Yazidis

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Yazidis
Êzidî
Yezidis of Jabal.jpg
Yazidis on the mountain of Sinjar, Iraqi–Syrian border, 1920s.
Total population
500,000–1,200,000[1][2][3]
Regions with significant populations
 Iraq 650,000[4]
 Germany 100,000–120,000[5][6][7]
 Syria 70,000[8][9]
 Russia 60,586[10]
 Armenia 35,272 (2011 census)[11]
 Georgia (country) 30,843[12]
 Sweden 7,000[7]
Religions
Yezidism[13]:196
Languages
Northern Kurdish, (historically Ezdiki) & Arabic (Latin script)[14]
Yazidism (Sharfadin)
Type Syncretic
Classification Ethnoreligious group
Mir Tahseen Said
Baba Sheikh Khurto Hajji Ismail
Headquarters Ain Sifni
Other name(s) Êzidî, Yazdani

The Yazidis, or Yezidis (/jəˈzdz/ (About this sound listen) yə-ZEE-dees) (Kurmanji Kurdish: Êzidî, IPA: [eːzɪˈdiː]), are a Kurdish-speaking ethnoreligious minority[15][16][17][18][19][20] indigenous to a region of northern Mesopotamia (known natively as Ezidkhan) who are strictly endogamous.[21] Their religion, Yazidism, is linked to ancient Mesopotamian religions and combines aspects of Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism.[21][22][23][24][25] Yazidis who marry non-Yazidis are automatically considered to be converted to the religion of their spouse and therefore are not permitted to call themselves Yazidis.[26][27][28] They live primarily in the Nineveh Province of Iraq. Additional communities in Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Iran and Syria have been in decline since the 1990s as a result of significant migration to Europe, especially to Germany.[29] According to the UNCHR reports, it is disputed, even within the community, as well as among Kurds, whether Yazidis are ethnically Kurds or form a distinct ethnic group.[30][31][32]

The Yazidis are monotheists,[26]:71[33][34][35] believing in God as creator of the world, which he has placed under the care of seven holy beings or angels, the chief of whom is Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel. The Peacock Angel, as world-ruler, causes both good and bad to befall individuals, and this ambivalent character is reflected in myths of his own temporary fall from God's favour, before his remorseful tears extinguished the fires of his hellish prison and he was reconciled with God.[36]

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.[37] 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,[38]:29[26] which has incited centuries of persecution of the Yazidis as "devil worshippers".[39][40] Persecution of Yazidis has continued in their home communities within the borders of modern Iraq, under fundamentalist Sunni Muslim revolutionaries.[41]

Beginning in August 2014, the Yazidis were targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in its campaign to "purify" Iraq and its neighbouring countries of non-Islamic influences.[42]

Demographics[edit]

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, Georgia and Iran. However, events since the end of the 20th century have resulted in considerable demographic shift in these areas as well as mass emigration.[7] As a result, population estimates are unclear in many regions, and estimates of the size of the total population vary.[1]

Iraq[edit]

The bulk of the Yazidi population lives in Iraq, where they make up an important minority community.[1] Estimates of the size of these communities vary significantly, between 70,000 and 500,000. They are particularly concentrated in northern Iraq in the Nineveh Province. 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. During the 20th century, the Shekhan community struggled for dominance with the more conservative Sinjar community.[1] The demographic profile has probably changed considerably since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein's government.[1]

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.[43][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."[45]

While geographically located in Kurdish regions, Yazidi do not self-identify as Kurdish.[46] There has been a dispute as to whether Yazidi are Kurdish.[26]:48[47]:219[48] 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.[49] Modern Yazidi communities disagree with this classification.

According to the UNCHR reports, it is disputed, even among the community itself as well as among Kurds, whether Yazidis are ethnically Kurds or form a distinct ethnic group.[50]

The Yazidis' cultural practices are observably Kurdish, and almost all speak Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish).[51]

Syria[edit]

Yazidis in Syria live primarily in two communities, one in the Al-Jazira area and the other in the Kurd-Dagh.[1] 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.[52] There may be between about 12,000 and 15,000 Yazidis in Syria today,[1][53] though more than half of the community may have emigrated from Syria since the 1980s.[7] Estimates are further complicated by the arrival of as many as 50,000 Yazidi refugees from Iraq during the Iraq War.[7]

Yazidi men

Georgia[edit]

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.[7] 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.[54] 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.[54]

Armenia[edit]

According to the 2011 census, there are 35,272 Yazidis in Armenia.[55] Ten years earlier, in the 2001 census, 40,620 Yazidis were registered in Armenia.[56] 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.[57]

Turkey[edit]

Yazidi men in Mardin, Turkey, late 19th century

The Kurdish Yazidi community of Turkey declined precipitously during the 20th century. By 1982, the community had decreased to about 30,000, and in 2009 there were fewer than 500. Most of them have immigrated to Europe, particularly Germany; those who remain reside primarily in their former heartland of Tur Abdin.[1]

Western Europe[edit]

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 100,000 living primarily in Celle, Bremen, Bad Oeynhausen and Oldenburg.[29] Most are from Turkey and, more recently, Iraq and live in the western states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony.[1] Since 2008, Sweden has seen sizeable growth in its Yazidi emigrant community, which had grown to around 4,000 by 2010,[7] and a smaller community exists in the Netherlands.[1] 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.[1]

Feleknas Uca, a Yazidi Member of the European Parliament for Germany's Party of Democratic Socialism, was the world's only Yazidi parliamentarian until the Iraqi legislature was elected in 2005. European Yazidis have contributed to the academic community, such as Khalil Rashow in Germany and Jalile Jalil in Austria.[citation needed]

In May 2012, five members of a Yazidi family living in Detmold, Germany were convicted for having murdered their sister in a so-called "honour killing" and sentenced to terms ranging from five-and-a-half years to life in prison. The victim was 18-year-old Arzu Özmen (also spelled Ozmen outside Germany), who fell in love with a German journeyman baker and ran away from her family, violating the exogamy taboo. In November 2011, her siblings abducted her and brother Osman killed her with two shots in the head.[58]

Origins[edit]

The Yazidi people speak Kurmanji Kurdish[48] and adhere to the religion Yazidism. Their cultural practices are observed in Kurdish, which is also the language of almost all the orally transmitted religious traditions of the Yazidis. [59] Although the Yazidis speak mostly in Kurdish, 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.[60][61][62][63][64][65][66][67][68] In Armenia, the Yazidis are recognized as a distinct ethnic group.[69][70][71]

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.[72] Earlier scholars and many Yazidis derive it from Old Iranian yazata, Middle Persian yazad 'divine being'.[73]

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 Yezidi 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.[74] 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 and Zoroastrianism.[22] It is also believed that Yazidism is a branch of Yazdânism, the pre-Islamic, native religion of the Kurds. 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.[1] The origin of Yazidism is now usually seen by scholars as a complex process of syncretism, whereby the belief system and practices of a local faith had a profound influence on the religiosity of adherents and caused it to deviate from Islamic norms relatively soon after the death of its founder.

Another theory of Yazidi origins is given by the Persian scholar Al-Shahrastani. According to Al-Shahrastani, the Yezidis 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 Yezidis 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."[75]

Religious beliefs[edit]

Yazidis are monotheists,[33] 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). The names of these beings or angels are Azaz'il or Melek Taus, Gabra'il (Jabra'il), Mikha'il, Rafa'il (Israfil), Dadra'il, Azrafil and Shamkil (Shemna'il) [76] Preeminent among these is Tawûsê Melek (frequently known as "Melek Taus" in English publications), the Peacock Angel.[77][41] Tawûsê Melek is often identified by Muslims with Shaitan (Satan). According to claims in Encyclopedia of the Orient,

The reason for the Yazidis' reputation of being devil worshipers is connected to the other name of Melek Taus, Shaytan, the same name the Koran has for Satan.[78]

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.[38][26]

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[edit]

The Yazidis believe in a divine triad, like the Alawites.[80]:3 The original god of the Yazidis is considered to be remote and inactive in relation to his creation.[81] 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. Besides the triad, the second peculiar feature of Yazidi belief is the similarity between Tawûsê Melek and the Abrahamic Satan (the Islamic Iblīs). A popular Yazidi story narrates the fall of Tawûsê Melek and his subsequent rejection by humanity, with the exception of the Yazidis.[80]:21-22

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. They believe that God first created Tawûsê Melek from his own (God's) illumination (Ronahî) and the other six archangels were created later. God ordered Tawûsê Melek not to bow to other beings. Then God created the other archangels and ordered them to bring him dust (Ax) from the Earth (Erd) and build the body of Adam. Then, God gave life to Adam from his own breath and instructed all archangels to bow to Adam. The archangels obeyed except for Tawûsê Melek. In answer to God, Tawûsê Melek replied, "How can I submit to another being! I am from your illumination while Adam is made of dust." Then, God praised him and made him the leader of all angels and his deputy on the Earth. (This probably furthers what some see as a connection to the Islamic Shaytan, as according to the Quran, he too refused to bow to Adam at God's command, though in this case it is seen as being a sign of Shaytan's sinful pride.) Hence, the Yazidis believe that Tawûsê Melek is the representative of God on the face of the Earth and comes down to the Earth on the first Wednesday of Nisan (April). 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. 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]

Descendants of Adam[edit]

One of the key creation beliefs held by Yazidis is that they are the descendants of Adam through his son Shehid bin Jer rather than Eve.[78][not in citation given] The Yazidis believe that before Adam and Eve copulated with each other for the first time, Tawûsê Melek encouraged them to see if they could reproduce on their own. He had the couple place their reproductive fluids in jars and store them for several months. When each jar was opened several months later, Eve's was found to contain vermin and insects, and Adam's was found to have contained a beautiful baby boy, Shehid bin Jer.[83] This lovely child, known as son of Jar grew up to marry a houri and became the ancestor of the Yazidis. Therefore, the Yazidis regard themselves as descending from Adam alone, while other humans are descendants of both Adam and Eve.[84][80]:33 This is the reason given for Yazidis being exclusively endogamous; clans do not intermarry with non-Yazidis and accept no converts to Yazidism.[citation needed] A severe punishment for breaking this rule is expulsion, which is also effectively excommunication as the soul of the exilee is forfeit.[citation needed]

Reincarnation[edit]

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, which they call kiras guhorîn in Kurmanji (changing the garment). 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.[25] Alongside this notion of continuous rebirth, Yazidi theology also includes descriptions of heaven and hell, with hell extinguished, and other traditions incorporating these ideas into a belief system that includes reincarnation.[78]

Yazidi holy texts[edit]

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; the material in them is consistent with authentic Yazidi traditions, however.[72] 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.[72] The qawls are full of cryptic allusions and usually need to be accompanied by čirōks or 'stories' that explain their context.[72]

Organisation[edit]

Yazidi society is hierarchical. The secular leader of the world's Yazidi is a hereditary emir or prince, and the current emir is Prince Tahseen Said.[85] A chief sheikh, the Baba Sheikh, heads the religious hierarchy of the Yazidis, and the current Sheikh is Khurto Hajji Ismail.[86] 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.[21]

Religious practices[edit]

Prayers[edit]

Temple entry at Lalish

Yazidis have five daily prayers:[83]

Nivêja berîspêdê (the Dawn Prayer), Nivêja rojhilatinê (the Sunrise Prayer), Nivêja nîvro (the Noon Prayer), Nivêja êvarî (the Afternoon Prayer), Nivêja rojavabûnê (the Sunset Prayer). However, most Yezidis observe only two of these, the sunrise and sunset prayers.

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.[83][87]

Calendar and festivals[edit]

According to the Yezidi 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).[88]

The Yazidi New Year 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 dehol (drum) and zorna (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 (circulation of the peacock) 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.[citation needed]

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.[83][89] The festival, which is celebrated from 23 Aylūl (September) to 1 Tashrīn (October), is an important time for social contact and affirmation of identity.[90]

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 koasasa, 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. Moreover, in astrology, the ox is the symbol of Tashrīn.[citation needed]

The religious centre of the event is the belief in an annual gathering of the Heptad in the holy place at this time. Rituals practised include the sacrifice of a bull at the shrine of Şêx Shams and the practice of sema.[citation needed]

There is also a three-day fast in December.[78][83]

Purity and taboos[edit]

The Chermera, 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 40 men on the mountaintop site.[91]

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.

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".[92]

Customs[edit]

Children are baptised at birth and circumcision is not required, but is practised by some due to regional customs.[93] Dead are buried in conical tombs immediately after death and buried with hands crossed. Yazidis are predominantly monogamous, but chiefs may be polygamous, having more than one wife.

Western perceptions[edit]

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 Theosophy[edit]

The Theosophical Society, in its electronic version of the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary states:

Yezidis (Arabic) [possibly from Persian yazdan god; or the 2nd Umayyad Caliph, Yazid (r. 680–683); or Persian city Yezd] A sect dwelling principally in Iraq, Armenia, and the Caucasus, who call themselves Dasni. Their religious beliefs take on the characteristics of their surrounding peoples, inasmuch as, openly or publicly, they regard Mohammed as a prophet, and Jesus Christ as an angel in human form. Points of resemblance are found with ancient Zoroastrian and Assyrian religion. The principal feature of their worship, however, is Satan under the name of Muluk-Taus. However, it is not the Christian Satan, nor the devil in any form; their Muluk-Taus is the hundred- or thousand-eyed cosmic wisdom, pictured as a bird (the peacock).[94]

The Theosophical Society society believes that Sanat Kumara is the "Lord (or Ruler) of the World".[95] Just as with Yazidi beliefs about the Peacock Angel, outsiders have, at times, viewed the Theosophical Society as worshiping Satan, due to the similarities between Sanat Kumara and the Biblical Lucifer and/or Satan.[96] Similarly, the Theosophist Mark Pinkham explicitly attempts to link the Yazidi myth of the Peacock Angel to Christ.[97] The Peacock Angel's higher self was represented by Christ, the historical Jesus being Sananda Kumara, Sanat Kumara's brother. Pinkham's claim is that Tawûsê Melek and the Theosophical Sanat Kumara are more or less the same individual and that upon the fall of the Peacock Angel, evil entered the world, causing duality to enter Tawûsê Melek's being. The Angel's fallen state was represented by his being called Satan and his outcast nature. However, Pinkham states that that the Angel will eventually succeed in redeeming himself, thereby symbolically returning as Christ. The redemption of the Peacock Angel therefore serves as the redemption of the entire world and the ushering in of the eternal kingdom of God. Pinkham claims that for this reason, the Yazidis refuse to refer to Tawûsê Melek as Satan, as this would introduce time and duality into his being, and mean they must acknowledge Tawûsê Melek's eventual and predestined redemption, wherein he merges with Christ (his higher self).

The distinction between the Theosophical belief and the classic Yazidi belief, is that the office of “Lord of the World,” is merely an initiation taken by an individual soul. Every individual who takes the ninth initiation also rules the world, and will in some sense experience a fall or incarnation, a la Tawûsê Melek or Satan. The ninth initiation, in Theosophy, is the last initiation available on Earth and there is only one individual on Earth on the ninth initiation at a time.[98]

The Theosophical schema does not include the existence of higher initiations that exist above the ninth one. The only “thing” above the “Lord of the World” is the “Trinity of the Logos,” a divine and limitless entity that resides inside the sun.[99] However, the Earthly representative of the Logos, is the “Ruler of the World,” which would square with the Yazidi claim that Tawûsê Melek is an emanation of God, but not God himself. A sect of the Ahl-i Haqq, who tend to deify ‘Ali, believe that Tawûsê Melek is merely an incarnation of ‘Ali and serves as his representative on Earth.[80]:31 Furthmore, the Alawites tend to associate ‘Ali with the sun.[100][101][102]

In Western literature[edit]

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 Yezidi 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.

The Yazidis play a significant role in the thriller Genesis Secret, by Tom Knox, which was an international best-seller in 2006, published in 23 languages. In the book, the Yazidis are portrayed as ancient guardians of the megalithic site, Gobekli Tepe, in Kurdish Turkey.[citation needed]

In US Army memoirs[edit]

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 Yezidis 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 Yezidi 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 Yezidis 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[edit]

The belief of some followers of other monotheistic religions of the region that the Peacock Angel equates with their own unredeemed evil spirit Satan,[38]:29[26] has incited centuries of persecution of the Yazidis as "devil worshippers".[39][40]

Under the Ottoman Empire[edit]

A large Yazidi community existed in Syria, but they declined due to persecution by the Ottoman Empire.[109][110] Several punitive expeditions were organized against the Yazidis by the Ottoman governors (Wāli) of Diyarbakir, 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[edit]

On 7 April 2007 a crowd of up to 2,000 Yazidi 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)[edit]

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][42]

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.[118] 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,[119] helping them cross the Tigris into Rojava..[120] Some Yazidis minority were later escorted back to Iraqi Kurdistan by Peshmerga and YPG forces, Kurdish officials have said.[121][122]

Their plight received international media coverage,[123] 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.[124][125] American humanitarian assistance began on 7 August 2014,[126] with the UK Royal Air Force subsequently contributing to the relief effort.[127] At an emergency meeting in London, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott also pledged humanitarian support,[128] while European nations resolved to join the US in helping to arm Peshmerga fighters aiding the Yazidis with more advanced weaponry.[129]

Yazidi boy in Iraqi Kurdistan, August 2014

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.[122][130][131] One relief worker in the evacuation operation described the conditions on Mount Sinjar as "a genocide", having witnessed hundreds of corpses..[120] 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.[132] 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.[133][134] Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee was kidnapped and used as a sex slave by the ISIL in 2014.[135]

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."[136] 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."[137] Dr. Widad Akrawi said that ISIL uses slavery and rape as weapons of war.[138]

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.[139] 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 the ISIL.[140][141] In the same month, President of Defend International dedicated her 2014 International Pfeffer Peace Award to the Yazidis.[142][143][144][145][146][147] She asked the international community to make sure that the victims are not forgotten; they should be rescued, protected, fully assisted and compensated fairly.[139]

ISIS has, in their digital magazine Dabiq, explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women.[148][149][150][151][152] According to The Wall Street Journal, ISIL appeals to apocalyptic beliefs and claims "justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world".[153] A pamphlet has surfaced[when?] purporting to be from IS and stating their interpretation of Islam that sex slavery is for them permissible. Mainstream Islam disagrees.[citation needed] In December 2014, Amnesty International published a report.[154][155] 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 warriors.[156][157]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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