A young Yezidi girl carries her sister in a displaced persons camp in Dohuk, Iraq.

A young Yezidi girl carries her sister in a displaced persons camp in Dohuk, Iraq. —Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

In the summer of 2014, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) conducted a violent campaign against civilians in northern Iraq, in particular targeting ethnic and religious minorities. In less than three months, IS decimated millennia-old communities, driving more than 800,000 people from their homes, kidnapping thousands, and killing hundreds, if not thousands, of people. In September 2015, Naomi Kikoler, deputy director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, and photojournalist Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin visited the region, documenting atrocities and interviewing displaced persons. Their findings, photographs, and videos present compelling evidence of present-day terror. Read more.


The Islamic State Sows Terror

As the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) has rampaged through northern Iraq, it has capitalized on fear. Fear of attack, fear of kidnapping, fear of death—all have terrorized residents of the region. Fear drove people from their homes and helped IS control the areas it occupies.

Displaced Iraqis wait to receive food at a camp in Erbil. —Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Cultivating Fear
A Devastating Choice
“I Feel a Great Sense of Fear”
A Crisis in Plain Sight
So Near, So Far


Forced from Their Homes

Many of the people targeted by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) had lived in the same areas all their lives; in many cases, their families had been there for centuries. Overnight, they were driven from their homes and villages by IS, forced to flee their businesses, their houses of worship, their families and friends, the social fabric of their lives. Clutching only their most essential possessions, clinging to families that, for some, had been splintered by kidnappings and killings, the fleeing Iraqis have moved from place to place in search of safe haven.

A group of displaced Iraqis at a camp near Erbil. —Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

On the Run
Strong in Her Faith
“I Thought We Would Die on That Mountain.”
“We Hope They Are Alive.”


Communities—and People—Are Gone

The plight of the Iraqi minorities was a tragedy on multiple levels. In at least one case, hundreds of residents of a village were killed by fighters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). But in many other cases, people were driven from their homes, their businesses, their friends, and their houses of worship and forced to begin again. In effect, their cultures and communities were uprooted.

A Sunni man prays as the sun sets over a displaced-persons camp outside Erbil. —Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Living in Fear
A Massacre in Ninewa
“We Don’t Know Where They Are.”
“They Put Them in Cars and Drove Away”
“Today Our People Live in Despair”


Clinging to Identity

Practically overnight, comfortable lives came to an end, torn irrevocably. Uprooted from their homes, businesses, and communities, the people of northern Iraq have found themselves living in horrible, strange conditions, trying to make the best of a world that has been changed by mass violence.

An elderly Yezidi woman tends to a number of young children beside the half-constructed building in which they live in Duhok. —Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Making a New Life
Life in the Camps
“We Want to Return to Our Homes"

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