A Virtual Experience
Often, awareness leads to change. And for hundreds of thousands of Yazidi people, a new virtual reality exhibit is the key to bringing awareness of their plight and hope for their future.
Field Ready first hosted "Nobody's Listening" - an exhibit examining the Yazidi genocide - last month in our maker space in Sulaimaniyah; this week we hosted both the exhibit and a discussion panel with our partner Erbil Innovation House. The well-attended events are raising awareness of the genocide, organizers say, and will hopefully lead to improved support for some 200,000 Yazidi people who remain displaced in Iraq and the more than 2,000 Yazidis who are still missing.
The groundbreaking exhibit - organized by IOM Iraq and Yazda, with support from USAID Iraq - allows participants to experience the effects of the 2014 ISIS attack on the town of Sinjar in Iraq, in which radical militants massacred thousands of minority Yazidi men there and enslaved many of the Yazidi women who survived. Taking exhibit participants through the town and a residence before and after the attack through virtual reality, the experience also offers photo displays, artwork and survivor accounts of the massacre.
This week, the panel discussion focused on the challenges facing the Yazidi community today, as well as efforts to deliver justice and prevent future atrocities. The panelists also discussed how art and new technology can change perceptions and inspire positive change. In addition to members of the co-organizing groups, members of One Labs, Caritas, the French Institute, the Goethe Institute, Orange Corners and Spark attended the discussion.
One of the first steps toward change was to recognize the massacre and ensuing torure and enslavement of Yazidis as a genocide. Only recently have the crimes committed against the Yazidis been officially recognized as a genocide by multiple nations, said panel member Lina Biscaia, who leads the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability's (UNITAD) Gender and Children Unit.
After the discussion, attendees participated in the exhibition, donning a virtual reality headset and "seeing" firsthand the Sinjar devastation. Combined with photos and artwork produced by survivors, the exhibit amplifies Yazidi survivors' voices and their affected communities.
Creators aimed to use the VR technology to help inform and change perceptions of the genocide; the United Nations said recent research indicates that traditional forms of advocacy are losing effectiveness, and that alternate educational methods such as VR could help boost awareness and even prevention of genocide as well as advocate for greater support for survivors both nationally and internationally. The IOM Iraq report on the exhibit's impact can be found here.
The exhibit has been presented in five Iraqi cities so far; in each, participants' reaction has been deeply emotional.
"It was an amazing experience; I thought I was literally there," said one Erbil participant. "It brought me to tears - it was really heartfelt. It was amazing."
After experiencing the exhibit, a number of participants sought out a survivor who spoke on the panel and hugged her, said Iraq Program Lead Ravin Rizgar; many then asked how they could best support Yazidi survivors.
"People were discussing how we can include them in our community, and how we can change our view (of survivors) as people only see them as family of people taken by ISIS," Rizgar said.
More information on the exhibit can be found here.