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Home WORLD In Iraq, A Yazidi Women's Choir Keeps Ancient Music Alive : NPR

In Iraq, A Yazidi Women’s Choir Keeps Ancient Music Alive : NPR

A Yazidi woman walks through the Khanke camp in northern Iraq in February.

Emily Garthwaite/INSTITUTE for NPR


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Emily Garthwaite/INSTITUTE for NPR

A Yazidi woman walks through the Khanke camp in northern Iraq in February.

Emily Garthwaite/INSTITUTE for NPR

DOHUK, Iraq — With rows of white tents filling a windswept hillside, the Khanke camp in northern Iraq shelters about 14,000 men, women and children from the Yazidi religious minority. They have been stuck here since ISIS invaded their home villages in 2014.

With its dirt roads and drab dwellings, the camp can be a bleak place. But the beat of a daf, a drum sacred to Yazidis, throbs underneath loud, energetic singing, rising over shouts of children in a trash-strewn playground.

Inside a small building, a dozen young Yazidi women are rehearsing folk songs. They sing about the dawn, the harvest and the Sinjar mountain the Yazidis consider holy. Sometimes their voices harmonize gently, sometimes they rise almost to a shout as the women chant.

Rana Sulaiman Halo (center), performs with a traditional daf drum with the Ashti (Peace) Choir.

Emily Garthwaite/INSTITUTE for NPR


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Emily Garthwaite/INSTITUTE for NPR

Rana Sulaiman Halo (center), performs with a traditional daf drum with the Ashti (Peace) Choir.

Emily Garthwaite/INSTITUTE for NPR

This is the Ashti (Peace) Choir, founded and led by 22-year-old Rana Sulaiman Halo. She has lived in the camp since 2014, and comes from a family of musicians.

For the first year after ISIS targeted Yazidis — condemning them as heretics, shooting the men and raping and enslaving women and girls — she says it was difficult to sing “because of the news around us, someone being kidnapped, someone being killed.” Her cousin is among thousands of Yazidis still missing. Thousands more were killed.

Rana Sulaiman Halo, 22, founded and leads the Ashti choir with support from the AMAR Foundation, a British charity. She has lived in the camp since 2014.

Emily Garthwaite/INSTITUTE for NPR

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