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The Yazidis genocide

July 02, 2018
topic:Human Rights
tags:#ISIS, #Yazidi, #Kurdistan, #Zina Hamu, ##FemaleVoicesoftheWorld, #human rights
located:Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Italy
by:Federica Tedeschi
Zina Hamu is a Yazidi young woman from the Sinjar district in Iraqi Kurdistan, who survived the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) capture and found a new purpose in life through photojournalism.

In August 2014 ISIS attacked the Yazidi religious minority living in the area of Mount Sinjar, carrying out a systematic genocide campaign during which almost 10,000 people were either killed or kidnapped in a matter of days.

Many others died on Mount Sinjar from starvation, dehydration or injuries during the ISIS siege. Further data reported by Plos Medicine reveal that ‘escapees recounted the abuses they had suffered, including forced religious conversion, torture, and sex slavery’. The research was conducted with the help of relevant lists compiled by local authorities and human rights organisations.

It was a methodical campaign of murder, rape, and slavery that UN investigators said amounted to genocide’, reported Al Jazeera in 2016.

The ‘Photographic techniques to empower Yazidi girls’ project who has changed Zina’s life path, is the brainchild of Shayda Hessami. A journalist and a human rights activist, Shayda met a sorrowful and traumatised Zina at the end of 2014, while carrying out a UNICEF project on refugees and displaced children in Kurdistan.

Shayda explained how the idea of a project to empower women in the conflict zone was born by the end of that conversation in a Yazidi camp’s tent.

‘I didn’t want them to be seen as victims but as photographers. I wanted them to work and earn their own money’, explained Ms Hessami during a talk at the International Journalism Festival 2018 (IJF18) in Perugia, Italy.

Sponsored by Unicef, she went back to the Sinjar district in 2015 to start the photojournalism course which initially attracted nine girls, including Zina.

FairPlanet met Zina Hamu, to find out more about her journey in ‘raising the voice of pain of her persecuted community’.

FairPlanet: How has photojournalism given you the confidence to start a new life?

Zina Hamu: Photojournalism has given me a chance to tell the story of the exhausted women who survived the war and witnessed terrorism and sorrow.

My attention shifted from pain and fear to the commitment of showing the Yazidi community genocide to the world, through the images of our brave women who will never surrender.

After eight months of internal displacement in Iraq following the ISIS attack in 2014, I met Shayda Hessami in a small caravan in the Khanke refugee camp in Iraq's Dohuk.

She came back in 2015 and offered me and other eight girls the chance to participate in a photojournalism course to empower the Yazidi women. We took a two-month workshop and were provided with small, professional cameras. When we started the second part of the course, twelve more girls just rescued from ISIS prison in Mosul joined us. The project also covered relevant copyright law as well as the basics of ethics.

We all produced a photo story on the genocide and its consequences and each story was unique as it showed the tragedy from a different angle. At the end of 2016, we exhibited our work in different Iraqi cities and locations, including the University of Sulaymaniyah.

In 2017 you were invited by the Italian defence minister to open a photojournalism exhibition on the story of the Yazidis living in the camp.

Where is the exhibition at the moment?

The exhibition at the Maxxi museum in Rome was our first display in Europe and an important platform to raise the voice of pain of our persecuted community. Soon after we exhibited in Northern Italy (Milan) and many people were inspired to see our work in different countries, including Lithuania. We are currently planning our next exhibition.

What has been the impact of your pictures on your society in Iraqi Kurdistan, in Europe and beyond?

Our pictures have a strong impact on people as they tell the story of the Yazidis through the eyes of the genocide survivors. Our message is more powerful than the stories people find in the news.

I remember a visitor telling me that my pictures show the genocide in a very touching way.

Since the end of the photojournalism course, four of us have moved to Europe and the others are still living in the camp, continuing their education and sharing their work on the Yazidi community to keep the memory alive.

You have just been awarded the prestigious Italy’s Ischia Prize for Human Rights – for your outstanding photojournalism. How is the award going to help you in the future?

It is an honour for me to represent the courage and bravery of the Yazidi women who never surrender. The prize will support me through photojournalism to keep sharing the Yazidis genocide story with the world. Talking about my people, both the deceased and the survivors and all the hurdles they have been going through is the best way not to forget them. It is also important to stay positive about the future as things can improve when someone firmly believes in change. We need to work together to build peace and justice.

How are you and Shayda going to help other women from the warzone in the forthcoming future? In which countries are you likely to make a contribution?

I am the ambassador of Aide Humanitaire et Journalisme, a French organisation, which Shayda founded last year. Its focus is on empowering women who live in conflict zones, through journalism. We want to give them the opportunity to express themselves through pictures and paintings, following photojournalism training.

The plan over the next five years is to empower other women in a number of regions and countries including Afghanistan, Kurdistan and Syria.

The photojournalism project funds have also allowed some of the girls to start university abroad. Zina, who is currently studying Contemporary Communications at LCC International University, has also won the US Department of State’s Emerging Young Leaders Award 2018.

Article written by:
Federica Tedeschi
Iraq Turkey Syria Italy
Embed from Getty Images
The genocide campaign during which almost 10,000 people were either killed or kidnapped in a matter of days.
Embed from Getty Images
Many others died on Mount Sinjar from starvation, dehydration or injuries during the ISIS siege.
Embed from Getty Images
‘It was a methodical campaign of murder, rape, and slavery that UN investigators said amounted to genocide’
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