Nobody's Listening: A Conversation with Yazda Nine Years After the Yazidi Genocide

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Tuesday, August 1, 2023
Conversation type: 

In 2014, ISIS launched deadly attacks against the Yazidi people in northern Iraq. Thousands were killed, exiled, or forced into slavery. Nine years later, Yazidi survivors are still struggling to rebuild and reunite families, with little attention from the international community.

In this episode of Human Rights Chat, we interview human rights advocates from Yazda organization, the Yazidi Survivors Network, and the Nobody’s Listening campaign about the continued fight for justice for the 2014 genocide. You can listen to this episode on Spotify, Apple, Google, or SoundCloud. Read more about the Nobody’s Listening Virtual Reality experience here in our tactics database.

Full Transcription of the Episode

Nine years have passed, and the suffering continues. The genocide is still ongoing, because we have not yet achieved justice.

This episode includes references to violence, including sexual violence against women and children. Please take care while listening.

On this episode of Human Rights Chat, with support from staff at New Tactics, I interview some key advocates who are pursuing justice for survivors of the 2014 Yazidi genocide in Northern Iraq. If you don’t know about the Yazidi people and what has happened and continues to happen to them, I urge you to listen and share this episode, so we can continue to raise global awareness and recognition of this atrocity.

It’s been 9 years… since ISIS fighters surrounded the village of Sinjar and began the systematic slaughter of the Yazidi people, a religious minority in predominantly Muslim Iraq. More than 12,000 men and boys were killed. More than 6,000 women and children were kidnapped, enslaved, and tortured.

One of these women, now a Yazidi activist, is Hala Safil. The voice you hear at the beginning of this episode in Arabic is hers, dubbed by our translator, Shaden’s voice, in English. 

Amazingly, after 3 years of ISIS enslavement, Hala managed to escape.

This episode is dedicated to all of the Yazidi individuals who lost their lives, and to the courage and resilience of those who are rebuilding their lives or continue to live under ISIS control.

You’re listening to the Human Rights Chat podcast by New Tactics in Human Rights. New Tactics is a program of the Center for Victims of Torture. I’m your host, Melissa McNeilly, and together with our special guests, we’ll be exploring innovative tactics for change through the voices of activists and human rights defenders around the world. We’re here to amplify the work of real people on the ground, advocating to ensure all human beings are treated “free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Let’s start with what is, in my opinion, the most important voice in this conversation, that of a survivor turned activist and advocate for Yazidi justice, Hala Safil. Because I am in the United States, Hala is in Iraq, and our translator, Shaden, is in Jordan, we met via Zoom for the interview. You will hear Hala’s response begin in Arabic, and Shaden’s translation to English. Shaden sometimes switches between first and third person, but her words are all in reference to Hala’s story.

I start by asking Hala to tell us about herself and her work with Yazda, a global advocacy organization founded in the wake of the 2014 genocide which leads strategic projects protect the rights of Yazidi and other religious and ethnic minority communities.

I am Hala. I am a Yazidi survivor. I suffered with my family the attack from Daesh (ISIS). I used to live in my small town with my family, and I attended school and my dream was to be a doctor to help the family and the relatives and also the people in my town. And then the attack happened, and I have been kidnapped for three years. When I was free, I turned to live in the camps, and my family was missing. And then, I decided to work in advocacy with the network to put the pressure on the government to implement the law about the survivors. And I worked in the exhibition also to advocate for the rights of survivors. And also, my role in the organization as a case manager, I am supporting survivors and providing psychological and financial support and referrals to medical services and offering recreational activities. So we have, in the organization, providing support to 400 survivors.

Can you tell us a little bit about your life before the event in August of 2014? And then how has it changed? What is your life like now?

So, Hala said that she suffered from things more than what she can tolerate. More than her ability. But she used her abilities to survive. But she said, unfortunately, she's still suffering. Even after, she’s still suffering. Yeah, she's still suffering.

Yeah, I can imagine.

Nine years later and still suffering. Thousands of lives, still shattered.

Hala mentions working on an exhibition to advocate for the rights of Yazidi survivors. Here she’s referring to the Nobody’s Listening exhibit, an art and virtual reality experience that aims to amplify the voices of survivors and affected communities seeking justice for, and recognition of the genocide. We’ll talk more about Nobody’s Listening later in the episode, but first, I want to hear from Haider Elias, the co-founder and President of Yazda organization. Haider used to live in Texas, but recently moved back to Iraq, so we met via Zoom to record. 

He started by giving us some background about the Yazidi people and then goes into telling his family’s experience of the 2014 genocide.

The Yazidi community in Iraq, a very peaceful, religious minority. It’s a religion by itself that the population is less than a million worldwide, maybe. At least at the time ISIS invaded Sinjar, it was less than a million. Yazidis mainly lived in Iraq. The birth of the Yazidi religious minority is in Iraq in Mesopotamia, anciently Iraq, part of Syria and part of Iran, always existed in this area, but members of the community for more than 100 years ago migrated from the Ottoman genocide with Armenians. Yazidis were among them, and they fled with Armenians to parts of Europe, to Russia to the Soviet Union regions, Georgia, Armenia and a couple of other countries. And so we have members in diaspora in these countries and also in Germany. Our biggest diaspora is in Germany. We have small numbers in the US and Australia and Canada and also other parts of Europe.

Yazidis suffered a lot of atrocities, massacres and genocide campaigns, but the recent one was about ISIS, how they viewed Yazidis were quote, unquote, “infidels, non-people of the book, polytheists.” And according to the rules of Islam, they need to be dealt with, and as a minority or someone who are not people of the book, they need to either convert to Islam, and “we don't trust them to convert to Islam, kill all of them. Take their women and children as commodity. Confiscate all their properties.” According to their belief, they do not qualify us as monotheists. So they should commit a genocide against us. 

That's what happened in 2014, in August of 2014. ISIS surrounded the region of Sinjar. And after the security forces left the community vulnerable in the hands of the terrorist organization, even a lot of security members didn't think it was the right thing to defend Yazidis religiously. So they left the community vulnerable and ISIS started killing men and taking women and children. They also killed my brother and a couple of cousins. And I got more involved, more hurt, more affected by this, but also to prevent future atrocities, I got actively involved. As my family also was going through this, running to the mountain, they went through a lot besides the killing of my brother.

The community was stranded on the mountain for seven days to 14 days, and the majority of the people were helped, rescued to Kurdistan region, which is a part that's in northeast part of Iraq. They settled in unfinished buildings and hotels and friends houses, in the streets under the bridges, until the UN built some refugee camps for them. So we have more than three quarters of the Yazidis that ended up in the IDP camps, which we call internally displaced camps, because they're not qualified to be refugees.

Nine years later, you know, we had a lot of diseases that have spread in the camps, including COVID, which was universal, but affected more the Yazidis because of the communication, because of lack of good sanitation, because of so many things. More Yazidis died of COVID than any other communities.

Almost 100,000 Yazidis have risked their lives and the lives of their children, migrating through Turkey through Greece, through Bulgaria, through Hungary to those countries to Europe.

Still more women and children are missing, don't know where they are now, some of them are believed to be in Syria. 6,417 were abducted, 6417 people abducted. Now 2,700 of them are still missing. Now we had several thousands were killed. We still don't know the good number of how many, but we know that between the missing people, those who believed still alive, based on the mass graves. So far, Yazda has documented 89 mass graves, hundreds of kill sites. So kill sites, it's not qualified to be a mass grave, like kill site is 1, 2, 3, 4 bodies together that were shot. And more than half of this population is still living in the refugee camps, and this world is called IDP camps. 

Now we at Yazda are really frustrated, as the Yazidi activists and also human rights activists for the Yazidis, we are stressed. Why nine years later, still, the conflict in our hometowns is just continuous between the politics and the regional actors fighting over that region with people not in it. We're so tired of doing advocacy between the local and the national government, talking to the international community constantly in the past nine years. And not randomly to be honest. We do have talking points. We do bring good advocates together including female survivors, including Nadia Murad and many others. So, it’s really frustrating.

Tired, and frustrated. These were sentiments echoed by everyone I interacted with who is fighting for recognition of the Yazidi genocide and justice for survivors. It began to make sense why the name of the campaign is Nobody’s Listening. Because for 9 years, it feels like no one has.

You hear Haider mention Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist and survivor, another of the 6,700 women and girls taken prisoner by the Islamic State. In 2018, Nadia was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in advocating for survivors and along with Amal Clooney, taking ISIS members to court to be prosecuted for genocide and other war crimes.

These women, like Nadia and Hala, risk their lives and safety to speak up in the hopes that increased global recognition of the Yazidi genocide will lead to justice. But there are a lot of challenges. (Music)

We watched the opening ceremony for the Nobody's Listening exhibit, and you talk about how Yazda’s working with European courts to prosecute ISIS members. And I saw from The Clooney Foundation that a German court recently found an ISIS member guilty of aiding and abetting genocide, but that this is only the third conviction of this kind. So I'm curious what you think would help for the international community to accelerate this process and to bring more people to justice?

That's an important question. At the beginning, we didn't know how to approach. We thought the basic core idea is to have the European powers to recognize the genocide. And if they do recognize the genocide, steps that are after the recognition would be finding a method of reparation, and then begin with justice and accountability. And also working with the Iraqi government for the mechanism that prevents future attacks. 

And parts of a justice and accountability mechanism, part of that, we've been working with European activists, that those members, citizens of European countries who might have joined ISIS, not to just get a slap on the wrist. And so it's really difficult, because some of them tricked the national security of their countries and smuggled themselves to countries, to like Turkey and Syria and Iraq. Unfortunately, they thought about these future prosecution trials. So what we are trying to do is advocating around that area, that it's not really just important, it's essential that these citizens are also trailed for crimes of genocide against the Yazidis. Because for many of these countries, either the parliament or the officials in the government have recognized the crimes against Yazidis. So when you recognize, it's easier for you, also to include in your judicial system that someone might have been involved in crimes against minorities and crimes against Yazidis and Christians and others. 

So this is what we do, is trying to tell the international community that Yazidi rights are universal values. We do Yazidis a favor, Christians in Iraq a favor. But we’re doing a future generations’ and human rights’ favor, because the same rules apply to the future atrocities when someone commits crimes. First of all, you're letting the violent people who have committed crimes in the streets. Second, human rights values are human rights values. If something is happening in Iraq, and you know, some citizens have done it, it shouldn't matter if the victims are citizens of your country or not. There should be a mechanism that punishes your own citizens, because the same exact things can happen in the future and can happen to your own country, or to your own people or citizens, God forbid.

So, that's part of what we do in terms of advocating around the European powers. And then that includes not just European, that includes US government and Canadian government and Australian government. And also we're trying to work very hard around Iraq.

Sounds like it truly needs to be an international effort. Can you talk a little bit more about the continued challenges facing Yazidi survivors? There’s this challenge of, you talk about thousands are still in IDP camps, and no one is helping them return home safely and reunite families, yet we're seeing this global narrative that's very anti refugee and not welcoming to asylum seekers globally. And it just seems like this circle. And that's, I guess, where you got the name of Nobody's Listening, right? Like there's this urgency, what measures are needed to reunite families and to help rebuild the infrastructure in the Sinjar region?

You're right. The global view and global citizens' view around asylum seekers are just really different. They don't seem to distinguish between those members of the community that have been through a genocide, not just the citizens, but the government as well. Now we have in the US, the number of asylum seekers that have been accepted from the Yazidi community is less than 10. And it's extremely low, it's just very close to zero.  A lot of Yazidis in Germany and other countries are not considered special, or at least, we call it positive discrimination, because they were discriminated against, then we should discriminate for them. 

When it comes to the Yazidis who lived in the IDP camps, there's still a lot of hate speech around that from the surrounding community, from the Muslim community in Iraq. This is not ISIS. These are regular people, they'll have businesses, they have cars, they have families, they do participate in schools at social events. But yet, their views of the Yazidis: “those guys are infidels and they should be wiped out of the earth.” When you have this amount of hatred accumulated against you, it'd be really, really difficult to comprehend that you have a future in your own home. We've lived here for thousands of years. We've never been anywhere else. We're not a religion that migrated from Buddha or from, from Europe or from anywhere else. We've always existed in Iraq. And we cannot go anywhere. Many of us cannot even go anywhere. It's just, this is where we live. We cannot even go back to our homelands. We’re about 50-60 miles away from our villages. The government is not willing to build our homes, not willing to provide services, it's not willing to appoint a mayor – I can continue on and on for the suffering. Those who have come from the captivity. For example, thanks to organizations like Yazda, we've been providing life support for hundreds of the survivors, especially females and children. But even those members have been discriminated against. 

Some of them are doing better. Some of them are going through our programs. There is something called humanitarian and refugee program that goes to Australia, thanks to Australian government, that has this small number of Yazidis qualified to go to Australia and resettle there. So we do help with that. But migration is not the sole solution. We need to also support Yazidis who are staying in their home because nobody's going to accept half a million people. As we just talked about the opposition towards asylum seekers. We have millions of refugees who are qualified to be resettled, not just Yazidis, so it will be really important to encourage the Yazidis to stay in Iraq. 

And so we also have those members of Yazidi female survivors who have recently been rescued, but also they are in clear dilemma. Don't know, some of them have children born from ISIS, and they don't know what to do. They should come back to their own home to their family, but they have ISIS children. They are their biological sons and daughters. They don't want to be separated from their own sons and daughters. But now we have multiple dilemmas. One is the families are really irritated because these children are not guilty, but it reminds the families of the killing of their parents, brothers, sisters, siblings, and sons and daughters. And, some of the families are not accepting those children. And it's a really big problem for the Yazidi women not to have their children with them. 

The other thing is the Sunni community members are asking because “these children are Muslims, and one day you will pay the consequence.” Meaning “we will have another genocide against you, because you're taking the Muslim kids away.” Problem three: the Iraqi government is not accepting creation of documents, issuing documents because the father's destiny, what they call is “unknown,” or meaning: they don't know if father is Iraqi, or father is alive or dead. And by any means to the Iraqi laws, it's difficult for the Yazidi women to issue any documents. And it's even more impossible to put this Yazidi child or this child under the Yazidi mother, it's the Iraqi Government or the law doesn't accept that. They're 100% sure that the fathers for these children were Muslims. So this is against the Iraqi law, if the father is Muslim, that the children are automatically Muslim. And so imagine, all these problems with those members. 

And those who have returned to Sinjar, they find no support. Those who are in the IDP camps are really struggling.

Hala is one of the few that has returned to Sinjar. She now works for Yazda organization providing case management and support to fellow survivors. I find this so incredibly impressive because Hala has spent the entirety of her adult life doing this work. Hala was only 18 when she was kidnapped by ISIS and enslaved for three years. I didn’t want to retraumatize Hala by asking her about the details of her time in ISIS captivity. Instead, we focused on the current challenges she’s navigating in advocacy and what needs to happen for justice and healing for the Yazidi community.

A lot of Yazidi survivors and families all throughout the region in various camps are still suffering. And Nadia Murad has said that the genocide is ongoing. Can you talk a little bit about why that is? 

I agree with what Nadia said, and I would also like to mention that the genocide is still ongoing because we have not yet achieved justice. To this day, there are over 90 mass graves, thousands of displaced and missing individuals, and Sinjar has not been rebuilt. Hate speech against our Yazidi community has increased, leading that many to seek illegal migration in search of safety. Due to the continuous hate speech, I cannot openly identify myself as Yazidi without fear. ISIS may have been defeated, but its ideology continues to persist. And hate speech has instilled a lasting sense of fear among people. So they can't rebuild Sinjar or rebuild their lives.

With the current narrative around refugees globally, and the new numbers of there being 110 million displaced, what do you think about this crisis on a global scale and how that negative attitude towards refugees is impacting Yazidi survivors’ experience in being able to seek asylum?

Yes, I agree that it impacts also the support from the other countries to Iraq and especially for the Yazidi community. She mentioned an example from Turkey: what happened regarding the earthquake. So she said that now Turkey or not is not able to support the Yazidi community and support the asylum seekers. And also what happened to Ukraine also limits the asylum opportunities for the survivors from the Yazidi community.

Thanks, that makes sense. I think we talked a little bit about some of the challenges like the infrastructure in Sinjar. But do you want to elaborate more on what challenges Yazidi survivors are still facing?

So the first challenge is the Survivor’s Law, which many are working to undermine. The benefit for it, it's for the survivors, so many, many people are working to undermine this law. The second one: after the global crisis like Ukraine crisis, the word started to forget about the genocide. The third challenge is that the political parties [are] engaged in a continuous power struggle in Sinjar, causing people to reside in tents next to the gravesites for their protection. So they fear that someone will [steal] or just destroy that gravesite also. So they are living in tents beside these gravesites to protect this site. Additionally, she said that the hate speech has further exaggerated that situation. And she kept mentioning that ISIS may have been defeated, but its ideology continues to persist, and the hate speech has instilled a lasting sense of fear among people.

Wow. I watched the Opening Ceremony for the Nobody’s Listening Exhibition. And in that, you talk about how this is also a cultural genocide, history is being lost. And you say “ “If we don’t act, there won’t be a future for Yazidi people in Iraq.” Can you tell me what you mean by that? 

Yes, I said that sentence. And I meant that I should engage more in the advocacy and demand justice for the rights of the survivors, as well as to raise the awareness among the civil society and among the countries about what happened to the community. Because if they remain silent about this violence, it may reach them. And she [doesn't] want this to happen. And she said that, as a community, they lost the hope in Iraqi society and the Iraqi government, but they still have hope in the international community to put pressure on the Iraqi government. And if they don't want to put that pressure on the Iraqi government, they just request these countries to open the doors for them to leave Iraq and to seek asylum.

Yeah, I agree. That’s so important. So what does justice mean to you in this situation? What do you think needs to happen for healing in the Yazidi community?

Justice is not a salary or a piece of land. It means treating us as a human being, respecting the martyrs, and searching for the missing. Regarding the respecting of martyrs, she said that they bring back the victims' bodies in a trash bag. So she said that this is unrespectful treatment. I demand the exhumation of remains from mass graves. We need international protection, and for the Iraqi government to be compelled to acknowledge the crime and apologize to us. We demand an international court should be established to prosecute the criminals. Achieving justice is bigger than me, but it's not bigger than the cause itself. That is why we must advocate and support to exert pressure on the government to fulfill what has been mentioned.

Can you talk a little bit about the court cases that have happened? What are the challenges in bringing these people to justice?

So the first challenge, the survivor didn't feel secure or safe to say the information about the criminal. Because if someone, for example, one of the survivors go to Germany, to explain and express what happened and tell the story, then when she come back to Iraq, all the information, it's not secured, and everyone knows that she went there to provide the story. So she can't feel safe coming back to Iraq. So this is the first challenge. And the second challenge, even if someone from ISIS has a court case and being in jail for example, 10 years, she didn't see that it's justice. It's not justice, because this one maybe have the sentence because he violate or any act or treat or have this violence on one survivor, but actually he might have violated the rights of more than one, two or three or four. Also, another thing, this one maybe he will finish this sentence, and he just released from jail while she is still in the camp. And he will feel free, and he will take his freedom, while she is still in the camp. So she said that it's not justice. And she didn't even believe in these sentences or even the court decision.

That has to be so frustrating. I can’t imagine how you’re not just screaming in frustration all the time. And I hope the international community will do better to provide protection to people who testify.

What can civil society organizations, NGOs, the activist community and advocates for human rights who might be listening to this podcast around the world do to support Yazidi survivors and the work of the Yazda organization? 

I want them to feel about us like we are part of their family. Nine years have passed and the suffering continues. This crime happened when I was a little girl. And then when I came back, I became a mother for my sister, even though I need a mother, but I'm acting like their mother. So how long will the number of victims and dead not be enough? All these numbers and of victims and that isn't enough because they still suffer. So she wants those people to help them to make their voices heard, and to put a pressure on the Iraqi government to reach a small part of the compensation. Although nothing will compensate her for the place of her mother, her father, her friends. Nothing will compensate the little girls who were raped. No one will replace the family or the missing people. So she just wants the human rights defenders and the NGOs to raise their voice to advocate for the Yazidi community to raise the issue in the global community and in the international community. And she said that I want you to [take] nine minutes from your time to go to watch the [Nobody’s Listening] exhibition to know more about our suffering and what happened to us from 2014 until now.

When Hala mentions taking just 9 minutes of your time to watch the exhibition, she’s talking about taking the time to view the Virtual Reality experience and art exhibit called Nobody’s Listening: The Forgotten Voices of Sinjar. This exhibition travels the world to share stories of Yazidi survivors and allow  users to “see” their tragic lived experience through a VR headset. It includes a 360-degree documentary and interactive experience that transports viewers to Kocho village in northern Iraq where a Yazidi woman tells her story of abduction and sexual slavery, and her brother tells of surviving the violent massacre in the village. Here’s an excerpt of audio from the VR experience.

Come in and have a cup of tea. It’s a big tradition for us Yazidis. It’s important to feed our guests and make them feel welcome. A Yazidi family has lived in this tent for five years. 350,000 of us are stuck in camps, unable to return to our homes. ISIS tried to destroy us. They killed over 12,000 Yazidis and captured more than 6,000 women and children. It’s not over. At least 3,000 women and children are still in captivity in Syria and Iraq.

In addition to helping viewers understand the Yazidi experience, Nobody’s Listening includes calls to action from the victims themselves. Survivors express the specific actions needed for healing, reparations, rebuilding communities, and prosecuting the perpetrators. The hope is that by raising awareness of the Yazidi genocide, viewers will take action that strengthens the international movement towards justice.

We talked with Haider about the exhibit too. In this next part, the new voice you’ll hear is New Tactics in Human Rights intern, Laszlo, who jumps in to ask Haider about the process of collecting stories and art for the exhibition.

It's disheartening, I'm sure to think that without some kind of intervention, that the future is really bleak for Yazidis who are still living in Iraq. And a project like Nobody's Listening provides hope in kind of preserving the collective memory of an event like this, and it's so important for survivors to not only have the space to share their stories, but for the stories to be memorialized, and remembered by society. So that atrocities like this don't happen again.

I agree with you. Yes. Absolutely.

And with that in mind, could you talk a little bit about the process of collecting those stories, and the art from individual survivors like to put together into the Nobody's Listening project?

Yes, we have several mechanisms on several projects of doing that. Each one serves a different purpose. Before Nobody's Listening, basically, we notified some survivors, and that if they're willing to contribute to this program, and their story to be heard worldwide. And you can come and participate in exhibitions, whenever we have it somewhere, but a written story would be more effective. So they sit down with us and with Nobody's Listening, and we write the story. And we summarize this story. And also, they consent that photos will be taken. So some of them are just the written story and some pictures with the written story. Also, having the Yazidi artists to paint anything that tells the story and anything that helps the project advocate for the disadvantaged minorities, and especially Yazidis. Also created a virtual set that tells the Yazidi stories and three different states: life before ISIS, during ISIS, and after ISIS in about 12 minutes. But everything is done either by Yazidis or for Yazidis.

I think that's what drew us to this tactic, the innovation of being able to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has a very different experience and how that can move people to take action. Have you personally taken the Nobody's Listening VR experience to decision makers? And what kind of response have you seen from that?

To give you an example, we were in Luxembourg. And we invited the Foreign Minister and also the Parliament Speaker to see this virtual reality project. And also we had the survivors to tell them their story. And I think it was very helpful in his case. He said, we've already made the decision that we're going to help you with a small project that helps survivors. And I promise, I will come to Iraq to visit you. So that was a good result. You know, that was the best example: the first Secretary of a different country visiting refugee camps, visiting Yazda Center in Iraq. So I think that was a good example of changing the decision maker's mind.

Ryan D’Souza, the curator of Nobody’s Listening, talks more about the reaction of decision makers to this traveling exhibition in an interview that prefaces the Opening Ceremony video, which you can find on YouTube. Ryan was the first one to approach me about doing an episode about Yazidi rights activism on the podcast, but he wanted to be sure Yazidi voices were represented before his own. With his permission, I have included some of Ryan’s perspective here because I think he gives great insight into why Yazda chose this particular tactic for advocacy and how it has impacted viewers and decision makers who have interacted with the exhibit:

We started Nobody's Listening in 2018, and it's a new form of advocacy. I think the old traditional ways of advocacy aren't working, and we want to see how we can use new technology like virtual reality as well as art and other forms of artwork, sculpture, poetry, and integrate an advocacy campaign into that, and see how we can use culture as a tool and a vehicle to deliver political change and inspire action across the public as well as decision makers.

It's been a privilege and an honor to work with Yazda Yazidi Global Organization based in Iraq and around the world, every step of the way of this project. We collected paintings from Yazidi survivors in IDP camps in Northern Iraq as well as those Yazidis living in Germany. We also reached out to other NGOs based in Iraq: Christian NGOs, Shia Turkmen NGOs, to work with them and it's been a privilege to work with the community and to have their trust in highlighting the stories of the survivors.

We premiered the virtual reality experience in the parliament of Iraq, and the outcome and the results was absolutely phenomenal to see the impact it had on decision makers in Iraq. We also showed this at universities across in different cities across iraq to assess the impact of the virtual reality experience and again the result has been phenomenal to see the lack of awareness of the Yazidi people the culture and the genocide so we hope that this tool can be used as an educational tool both in Iraq and outside. We hope that Nobody's Listening will inspire positive responses from the public and from decision makers in Germany and across the world. We hope to take this to as many places as possible. We would like the support of stakeholders to do so. This is both to capitals to the UN headquarters, but also to universities, to schools, so we can increase awareness, but also urge more justice more recognition, so that we can deliver a better future for communities that are affected in Northern Iraq, but also to create a more greater understanding about the importance of genocide prevention around the world.

I encourage you to check out the work of the Nobody’s Listening exhibition. Since 2018, it has traveled from Iraq and the Kurdistan region to Germany, Belgium, the UK, Netherlands, France, Portugal, Luxembourg and the US. More than 70,000 visitors have taken part. If there’s not an event near you, Nobody’s Listening staff is happy to help coordinate access to a viewing. You can contact them at There are also a ton of other resources out there where you can learn about the Yazidi genocide, including Nadia Murad’s book, The Last Girl. There are also many ways you can take action.

So what can listeners of this podcast who are primarily people who are working in civil society, NGOs, activists, and Advocates for Human Rights all over the world do to support Yazda and your work? 

As you said, those people who are listening to your podcast, some of them haven't heard about the Yazidi community before or the community’s suffering. The listeners can see that the community members themselves are in a dilemma. They really don't know where to go. They can no longer stay in these IDP camps. And some of them in many families are getting prepared, selling their properties, anything they have, and trying to just migrate to Europe, legally, illegally. And that's really problematic, because they find no hope. 

I think they can support our work, which we are supporting the safe return. We're trying to provide projects that are supporting the Yazidis who are returning back to their homes, their psychological support, social support, livelihoods, small business supports, and also projects for justice and accountability, because one of our projects is also taking direct testimonies from the survivors. And it's really important for people to know that no other organization is working on the project. We think this is the most important project that we can do and around justice and accountability for this community. We're grateful for the people to contact us and try to find more information. 

Problems in the world are too many. The Afghanistan and the Ukraine and Syria and Africa are also challenging issues worldwide. And a lot of attention is divided from the Yazidi community. And we're still here, the problems have not been resolved nine years later, even though this time has passed. And another thing that we are doing in social media is, we're so stressed that we created a campaign telling the international community to either help us stay or help us leave. Hashtag.

I just wanted to give you the opportunity. I know you mentioned the Yazidi Survivors Network. I was wondering, are there any other partners or contributors that you want to acknowledge who have supported your work?

Yes, absolutely. The work of the USAID was really valuable. The contribution to Yazda and the community, definitely, through organizations like IOM, the International Organization for Migration. We have other partners such as the Dutch government to help Yazda and the Yazidi community during the 2019 and 20. And we have other partners that are working with us such as SV, it's also one of our partners working directly from the Dutch government providing support for healthcare in Sinjar. So we're grateful to those partners that are working with us directly or indirectly. The partnership of these people and these organizations are valuable to us. And we need more of them.

And I do appreciate the human rights activist sympathizers of human rights, women’s rights, and minority rights. Myself and my organization and my community are lucky to have people like you, and we couldn’t have done it without the help from these people, because we could never have done this by ourselves. We look above the tip of the iceberg, and there is a lot of base. There is a lot of volunteer work. There is a lot of selfless people who are putting a lot of their time for really absolutely nothing, to make sure something is achieved. Even though the level of achievement, it might be just tiny against the challenge that we have, but it is always appreciated. I know without these people we couldn’t have done what we have done.

Thank you for that, that’s a great and hopeful reminder to kind of end on, that we’re not doing any of this work alone, we’re doing it together and in community with one another. 

Thank you very much for your time.

The whole purpose of Nobody's Listening is to use art and new technology, like virtual reality, to inspire action that can help and benefit the communities who are still at risk of future atrocities. So we want this not to be a static exhibition but one that could also reach out and go out and be as mobile as possible to communities. And again it's been an honor to work with Society for Threatened People and to support their education and outreach campaign, and we also want to take this exhibition around Germany to UN headquarters in New York and Geneva, but then also to other parts of the world where the awareness of the genocide is very minimal.

Having worked in genocide prevention for over 10 years, if we don't  recognize the genocide if we don't bring and deliver justice these crimes will be committed again, so it's absolutely imperative that we try our best and we see the situation facing the Yazidi community and other ethnic religious communities as the same across the world and other persecuted communities if we fail to deliver justice for a group that is as heinous as ISIS, we will find it very difficult to deliver justice for other genocides committed today.

This podcast episode is in commemoration of the 9th anniversary of the Yazidi genocide in August. Each year, Yazda holds an event to remember, recognize, and raise awareness of the continued struggle of Yazidi people. In 2022, Yazda brought awareness to the Yazidi struggle with a short documentary called This is Still Genocide, filmed in Sinjar. I highly recommend you check out this compelling film and all the other resources mentioned during this episode in the show notes, to learn more about the history of the genocide and its ongoing effects.

To the Yazidis who have lost loved ones, have loved ones still missing, who are rebuilding their lives in Iraq or elsewhere: we are listening. But, I encourage you to not just listen to this episode. Share it, and check out the resources from Yazda and the Nobody’s Listening campaign for ways you can get involved.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Human Rights Chat by New Tactics in Human Rights, where we inspire and equip activists to change the world.

I would like to acknowledge the contributions of our special guests, Hala Safil, Haider Elias, and Ryan D’Souza, to this episode. Thank you to New Tactics staff, Shaden Alajarmeh for interview support and Arabic translation, Laszlo Jentes for preparation, interview support, English and Arabic transcription and Arabic translation, and Ayman Malhis for Arabic transcription and translation.