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"We Will Never Break": A Yazidi Women’s Choir Keeps Ancient Music Alive

Read: 263     15:30     29 Июль 2022    

Dohuk, Iraq — With rows of white tents filling a windswept hillside, the Khanke camp in northern Iraq shelters about 14,000 men, women and children from the Yazidi religious minority. They have been stuck here since ISIS invaded their home villages in 2014.

With its dirt roads and drab dwellings, the camp can be a bleak place. But the beat of a daf, a drum sacred to Yazidis, throbs underneath loud, energetic singing, rising over shouts of children in a trash-strewn playground.

The singing comes from a small building where a dozen young Yazidi women rehearse folk songs, singing about the beauty of the dawn, the harvest and Mount Sinjar, which the Yazidis consider holy. Sometimes their voices sound soft and gentle like the murmur of a mountain river.

The musical group was founded by 22-year-old Rana Sulaiman Halo, who became its leader. She grew up in a family of musicians. The woman has been living in the camp since 2014. In 2019, she founded the choir with the support of the British charity AMAR Foundation. Several female members of the choir were captured by ISIS, others have lost many family members. The choir performed in the UK, where music was used to heal the wounds of those who had been sexually abused by terrorists. Singing has become one of the ways to preserve a vital part of the Yezidi culture. This culture has few written sources, and history and religion are told in songs.

“This folk music, it’s also a kind of affiliation of our religion. There are special songs that only the Yazidis sing.” says Mamou Othman, who studies music as psychotherapy at the University of Dohuk.

According to Osman, there are few representatives of this religion – only a few hundred thousand people. They are seeking refuge in Europe, and their oral culture is under threat as families break up, there are no more villages. According to him, Europe is intended "for individualists", and not for tribes or clans.

The AMAR Foundation recorded several Yazidi folk songs and sacred music and donated the recordings to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University for safekeeping. And young Yezidis, like the members of the Ashti choir, are ready to do everything to preserve their heritage.

For those staying in the Khanke camp, normal life is a distant prospect. Even though ISIS has lost almost all the territory it once held, and much of its power, Turkish forces and militias backed by Iran are among those now competing for the territory around Mount Sinjar. Conflict could flare again. It is not yet safe to go home.

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