Iraq’s Yazidis Still Celebrate Weddings, But Quietly

The wedding party was a relatively solemn one. The bride, Duaa Hido, and groom, Yusuf Hassan, had agreed to abide by the decision made by their elders to pay tributes to the victims of the extremists Islamic State group and they only offered the wedding guests a meal. 

There was no traditional dancing and none of the usual celebrations which would customarily go on for up to seven days. 

Hido, 19, and Hassan, 22, arrived at the Ashti camp for internally displaced people in an ordinary car and entered the tent where they would make their vows holding hands. It was extremely hot, the middle of a searing Iraqi summer day and the tent gave little respite. 

This section of the camp, which is about 20 kilometres out of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, is inhabited mostly by Yazidi people, members of the ethno-religious group targeted so cruelly by the Islamic State, or IS, group, in August 2014. 

The extremists killed or kidnapped many of the Yazidis they managed to capture, seeing them as infidels. “As Yazidis we have been in mourning ever since that disaster,” says Hido, who is originally from Bashiqua, a town near the city of Mosul, which is now an IS group stronghold, in northern Iraq. “So we should not celebrate now.” 

Although some Yazidis have been freed from the IS group’s captivity, many young men and women are still missing, believed dead or held captive, and that is why other young Yazidis don’t feel they can celebrate anything much at the moment, Hido told NIQASH. 

But this doesn’t stop Yazidis in the camp from getting married. “the camp was opened in August 2014 and ever since then there have been weddings taking place,” says Payam Salam Hama Sharif, the camp manager. “At the moment there are about three weddings taking place every week.” 

Hido and Hassan met by coincidence and they didn’t meet more than three times before they decided to marry. They seem young but Yazidi traditions says that couples cannot date or get into any kind of amorous relationship before marrying. “It is true that we are displaced but we can still get on with our lives,” Hassan says. “I only wish the same happiness for other Yazidi people.” 

The security crisis has seen many displaced Iraqis make their way to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan. The camp, a dusty complex of tents and ablution blocks, has over 7,000 residents – mostly Arab with some Yazidis. There are 40 different camps, both large and small, scattered around Iraqi Kurdistan now, home to close to 2 million people. 

“In the past wedding celebrations would continue for seven days and there would be banquets for the guests,” explains Sheikh Shammo, one of the most senior Yazidi community leaders in the camp. But now the people here have decided celebrations must be more modest. “If anybody tried to throw a more extravagant or joyful party, nobody would attend it.” 

Yazidi custom dictates that, together with relatives and a tribal leader, a potential groom should go to the home of the father of his bride and ask for permission to marry the man’s daughter. If the father agrees, the pair then head for the tribal leader’s house where he concludes a marriage contract, based on special and secret Yazidi traditions. 

If the father doesn’t agree, the couple can “elope” to a relative’s house or to the house of the tribal leader and be married there. Then they must resolve the issue with the girl’s family. New couples do have problems peculiar to camp life: For instance, they won’t receive their own tent immediately and must live in communal areas for some time, despite marriage. 

And of course, there is always the question of an eventual return home. Despite the problems of camp life as well as unemployment, Hido and Hassan, like many others, say they wouldn’t return home unless they were certain they would be safe. The newlywed couple now feel they simply have too much to lose.

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