Yazidi Renewal in Iraqi Kurdistan

This post was a collobrative effort between Andrea Hickerson and Timothy Wotring

After our visit to Lalish, the holiest place for the Yazidis, we spent Monday learning about community efforts to support the Yazidis displacement and trauma at the hands of ISIS. Here are some of the leaders we met.

Sunrise

“Goodness brings goodness.”  - Nayf Sabry, Sunrise

Our first stop was Sharya IDP camp outside Dohuk. Sharya hosts 17,000 internally displaced people, most of whom left their homes as ISIS advanced on their homes in Sinjar. Famously, ISIS killed many men and boys and captured and enslaved thousands of women. Others fled to the mountains where they stayed for 7 to 10 days before coming to Dohuk.

Nayf, 20, and his friends, were struck by the unfair burden placed on Yazidi children. Growing up in a camp with their parents preoccupied with their own trauma and securing basic needs, there were few opportunities for play.

In response, Nayf and some of his friends temporarily dropped out of high school and started Sunrise, a non-politically affiliated NGO. Members from Sunrise visited every family in the camp and invited their children to attend extra-curricular events including movies, games and a field trip to the mall.

Sunrise functions as a community center in a tent in the middle of camp.

Nayf  and his friends are eager to raise money to provide more infrastructure and entertainment opportunities for the children of the camp.

They want to protect the right to childhood – a right he himself was denied.

“If we don’t help each other, who would come?,” he said.

 

Jinda Women's Rights Organization"I knew the Yazidi women were powerful and I wanted to help bring it out of them." - Social Worker at Jinda

In the afternoon we visited with Jinda, a women's right organization in Dohuk, IK.

Two years ago, Daesh (ISIS) devastated the Yazidi people's homes in Iraq and Syria and tragically sexually abused and imprisoned girls and women. Thousands fled their homes and became IDPs in Iraq-Kurdistan, outside of Duhok. For the women who escaped the imprisonment of sexual abuse, some had to walk for days without food or water until they reached the camp. The women arrived to the IDP camp with PTSD among other forms of psycho and physical trauma. Mobile groups from Wadi would go to the camp, visit with these women, and ask what they would need.  Out of their needs Wadi created the organiztion Jinda, which means "new life" and they offer a two week opportunity for therapy, a chance to learn life skills, and a resting place outside of the camp.

Women and girls from ages 6-45 have come to the beautiful Jinda space. We were told that for the first few days, many of the girls and women were distant and sorrowful, but by the end of the two weeks they had opened up to one another. Even after the two weeks, Jinda continues to keep in contact with those whom come seeing how else they might be of help. Some of the trainees became trainers or helpers in the camps. 

Jinda was such an inspiration. They saw the need in their community and addressed it head on. They  also have helped to fight Islamophobia because when the girls and women were coming to Jinda, they kept saying that Muslims did this to them. Jinda staff, who are made up of Muslims, Christians, Turkmans, etc. had the opportunity to tell them that this was not Islam at all. Still after these two years, Jinda continues to host women and girls for two weeks. May God bless them for it and may we bring an end to gender based violence and sexual abuse.

 

“If the U.S. wants peace, they have a responsibility to stay.” – Bayar Dosky, Professor, American University of Kurdistan, Dohuk.

Dohuk

We ended our day with a visit from Dr. Bayar Dosky, a historian from the American University of Kurdistan. Dr. Dosky provided a rich history of Kurdistan and the Dohuk region, in particular.

He explained that the current refugee crisis only contributed to what was already a diverse city. Many different ethnic groups, nationalities and religions coexist here. Almost 65% of all displaced people in Iraq live in camps near Dohuk, he said.

An expert on Kurdish policy, Dr. Dosky worried about a post-U.S. Middle East. If the U.S. leaves, he argued, other groups will jockey for power, likely leading to even more conflict.

Nevertheless, he remains hopeful about the strength of the Kurdistan Regional Government. If the KRG can convince Western powers that they are an important and necessary buffer between Turkey and Saudi Arabia and that Turkey is supporting ISIS, there is a real possibility for on-going Kurdish governance.