The AMAR Yazidi Women’s Peace Choir performed in Somerville’s Chapel for Refugee Week last week. The choir visited Somerville as part of their UK tour with the AMAR Foundation.

Comprised of eight singers from the Khanke refugee camp in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, the Peace Choir represents the rich cultural heritage and indomitable spirit of the Yazidi people. ISIS attacks forced the displacement of the Yazidi community from Mount Sinjar in 2014, and 195,000 Yazidis remain in camps across the Kurdistan Region, unable to return home. Since they formed in 2019, the women of the Peace Choir have found solace in music, and through this tour, aim to spread awareness about the Yazidi community.

The choir gave an impressive and moving performance at Somerville, wearing their traditional costumes, and playing the Dafs, the traditional Yazidi drum, accompanied at times by the Tanbur. The evening also included a series of short talks.

Somerville’s music fellow, Samantha Sebastian Dieckmann, spoke about the musical lives of migrant communities, whilst Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey, Director of Performance at St Catherine’s College, talked about intercultural collaborations and Afghanistan’s music. We also heard from Salma Daoudi, a Somerville DPhil Candidate, on forced migration and the weaponization of healthcare, Professor Michael Bochmann on Yazidi culture, music and wellbeing, and Vian Dakhil, who is a Yazidi MP in the Iraqi Parliament.

Yazidism is an ancient oral religion and culture, rooted in mysteries of creation and the importance of community. The choir’s songs reflect the agrarian belief in nature and farming, and also document the genocides the Yazidis have endured over the years, and their resilience in the face of aggression.

Since 2014, the AMAR Foundation, a British charity founded by Baroness Nicholson, has been at the forefront of providing healthcare and education to the Yazidi community. For the past five years, the AMAR Foundation has supported the Peace Choir through music education programs, which work to give agency back to the survivors, support mental health, and keep Yazidi culture and identity alive.

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