Support to Traditional Cultural Practices in Northern Iraq

Funded by: USAID’s Innovation, Technology, and Research HubDate Range: 2019-2023Contact: Sean O’Neill

This project identifies and re-establishes the agro-based cultural practices of major minority groups in Northern Iraq who were affected by the Islamic State.

The Pulte Institute teamed up with colleagues from Purdue and Indiana Universities, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and the University of Duhok in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Collaborating on ethnographic analysis, cataloging wild plants, and conducting market research on the region’s olive oil industry, the interdisciplinary study supported the restoration of agricultural customs that were threatened among minority groups affected by the Islamic State.

The rise of the militant organization and other sectarian tensions led to violence that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and displaced millions between 2014 and 2017. Efforts since then have focused on stabilizing the country and promoting reconciliation. “Agriculture is a core component of heritage and plays an important role in re-balancing societies and bringing people together,” Principal Investigator Sean O’Neill said. “A sense of belonging is often tied to agroecological practices. Cultivating this shared knowledge can create stability, foster social cohesion, and improve livelihoods.”

IS particularly targeted minority communities living in Ninewa province in northern Iraq, including Christians, Yezidis, Shabaks, Turkmen, and Kaka’i. Members of these minority communities were executed, enslaved, or forcibly converted to IS’s radical form of Sunni Islam. Regional livelihoods based on farming and animal husbandry were devastated. IS also destroyed many historical, religious, and cultural heritage sites, leading to a sense of spiritual loss and community estrangement.

This project underscores the cultural importance of agrarian activities in promoting economic security and cultural identity. It also broadly defines agricultural activities, including market crop cultivation, home gardens, livestock production, the collection of wild plants, and local manufacturing of culturally important products, including olive oil, cheese, tahini, and locally milled bulgur.

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