Rubar Rashid is a singer from Iraq’s Kakai religious minority, a group targeted by militias for years.
Rubar seeks to raise awareness of the suffering of her people, all the while challenging the conservative, traditional role that her community sets for women.
She recorded a song about the killing of several Kakais in their villages in Kirkuk and Sulaimani.
“A scream and a hundred screams… for help… have some mercy for the mother who lost her son,” the song goes.
Her use of music to bring attention to the tragedies Kakais have faced has put her under pressure.
“I am the first woman to spread the voice of the Kakais (religious minority in Iraq), and yes, there was a lot of pressure on me,” Rubar said. “People created issues by saying it is shameful for Kakai women to come out and sing. Yes, they say that, but I haven’t done something shameful. I didn’t make a business by using the Kakai name. On the contrary, I, as Rubar Rashid, a Kakai, tried to spread the voice of the Kakais. I hope you all understand that.”
Kakais, generally considered to be Kurdish in ethnicity, are spread across Iraq and Iran. In Iraq, they are estimated to number between 110,000-200,000, mainly living in the southeastern Kirkuk province area of Daquq, and in the Nineveh plains to the east of Mosul.
Some Kakais were subject to forced displacement from their homeland by the Baath regime as part of its campaign of Arabisation. From 2014 onwards, the Kakais, like other minority groups, were targeted by the Islamic State (ISIS). Despite the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq in 2017, Kakais – many of whom live in territory disputed by the governments of the Kurdistan Region and federal Iraq – remain vulnerable to attack. In June, ISIS gunmen stormed the village of Dara close to the Iraq-Iran border, killing at least seven people and injuring four others, according to local officials.
Rubar’s husband encouraged her to sing after hearing her voice while singing at home.
“We are telling the tragedies that happened with the emergence of the terrorist groups, all the way to Daesh (ISIS), How they sabotaged the Kakai families, how they killed the Kakai people, and how they destroyed the Kakai community, just because they are Kakais,” Rubar’s husband Hazhar said. “Apparently, I can say we broke a tradition in the Kakai culture, which says women are not allowed to do public activities.”