Story

After the Trauma: A Community Trying to Heal

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The valley of Lalish in northern Iraq is the most sacred place for Yazidis and has played an integral role in the community's healing since ISIS wreaked havoc on the religious minority a year ago. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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Lalish houses the sanctuary Sheikh Adi, a revered figure for Yazidis, who is buried there. Yazidis make annual pilgrimages to the site. Since last year though, many have flocked to the sanctuary to pray for their families harmed by ISIS. Here, men are sweeping the outer sanctuary grounds. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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Baba Sheikh, left, is the spiritual leader of the Yazidis. He has welcomed back to the community those forced to convert to Islam and called on fellow Yazidis not to ostracize women raped by ISIS fighters. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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Baba Sheikh recently offered prayers and blessings to some 80 women and children who had escaped ISIS captivity. They then entered the sanctuary of Sheikh Adi to pray on their own, kissing its entrance on their way in. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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Inside, the women, children and their families performed rituals, like tying knots on fabric draped inside the sanctuary for luck. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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They also descended a staircase to access a pool of holy water. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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The women and children are among a group of 1,000 Yazidis who will travel to Germany for medical and psychological treatment after suffering at the hands of ISIS. Dr. Mirza Dinnayi, the head of a humanitarian organization called Air Bridge Iraq, helped arrange the travel and treatment. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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Among them are two friends, ages 18 and 20, who were kidnapped and enslaved by ISIS. Together, they leapt from a window and escaped. They are wearing traditional Yazidi wrist bands that are intended to keep fear and evil away. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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Amsha Ali Alyas was also kidnapped and enslaved by ISIS, along with her young son. She was pregnant at the time but escaped in time to deliver her second son in freedom. She too hopes to travel to Germany; she is convinced Iraq is no longer safe for Yazidis. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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Like many other Yazidis forced to escaped their homes in the Sinjar region of Iraq when ISIS came for them last summer, Alyas and her family live in unfinished homes outside an old Yazidi village in the outskirts of Duhok. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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The conditions are poor. But many Yazidis and other groups displaced by ISIS are living in even more difficult conditions. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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A family of 24 that escaped ISIS captivity is living in basic tents on the side of a road. Local camps for displaced people were full by the time they made it to safety. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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The matriarch of the 24-person family says that she didn't have shoes on her feet as the family ran, for days, from ISIS. They are now indebted financially to smugglers who helped them escape. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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Conditions inside local camps for displaced people are somewhat better and continue to improve over time. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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But there is still a woeful shortage of medical and psychological services. Here a group of people wait to enter a small medical clinic inside their camp. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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The one gynecologist inside the clinic says that she sees some 40 patients a day. Here women are gathered outside her door. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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NGOs are filling in some of the medical and mental healthcare gaps. Dr. Salah Ahmad, founder of the Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights, for example, is working on establishing an in-patient clinic that would treat the Yazidis most traumatized by ISIS. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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In the meantime, the Jiyan Foundation is also trying to train the staff they have to treat some of the most severe cases. Shahla Yaseen, a trained social worker, has received crash courses in trauma therapy. She admits that she is sometimes overwhelmed by the stories she hears, especially from Yazidi women who were sexually enslaved. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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In addition to medical professionals, religious and community leaders, smugglers too are playing an important role in helping the community move on. They have been rescuing the estimated 5,000 Yazidis kidnapped by ISIS last summer. Officials in the Kurdish Region of Iraq say that so far some 1,500 have been saved or managed to escape on their own. Here, a smuggler scrolls through images of Yazidis still in ISIS' hands. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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There is still a long road ahead for Iraq's Yazidis, who have lost their homes and are scattered across the region, living as refugees. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

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They need medical, psychological care, and more than anything, stability to return to Iraq. Until that happens, many of those who can are choosing to leave. Here, a Yazidi family says goodbye to a woman who is heading to Europe. Image by Emily Feldman. Iraq, 2015.

Last summer ISIS set out to eliminate a religion that has existed in northern Iraq since at least the 12th century. ISIS fighters methodically hunted down practitioners of the Yazidi faith, dumping their corpses into mass graves. Others were enslaved or forced to convert, as many of their holiest shrines—which have stood through countless wars—were rigged up with explosives and destroyed. But ISIS did not succeed. Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled the slaughter, with ISIS at their heels. A year later they are still in crisis. But they are resilient and—even in the face of impossible circumstances—managing to slowly move on. Here, images of a community trying to heal.