In this new virtual reality, you can experience genocide through the perspective of a Yazidi girl, her brother, or an ISIS militant.
Painting by Souhayla, a then 16-year old survivor of sexual enslavement by ISIS. The painting is of Souhayla’s mother, who also suffered in captivity.
In August 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly known as ISIS, began its brutal campaign of sexual enslavement and genocide against the Yazidis, a religious minority group in Northern Iraq.
Six years later, more than 3,000 Yazidis are still missing. Many Yazidi women and girls have been sexually trafficked and sold to people in other countries.
A new project called “Nobody’s Listening,” founded by human rights advocate Ryan D’Souza, aims to educate people about these atrocities. The team of volunteers is comprised of a prominent human rights lawyer, a clinical psychologist who has previously worked in Iraq, and a number of creative consultants from the VR and arts world.
“Nobody’s Listening,” includes an exhibition about the history of the Yazidis and their culture, and a virtual reality tour that uses Oculus Quest headsets.
The project has so far been hosted in London, Prague, Johannesburg, and Queensland, and staff hope to expand it to as many places around the world as possible. A satellite exhibition was launched in Baghdad last year at a conference commemorating the 5th anniversary of the genocide. The full exhibition will premiere in Germany at the end of this year. Partnerships have been secured to take it to London, Prague, Johannesburg, Kigali and Queensland.
In the virtual reality, the viewer can be either a Yazidi girl, her brother who survived a massacre, or an ISIS fighter who attacked the girl and her brother’s village.
D’Souza said, “Too often people only focus on the horrific sexual enslavement of Yazidi women and girls, but we wanted to show that these gender-based attacks were a deliberate tactic of ISIS’s genocidal campaign to destroy the Yazidis. We included a Yazidi male perspective because their stories have often been overlooked. We were wary about including the ISIS fighter’s perspective, but we felt it was important to understand the mindset of a perpetrator. These are human beings who made their own decisions to commit these conscience-shocking crimes. And ultimately there has to be consequences for their actions. They must be brought to justice.”
Some viewers have been Yazidis who survived the atrocities that the VR centers on. When survivors view the VR, the staff of Nobody’s Listening are always sure that a psychologist is present. The reactions of survivors, D’Souza said, are often quite intense, such as this Yazidi Man’s reaction.
Yazidi survivor of ISIS genocide reacts to the "Nobody's Listening" virtual reality experience
Many notable people, including Adema Dieng, UN Special Advisor on Genocide Prevention, have also seen the virtual reality.
UN Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention reacts to the "Nobody's Listening" virtual reality experience
Another viewer is an Iraqi Christian academic. D’Souza said that, even though Iraqi Christians are also a persecuted group who also suffered tremendously, many Iraqi Christians, as well as other religious communities, have limited knowledge about the true extent of what happened to the Yazidis. He also said that the exhibition aims to highlight the plight of all communities, noting that resentment and tensions can arise between groups over which is perceived to get more international attention and donor support.
The Iraqi Christian academic reacts to the "Nobody's Listening" virtual reality experience
D’Souza said that he hopes Nobody’s Listening will bring more communities together in a shared fight against injustice.
The Project’s Future
D’Souza plans to co-author a book with London historian Dr. Alexander Gross. The book will focus on the psychological impact on Yazidi children boys were forcibly recruited by ISIS. The team of Nobody’s Listening are also looking to give effective psychological help to these boys
D’Souza said that he hopes to build more awareness of Nobody’s Listening outside of the West, as he believes that some of the loudest voices calling for an end to global injustices are coming from the global south, particularly among youth as a group.