Sinjar to Lincoln is a combined web and text message story. To begin the experience, please text "go" to 720-903-1671.
The Yazidis are an ancient religious group based around Mt. Sinjar in Northern Iraq. Long persecuted, they first began coming to America during Sadam Hussein’s purges in the 1990’s, and a community of Yazidis was established in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Many Yazidis worked for the coalition forces as interpreters during Operation Iraqi Freedom, which led to threats and attempts on their lives. A category of Special Immigrant Visas was created to allow interpreters and their families to come to the U.S., many of whom continued to come to Lincoln, growing the community from 1,200 to 2,500 immigrants by mid 2014
Parker received a phone call from his twin brother on the evening of August 2nd, telling him that ISIS was attacking Yazidi towns and moving towards their family farm. His brother and many others went to the state capitol to protest, continuing on to Washington DC, resulting in US led airstrikes against ISIS forces and drops of humanitarian supplies.
Oras’s wedding, like the rest in the Yazidi community, was called off, and celebrations of all kinds were stopped for 2 years as an act of mourning. Yazidis who had experienced the genocide are moving to Lincoln in large numbers, with those already there helping the newcomers settle and grieve. Manjay and Jameel’s wedding, in November, 2016, was one of the first to be held as the community, which has more than doubled since 2014, begins to normalize.
Faisal’s father, who is still in Iraq, is one of the most famous Yazidi singers. Singers pass on the community’s oral history, traditions and religious beliefs. Singers, typically paired with a tunbur player, are the center point of every Yazidi celebration. There are few Yazidi singers in the US, so Faisal is training to follow in his father’s footsteps.
When a Yazidi dies, the body is washed, water or clay from Lalish is put into the mouth, and then the body is immediately buried on Mt Sinjar with the head pointed east and the face turned to the North Star. When ISIS attacked, however, they destroyed shrines and burial sites. That, combined with the continuing insecurity in the region, makes the possibility of returning to the old way of burial unlikely. The cemetery in Lincoln is a final step in shifting their futures from the returning to the mountains of Northern Iraq to the plains of eastern Nebraska.
Sinjar to Lincoln is a colaboration between Benjamin Rasmussen and Mike Shum.