Sinjar, 8 November 2023 – “When this genocide happened, I was right here,” Chinar, 18, said, standing before the Grave of Mothers in Solagh, Sinjar. “They separated the old women from the rest of us. I was 10 years old.” Nine years later, the site where nearly 90 Yazidi women were martyred by Daesh is forever memorialized with the Yazidi Genocide Memorial.

On 18 October 2023, Chinar and dozens of other Yazidi survivors welcomed the opening of the memorial site – a common space to remember and grieve that stands as a physical testament to the Yazidi community’s strength and resilience.

“It is so hard for me to be here today, but it is important to remember what happened to us. I only know my siblings were killed; I don’t know where their bodies are, so this memorial provides me a space to come and pray [for the dead] and to remember.”

A Yazidi survivor places a white flower on top of the mass grave known as the “Grave of Mothers” before the inaugural ceremony. Photo: IOM 2023/Raber Aziz
Yazidi survivors sitting before the memorial monument during the inaugural event. Photo: IOM 2023/Megan Giovannetti

Nadia Murad, former resident of Sinjar and member of the Yazidi community, donated part of her Nobel Peace Prize to purchase the land that the memorial stands on. “I felt it was important for it to stand right here,” she said during a speech at the inaugural ceremony, “keeping watch over the graves of the mothers, where my own mother, along with many others, was left right here, but never forgotten.”

“I hope it will be a tribute that can provide solace and ease our personal grief, while making sense of our community’s trauma,” she said.

Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, UNODC Goodwill Ambassador and President and founder of Nadia's Initiative, standing before the Grave of Mothers. Photo: IOM 2023/Raber Aziz

Built at the request of survivors by Nadia’s Initiative and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Iraq, with support and funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the memorial site pays homage to the resilience and courage of the Yazidi community, who endured systematic violence and persecution during the Daesh occupation. Over 3,000 members of the Yazidi community were executed and buried in mass graves in what the United Nations, European Union, Iraq and a number of countries have declared a genocide against the Yazidi religious minority.

Yazidi religious leaders honouring and praying over the women martyrs. Photo: IOM 2023/Raber Aziz

The memorial is hoped to provide some closure and a space for healing for families who, until now, have not been reunited with the bodies of their loved ones. It offers one form of justice that the Yazidi community targeted by Daesh so desperately deserve.

“We have been subjected to massacres 74 times, and no one knows about them,” Samar, 18, said. “The significance of this memorial is that it allows people to learn about what happened to us. It will stay here for a long time.”

Designed using 3D imagery as a gift by Yazidi architect Dersim Khairy Namo, and in close cooperation with local artists, engineers and community leaders, the 10,000-square-meter space hosts nearly 3,000 unmarked marble gravestones in remembrance of the lives lost in August 2014.

“We did not have a proper place for mourning; we had to commemorate the genocide on the street, or in a wilderness, which was not befitting,” Ibrahim, 19, said. “Now we have a dedicated place, we will not be at a loss as to where to hold our collective mourning. We will not be scattered.”

Chinar, 18, Yazidi survivor. Photo: IOM 2023/Raber Aziz
Ibrahim, 19, Yazidi survivor. Photo: IOM 2023/Raber Aziz
Samar, 18, Yazidi survivor. Photo: IOM 2023/Raber Aziz

“Remembrance is the first step towards recovery,” said Giorgi Gigauri, Chief of Mission for IOM in Iraq, during a speech at the event. “One crucial step in this process is the timely provision of individual reparations and the coordination of other transitional justice measures to address the horrors of Daesh’s genocide and crimes against humanity, as outlined in the Yazidi Survivors Law.”

“Reparations and transitional justice are not only important for the well-being and recovery efforts of the Yazidi community, but also for the collective healing of the country,” he said.

Giorgi Gigauri, Chief of Mission for IOM in Iraq, stands among community members at the Yazidi Genocide Memorial inauguration. Photo: IOM 2023/Raber Aziz

USAID Mission Director Elise Jensen emphasized that "with art and remembrance, we transform tragedy into timeless tributes. The Yazidi Genocide Memorial stands as a symbol of our commitment to honour the lives lost in the Yazidi genocide, etching their memory into our collective consciousness. These sculptures symbolize resilience, healing and the enduring spirit of humanity. Proudly partnering with Nadia’s Initiation and IOM Iraq, USAID is uplifting communities and offering a powerful symbol of hope for generations to come."

The ceremony was attended by Dr. Ahmed Al Badrani representing the Prime Minister of the Government of Iraq and the Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities; Dr. Dindar Zibari representing the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government; Mr. Ahmad Al Asady, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs; Dr. Khalaf Sinjari, the Prime Minister Advisor for Yazidi Affairs; Judge Raed Hamid Hussain representing the President of Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council; Ms. Sarab Barakat, Directorate General of the Directorate for Survivors Affairs; Ninewa Mr. Najm Al Jabouri, Governor of Ninewa; and Mr. Claudio Cardone representing the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq. Representatives of diplomatic missions and international organizations, community leaders, survivors and family members of the Yazidi community were all also in attendance.

A moving performance by a local Yazidi band closed the ceremony. While touring the site, guests admired paintings created by Yazidi survivors who participated in a mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) activity previously implemented by IOM and supported by USAID.

A local Yazidi band performs a traditional song at the end of the inaugural ceremony. Photo: IOM 2023/Raber Aziz
Community members admire artwork painted by Yazidi survivors who took part in an IOM activity. Photo: IOM 2023/Raber Aziz
Government and community leaders admiring the Yazidi artwork after the inaugural ceremony. Photo: IOM 2023/Megan Giovannetti

As part of efforts to advance transitional justice and durable solutions for the Yazidi and other minority communities in Iraq, IOM also provides protection, mental health and psychosocial support, housing rehabilitation and legal services to Yazidi and other survivors of war, with support from USAID.

IOM worked closely with Iraqi authorities to develop the Yazidi Survivors Law and is supporting the Directorate for Survivors Affairs to provide reparations to Yazidi, Turkmen, Christian and Shabak survivors, including throughout the application process. Over 1,141 applications for reparations have already been processed and nearly 900 verified survivors have begun receiving monthly salaries under this law.

View of the memorial site from its entrance (left) and from behind (right). Photos: IOM 2023/Raber Aziz

This story was written by Megan Giovannetti, IOM Iraq.

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