Deq tattoos were believed to relieve pain and inflammation and were especially common in Sinjar, the homeland of the Yazidi people.
My name is Na’am Qasim Khalaf...
“I used to love making tattoos. I started making tattoos when I was 15 years old. After Da'esh besieged Sinjar in 2014, my family fled to the Khanki IDP (Internally Displaced People) camp in Kurdistan and I stopped making tattoos.”
Common tattoo symbols among Yazidis include the Moon (both full or crescent), the cross, a wool comb (used to symbolize beauty), a gazelle, an animal called daqqayeh, a sandgrouse foot, a doll, a spindle, an inverted 'v' called res daqq, a dimlich (figure which looks like a bag with two strings) and combinations of dots. A single dot is said to draw pain away from injuries and a dot on the end of a woman’s nose is said to help with fertility.
Deq Tattoo Ink (21th Century) by Kamira MahmoodThe United Nations
Deq Tattooing Process
Deq Tattoo ink is traditionally made from a mixture of ash, milk and water.
“That summer night in August 2014 changed my life, and the life of my region and its children forever. Da'esh attacked us and I was one of the thousands of Yazidi women and girls at their hands. I stayed for five years in captivity in Syria and found hope when I saw a butterfly flying. When I look at our names together now, I feel that she is close to me and it makes me strong."
"When God gave me the grace to return to my family, I decided to tattoo a butterfly on my hand. I love that free butterfly that did not harm any creature.”
"Ten years ago, I had a best friend named Manal and we decided one day to tattoo each other’s names on our hands as a memory. One day Manal disappeared and I have not found any information where she is. Only our tattoos remain."
Commemorative Tattoo (21th Century) by YazdaThe United Nations
"When I look at our names together now, I feel that she is close to me and it makes me strong."
"My sister has a tattoo of her husband’s name. When in captivity, Da'esh forced her to remove it. She told her captor that while they could remove him from her skin, they could not remove him from her heart.”
Haider Elias, Co-Founder & President, Yazda
"Our culture is our identity; preserving it is crucial to our hearts and souls as a community. This digital archive created by the survivors serves as moral support for those of us who have been traumatized and experienced a deep panic of losing our roots and culture."
Nils Fietje, Technical Officer, WHO European Region
"Research shows that both active and passive engagement with the arts can support the mental well-being of people who have been forcibly displaced. That’s because arts activities can improve self-confidence, promote social inclusion, and help to preserve personal identity."
Stories of Thread & Ink is a 'Yazidi Cultural Archive' story created by Saadia Saeed Talal, Renas Elias Hussein, Kamira Mahmood Hussien, Aamira Hussien Ali, Suham Sulaiman Hussien, Elham Dakheel Ali, Enas Qasso and Zina Ibrahim Murad. It is presented by Healing Arts under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and produced by CULTURUNNERS and Community Jameel in collaboration with Yazda, Open Mind Project, Blessed Foundation and the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology.
An evaluation of the impact of the archives on the psychological wellbeing of participants is being support from Arts + Health @ NYU and the WHO Arts and Health program.
Special thanks to Nobody's Listening.
All images courtesy of the artists and Yazda.