The Watch

Mam Rashan Shrine

Mount Sinjar, Iraq

In August 2014 the self-proclaimed Islamic State set out on a genocidal campaign against the Êzidî, or Yazidi people of northern Iraq. Fighters for the extremist group swept across the Sinjar region, a historic homeland of the Yazidis, seeking to eradicate their faith through murder, abduction, enslavement, and the sexual exploitation of its adherents. In its English-language magazine the organization would brag about its treatment of the Yazidis, which included the destruction of their places of worship: in Sinjar, and in the twin towns of Bahzani and Bashiqa near Mosul—another Yazidi population center—47 Yazidi sites were destroyed by the Islamic State.

The Yazidi presence around Mount Sinjar was first mentioned in writings of the twelfth century. The Yazidis of Sinjar lived in small mountain villages until the 1970s, when they were systematically removed and concentrated in collective towns in an attempt to increase the Ba'ath Party’s control in the north of Iraq. In spite of being underserved in the provision of healthcare, education, and job opportunities, the community never moved far from Sinjar, and they never abandoned the old shrines and mausolea dedicated to important personages in the Yazidi religion, such as Mam Rashan, a saint associated with agriculture, rain, and the annual harvest. Yazidi shrines are marked by their tall, conical domes rising from a circular drum over a square, windowless chamber, allowing for prayer and the burning of oil wicks in the interior. Until 2014 community members would pay frequent visits to these shrines for worship and to mark important occasions of life. But like other shrines in Sinjar, the shrine to Mam Rashan was destroyed in 2014 by the Islamic State.

While the Islamic State’s territorial control of the area has now collapsed, today only a quarter of the Yazidi population has returned to Sinjar. Around 300,000 Yazidis remain displaced within Iraq, while others have found shelter outside the region and may choose not to return. For those Yazidis who have returned, and for those wishing to return, the reconstruction of their old shrines is an expressed need and priority, alongside demands for accountability for the perpetrators of these crimes. Reestablishing a thread of continuity with the past is a key process on the road to recovery after a violent rupture. The 2020 World Monuments Watch calls for shared efforts at recovery with the goal of establishing mutual respect for minority communities that have been denied equality and recognition in the past.

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