LALISH, Iraq (AP) — Only miles from the front lines of the war against the Islamic State group, thousands of Iraq's besieged Yazidis lit candles at their most revered shrine to mark the start of their New Year, which began Wednesday.
Traditionally, members of this ancient sect leave colored eggs outside their homes for New Year in the belief it helps God identify them, but countless of Yazidis fled their towns as the Islamic State group rampaged through northern Iraq last year. The extremists kidnapped thousands of Yazidis, killing men and enslaving and raping women.
Their plight sparked the U.S. to form a coalition in August and begin launching airstrikes against the militants, which continue even now. But some Yazidis remain refugees in their own lands, fearful of the future.
Thousands of Yazidis gathered Tuesday night at their sect's holiest shrine in Lalish, some 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of the Islamic State-held city of Mosul. They lit candles and torches that bathed their faces, tired yet joyous, in soft orange light.
"According to our traditions, we firstly wish the best to other nations, then we ask God to give every human being a decent life," said Luqman Soleiman, 45, a teacher at Lalish's temple.
However, he said the New Year would offer no solace for the Islamic State group, referring to it by the derogatory Arabic acronym Daesh.
"This poison, which is called Daesh, will be eliminated from everywhere, all around the world and the ideology of Daesh will evaporate from people's mind, because their ideas are not suitable for human beings," he said.
Hanifa Alias, a displaced woman now living at a camp in Dohuk, counted herself lucky to be surrounded by family, though she acknowledged the sorrow that remained even at this joyous time.
"We're all together, but still, home is better," she said.
Here is an Associated Press gallery of photographs of Yazidis in Iraq gathering to celebrate the New Year.
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