Activity 3 of Phase 2

Cultural Awareness


Implementer: University of Duhok

Collaborators: The University of Notre Dame and Indiana University

Inputs:  Initial assessment findings, secondary sources (scholarly articles, gray literature), stories on cultural practices developed by communities, 

Outputs: Social media campaign and meetings with community leaders.

Outcome: Increased awareness of minority communities on the cultural practices of all minority communities

In an effort to eliminate Iraq's rich cultural and religious variety, ISIS launched brutal attacks in northern Iraq between 2014 and 2015 that destroyed cultural objects and places. Churches, mosques, shrines, graves, even libraries and museums were among the historical and religious landmarks that ISIS ruthlessly demolished. Furthermore, they carried out one of the most heinous massacres in contemporary history against the Ezidis, aiming to wipe out the whole community and all traces of its oral traditions. Digitally recording minority cultures is an essential first step to conserving their legacy, restoring intercommunal understanding, and promoting communal healing and stability in the face of minority groups that are becoming more and more dispersed as a result of persecution.

A3. Justification

Ezidis and Kakai community leaders report difficulties in marketing and selling their agricultural products such as livestock, dairy products, and other foodstuffs, ostensibly for religious and hygiene reasons, to Muslim communities. This is perceived to be due to a lack of awareness (understanding) and/or misconceptions about their faiths, and this negatively impacts their livelihoods and ability to continue practicing agriculture. They also report instances of hate speech towards their communities that stem from the lack of awareness about their faith, exemplified in school curricula that mainly focuses on the teachings of Islam. Lack of awareness and hate speech are seen to contribute to economic and social discrimination and undermine intercommunal trust, social cohesion, and coexistence. 

Based on data collected for the initial assessment in Phase 1 of the project, about 37% of the respondents expressed an interest in cultural awareness training, and 4% an interest in gender equity training. With Ezidis, the desire for cultural awareness training is higher (43%) than the overall average, which may be related to the adverse effects Ezidis experienced due to the lack of general knowledge about their religion and culture. Ezidi's respondents pointed out that hate speech directed towards their community stems from a lack of understanding of the Ezidi faith and culture. Kakai community leaders also highlighted that misconceptions about their faith, religious rituals, and cultural practices fuel discrimination against them by Muslim communities.

Cultural awareness will help to address the social and economic discriminations stemming from lack of awareness (understanding), misconceptions and other issues that undermine the sustainability of agricultural practices, livelihood, and social cohesion among minority groups. This activity will reinforce the community-level work to be completed around agricultural production restoration, culturally-sensitive farming and gardening, and the creation of associative structures within communities: for instance, in formulating marketing strategies, communities will be able to work together and share knowledge with their products and the stories around them as vehicles for integration and increased cultural awareness.

A3. Approach

Cultural Awareness is expected to contribute to social cohesion in the context of Northern Iraq. Trust, tolerance and interdependence are key features that the project seeks to promote through tangible and equitable improvements in the material and emotional wellbeing of farmers and villagers across ethno-religious groups. However, inflammatory political rhetoric and hate speech continue to keep tensions high in a fragmented and highly polarized social and political environment in Northern Iraq. Returning families, resettled communities, and division along ethno-sectarian lines are used to sow fear and distrust, which in turn prevents people from moving forward and restoring their livelihoods and cultural practices. Within the social cohesion field, there are at least four alleged reasons that, theoretically, explain its decline, namely, economic changes that undermine it, migration/displacement and growing ethno-cultural diversity, changes in social relationships bolstered by social media, and the politico-economic integration processes of different political communities (Schiefer & Van der Noll, 2016).

The emphasis of this activity in social media seeks to improve intercultural awareness, promote purposeful, positive encounters among members of different communities, and de-escalate odious rhetoric by improving civil discourse based on cultural diversity that, in turn strengthens social relations, helps build consensus on what the common good is, and fosters a sense of belonging across ethno-religious groups. The cultural awareness activities (dialogue meetings and the social media campaign) will serve as an outreach and dissemination vehicle for the project also, to convey information, co-produced knowledge, awareness on cultural practices, and other relevant research findings to the communities. Community leaders, prominent community members, social media influencers, civil society activists, and minority rights advocates are some of the key stakeholders for this activity. 

A3. Brief description of sub-activities (in chronological order)

The Activity #1 consisted of Promotion of agricultural production, exchange and inter-community collaboration. According to the Phase 1 evaluation findings, the two main impediments to farming post-IS are a lack of financial resources (81%), followed by a lack of equipment (36%). Financial viability and sustainability are critical for the restoration of cultural activities. Food is seen to have significant cultural importance, as demonstrated by the initial needs assessment, with a large majority of those surveyed seeing meals for special occasions (72% of overall respondents; 82% for Kakai) and dishes associated with religious events (62% of overall respondents; 76% of Ezidis; 83% of Turkmen) as playing an important role in their life. ➤ LEARN MORE

The Activity #2, Farmers from minority groups claim that local products cannot compete with inexpensive imports, prices are low, leaving farmers with little to no profit margin, and thus disincentivizes the creation of culturally appropriate animal and plant species. Farmers' primary source of income, locally bred livestock, cannot compete with imported meat and dairy goods from Iran and Turkey. In addition to concerns about the government's grain procurement scheme, there are comparable issues in the agricultural sector. These issues include considerable payment delays, long silo lines that increase transportation costs, and requests for bribes in order for grain to be received at the silo.  ➤ READ MORE

Leaders of the Ezidis and Kakai groups claim challenges in promoting and selling their agricultural goods, including as cattle, dairy products, and other consumables, to Muslim populations for apparently hygienic and religious reasons. This is thought to be the result of ignorance (misinformation) and/or preconceptions about their beliefs, which has a detrimental effect on their way of life and capacity to continue engaging in agriculture. They also cite incidents of hate speech directed at their communities as a result of ignorance of their religion, as shown by school curriculum that primarily emphasise Islamic doctrines. Lack of knowledge and hate speech are thought to worsen intercommunal trust, social cohesion, and cohabitation while also fostering economic and social discrimination.  ➤ EXPLORE THIS ACTIVITY

A multi-stakeholder strategy is necessary for the restoration of the cultural and agricultural practises of the ethno-religious minority in Northern Iraq. The capacity of stakeholders to implement strategies is constrained by technical, financial, and "programme scope" issues (from local communities to UN Agencies). Given the dependency between the results of one programme and those of other programmes, these restrictions in turn serve as incentives for coordination and collaboration. In this regard, collaboration and information exchange with other assistance organisations is essential for long-term sustainability of outcomes as well as for the encouragement of aims and objectives alignment and social and political transformation in Northern Iraq. ➤ ACCESS TO READ MORE