Ezidi Press, 2014, iraq sheikh mikhfiya 140831 e highlight

Identifying known structural elements at the site of apparent temple destruction in the village of Babila (still via Ezidi Press)

New video and testimony has emerged of Yazidis who have returned to the village of Babila (also known as Babira and Babirah), which was occupied and devastated by the Islamic State. It documents the community’s resumption of its life amidst the ruins of two temples.

In low-resolution videos that were released at the end of August and start of September, Êzidî Press initially reported the destruction of the Yazidi temples of Sheikh Mikhfiya and Sheikh Sin, which I have previously confirmed as genuine but could not conclusively identify as those specific sites.

Yazidis continue to pray

Transterra Media have acquired powerful new video, in which “Yazidis continue to pray and to light the ‘wick’ of the demolished temple as if hope was never lost.” A subtitled extract is available via YouTube. Many thanks to Êzidî Press, who highlighted the new footage.

(still via Transterra Media)

(still via Transterra Media)

According to Transterra Media’s Yazidi contributor, the video shows the temple of a figure variously identified as Sheikh Wassan, Sheikh Hassan and Sheikh Sin between the start and the 2:04 minute mark , and the temple of a figure variously identified as Sheikh Makhfi, Sheikh Mikhfi and Sheikh Mikhfiya between the 2:05 and 3:46 minute marks. The caretakers of the shrines present the ruins to the videographer. (Note: The name of this temple is also transliterated as Şêx Hesen, Şêx Sin, Sheikhsin and Sheksin.)

The base of the cone on the roof of the first building, very clear around 58 seconds into the video, is very strong evidence that the building is a Yazidi temple. And the overthrown cone, around 3 minutes 24 seconds into the video, affirms that the second building is also a Yazidi temple.

However, it is very difficult to identify some other correspondences, either between the first temple in the new video and and the temple in the relevant earlier video, or between the first temple in the new video and the photograph of the Temple of Sheikh Sin that is presented by the caretaker around 48 seconds into it.

The apparent destruction of the Temple of Sheikh Sin

In the video, particularly clearly around 28 seconds and 1 minute 46 seconds into it, the remains indicate that the building had three arches on one side. But the photo suggests that the long sides had two arches and the short sides had one. Still, this may be a product of its architectural history. While the shrine of Sheikh Sin dates back 700 or 800 years, significant elements of the temples were built recently, as shown by the concrete and rebar (reinforcing bar or reinforcing steel).

rsoufi, Transterra Media, 2014, iraq babira yezidi cultural heritage political violence 141116 00h00m38s crop highlight

(still via Transterra Media)

The videographer suggests that this may be a product of renovations that were performed after the photograph was taken, which would also explain the seemingly different styles of the arch pillars. Yet they say that the renovations were in 1985, and the photograph does not look thirty or more years old. Nonetheless, the video was certainly taken in Babila; there has been massive destruction in the area; the temple was presented by its caretaker; and the temple in the video has at least two chandeliers, as does the temple in the photograph. So, it seems that the Temple of Sheikh Sin has been destroyed.

The destruction of the Temple of Sheikh Makhfi

The distinctive structure of the collapsed concrete and exposed rebar in the second temple, around the 2:14 minute mark, corresponds very closely with the structure of the collapsed concrete and exposed rebar around 35 seconds into the relevant earlier video, albeit from the other side of the building. The correspondence between the two, independently-produced videos and the testimony of the temple’s caretaker appear to confirm the demolition of the Yazidi Temple of Sheikh Makhfi.

While these are investigations into earlier acts of destruction, Yazidi communities remain at grave risk.

Sam Hardy is an archaeologist who researches the illicit trade in antiquities, the destruction of cultural property, and cultural heritage labour at times of crisis and conflict. He teaches in Rome and...