After over three years in ISIS captivity many young Yazidis forgot their heritage - one school in Dohuk is trying to change that
In a refugee school around the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk, the religious teacher Shayaar Khadida gives lessons to young Yazidi boys and girls about Yazidi history and culture. Almost all of the boys and girls at this school were captured and abducted by ISIS militants after the group entered northern Iraq in mid-2014 and for some, more than three years under ISIS captivity has erased much of the memory of their culture. For Shayaar, therefore, it is imperative to remind and re-teach these young kids much of what they have forgotten.
Among lessons in history and culture, Shayaar also teaches the children about compassion and tolerance. The school is also set up to help these young people deal with and overcome the fear of their past experiences. In total, there are 116 students learning at this school, with plans to expand and open a further four schools that will hopefully take in approximately 750 students.
Among one of the students is Hanna, a young fifteen-year old girl who was taken from her family along with other young Yazidi girls. Many of these girls were taken from prominent Yazidi-inhabited cities, towns and villages such as Kocho and Sinjar, both of which still suffer from the lingering effects of ISIS’ destructive rule.
The dark memories of life under ISIS are still etched onto Hanna’s face as she recounts the daily abuse she received from militants.
“They used to teach us the Quran and their religion. They taught us how to pray,” said Hanna. “They didn’t let us miss a prayer because they would say the Yazidis are infidels and to not pay attention to them. When anything happened they would tell us to blow ourselves up amongst the Yazidi ‘disbelievers'”.
The resulting impact on Hanna has been recognised by her mother, Barifaan, who says that her daughter only returned to her five months ago. When Hanna returned, Barifaan notes that she was deeply depressed and didn’t talk to anyone.
There have been other, similar cases of young Yazidis returning to their families having changed completely due to ISIS rule. In particular, ISIS’ caustic anti-Yazidi ideology and forced rejection of Yazidi heritage or familial language in favour of Arabic (which other family members don’t speak) have often created immense splits between the child and family.
The initiatives that Shayaar and others lead are therefore fundamental in trying to teach young children about their heritage, heal familial wounds, and allow Yazidis to move on after the harmful rule of ISIS.