MOORHEAD — With Fargo-Moorhead becoming a melting pot of global families, it might be easy to walk by someone in the grocery store and have no idea what they went through before coming to the region.

That is the case with the Yazidis, an ethnic and religious minority in Syria and northern Iraq that faced persecution at the hands of the Islamic State group.

This weekend, the Yazidi community in Fargo-Moorhead will mark the fifth anniversary of the Sinjar massacre, an act of genocide perpetrated against the group by IS militants where thousands were killed in the Sinjar district of northern Iraq.

Anywhere from 2,000 to around 5,000 Yazidis were killed during the 2014 massacre, which started after IS fighters entered the region on Aug. 3 that year. Tens of thousands more were displaced.

IS also kidnapped thousands of women, forcing them into sexual slavery, and took children as young as seven for soldiers. Most are still missing today.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

The genocide was considered ongoing by the United Nations in 2018 and many Yazidis have fled from their ancestral homeland.

Ezzat Alhaidar, who now lives in Moorhead, had previously spent time translating for American soldiers during the Iraq war and now spends time sharing the story of his people.

Yazidis observe a monotheistic religion similar to Christianity, Judaism and Islam that is unique to their ethnic group. Alhaidar recounted how IS demanded they change their faith to Islam.

"You convert — or else," Alhaidar said. "Even some who converted were killed."

IS destroyed Yazidi villages and forced thousands into the Sinjar mountains.

"They were attacking all the villages, killing all the men in sight and taking young kids and young girls," Alhaidar said. "Some kids, because of dehydration and starvation, passed away."

The Yazidis number around 50 in Fargo-Moorhead. On Sunday, Aug. 4, at Trinity Lutheran Church, some will share their stories.

Haroon Al Hayder interviewed survivors of the genocide as part of a French TV documentary.

"We asked them, how was life in captivity? She just cried, she said I don't want to remind myself of that," Al Hayder said. "You can't imagine, you just don't want to go through that."

The special program marking the fifth anniversary of the genocide is planned for Sunday night at Trinity Lutheran Church, 210 Seventh St. S., beginning at 4 p.m.

In addition to talks from survivors, there will be a traditional Yazidi meal.