OF all the victims of the wars in Iraq and Syria, few suffered more than the Yazidi people.

A distinct ethnic group with their own religion, the roots of which can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia, they have long been victims of attempts to assimilate or even exterminate them.

They suffered genocide under Turkish-Ottoman rule, were brutally treated by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and targeted by Al-Qaida car bombs. But worse was to come at the hands of the murderous Jihadi thugs of Islamic State.

Driven from their strongholds on Mount Sinjar, thousands – including hundreds of children – were slain by the extremist Islamists. Others were abducted – with girls and young women raped or forced to become sex slaves. Many remain in exile, living in refugee camps.

In an attempt to raise awareness of their plight, girls from the Yazidi community have formed a choir to keep alive their folk tradition and, on Tuesday, perform in Oxford.

The choir includes nine girls from the camps – some of whom were raped by ISIS fighters. They will be joined by religious musicians, or ‘Qawals’.

While in Oxford, they will hand over musical archives of Yazidi religious and folk music for archiving in the Bodleian Library - the second-largest library in Britain after the British Library and a recognised 'deposit' library.

The AMAR Foundation, a British education and healthcare charity in Iraq, recorded the material at the Lallish temple, the centre of the Yazidi faith, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and at refugee camps in Kurdistan. Funding came from The British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund.

Oxford Mail:

They will then perform at New College Chapel, alongside three members of the Yazidi spiritual council.

They will also perform at Westminster Abbey and Parliament.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, Chairman of the AMAR Foundation, said: “AMAR is bringing a Yazidi girls’ choir to the UK as part of a larger project we have been carrying out in Iraq.

“Almost all the girls in the choir have been victims of ISIS. Indeed, five were kidnapped and held as sex slaves by various men before escaping after months or even years of captivity. One of the girls was just 10 when she was captured.

“The choir was created to help them deal with the psychological trauma they suffered at the hands of these thugs.

"It is one of a number of projects designed to help the mental health in general of people living for years in the sprawling IDP camps in northern Iraq.

Oxford Mail:

“AMAR is also teaching music to hundreds of people and is recording and archiving ancient Yazidi music played by their specially trained musicians, or Qawals.

“On Tuesday we formally hand over the archive of Yazidi music to the Bodleian Library. This will be followed by a performance at the new wing of the library and then at New College.”

The AMAR Foundation is a British charity founded and still chaired by Barones Nicholson, and has been delivering award-winning health and education programmes and emergency relief in Iraq since 1991.

She added: “We are almost unique amongst NGOs in that we employ only a handful of international staff in London to oversee the operations. The vast majority of our team are locally trained and educated professionals and volunteers.

“After the ISIS invasion of north west Iraq in 2014, much of our attention and resources was shifted to help some of the 3.1million internally displaced people (IDPs). We built, staffed and operated six state-of-the-art public health care centres in some of the biggest IDP camps.

Oxford Mail:

“We also introduced psycho-social support programmes for the women and girls left traumatised by their experiences at the hands of ISIS

“Last year, as part of our efforts to support the Yazidi people, we applied and received funding from the British Council for the music project. We wanted to record, notate and preserve both their religious and folk music in Iraq. As part of the project, we brought together a choir of young Yazidi women and girls, several of whom were direct victims of the Islamic State’s violence and barbarism.

"They were trained and are still being taught by fellow Yazidi musicians. The group were invited to sing and play their drums at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office conference on the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict in November. Sadly that was cancelled at the last minute because of the General Election.

"However, we were determined to bring the women to the UK, and now it's all happening."

The Yazidi Choir and religious Qawals will perform at Blackwell Hall in the Weston Extension of the Bodleian Library from about 12.30pm. There will also be an official handover of the music recordings.

The choir are then expected to join choristers at New College for a ‘jam’ performance at New College Chapel.

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