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At Yad Vashem, Yazidi activists seek to learn how to remember their genocide
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At Yad Vashem, Yazidi activists seek to learn how to remember their genocide

Halfway through a tour of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum on Monday, the former Islamic State sex slave slumped.

Two years after the first mass graves were found in Sinjar, the northern Iraqi region where her mother and six of her nine brothers were killed by the Islamic State in 2014, 24-year-old Nadia Murad was staring at photographs of Nazi firing squads peering over piles of Jewish corpses in freshly dug ditches.

Downcast but composed — and dressed entirely in black — the Yazidi woman placed her hand over her mouth.

A UN goodwill ambassador and Nobel Peace Prize nominee now residing in Germany, Murad was in the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem with a group to learn from Israel’s expertise of how to record, commemorate, and educate about a genocide.

“If only we were able to go back to the ancestral homeland, where we were driven out… we would do the same thing,” she said after the tour.

The Yazidi community “would be able to create a sort of similar type of museum where we would keep… the houses that were blown up, the piles of bones, the skeletons that were left, we could make something out of it,” she said.

“And all the things that happened to us — we would remind the future generation so they can… defend themselves and make sure this doesn’t happen to them [or us] in the future,” she added.

In the summer of 1942 — as the vast majority of European Jewry was being systematically murdered by the Nazis — an Israeli named Mordechai Shenhavi was gripped by an idea. Israel must build a centre memorialising the victims of the Holocaust, wrote Shenhavi, who would go on to become the first director of Yad Vashem.

In the summer of 2017 — with the conflict in Iraq and Syria raging, thousands displaced, and 3,000 women still in IS captivity — the two Yazidi activists walked the halls of Shenhavi’s Yad Vashem, initiating meetings with its staff during a trip to Israel organised by the IsraAID humanitarian aid nonprofit and a Knesset lobby on Kurdish affairs.

Touring the museum, the Yad Vashem guide emphasized the incorporation of video testimonials juxtaposed among the artefacts as the bread and butter of Yad Vashem’s methods.

You must highlight your religious and cultural traditions in Sinjar, the guide said, gesturing at Judaica and other artefacts from lost European Jewish communities.

“One day you will have a museum of your own,” he told the Yazidi activists, and you will need to get people to sit down before cameras and get them to talk. »

In August 2014, two months after sweeping across Iraq’s Sunni heartland, IS jihadis made a second push into an area that had been under Kurdish security control. Thousands of Yazidi men were massacred when the jihadis attacked the town of Sinjar and thousands of women and girls were kidnapped and enslaved. Some 45 mass graves have since been unearthed in the region.

Up to 3,000 Yazidi women may still be in the hands of the jihadis, across the “caliphate” they proclaimed more than two years ago over parts of Iraq and Syria. Yazidi boys were forcibly taken by the IS to join its ranks and toddlers were sold into slavery, according to the activists. Five different militias are currently battling over the region and hundreds of thousands of Yazidis are displaced across Iraq and Turkey, the activists said. Several thousand have emigrated to Germany, Canada and Australia.

The United Nations designated the atrocities a genocide. The legislature of the US, UK, Canada, France, and Scotland have also approved formal recognition; Murad was in the Knesset on Monday to lobby Israel’s parliament to follow suit.

“ISIS has sought to erase the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community,” the UN said in a June 2016 report.

 Click here to read the full article in Times of Israel

Wednesday, July 26, 2017
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