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Yazidis (also written as Yezidis) (/jəˈzdz/ (About this soundlisten)[22] are a mostly Kurmanji-speaking[20] ethnoreligious group,[18] or an ethnic Kurdish minority[20] indigenous to Iraq, Syria and Turkey who are strictly endogamous.[23] A sizeable part of the autochthonous Yazidi population of Turkey fled the country for present-day Armenia and Georgia starting from the late 19th century.[24] There are additional communities in Russia and Germany due to recent migration.[25]

Yazidis
Êzîdî
Yezidis of Jabal.jpg
Yazidis on the mountain of Sinjar, Iraqi–Syrian border, 1920s
Total population
700,000–1,000,000[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
Sinjar, Nineveh Plains
Listed by countries
 Iraq500,000 (2018 estimate)[3]
 Germany200,000 (2019 estimate)[4][5]
 Syria10,000[6][7]
 Russia40,586 (2010 census)[8]
 Belgium35,000 (2018 estimate)[9]
 Armenia35,272 (2011 census)[10]
 Georgia12,174 (2014 census)[11]
 France10,000 (2018 estimate)[12][13]
 Sweden6,000 (2018 estimate)[14]
 Turkey5,000 (2010 estimate)[15][16]
 Canada1,200 (2018 estimate)[17]
Religions
Yazidism (called Sharfadin by Yazidis) (majority)[18]
Armenian Apostolic Church and Evangelicalism (minority)[19]
Languages
Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish), Arabic[20] and Armenian[21]
Yazidism (Sharfadin)
TypeSyncretic
MirHazim Tahsin Said
Baba SheikhKhurto Hajji Ismail
HeadquartersAin Sifni
Other name(s)Êzîdî

Some of them identify themselves as ethnic Kurds while others identify as an ethno-religious group.[18][26] According to Armenian anthropologist Levon Abrahamian, Yazidis generally believe that Muslim Kurds betrayed Yazidism by converting to Islam, while Yazidis remained faithful to the religion of their ancestors.[27] In Iraq and Armenia, the Yazidis are recognized as an ethnic group.[28][29] In Iraqi Kurdistan the Yazidis are considered ethnic Kurds and the autonomous region is highly critical of any move to recognize Yazidis as an ethnic group. The sole Yazidi parliamentarian in the Iraqi Parliament Vian Dakhil also stated her opposition to any move separating Yazidis from Kurds.[30] Yazidis are also regarded as ethnic Kurds in Georgia.[31]

Historically, there have been Kurdish persecutions against Yazidis with the goal of converting Yazidis to Islam.[32] The Yazidis were nearly wiped out by these massacres.[33][34] Some Yazidi tribes converted to Islam and embraced the Kurdish identity.[35]

Some Yazidis use the glossonym Ezdiki for Kurmanji. According to these Yazidis, they are not the ones who speak the language of the Kurds but vice-versa.[36] In Armenia, the language of the Yazidis (Ezdiki or Yazidi) is recognized as a national minority language.[37][38] However, the attempts to separate from Ezdiki from Kurmanji are not based on scientific evidence.[39]

Their religion, Yazidism, is also called Sharfadin by Yazidis.[18] It is a monotheistic religion and has elements of Ancient Mesopotamian religions[40] and some similarities with Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam.[25][41] Yazidis who marry non-Yazidis are automatically considered to have converted to the religion of their spouse and therefore are not permitted to call themselves Yazidis.[24][42] The Yazidis in Iraq live primarily in Nineveh Governorate, part of the disputed territories of northern Iraq.[43][44]

Since 3 August 2014, the Yazidis became victims of an ongoing genocide by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in its campaign to rid Iraq and its neighbouring countries of non-Islamic influences.[45]

Contents

Demographics

 
Yazidi leaders and Chaldean clergymen meeting in Mesopotamia, 19th century

Historically, the Yazidis lived primarily in communities located in present-day Iraq, Turkey, and Syria and also had significant numbers in Armenia and Georgia. However, events since the end of the 20th century have resulted in considerable demographic shift in these areas as well as mass emigration.[25] As a result, population estimates are unclear in many regions, and estimates of the size of the total population vary.[20]

Iraq

The majority of the Yazidi population lives in Iraq, where they make up an important minority community.[20] Estimates of the size of these communities vary significantly, between 70,000 and 500,000. They are particularly concentrated in northern Iraq in Nineveh Governorate. The two biggest communities are in Shekhan, northeast of Mosul and in Sinjar, at the Syrian border 80 kilometres (50 mi) west of Mosul. In Shekhan is the shrine of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir at Lalish. In the early 1900s most of the settled population of the Western Desert were Yazidi.[46] During the 20th century, the Shekhan community struggled for dominance with the more conservative Sinjar community.[20] The demographic profile has probably changed considerably since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein's government.[20]

 
Yazidi new year celebrations in Lalish, 18 April 2017
 
Two Yazidi men at the new year celebrations in Lalish, 18 April 2017

According to the Human Rights Watch, Yazidis were under the Arabisation process of Saddam Hussein between 1970 and 2003. In 2009, some Yazidis who had previously lived under the Arabisation process of Saddam Hussein complained about the political tactics of the Kurdistan Regional Government that were intended to make Yazidis identify themselves as Kurds.[44] A report from Human Rights Watch (HRW), in 2009, declares that to incorporate disputed territories in northern Iraq—particularly the Nineveh province—into the Kurdish region, the KDP authorities had used KRG's political and economical resources to make Yazidis identify themselves as Kurds. The HRW report also criticises heavy-handed tactics."[44]

Syria

Yazidis in Syria live primarily in two communities, one in the Al-Jazira area and the other in the Kurd-Dagh.[20] Population numbers for the Syrian Yazidi community are unclear. In 1963, the community was estimated at about 10,000, according to the national census, but numbers for 1987 were unavailable.[47] There may be between about 12,000 and 15,000 Yazidis in Syria today,[20][48] though more than half of the community may have emigrated from Syria since the 1980s. Estimates are further complicated by the arrival of as many as 50,000 Yazidi refugees from Iraq during the Iraq War.

 
Yazidi men

Georgia

The Yazidi population in Georgia has been dwindling since the 1990s, mostly due to economic migration to Russia and the West. According to a census carried out in 1989, there were over 30,000 Yazidis in Georgia; according to the 2002 census, however, only around 18,000 Yazidis remained in Georgia. However, by other estimates, the community fell from around 30,000 people to fewer than 5,000 during the 1990s. Today they number as little 6,000 by some estimates, including recent refugees from Sinjar in Iraq, who fled to Georgia following persecution by ISIL.[49] On 16 June 2015, Yazidis celebrated the opening of a temple and a cultural centre named after Sultan Ezid in Varketili, a suburb of Tbilisi. This is the third such temple in the world after those in Iraqi Kurdistan and Armenia.[49]

Armenia

According to the 2011 census, there are 35,272 Yazidis in Armenia, making them Armenia's largest ethnic minority group.[50] Ten years earlier, in the 2001 census, 40,620 Yazidis were registered in Armenia.[51] They have a significant presence in the Armavir province of Armenia. Media have estimated the number of Yazidis in Armenia to be between 30,000 and 50,000. Most of them are the descendants of refugees who fled to Armenia in order to escape the persecution that they had previously suffered during Ottoman rule, including a wave of persecution which occurred during the Armenian Genocide, when many Armenians found refuge in Yazidi villages.[52]

 
The Ziarat temple in Aknalich, Armenia

There is a Yazidi temple called Ziarat in the village of Aknalich in the region of Armavir. Construction on a new Yazidi temple in Aknalich, called "Quba Mere Diwan," is underway. The temple is slated to become the largest Yazidi temple in the world and is privately funded by Mirza Sloian, a Yazidi businessman based in Moscow who is originally from the Armavir region.[53]

Turkey

 
Yazidi men in Mardin, Turkey, late 19th century

The Yazidi community of Turkey declined precipitously during the 20th century. Most of them have immigrated to Europe, particularly Germany; those who remain reside primarily in their former heartland of Tur Abdin.[20]

Western Europe

This mass emigration has resulted in the establishment of large Yazidi diaspora communities abroad. The most significant of these is in Germany, which now has a Yazidi community of more than 200,000[4][5] living primarily in Hannover, Bielefeld, Celle, Bremen, Bad Oeynhausen, Pforzheim and Oldenburg.[54] Most are from Turkey and, more recently, Iraq and live in the western states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony.[20] Since 2008, Sweden has seen sizeable growth in its Yazidi emigrant community, which had grown to around 4,000 by 2010, and a smaller community exists in the Netherlands.[20] Other Yazidi diaspora groups live in Belgium, Denmark, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia; these have a total population of probably less than 5,000.[20]

Origins

Their cultural practices are observed in Kurmanji, which is also used by almost all the orally transmitted religious traditions of the Yazidis. However, the Yazidis in Bashiqa and Bahzani speak Arabic as their mother language.[20] Although the Yazidis speak mostly in Kurmanji, their exact origin is a matter of dispute among scholars, even among the community itself as well as among Kurds, whether they are ethnically Kurds or form a distinct ethnic group.[55] In Armenia, the Yazidis are recognized as a distinct ethnic group.[56][57]

In 1895, during his research trips, the anthropologist Ernest Chantre visited the Yazidis in today's Turkey. He reported about Yazidis claimed that Kurds spoke their language and not vice-versa.[36]

Additionally, the Soviet Union considered the Yazidis to be Kurds, as does Sharaf Khan Bidlisi's Sheref-nameh of 1597, which cites seven of the Kurdish tribes as being at least partly Yazidi, and Kurdish tribal confederations as containing substantial Yazidi sections.[58]

The Yazidis' own name for themselves is Êzidî or Êzîdî or, in some areas, Dasinî (the latter, strictly speaking, is a tribal name). Western scholars derive the name from the Umayyad Caliph Yazīd ibn Muʿāwiya (Yazid I), who is revered by Yazidis as Sultan Ezi.[59] Earlier scholars and many Yazidis derive it from Old Iranian yazata, Middle Persian yazad, divine being.[60]

 
Yazidi man in traditional clothes

One of the important figures of Yazidism is 'Adī ibn Musafir, who is said to be of Umayyad descent. Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir settled in the valley of Laliş (some 58 kilometres (36 mi) northeast of Mosul) in the Yazidi mountains in the early 12th century and founded the 'Adawiyya Sufi order. He died in 1162, and his tomb at Laliş is a focal point of Yazidi pilgrimage and the principal Yazidi holy site.[61] Yazidism has many influences: Sufi influence and imagery can be seen in the religious vocabulary, especially in the terminology of the Yazidis' esoteric literature, but much of the theology is non-Islamic. Its cosmogony apparently has many points in common with those of ancient Iranian religions blended with elements of pre-Islamic ancient Mesopotamian religious traditions.[41] It is also believed that Yazidism is a branch of Yazdânism, the pre-Islamic, native religion of the Kurds. The concept of Yazdânism has found a wide perception both within and beyond Kurdish nationalist discourses, but has been disputed by other recognized scholars of Iranian religions. Well established, however, are similarities between the Yazidis and the Yaresan or Ahl-e Haqq,[62] some of which can be traced back to elements of an ancient faith that was probably dominant among Western Iranians[63] and likened to practices of pre-Zoroastrian Mithraic religion.[64] Mehrdad Izady defines the Yazdanism as an ancient Hurrian religion and states that Mitanni could have introduced some of the Vedic tradition that appears to be manifest in Yazdanism.[65] Further she derived the term from a Zoroastrian concept of Holy beings (Middle Persian: Yazdān‎), often translated as "angels" or "archangels". While he refers to "Yazdânism" as possibly being the real name of this old religion and the sources of modern designation, 'Yezidi', he has published evidence of this assertion only in his 1992 book, Kurds: A Concise Handbook.

One of the few ancient sources that mention the "Sipâsîâns", considered synonymous with the Yazdanis is the Dabestân-e Madâheb, written between 1645 and 1658.[66]

Early writers attempted to describe Yazidi origins, broadly speaking, in terms of Islam, or Persian, or sometimes even "pagan" religions; however, research published since the 1990s has shown such an approach to be simplistic.[20]

Another theory of Yazidi origins is given by the Persian scholar Al-Shahrastani. According to Al-Shahrastani, the Yazidis are the followers of Yezîd bn Unaisa, who kept friendship with the first Muhakkamah before the Azariḳa. The first Muhakkamah is an appellative applied to the Muslim schismatics called Al-Ḫawarij. Accordingly, it might be inferred that the Yazidis were originally a Ḫarijite sub-sect. Yezid bn Unaisa moreover, is said to have been in sympathy with the Ibadis, a sect founded by 'Abd-Allah Ibn Ibaḍ."[67]

Genetics

Modern-day Assyrians and Yazidis from Northern Iraq may have a stronger genetic continuity with the original Mesopotamian people. The northern Iraqi Assyrian and Yazidi populations were found in the middle of a genetic continuum between the Near East and Southeastern Europe.[68]

In 1908, Ernest Leroux reported that the Yazidis speak the same language as the Kurds, but they are not Kurds. Ernest Leroux reported that the Yazidis are of a different "sort". He claimed that the Yazidis were the representatives of a "race" whose origins are in the dark.[69]

Religious beliefs

 
Lalish, the heart of the Yazidi faith

The Yazidis are monotheists,[24] believing in one God, who created the world and entrusted it into the care of a Heptad of seven Holy Beings, often known as Angels or heft sirr (the Seven Mysteries). These angels are called Azaz'il, Gabra'il (Jabra'il), Mikha'il, Rafa'il (Israfil), Dadra'il, Azrafil and Shamkil (Shemna'il).[70] Preeminent among these is Tawûsê Melek (frequently known as "Melek Taus" in English publications), the Peacock Angel[71][72] (identified with one of the Angels). He refused to bow before the first human, when God ordered the seven angels to do so. The command was actually a test, to determine, which of these angels was most loyal to God by not prostrating themselves to someone other, than their creator. It is not Melek Taus, as some foreign scholars assert, but Azazil, who was banished to hell, who is different from Melek Taus for most Yazidis.[73] Such legends might be introduced by foreign scholars, who misinterpreted the Yazidi faith.[74]

This belief has been linked by some people to Sufi mystical reflections on Iblis, who also refused to prostrate to Adam, despite God's express command to do so.[75] Because of this similarity to the Sufi tradition of Iblis, some followers of other monotheistic religions of the region identify the Peacock Angel with their own unredeemed evil spirit Satan,[76]:29[24] which has incited centuries of persecution of the Yazidis as "devil worshippers".[77][78] Persecution of Yazidis has continued in their home communities within the borders of modern Iraq.[72]

Yazidis, however, believe Tawûsê Melek is not a source of evil or wickedness. They consider him to be the leader of the archangels, not a fallen angel.[76][24]

The Yazidis of Kurdistan have been called many things, most notoriously 'devil-worshippers,' a term used both by unsympathetic neighbours and fascinated Westerners. This sensational epithet is not only deeply offensive to the Yazidis themselves, but quite simply wrong."[79] Non-Yazidis have associated Melek Taus with Shaitan (Islamic/Arab name) or Satan, but Yazidis find that offensive and do not actually mention that name.[79]

Tawûsê Melek, the Peacock Angel

The Yazidis believe in a divine triad, like the Alawites.[25] The original god of the Yazidis is considered to be remote and inactive in relation to his creation, except to contain and bind it together within his essence.[80] His first emanation is Tawûsê Melek, who functions as the ruler of the world. The second hypostasis of this trinity is Sheikh Adî. The third is Sultan Ezid. These are the three hypostases of the one God. The identity of these three is sometimes blurred, with Sheikh Adî considered to be a manifestation of Tawûsê Melek and vice versa. The same also applies to Sultan Ezid. A popular Yazidi story narrates the fall of Tawûsê Melek and his subsequent rejection by humanity, with the exception of the Yazidis.[25]

The Kitêba Cilwe "Book of Illumination", which claims to be the words of Tawûsê Melek, and which presumably represents Yazidi belief, states that he allocates responsibilities, blessings, and misfortunes as he sees fit and that it is not for the race of Adam to question him. Sheikh Adî believed that the spirit of Tawûsê Melek was the same as his own, perhaps as a reincarnation. He is reported to have said:

I was present when Adam was living in Paradise, and also when Nemrud threw Abraham in fire. I was present when God said to me: 'You are the ruler and Lord on the Earth'. God, the compassionate, gave me seven earths and throne of the heaven.

Yazidi accounts of creation differ from that of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and is closer to that of Zoroastrianism[81]

Yazidis hold that God created Tawûsê Melek on this day and celebrate it as New Year's Day. Yazidis argue that the order to bow to Adam was only a test for Tawûsê Melek, since if God commands anything then it must happen. (Bibe, dibe). In other words, God could have made him submit to Adam, but gave Tawûsê Melek the choice as a test: God had directed him not to bow to any other being, and his refusal of the later order to bow to Adam was thus obedience to God's original command. They believe that their respect and praise for Tawûsê Melek is a way to acknowledge his majestic and sublime nature. This idea is called "Knowledge of the Sublime" (Zanista Ciwaniyê). Şêx Adî has observed the story of Tawûsê Melek and believed in him.[82]

According to Izady, Yazdânism is now continued in the denominations of Yazidism, Yarsanism, and Ishik Alevism.[83] The three traditions subsumed under the term Yazdânism are primarily practiced in relatively isolated communities; from Khurasan to Anatolia, and parts of western Iran.

Principal beliefs

In Yazdani theologies, an absolute transcendental God (Hâk or Haqq) encompasses the whole universe. He binds together the cosmos with his essence, and manifests as the heft sirr (the "Heptad", "Seven Mysteries", "Seven Angels"), who sustain universal life and can incarnate in persons, bâbâ ("Gates" or "Avatar"). These seven emanations are comparable to the seven Anunnaki aspects of Anu of ancient Mesopotamian theology, and they include Melek Taus (the "Peacock Angel" or "King"), who is the same as the ancient god Dumuzi son of Enki[84] and the main deity in Yazidi theology, and Shaykh Shams al-Din, "the sun of the faith", who is Mithra.[85]

These religions continue the theology of Mesopotamian religions under a Zoroastrian influence,[86] and expressed through an Arabic and Persianate Sufi lexicon.

Reincarnation

Yazdânism teaches the cyclic nature of the world with reincarnation of the deity and of people being a common feature, traversing incarnations of the soul of a man into human form or an animal or even a plant. These religions also teach that there are seven cycles of the universe, six of which have already happened, while the seventh one is yet to unfold. In each cycle, there is a set of six reincarnated persons (one female, five male) who will herald the new cycle and preside over it (the seventh one in the set being the ever-lasting, the ever-present Almighty).

The reincarnation of the deity could be in one of the three forms: a "reflection incarnation", a "guest incarnation", or the highest form, an "embodiment incarnation". Jesus, Ali, and the three leaders of the three primary branches of Yazdânism are all examples of embodiment incarnations, meaning Godhead actually born in a human body.[87]

A belief in the reincarnation of lesser Yazidi souls also exists. Like the Ahl-e Haqq, the Yazidis use the metaphor of a change of garment to describe the process. Spiritual purification of the soul can be attained via continual reincarnation within the faith group, but it can also be halted by means of expulsion from the Yazidi community; this is the worst possible fate, since the soul's spiritual progress halts and conversion back into the faith is impossible.[88]

Yazidi holy texts

The Yazidi holy books are claimed to be the Kitêba Cilwe (Book of Revelation) and the Mishefa Reş (Black Book). However, scholars generally agree that the manuscripts of both books published in 1911 and 1913 were forgeries written by non-Yazidis in response to Western travellers' and scholars' interest in the Yazidi religion; however, the material in them is consistent with authentic Yazidi traditions.[59] True texts of those names may have existed, but remain obscure. The real core texts of the religion that exist today are the hymns known as qawls; they have also been orally transmitted during most of their history, but are now being collected with the assent of the community, effectively transforming Yazidism into a scriptural religion.[59] The qawls are full of cryptic allusions and usually need to be accompanied by čirōks or 'stories' that explain their context.[59]

Organisation

Yazidi society is hierarchical. The secular leader of the world's Yazidi is a hereditary emir or prince, and the current emir is Hazim Tahsin Said A chief sheikh, the Baba Sheikh, heads the religious hierarchy of the Yazidis, and the current Sheikh is Khurto Hajji Ismail.[89] The Yazidis are strictly endogamous; members of the three Yazidi castes, the murids, sheikhs, and pirs, marry only within their group. Marriage outside the caste is considered a sin punishable by death to restore lost honour.[24]

Religious practices

Prayers

 
Temple entry at Lalish

Worshipers should turn their face toward the sun, and for the noon prayer, they should face toward Laliş. Such prayer should be accompanied by certain gestures, including kissing the rounded neck (gerîvan) of the sacred shirt (kiras). The daily prayer services must not be performed in the presence of outsiders and are always performed in the direction of the sun. Wednesday is the holy day, but Saturday is the day of rest.[90]

Calendar and festivals

According to the Yazidi calendar, April 2012 marked the beginning of their year 6,762 (thereby year 1 would have been in 4,750 BC in the Gregorian calendar).[91]

The Yazidi New Year,[92] called Serê Sal or Çarşemiya Sor (Red Wednesday), falls in Spring, on the first Wednesday of April (somewhat later than the Equinox). There is some lamentation by women in the cemeteries, to the accompaniment of the music of the Qewals, but the festival is generally characterized by joyous events: the music of def (drum) and shebab (shawm), communal dancing and meals, the decorating of eggs.[citation needed]

Similarly, the village Tawaf, a festival held in the spring in honour of the patron of the local shrine, has secular music, dance, and meals in addition to the performance of sacred music. Another important festival is the Tawûsgeran where Qewals and other religious dignitaries visit Yazidi villages, bringing the senjaq, sacred images of a peacock made from brass symbolizing Tawûsê Melek. These are venerated, taxes are collected from the pious, sermons are preached and holy water distributed.[93][94][95]

 
Tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir (Şêx Adî) in Laliş

The greatest festival of the year for ordinary Yazidis is the Cejna Cemaiya "Feast of the Assembly" at Laliş, the annual seven-day pilgrimage to the tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir (Şêx Adî) in Laliş, north of Mosul, Iraq.[96] The festival, which is celebrated from 23 Aylūl (September) to 1 Tashrīn (October), is an important time for social contact and affirmation of identity.[97]

If possible, Yazidis make at least one pilgrimage to Laliş during their lifetime, and those living in the region try to attend at least once a year for the autumn Feast of the Assembly. A sacred microcosm of the world, as it were, it contains not only many shrines dedicated to the koasasas (reincarnations of the seven holy beings in human form),[98] but a number of other landmarks corresponding to other sites or symbols of significance in other faiths, including Pirra selat "Serat Bridge" and a mountain called Mt. Arafat. The two sacred springs are called Zamzam and Kaniya Sipî "The White Spring".

During the celebration, Yazidis bathe in the river, wash figures of Tawûsê Melek and light hundreds of lamps in the tombs of Şêx Adî and other saints. They sacrifice an ox, which is one reason they have been connected to Mithraism, in addition to the presence of the dog and serpent in their iconography. The sacrifice of the ox is meant to declare the arrival of fall and to ask for precipitation during winter to bring back life to the Earth in the next spring.

Purity and taboos

 
The Chermera Temple, or "40 Men Temple", on the highest peak of the Sinjar Mountains in northern Iraq. The temple is so old that no one remembers how it came to have that name, but it is believed to derive from the burial of forty men on the mountaintop site.[99]

The Yazidis' concern with religious purity and their reluctance to mix elements perceived to be incompatible is shown in not only their caste system but also various taboos affecting everyday life. The purity of Earth, Air, Fire and Water is protected by a number of taboos, e.g. against spitting on earth, water or fire. Some discourage spitting or pouring hot water on the ground because they believe that spirits or souls that may be present would be harmed or offended by such actions if they happen to be hit by the discarded liquid.

Many Yazidis consider pork as prohibited. However, many Yazidis living in Germany began to view this taboo as foreign import from Judaism or Islam and not part of Yazidism, therefore abandoned this rule.[100]

Too much contact with non-Yazidis is also considered polluting. In the past, Yazidis avoided military service which would have led them to live among Muslims and were forbidden to share such items as cups or razors with outsiders. A resemblance to the external ear may lie behind the taboo against eating head lettuce, whose name koas resembles Yazidi pronunciations of koasasa. Additionally, lettuce grown near Mosul is thought by some Yazidis to be fertilised with human waste, which may contribute to the idea that it is unsuitable for consumption. However, in a BBC interview in April 2010, a senior Yazidi authority stated that ordinary Yazidis may eat what they want, but holy men refrain from certain vegetables (including cabbage) because "they cause gases".[101]

Customs

Children are baptised at birth and circumcision is not required, but is practised by some due to regional customs.[102]

Western perceptions

As the Yazidis hold religious beliefs that are mostly unfamiliar to outsiders, many non-Yazidi people have written about them and ascribed to their beliefs facts that have dubious historical validity. The Yazidis, perhaps because of their secrecy, also have a place in modern occultism.

In Western literature

 
Image from A journey from London to Persepolis, 1865

In William Seabrook's book Adventures in Arabia, the fourth section, starting with Chapter 14, is devoted to the "Yezidees" and is titled "Among the Yezidees". He describes them as "a mysterious sect scattered throughout the Orient, strongest in North Arabia, feared and hated both by Moslem and Christian, because they are worshippers of Satan." In the three chapters of the book, he completely describes the area, including the fact that this territory, including their holiest city of Sheik-Adi, was not part of "Irak".[103]

George Gurdjieff wrote about his encounters with the Yazidis several times in his book Meetings with Remarkable Men, mentioning that they are considered to be "devil worshippers" by other ethnicities in the region. Also, in Peter Ouspensky's book "In Search of the Miraculous", he describes some strange customs that Gurdjieff observed in Yazidi boys: "He told me, among other things, that when he was a child he had often observed how Yezidi boys were unable to step out of a circle traced round them on the ground" (p. 36)

Idries Shah, writing under the pen-name Arkon Daraul, in the 1961 book Secret Societies Yesterday and Today, describes discovering a Yazidi-influenced secret society in the London suburbs called the "Order of the Peacock Angel." Shah claimed Tawûsê Melek could be understood, from the Sufi viewpoint, as an allegory of the higher powers in humanity.[104]

In H.P. Lovecraft's story "The Horror at Red Hook", some of the murderous foreigners are identified as belonging to "the Yezidi clan of devil-worshippers".[105]

In Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series novel The Letter of Marque, set during the Napoleonic wars, there is a Yazidi character named Adi. His ethnicity is referred to as "Dasni".

A fictional Yazidi character of note is the super-powered police officer King Peacock of the Top 10 series (and related comics).[106] He is portrayed as a kind, peaceful character with a broad knowledge of religion and mythology. He is depicted as conservative, ethical, and highly principled in family life. An incredibly powerful martial artist, he is able to perceive and strike at his opponent's weakest spots, a power that he claims is derived from communicating with Malek Ta'us.

In US Army memoirs

In her memoir of her service with an intelligence unit of the US Army's 101st Airborne Division in Iraq during 2003 and 2004, Kayla Williams (2005) records being stationed in northern Iraq near the Syrian border in an area inhabited by "Yezidis". According to Williams, some Yazidis were Kurdish-speaking but did not consider themselves Kurds and expressed to her a fondness for America and Israel. She was able to learn only a little about the nature of their religion: she thought it very ancient, and concerned with angels. She describes a mountain-top Yazidi shrine as "a small rock building with objects dangling from the ceiling" and alcoves for the placement of offerings. She reported that local Muslims considered the Yazidis to be devil worshippers.

In an October 2006 article in The New Republic, Lawrence F. Kaplan echoes Williams's sentiments about the enthusiasm of the Yazidis for the American occupation of Iraq, in part because the Americans protect them from oppression by militant Muslims and the nearby Kurds. Kaplan notes that the peace and calm of Sinjar is virtually unique in Iraq: "Parents and children line the streets when U.S. patrols pass by, while Yazidi clerics pray for the welfare of U.S. forces."[107]

Tony Lagouranis comments on a Yazidi prisoner in his book Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey through Iraq:

There's a lot of mystery surrounding the Yazidi, and a lot of contradictory information. But I was drawn to this aspect of their beliefs: Yazidi don't have a Satan. Malak Ta'us, an archangel, God's favorite, was not thrown out of heaven the way Satan was. Instead, he descended, saw the suffering and pain of the world, and cried. His tears, thousands of years' worth, fell on the fires of hell, extinguishing them. If there is evil in the world, it does not come from a fallen angel or from the fires of hell. The evil in this world is man-made. Nevertheless, humans can, like Malak Ta'us, live in this world but still be good.[108]

Persecution of Yazidis

The belief of some followers of other monotheistic religions of the region that the Peacock Angel equates with their own unredeemed evil spirit Satan,[76]:29[24] has incited centuries of persecution of the Yazidis as "devil worshippers".[77][78]

Under the Ottoman Empire

A large Yazidi community existed in Syria, but it declined due to persecution by the Ottoman Empire.[109][110] Several punitive expeditions were organized against the Yazidis by the Ottoman governors (Wāli) of Diyarbakır, Mosul and Baghdad. The objective of these persecutions was the forced conversion of Yazidis to the Sunni Hanafi Islam of the Ottoman Empire.[111]

In post-invasion Iraq

On April 7, 2007, a crowd of up to 2,000 Yazidis stoned a 17-year-old Iraqi of the Yazidi faith Du'a Khalil Aswad to death.[112][113] Rumours that the stoning was connected to her alleged conversion to Islam prompted reprisals against Yazidis by Sunnis, including the 2007 Mosul massacre. In August 2007, some 500 Yazidis were killed in a coordinated series of bombings in Qahtaniya that became the deadliest suicide attack since the Iraq War began. In August 2009, at least 20 people were killed and 30 wounded in a double suicide bombing in northern Iraq, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said. Two suicide bombers with explosive vests carried out the attack at a cafe in Sinjar, west of Mosul. In Sinjar, many townspeople are members of the Yazidi minority.[114]

By the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

In 2014, with the territorial gains of the Salafist militant group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) there was much upheaval in the Iraqi Yazidi population. ISIL captured Sinjar in August 2014 following the withdrawal of Peshmerga troops of Masoud Barzani, forcing up to 50,000 Yazidis to flee into the nearby mountainous region.[115] In early August the town of Sinjar was nearly deserted as Kurdish Peshmerga forces were no longer able to keep ISIL forces from advancing. ISIL had previously declared the Yazidis to be devil worshippers and had taken the two nearby small oil fields and the town of Zumar as part of a plan to try to seize Mosul's hydroelectric dam.[116] Up to 200,000 people (including an estimated 40,000 Yazidi[117]) fled the city before it was captured by ISIL forces, giving rise to fears of a humanitarian tragedy.[116] Alongside the local Yazidis fleeing Sinjar were Yazidis (and Shiites) who fled to the city a month earlier when ISIL captured the town of Tal Afar.[116][118]

Most of the population fleeing Sinjar retreated by trekking up nearby mountains with the ultimate goal of reaching Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan (normally a five-hour drive by car). Concerns for the elderly and those of fragile health were expressed by the refugees, who told reporters of their lack of water. Reports coming from Sinjar stated that sick or elderly Yazidi who could not make the trek were being executed by ISIL. Yazidi parliamentarian Haji Ghandour told reporters that "In our history, we have suffered 72 massacres. We are worried Sinjar could be a 73rd."[116] UN groups say at least 40,000 members of the Yazidi sect, many of them women and children, had taken refuge in nine locations on Mount Sinjar, a craggy, 1,400 m (4,600 ft) high ridge identified in local legend as the final resting place of Noah's ark, facing slaughter at the hands of jihadists surrounding them below if they fled or death by dehydration if they stayed.[119] Between 20,000 and 30,000 Yazidis, most of them women and children, besieged by ISIL, escaped from the mountain after the People's Protection Units (YPG) and Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) intervened to stop ISIL and opened a humanitarian corridor for them,[120] helping them cross the Tigris into Rojava.[121] Some Yazidis minority were later escorted back to Iraqi Kurdistan by Peshmerga and YPG forces, Kurdish officials have said.[122][123]

Their plight received international media coverage,[124] which led United States President Barack Obama to authorise humanitarian airdrops of meals and water to thousands of Yazidi and Christian religious minorities trapped on Sinjar mountain. President Obama also authorised "targeted airstrikes" against Islamic militants in support of the beleaguered religious minority, and to protect American military personnel in northwest Iraq.[125][126] American humanitarian assistance began on 7 August 2014,[127] with the UK Royal Air Force subsequently contributing to the relief effort.[128] At an emergency meeting in London, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott also pledged humanitarian support,[129] while European nations resolved to join the US in helping to arm Peshmerga fighters aiding the Yazidis with more advanced weaponry.[130]

Later PKK and YPG fighters with Peshmergas and support of the US airstrikes helped the rest of the trapped Yazidis to escape from the mountain.[123] One relief worker in the evacuation operation described the conditions on Mount Sinjar as "a genocide", having witnessed hundreds of corpses.[121] Yazidi girls in Iraq allegedly raped by ISIL fighters have committed suicide by jumping to their death from Mount Sinjar, as described in a witness statement.[131] In Sinjar, ISIL destroyed a Shiite shrine and demanded that the remaining population convert to their version of Islam, pay jizya (a religious tax) or be executed.

Captured women are treated as sex slaves or spoils of war, some are driven to suicide. Women and girls who convert to Islam are sold as brides, those who refuse to convert are tortured, raped and eventually murdered. Babies born in the prison where the women are held are taken from their mothers to an unknown fate.[132][133] Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was kidnapped and used as a sex slave by the ISIL in 2014.[134]

Haleh Esfandiari from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has highlighted the abuse of local women by ISIL militants after they have captured an area. "They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them. The younger girls ... are raped or married off to fighters", she said, adding, "It's based on temporary marriages, and once these fighters have had sex with these young girls, they just pass them on to other fighters."[135] Speaking of Yazidi women captured by ISIL, Nazand Begikhani said "[t]hese women have been treated like cattle... They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They've been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags."[136] Dr. Widad Akrawi said that ISIL uses slavery and rape as weapons of war.[137]

 
Defend International provided humanitarian aid to Yazidi refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan in December 2014.

In September 2014, Defend International launched a worldwide campaign entitled "Save The Yazidis: The World Has To Act Now" to raise awareness about the tragedy of the Yazidis in Sinjar and to co-ordinate activities related to intensifying efforts aimed at rescuing Yazidi and Christian women and girls captured by ISIL.[138] In October 2014 the United Nations reported that more than 5,000 Yazidis had been murdered and 5,000 to 7,000 (mostly women and children) had been abducted by ISIL.[139][140] In the same month, President of Defend International dedicated her 2014 International Pfeffer Peace Award to the Yazidis.[141] She asked the international community to make sure that the victims are not forgotten; they should be rescued, protected, fully assisted and compensated fairly.[138]

ISIS has, in their digital magazine Dabiq, explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women.[142] In December 2014, Amnesty International published a report.[143][144] Despite the oppression Yazidis' women have sustained, they have appeared on the news as examples of retaliation. They have received training and taken positions at the frontlines of the fighting, making up about a third of the Kurd–Yazidi coalition forces, and have distinguished themselves as soldiers.[145][146]

See also

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Further reading

External links