Christian Werner is one of the 50 best emerging photographers for 2015, as voted by the eight-member international jury for the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2015. Here is her winning entry and artist’s statement. View his profile to learn more about her and to see more of her great work.

The Yazidi religion is one of the oldest in the world. Since its founding, there have been some 74 genocides committed against them. The most recente—and perhaps most systematic—is being carried out right now by the Islamic State’s terrorist militia.

The Yazidis are more persecuted by the IS than other religious communities because they are regarded as devil worshipers. Their belief system, centers on Tausi Melek, a fallen angel who appears in the form of a peacock. Such beliefs run counter to the IS’ highly fanatical beliefs.

Since the invasion by the IS into Iraq, there have been hundreds of thousands of Yazidis uprooted and sent on the run. Thousands of men and boys were shot and beheaded while women were abducted and sold at auction as sex slaves.

Despite these adverse circumstances, the Yazidis struggle on. Across the country, they have erected makeshift shelters, where ever they can find just enough room, really. Only a handful have
made it into the camps set up by NGOs. Most live in the reinforced concrete skeletons of unfinished houses, improvised in tents made of tarpaulins and branches or on the road.

They had no chance to prepare for the flight, nor to pack the essentials. Winter is coming again to Kurdistan and saps the energy of the refugees. Last year, some 10,000 Yazidis were encircled in the Sinjar mountains by the IS militia. Over 4 months, they fought with little food, ammunition and weapons to survive. Eventually, Kurdish forces (plus American airstrikes) were able to free a land corridor.

With this story, I wish to draw attention to the situation of the Yazidis, who are the main victims of this conflict. I want to show a broad spectrum that shows instances of violence next to more every day life situations. Next to the despair of the entrapped, we find an indissoluble struggle for survival. The war, with all its horrors, is leavened by moments of bravery and day-to-day strength.

—Christian Werner