to give them a sense of structure.
They’re also guiding them in
everyday activities, such as going
to the doctor or buying food at
Others have begun psycho-
education and psychotherapy.
“Some don’t know anything
about psychology,” says Kizilhan,
explaining that many come from
Psychotherapy must be
adapted for Yazidis, who come
from a traditional culture and
don’t like to talk openly about
sexuality and rape, he adds.
Because storytelling is a big part
How do you imagine they feel?’”
of Yazidi culture, the project uses
a narrative therapy approach
that gives participants plenty
of time and space to talk. That
approach also lets survivors tell
their stories indirectly, Kizilhan
says. “We might ask, ‘Do you
know someone who was raped?
The therapists involved in
the project also need to understand that Yazidis may express
their distress differently than
Europeans. “One of the Yazidis
came to me and said, ‘I have a
burning liver,’” says Kizilhan.
“In the western part of the
world, we express emotions
through our hearts.”
Some humanitarian groups
and others have criticized the
project for removing the Yazidi
women and girls from Iraq, argu-
ing that they should be treated in
their own cultural context. But,
says Kizilhan, their homeland
doesn’t really exist anymore. The
Yazidi stronghold of Sinjar, for
example, is 90 percent destroyed,
he estimates. Plus, treatment
simply isn’t available in northern
Iraq. There are just 26 psycholo-
gists and psychiatrists for the 5. 5
million people who live in the
region, he says.
To help solve that problem,
Kizilhan is now using additional
government funding to create
an institute at the University of
Dohuk to train physicians, psychologists and social workers in
for the Yazidis.
He’s also writing a book on
the psychology of IS. “How
can they be so brutal?” says
Kizilhan. “That’s one way I cope
myself—to try to research and
● Further reading “On genocide and
trauma.” Financial Times, 2016. “Help
for Yazidi survivors of sexual violence.”
The Lancet Psychiatry, 2016.