ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan — “Do you think you will come back soon to your city?” asked Ronza, a Yazidi woman working for Radio Salam (Peace Radio), to a woman from Qaraqosh.
Radio Salam’s microphones follow refugees and those in displaced camps as well as recently liberated cities in all northern Iraq, inside and outside the autonomous Kurdistan region. They deal with personal and collective stories and news, listening to people’s traumas and how the dislocated now are finally celebrating the return to their cities. Some 3.1 million people have been displaced by the conflict in Iraq since the beginning of 2014. Around half are in Kurdistan, which also received Syrian refugees.
Ronza, a former teacher, covers issues related to Yazidi communities for Radio Salam and also has personal experience as a displaced person from the town of Bashiqa, a few kilometers from Mosul.
“The most important and hard work I did for the radio was the [segment] telling about the period from Aug. 3, 2014, the day when IS entered Sinjar, until 2016,” Ronza told Al-Monitor. “It was a special report: visiting families, inviting people to the radio station as guests and holding interviews.”
Radio Salam opened its station on FM 94.3 in Erbil province and on the web in April 2015, when the Ninevah Plains and province, an area inhabited for centuries by a religiously and ethnically diverse population (Assyrian, Chaldean, Sunnis, Yazidis, Turkmens and others), was occupied by IS.
“Yazidi women were particularly targeted by IS fighters,” Ronza continued, “so we included a big report on Nadia Mourad, the Yazidi woman who managed to escape from IS brutality and was later awarded [the Vaclav Havel] Human Rights Prize in Europe for her campaigning.”
When Ronza spoke about more recent times, her face became less dark: “We rebuilt the first temple in Bashiqa in April 2017. This also coincided with the Yazidi New Year Feast, where every temple has a special day and all families built their temples,” she explained to Al-Monitor.
Yazidism was persecuted as a heretical thought and belief until recent times; academic and journalist Saad Salloum has defined the persecution as genocide more than a targeted religion-based attack.
The four Iraqi members at Radio Salam work in five different languages. Two members, Rayyan and Fabian, are Christians from Zakho and Baghdad; Samir is a Muslim Kurd and Ronza is the only woman and Yazidi.
“In our staff meeting once a week, we prepare the list of what we want to do, what we want to cover, and who is covering what,” Maguelone la Francaise, a French volunteer at the radio, told Al-Monitor in an interview at the Babilon Media Center in Ainkawa, a town in Erbil that Radio Salam broadcasts from. La Francaise added, “We speak five languages: Syriac, Arabic, Kurdish, English and French. But the radio programs are 80% in Arabic and 20% in Kurdish.”
Ronza conducts four weekly programs: one on women-related topics called “Layly Sayydaty” (“My Ladies Nights”), one on health-related issues “Sahha” (“Health”), one on political news and one titled “Hal tareef?” (“Do you know?”), which covers various subjects. Samir hosts “A Story for History,” telling stories that coincide with historical events each day. He also has a show about art and sports called “Art and Hope,” usually interviewing artists and people who practice sports who are refugees or displaced people from Syria and Iraq.
“All the world has discussed the refugees and the displaced here in Iraq, but few have listened to them. Radio Salam broadcasts their testimonies,” Samir told Al-Monitor. He added, “Christians say that [IS] terror was against Christians; Yazidis say that they were targeting Yazidis; Muslims say that they have killed mostly Muslims. But [IS] was against all of us and against humanity: the only solution against, it is to live all together, leaving behind conflict,” he concluded.
In recent times, independent media and community radios in the Kurdistan region of Iraq have focused on having interreligious and interethnic editorial staff in order to facilitate and promote the pacification of various groups that have been divided by the conflict. However, these media outlets cannot publicly criticize the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) nor denounce the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). In fact, while it is easy to open and register a radio or media outlet, it is also common to be forced to close down if the outlet does not respect the government’s policy. Despite all the violations and restrictions, the informative role of independent media, especially during the war, together with the social aim of reuniting communities, continues to be essential.
“The direction of independent local radio is the same as that of Radio Salam,” said Carlotta Macera, Youth Centers project coordinator for the Italian nongovernmental organization Un ponte Per… (A bridge to…), which has been present in Iraq since the first Gulf War. Macera added, “We are going to support two community radios and implement two new ones: [broadcast in] three [or] four languages and spread all the voices as a social reunification tool, this is what young people involved want to do.”
The journalists of Radio Salam want to spread a message of peace and tolerance, sharing a new approach. While they are displaced citizens themselves in an Iraq still far from reconciliation, they constitute the resilient living proof of a better future.