CPT explores peacebuilding between Yazidis and Arabs in Arbat Camp

by Nicky Melling

  (Photo byUNICEF- Belgium)

(Photo byUNICEF- Belgium)

On the 4 March 2015, we came to Arbat Refugee Camp to talk about setting up Alternative to Violence Projects (AVP) because of growing tensions between the Yazidi and Arab residents who have fled the areas held by ISIS. Upon entering the camp I was just struck by how many tents there were and how muddy the ground was.   Children were walking barefoot through the mud; people were collecting blankets and mattresses distributed by relief agencies.

During our conversation, one of the Yazidi men we were talking with showed us a picture of a female family member who had slit her own throat to escape capture by ISIS. Everyone has had family members taken, killed or has had family members commit suicide after being raped by ISIS. The fear of the Arab as the perpetrator of these crimes is so high. 

When the camp opened there were around 300 Yazidi families and 400 Arab families. Now there are over 1700 Arab families. A lot of the new waves of Arabs have come from areas held by ISIS. The Yazidis see the Arabs as the people who took their wives and children and murdered the men in their families. During our conversation, one of the Yazidi men we were talking with showed us a picture of a female family member who had slit her own throat to escape capture by ISIS. Everyone has had family members taken, killed or has had family members commit suicide after being raped by ISIS. The fear of the Arab as the perpetrator of these crimes is so high. A Yazidi Sheikh told us that Arabs in the camp called the Yazidis devil worshippers and told them that they do not have a God. He also told us that the Arab young men would tease their children and throw rocks at them shouting “Allahu Akbar” (the same words used by ISIS whilst attacking) as they played outside.

The level of fear and tension is so intense that the Sheikh requested a fence to separate the Arab and Yazidi parts of the camp. The authorities turned down his request.  He was a little skeptical about the Alternatives to Violence Project but agreed to support us to try and foster more cohesion in the camp. The Arabs have also suffered and we hope by having people in dialogue together, CPT and our friends from AVP can help to start planting the first seeds of peace.

I might have been more skeptical and agreed with the Sheikh had I not just witnessed the power of an Alternatives to Violence Project. During the last part of the training I participated in, I was brought to tears by people's stories of transforming power and building community in the group. When the group started working together, they distrusted each other and there was a lot of tension.  Six weeks later the participants spoke of how we had all become a community.

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