The glow of candles and lamps filled Lalish Valley in northern Iraq on the eve of April 19th for the first time in several years to welcome the Yazidi New Year.
Hundreds of Yazidis congregated at Lalish Temple in Bashiqa that day to celebrate their New Year, one of the group's major festivals, free of the tyranny of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).
In addition to reviving the celebration, which had not taken place for several years under ISIS, the Yazidis sought to reassert their presence in Iraq, as a minority group that is an integral part of the fabric of Iraqi society.
This year's celebration demonstrated the Yazidis' determination to hold on to their traditions, despite the oppression they suffered at the hands of ISIS.
The New Year celebration was the first in the city in more than two years, Yazidi activist Nazik Shamdin told Diyaruna.
"The celebration was a form of defiance, hope, revival and much more than that," she said. "It was a bullet in the heart of the terrorist group."
Yazidis want to show the world that "they have come back to their land to live and prosper", she said.
Deep wounds remain
Although life has returned to Bashiqa and celebrations are being held once again, the Yazidis remain a wounded people, Shamdin said.
It will be difficult for their wounds to heal, she said, as ISIS has robbed them of joy, raped their women, recruited their children and destroyed their homes and heritage.
"We just want to live in peace and safety, far from conflict over power and politics," she added.
The Yazidis are still suffering, she said, noting that 3,060 women were abducted by ISIS, many of whom were raped and have been taken to Syria.
ISIS also has kidnapped and brainwashed Yazidi children into fighting for the group and carrying out suicide attacks on its behalf, she said.
"The women rescued from the terrorist group are suffering under difficult humanitarian conditions and they need psychological counselling to help them deal with their pain," she said.
Bashiqa district director Thanoun Younis Yousef told Diyaruna the local authority has made sure that Yazidis can celebrate their New Year.
Everyone can now live safely in the town, he said, expressing his hope that "all sects and religions will be able to celebrate their religious holidays in Bashiqa, which is a microcosm of the whole country".
A message to the world
Celebrating the Yazidi New Year sends a message to the world that Yazidis will not leave or give up their homeland, said senior Sinjar official Dakhil Qassim.
"This message of peace does not mean that [Yazidis] will relinquish their right to demand justice from terrorists and every criminal that trespassed on their land and violated their honour in Sinjar and other Yazidi towns," he told Diyaruna.
Yazidis will continue to demand that the Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional government protect their rights and prosecute those who have committed crimes against them, he said.
The Yazidi New Year is a festival of remembrance and renewal with ancient roots that each year falls on a Wednesday in April.
During the festival, Yazidis burn incense and oil lamps to light up Lalish Temple as their clerics recite special hymns for the occasion.