Christians were a primary target for ISIS, who had driven away Assyrians and Armenians from their homes in Nineveh Province. As a result, an artist launched an exhibition in Erbil which seeks to commemorate their displacement and suffering under ISIS rule.
A photography exhibition has been set up in Erbil to commemorate the displacement of Assyrian and Armenian Christians in Iraq after the ISIS invasion of the Nineveh plains in 2014.
Many activists in Iraq, including Taher Sa’eed, the photographer responsible for the exhibition, have stressed the need to document the suffering of these minority communities so that this episode of history is not forgotten.
“I have attempted to use my art to expose the suffering of the Assyrian and Armenian people by documenting their suffering in videos and photo shots”, said Taher.
The photographer has followed many of these families during their plight, including as displaced people in camps throughout the country. After the Nineveh Plains were liberated, the photographer returned to the area with the returnees and documented their trip.
“After the liberation, we were shocked to find the homes burnt so savagely by the terrorist group,” said Taher. “All of those that returned in the first days of liberation prioritised the collection of their photos and memories regardless of the destruction, the explosions and the presence of the army”.
The exhibition, which was opened up in Ankawa district in Erbil Province, was sponsored by the Shlomo Documentation Organisation, which seeks to document and record the crimes and abuses carried out by ISIS against Iraqis. The founder of the Shlomo Documentation Organisation, Fares Hajo, stated that the remnants of ISIS remain despite four years since their invasion. “Their remnants will not easily be removed. The victims’ rights that have still not been heeded to,” said Fares Hajo. “There should also be a just tribunal to prosecute criminals. There is a long way until we achieve all of this.”
Activists share this sentiment as many see that the remnants of ISIS will continue to affect the victims unless there are active efforts made to rehabilitate the people psychologically. Additionally, reconstruction of homes and cities plays a considerable role in the return of many of these minority communities. “Our people and the whole of humanity need to work harder. Much more than four years are needed to revert the effects of these horrific violations and crimes,” says Romeo Hkarri, the president of the Bayt al-Nahrain Party. “We have sent messages to the international community and the whole of humanity including the central and local governments to join in the reconstruction of Nineveh Valley because 70-80% of towns and villages have been destroyed.”
Such an initiative is not new to Iraq, as many have launched similar initiatives to commemorate the oppression that the Iraqi people faced under ISIS.