Too Long a Target—The Story of the Shabak

A displaced child in Iraq, a Shabak, laughing

They have been on the defense from the beginning. 

Shabaks are hard to categorize; they don’t fit cleanly into any single box. Tucked into the city of Mosul and villages scattered to the east across the northern province of Nineva, Shabaks have a 500-year history of developing their culture. They are a small ethnic minority. Most are Shia, but some are Sunni. Their faith is a blend of Islam, Sufism, and Christianity. Their language blends words from several surrounding cultures. Perhaps in different circumstances this blending could have built bridges across cultures here in Iraq. Instead, it’s ensured that the Shabak have remained a target no matter who is in power politically.

The persecution has been particularly acute in the last 40 years. 

Under the rule of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athists, Shabaks were a target because they refused to identify and register as Arabs. They faced brutality, were deported to camps, and their land given to loyal Arabs. 

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Under the rule of Kurds, Shabaks have been a target because they refused to identify as Kurd in a time when Kurdish governments have sought to solidify claim to territory. 

In the last four decades, thousands of Shabak were killed. Many thousands more were forced from their land and displaced from their homes.

The group known as ISIS is the most recent to target the Shabak. ISIS has taken the position: conform or die. In ISIS-occupied territory, Shabaks are again being forced from their land and their homes, while loyal ISIS supporters are moved in. Shabaks are routinely kidnapped and killed. 

It was never easy to be Shabak, but today it is harder than ever.

There has always been a strong pressure to conform to the dominant culture. There has always been a strong pressure to be anyone but who they are. Though often sought after by governments, they have never been wanted for who they are. They have been claimed for their numbers, their territory, and for political advantage.

This fall, we’ve had the honour of serving displaced Shabaks. We’ve provided for their basic needs at a time when they had nothing. Will you help us serve groups like the Shabak? The year is ending, but the need of families and children in Iraq is not!

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