(AFP) -- Thousands of Yazidis flocked to a shrine in northern Iraq to mark the New Year on Wednesday, in the minority's biggest gathering since it was targeted for genocide by jihadists.
Wearing traditional Yazidi clothes, holding candles and paraffin lamps, they started gathering in the holy town of Lalish on Tuesday for celebrations ahead of their New Year.
The event, known by the ethno-religious minority as "Carsama Sari Sali", is meant to commemorate the creation of the universe by the angels and celebrate nature and fertility.
But the mood was sombre among the faithful gathered in Lalish, every one of whom was affected by the violence that erupted nearly three years ago when the Islamic State group took over their traditional homeland.
"I'm not happy, it's not like before, because there are those who are still in the hands of Daesh (IS)," said Zoan Msaid, a Yazidi woman from the Sinjar area who now lives in a camp for displaced people.
"We cannot forget our customs and traditions but I just want those who are still held to come back, that's all. We ask for nothing more."
Yazidis are neither Arab nor Muslim and when IS swept across northern Iraq in 2014, it carried out massacres against the minority which the United Nations said qualified as genocide.
Most of the several hundred thousand members of the minority live in northern Iraq, mainly around Sinjar, a large town which anti-IS forces have now retaken but was extensively destroyed.
IS jihadists captured Yazidi women and turned them into sex slaves to be sold and exchanged across their self-proclaimed "caliphate". Around 3,000 of them are believed to remain in captivity.