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Published August 3, 2021 | Version Author Manuscript
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Cultural Heritage Destruction during the Islamic State's Genocide against the Yazidis

  • 1. Chief Legal Officer, RASHID International
  • 2. Documentation Project Manager, Yazda
  • 3. Assistant Professor (Research), EAMENA Project, Durham University
  • 4. Deputy Director, Yazda
  • 5. EAMENA Project Co-Investigator, Durham University
  • 6. Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Birmingham
  • 7. Associate Professor, Durham University
  • 8. Associate Honorary Research Fellow, University of Exeter
  • 9. Research Analyst, Yazda
  • 10. College of Humanities, University of Duhok, Kurdistan Region of Iraq
  • 11. Yazidi Academic, Bahzani, Iraq
  • 12. Yazidi Headmaster in Sinjar, Iraq
  • 13. Documentation Project, Yazda
  • 14. Media Officer, Yazda




Discussions of the 2014 genocide committed by the Islamic State against the Êzidîs (also known as ‘Yazidis’ or ‘Yezidis’) have generally focused on murder, slavery and sexual exploitation. In this paper we analyze the destruction of Êzidî tangible and intangible cultural heritage as a significant facet of the Islamic State’s policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Evidence of destruction is collected and presented in context with other criminal acts.

In international discourse the destruction of cultural heritage sites is most often placed under the heading of war crime. Several convictions by the ICTY and the conviction of Malian Islamist Al-Mahdi by the ICC are well-known. However, heritage destruction may also be prosecuted as the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity. Numerous indictments and convictions before international courts attest to the viability of this approach. Finally, as per explicit caselaw of the ICJ and ICTY, destruction of tangible heritage also serves as evidence of the special intent to destroy a protected group under the crime of genocide.

The Êzidî are an endogamous community at home in northern Iraq for whom faith and ethnic belonging are inextricably linked. Belief in God and TawûsÊ Malek (the highest angel), and reverence for Lalish as the holiest place on earth are the defining features of the Êzidî faith. Historic and sacred places are an essential part of the Êzidî identity and are considered vital to life by the local population. The Islamic State made no secret of its intention to eradicate the Êzidî community and commenced a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide on 3 August 2014. All victims were abused and tortured. Male Êzidîs above the age of 12 were killed. Female Êzidîs were enslaved and traded in a complex and public network of sexual slavery. Boys were trained in ISIS camps and militarized. Those who fled to Mount Sinjar were besieged in order to ensure death from starvation, thirst and the blazing sun. Bases of economic support, such as olive groves and irrigation wells, were systematically destroyed and many areas of the Êzidî homeland were sown with landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to prevent the population from returning.

We provide original research, evidence and context on the destruction of Êzidî tangible cultural heritage in the Bahzani/Bashiqa and Sinjar areas of northern Iraq. We present satellite imagery analysis conducted by the EAMENA project, drawing on data provided by Êzidî representatives. According to the Department of Yazidi Affairs in the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in the Kurdistan Regional Government 68 Êzidî sites were destroyed by the Islamic State. We consider 16 sites in the Bahzani/Bashiqa area and 8 in the Sinjar area to which access was possible and which could be documented. We conclude that the destruction of the cultural heritage of the Êzidî people constituted a war crime, a crime against humanity (persecution) and compelling evidence of genocidal intent. We recommend the consideration of cultural heritage destruction in any prosecution of atrocity crimes, especially the crime of genocide.



This article was published in the peer-reviewed Asian Yearbook of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (AYHR), Volume 5, pp 111-144, DOI: 10.1163/9789004466180_006. The AYHR is edited by Professor Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The version provided here is the author manuscript, i.e. the text after peer-review, but before typesetting.

The article is based on the 2019 report 'Destroying the Soul of the Yazidis: Cultural Heritage Destruction during the Islamic State's Genocide against the Yazidis', published by RASHID International, EAMENA and Yazda.


About RASHID International

RASHID International is a worldwide network of archaeologists and cultural heritage experts dedicated to safeguarding and promoting the cultural heritage of Iraq, ancient Mesopotamia. To assist our Iraqi colleagues, we collect and share information, research and expert knowledge, work to raise public awareness, and both develop and execute strategies to protect heritage sites and other cultural property through international cooperation, advocacy and technical assistance.

RASHID International is registered as a non-profit organisation in Germany and enjoys charitable tax-exempt status under German law. We are an organisation in special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council since 2019. Learn more about our work at


About Yazda

Yazda is a global community-led institution that protects and champions all religious and ethnic minority communities, including Assyrians, Chaldeans, Kakais, Shabak, Turkmen, and Yazidis in Iraq, Kurdistan Region, and
Syria. Founded in 2014 at the onset of the genocide perpetuated by Da’esh, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), against the Yazidis, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity against other minorities, Yazda leads advocacy and strategic projects in Dohuk, Sinjar, and the Nineveh Plains, as well as global diaspora hubs.

We work hand-in-hand with our partners, including United Nations agencies, key donor governments, the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Governments, and instrumental community organizations to ensure justice, accountability, and a sustainable future for all is swiftly reached. We are fervently determined to ensure Never Again, so that no community and people ever face genocide. Learn more about our work at



The EAMENA Project rapidly records and evaluates the status of the archaeological landscape of the MENA region in order to create an accessible body of data which can be used by national and international heritage professionals to target those sites most in danger and better plan and implement the preservation and protection of this heritage.  The EAMENA project is a collaboration between the Universities of Oxford, Leicester and Durham in the United Kingdom and is supported by the Arcadia Fund and the British Council's Cultural Protection Fund.  You can find out more about our work at our website