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Yazidi Youth Refuse to Stay Silent
Farhan Ibraheem is running freedom of expression workshops to protect young Yazidis determined to speak out.
Speaking, writing and posting online is fraught with danger in Sinjar, where one wrong word can land you on a blacklist. Which words to avoid depends on the various different blacklists, each with a different militia behind them, so it’s safer to say nothing and accept the status quo. Silence, however, is not an option for residents who want to expose human rights violations in Sinjar and demand an end to the conflict and suffering that has made life unbearable over the last nine years.
“We need to reveal the truth and share the facts about what happened to the Yazidis in 2014 and what is going on right now in Sinjar,” says Farhan Ibraheem, pointing to multiple disputes that make daily life difficult in this remote corner of northern Iraq. “We have many kinds of conflict – economic, political, international – so many countries are fighting for their interests through Sinjar,” adds Ibraheem, the founder of Youth Bridge Organization, which works to empower the Yazidi community in Sinjar.
Nine years after Isis was driven from the district, efforts to reconstruct its war-ravaged infrastructure have stalled. Public services fall far short of requirements, and the situation remains deeply unstable, with regular outbreaks of violence as different groups vie for control. Officially part of Iraq, Sinjar is claimed by the Kurdistan Regional Government, but has also become a battleground for other regional powers pursuing their interests through proxy forces on the ground. “We don’t know who is controlling and who is securing Sinjar, it’s a mess,” says Ibraheem. “With so many armed groups, it’s hard for people to express their thoughts and stay safe - you don’t know who you might offend.”
Working alongside his wife, Ghazala Jango, Ibraheem has hired professional trainers to run workshops on freedom of expression to educate Yazidi journalists and activists about their rights under international law, highlighting measures they can take to protect themselves when covering violations in Sinjar. “If Yazidis don’t support themselves, who will,” says Ibraheem, who held the workshops late last year with an Innovation Hub grant from Ideas Beyond Borders.
Once a quiet corner of northern Iraq, Sinjar drew global attention when Isis carried out its brutal genocide on the Yazidi population in 2014, murdering around 5,000 Yazidi civilians and forcing thousands of women and girls into sexual slavery. Those who survived the massacre fled, becoming refugees in Iraq and around the world. Many have yet to return, unable to face the atrocities that haunt their homeland or rebuild their lives in a land riven with conflict.
According to a Crisis Group report, almost 70 percent of Sinjar’s population remains displaced, leaving the Yazidi community scattered - in refugee camps across Iraq and other countries around the world. “As time passes without a workable arrangement for governing and securing Sinjar, the incentives for displaced Sinjaris living in squalid camps to come home are diminishing,” the report states. “Leaving the situation in Sinjar as it is will simply invite more violence and displacement.”
This poses a grave risk to the identity of the Yazidis, a community that engaged little with the outside world until Isis began its genocide. Forced into the spotlight, Yazidis attracted international support, helping to counter the marginalization they have long suffered as an ethnic minority, even before they became a target for Isis. But the once close-knit community is now scattered, making it harder to advocate for their rights and confront discrimination from authorities in Iraq and Kurdistan.
“Yazidis are severely under-represented in local institutions and public services, leaving them without a voice in their own homeland,” says Faisal Al Mutar, President of Ideas Beyond Borders. “This lack of representation compounds the marginalization that has exposed them to so much suffering, which can only be prevented by empowering their community and giving them the knowledge to redefine their future.”
For now, that means knowing what they can and cannot say without drawing the attention of armed groups. “Saying that Isis took over Sinjar is fine, but not which group withdrew from the area when Isis arrived,” says Ibraheem. Similarly, everyone knows which groups are kidnapping youth in Sinjar, but it’s dangerous to specify. “Just pointing out that this is happening will prompt people to ask the question, but the writer won’t get in trouble because they haven’t named names.”
It’s the best solution for now, as young Yazidis in Sinjar refuse to stay silent in an environment fraught with risk. “The youth need to understand their rights and how to apply them in this context so they can empower their community as it emerges from the genocide and trauma of the last nine years,” Ibraheem adds.
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