One approaches August 3rd with caution. As it drew closer I found myself asking a question reserved for a different season and a different people group, “Why is this night different from other nights?” Namely, why is this August 3rd memorial different from all those that we have previously hosted? All were powerful, all were moving, so what is different about this year? Before it even began, we knew that it would be different. The answer is both simple yet oh so complex. Death was Banished. Choices for Life were silently presented by heaven itself, and choices were indeed made by those here on earth. Heaven and earth were witness to a paradigm shift and breakaway from the societal norm.
“This year’s memorial event was unlike any previous year. Even last year, after eight years, there were those dressed in black who wept and wailed, beating themselves and tearing their clothes. During this year, they have separated themselves from the black that is associated with both ISIS and mourning. Yes, there will always be one or two wearing black but the majority this year were dressed as for any other day.
Last year the event represented our collective journey over eight years. There were those, the majority, who wanted to move forward, and those who wanted to cling to the pictures of their dead family members, keeping their memory alive somehow stuck in the grave. We were a mixed tribe. Moving and clinging.
This year, they chose life. They did not want to be associated with death. And they were emotionally and spiritually willing and ready to push through death.”
“The template was simple but required courage to implement. We erected a tent, the same as any other tent in the camp, in fact we borrowed the tent from Camp Management. The tent had both an entrance and an exit. Hanging inside were paintings made by our students in the early days of our journey. Paintings depicting captivity and death. To exit the tent, one would have to walk through death. That would require recognition, focus, direction, courage, bravery, determination and willingness to face death and banish it, push it out of one’s path.”
“Those who walked through the tent were survivors, those who had lost everything. On this day as they entered the tent, they were faced with a wall of memory, a wall of tragedy and violence. I can say that everyone was brave, everyone understood what they were doing as they pushed death aside to come out into a new day.
Every year there are tears. This year everyone was calm, no one fainted, no one screamed. No one’s faces turned pale. They pushed through death and came out free, we saw smiles from many, we heard laughter and chatting. It was a short but powerful event. One that did not require words. Death was banished.” Shex Khalid
“On that mountain, he will destroy the shroud that enfolds the peoples, the burial cloth that covers all nations, he will swallow up death forever.”
Isaiah 25: 7
I add this as a postscript although it appears in the middle of our text as you read. Two minutes after I typed “he will destroy the shroud”, Dr Saeed and I held a lengthy conversation. I had been worried about him as he had “gone silent” within hours of our event. His phone was turned off, it was as if he had died. No one heard from him, we were all worried but did not want to disturb his wife and family. And then he surfaced. I asked him if he had been sick, ten days was a lengthy silence. “No, but I crashed after the event. Not because of our event, but two hours later I watched the Yezidi news which interviewed the symbol of Yezidi mothers, a lady known as Auntie Shami. She lost 37 members of her family to ISIS. Listen to her words. “The Yezidi people will always live under and will never get free from the shroud of death. Do you get it, ‘the shroud of death’?
"We had just walked through the tent. I opened the tent. I felt death. I felt it retreat. No one can ever tell me that it was my imagination or just a good event. I know what happened in there and then two hours later, here is Auntie declaring that we will never get free from this shroud. I have never ever heard a Yezidi use that word, shroud. I crashed. Emotionally, psychologically, then physically I crashed. I was like a dead man.” - Dr Saeed. I went to “share screen” and opened up this document to “he will destroy the shroud that enfolds the peoples, the burial cloth that covers the nations” I let him read the verse that I had just typed. “Yes,” he said, “This is the truth. I have never heard this word used. It began my silence and now you give me this word too and with that my silence is ended. This is the truth and this is exactly what transpired inside that tent. The shroud was removed. It was ripped away.” Lisa
“August 3rd is a hard day in Yezidi history. This event took us from death to life.” - Dawood
“This August 3rd was different. Many from the younger generation came, kids who are being raised by us in a culture of Hope and Life. I am so proud today as I see a generation taking its place and prioritising Life. I see a generation whose faces reflect Hope on the most difficult and painful day of the year. That is the difference between previous years and this year. Hope came alive. Hope was personal.” - Shex Vagar
“It is a blessing to be one of the members of Springs of Hope Foundation. It is a blessing to make new memories, it is a blessing to live and to be alive. It is a blessing to live each day from a place of hope.
Today the past was left behind. Today the past could not catch up with us and overtake us. Today we were able to laugh at death. Today we walked through a new door into new life.
I can not believe that in a memorial event I smiled and even laughed. A smile for life.”
“From my perspective we here at SOHF are writing history. It’s a history that presents victory over genocide. We know how to honour those who were in captivity, we know how to remember those whose lives were taken from them. We do not diminish the genocide in any way but the nine chapters of history that we have written are chapters of victory. This year, at the end of the ninth year yet another door was opened. Death was left behind; death was removed and we began to journey into chapter 10.” - Musa
“Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp and he called it the Tent of Meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the Tent of Meeting which was outside the camp.”
Exodus 33: 7
“I think that it was the right time to change our venue for the memorial event. Horses for Hope is a place brimming with life, from the vegetation to the horses and our foals, everything is alive. Our idea was simple and powerful. We erected a tent and went from death to life. From the sad music of the violin and the daf, to beautiful Kurdish music. From paintings of death to paintings full of life and joy and sculptures of freedom.” - Sahla
“When our students arrived their faces were down, strained and tense. They approached the tent with sadness but amazingly as soon as they saw the paintings of death and captivity, something changed. It was as if their bodies became stronger, their faces and bodies. It was a stunning transformation. As they pushed through the paintings which were swaying, as if death was being uprooted, the music changed to much lighter pleasant music, I watched them relax. I heard one of the survivors say, “Now I feel comfortable, I have become stronger than that black day. Its hold on me ended today.” I watched everyone closely because I am a psychologist, everyone changed. Before the tent and after the tent. I find it interesting to note that those survivors who went to other memorial events where everyone weeps, came to me asking for sessions as their trauma had been reopened. Those who walked through death went home smiling.” - Noori
Going home from the memorial with a smile
“After the event some of the older women came to me and asked if they could also go to the gym with the younger students. That was a significant change. One that I never anticipated. One that indicated liberation.” - Kajen
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you, life and death, the blessing and the cursing. Choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.”
How is it possible to define what happened inside that tent? A regular camp tent that became a Tent of Meeting. A tent where in the space of a few minutes a personal encounter took place. A decision for life took place. A place of silence only broken by the swishing of paintings as they were pushed away. A place of transaction, of beauty emerging from underneath the ashes. A place where death was banished. A place where the shroud was pulled back. This side of eternity we will probably never know what transpired in human lives, the lives of the broken inside that simple tent. We don't need to know but transactions were made for eternity. One day, we will. Until then we embark on Chapter 10 of the Victory over Genocide. Thank you for being our journey partners.