Ground broken on cemetery and memorial in Shigur, Iraq, for Yezidi victims of genocide; Fund established for Shigur reconstruction

SHIGUR, Iraq — Construction of a cemetery and memorial in Solagh, Shigur (Sinjar / Shengal), has officially started as the Yezidi community in Iraq continues to recover from the aftermath of the genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State (ISIS). Nadia’s Initiative (NI) launched this project in 2021 after receiving requests from the community and has spent the last two years collaborating with a Yezidi architect and community members to design the cemetery and memorial. This week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Iraq and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are providing support for the project as construction officially begins. 

Construction begins on a memorial in Solagh to realize the Yezidi community’s vision. (Image: Nadia’s Initiative)

“Grief is part of the healing process,” said Nadia Murad, founder of NI. “Having a place to collectively mourn and remember our families, friends, and neighbors is vital for survivors, especially those who have returned to Sinjar.”

“When a community has experienced this degree of trauma and devastation, memorializing the past and paying tribute to lost loved ones become essential components of efforts to support survivors as they return home from displacement,” said IOM Iraq Chief of Mission, Giorgi Gigauri. “This is what we are endeavoring to do here — a memorial by and for the community, that is also consistent with the provisions enshrined in the Yazidi Survivors Law, which IOM and Nadia’s Initiative have worked to support from its inception, and to which we remain committed as the reparations roll-out continues.” 

Back in August 2014, ISIS launched a devastating attack on the Yezidi ethno-religious minority community in Shigur with the aim of eradicating them. The assault resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, displacement of hundreds of thousands, and enslavement of over 6,000 women and children. Presently, roughly 2,700 Yezidis remain unaccounted for, and numerous mass graves have yet to be excavated.

“This cemetery will be the first project of this scale documenting the Yezidi genocide,” said Khaled Talo Khedr, community member and relative of a Solagh victim. “It will be a historical landmark for future generations and will visually demonstrate the magnitude of the genocide and its impact on our community.”

The Yezidi community recognizes the importance of commemorating the victims of genocide, especially since many are still displaced within Iraq more than eight years later. According to IOM, the primary objective of the project is not only to pay tribute to those who perished but also to foster the collective healing of a people, community, and region that has suffered immense trauma.

The project is the first of its kind in Shigur, and it aims to preserve and honor the memories of the Yezidis in the area. The design is intended to offer comfort and serve as a place of reflection and remembrance for the Yezidi community.

The old city of Shigur (Sinjar / Shengal), Iraq, still in ruins in 2022. (Image: Sarah Gold / 2022)

In related news, Mahma Khalil, an Iraqi MP for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) representing Shigur announced that Prime Minister Muhammad Shia’ al-Sudani has agreed to include the Shigur Reconstruction Fund in the 2023 Federal Budget Law.

“This step would significantly contribute to the reconstruction of Shigur (Shengal or Sinjar) and return of the displaced people,” he said.

According to Rifaat Samo, the Deputy Governor of Nineveh, the establishment of the Shigur Reconstruction Fund will contribute to improving the living conditions in the area, large parts of which are still in ruins nearly a decade after they were taken over by ISIS.