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Yazidis Rebuild Shrine Destroyed By Islamic State

BASHIQA -- Ezidis in a town near Mosul are hoping to celebrate their first religious festival in three years come September in a shrine being rebuilt after Islamic State swept through three years ago.

Men and boys gather everyday at the Malak Miran shrine in Bashiqa to reconstruct the dome blown to rubble by the militants when they overran the plain of Nineveh in the summer of 2014.

"Islamic State blew up the shrine, as it did with many other shrines. Currently, we are rebuilding with Ezidis themselves. Everyone here is volunteering with the construction and there is no financial return," said Ezidi researcher Salem Al-Rashidani.

The reconstruction is funded by private donations from Ezidi families and the people who returned to the town after it was reclaimed from the militants.

"They (Ezidis) left their homes. My house is close but we did not go to rebuild or clean our homes, the shrines are the most important. We have rebuilt almost eight shrines," said the shrine supervisor Shaker Haidar Al-Mujewar.

The Ezidis are the community that suffered the most under Islamic State's rule. More than 3,000 Ezidis, mostly from Sinjar to the west of Bashiqa, were killed - with more than half shot, beheaded or burnt alive - and about 6,800 taken for sex slaves or fighters.

Ezidis in Bashiqa were able to escape before Islamic State seized the town and the militants were driven out in November 2016, about a month after the start of the offensive to retake Mosul, the northern city used by the militants as their capital. Many of Bashiqa's families are still living in camps.

Reconstruction of the town's shrine, a cubic hall for prayers with a cone-shaped dome on top, began two months ago.

The volunteers gather from time to time for prayers in the unfinished temple, gathering by candle light to recite prayers in a Kurdish dialect.

"Two hundred and fifty are volunteering without pay. They are serving our shrines without money and we are happy. We are rebuilding because goodness always prevails over evil. We are the people of goodness and we are rebuilding what the evil (people) have destroyed. We represent good people. They are evil. They destroy and we rebuild," said resident and volunteer Marwan Allouba.

The town is now under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who helped take it back from Islamic State.

The United Nations human rights Commission of Inquiry has declared the killings of thousands of Ezidis to be a genocide.

Islamic State (ISIS) has systematically killed, captured or enslaved thousands of Ezidis when it overran the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq in August 2014.

Proclaiming a theocratic caliphate based on a radical interpretation of Sunni Islam, ISIS has tried to erase the Ezidis' identity by forcing men to choose between conversion to Islam or death, raping girls as young as nine, selling women at slave markets, and drafting boys to fight.

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