Iraq

Yazidi Cultural Heritage

The Yazidi people trace their identity and faith back over 6000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. The Yazidi community is concentrated in Northern Iraq where the holiest site of the Yazidi faith, Lalish, is located. Lalish became a place of refuge for many Yazidis fleeing from the advance of Islamic State in the greater region.

In the summer of 2014, Islamic State (IS) began a series of assaults on the Yazidi (Êzidî) community in northern Iraq. The intention of IS was to eradicate the Yazidi people and their beliefs through ethnic cleansing and genocide. One facet of this was the destruction of Yazidi cultural heritage.

Together with RASHID and Yazda, the EAMENA project participated in the production of an open-access report entitled Destroying the Soul of the Yazidis: Cultural Heritage Destruction During the Islamic State’s Genocide Against the Yazidis. The report presents the results of an investigation into cultural heritage destruction that occurred during the genocide. To learn more about the genocide committed against the Yazidi people, you can also visit Nobody’s Listening. There you will find information about the virtual reality experience and immersive exhibition commemorating the genocide and telling the stories of the survivors, which is launching in 2021.

The Yazidi people trace their identity and faith back over 6000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. The Yazidi community is concentrated in Northern Iraq where the holiest site of the Yazidi faith, Lalish, is located. Lalish became a place of refuge for many Yazidis fleeing from advance of IS in the greater region.

Figure 1: The Yazidi holy site of Lalish. Photo credit ICONEM (Gabriel Gauffre).

Characteristic elements of Yazidi religious sites include the conical roofs that sit atop shrines as illustrated here through examples from Lalish.

Figure 2: Photo credit ICONEM (Gabriel Gauffre).

Figure 3: Photo credit ICONEM (Gabriel Gauffre).

For the report, Destroying the Soul of the Yazidis: Cultural Heritage Destruction During the Islamic State’s Genocide Against the Yazidis, the EAMENA project examined satellite imagery of the Sinjar and Bahzani regions of northern Iraq from dates prior to, and after the reported destruction of these religious sites. For each site, we recorded the extent of the damage, the category and type of disturbance, the effect of the disturbance and the certainty of our observations. Our analysis of the satellite imagery indicated that all of the temples and shrines we assessed were badly damaged or completely destroyed. The damage appeared to have been caused by deliberate clearance or demolition. Below is an illustration of the categories of data we record, along with some examples we used in this analysis.

Figure 4: The EAMENA methodology records data about the condition of an archaeological site in defined categories. EAMENA Project.

There are a number of Yazidi temples and shrines located around Mount Sinjar. Many of these were badly damaged, and in some cases destroyed, by IS. Many Yazidis living in the area, fled up onto Mount Sinjar where they were trapped without food or water.

Figure 5: An image of Mount Sinjar from Google Earth taken on 22 October 2004. Image © 2021 Maxar Technologies.

Different perspectives of the same site can help us in determining its condition. This image taken using a drone, provides an aerial view of the damage to Amadin Temple in Sinjar. Amadin was reported to have been destroyed on October 14th 2014, and our imagery analysis showed that the site was very badly damaged.

Figure 6: Aerial view of the ruins of Amadin Temple, Sinjar. Photo Credit Yazda - Faris Mishko.

A view from the ground confirms that the Amadin temple has been significantly damaged, possibly using machinery. Rubble litters the former area of the shrine.

Figure 7: Ruins of Amadin Temple, Sinjar. Photo Credit Yazda - Faris Mishko.

The image below shows the damage to the temple of Sheikh Mand, named for a historical person and holy figure in the Yazidi faith. The temple was reported to have been destroyed on August 24th 2014. Our satellite imagery analysis confirmed it was very badly damaged. In particular, the distinctive shrine, with the conical roof, appears to have been targeted.

Figure 8: Destruction at Sheikh Mand Temple. Photo Credit Yazda - Faris Mishko.

Figure 9: Destruction at Sheikh Mand Temple. Photo Credit Yazda - Faris Mishko.

IS also targeted the temple at Sheikh Hassan. It was reported to have been destroyed on July 12th 2015. In this drone image, the damaged, conical roof of the shrine sits atop the rubble. Due to the position of the sun, we can clearly see the shadow of the roof of the shrine. This helped us to identify it here, and in other satellite images, where we also found evidence for significant damage to the shrine.

Figure 10: Aerial view of the destruction of Sheikh Hassan Temple. Photo Credit Yazda - Faris Mishko.

Figure 11: Destruction at Sheikh Mand Temple. Photo Credit Yazda - Faris Mishko.

We would like to extend our thanks to Faris Mishko and Yazda for supplying us with images for this exhibition.

References/Further reading

  • RASHID, Yazda, and the EAMENA Project. 2019. Destroying the Soul of the Yazidis: Cultural Heritage Destruction During the Islamic State’s Genocide Against the Yazidis. Available here
  • Fobbe, S., Navrouzov, N., Hopper, K., Khudida Burjus, A., Philip, G., Nawaf, M.G., Lawrence, D., Walasek, H., Birjandian, S., Hassan Ali, M., Rashidani, S., Salih, H., Sulaiman Qari, D. & Mishko, F. (Forthcoming). Cultural Heritage Destruction during the Islamic State's Genocide against the Yazidis. Asian Yearbook of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.