November 30, 2003

More Yezidis

From the indispensible KurdishMedia.Com comes this story (which originally ran in The Independent) on the Yezidis with the unfortunate headline "Hell's Angels." The Independent piece initially identifies the Yezidis as a tribe. I believe that ethnically speaking, the vast majority -- if not all -- of Yezidis are Kurdish, although this may be a distinction without a practical difference if they do not marry outside their co-religionists, and so on. The piece offers this brief description of the faith:

The Yezidi sound like the stuff of legend, or 19th-century novels - a people who live in the remote mountains at the borders of Turkey and Iraq, and pray to the fallen angel Christians and Muslims call Satan, because they believe he was forgiven by God and reinstated in heaven.

The Yezidi never wear the colour blue. They are not allowed to eat lettuce. They do not believe in heaven or hell -- instead they believe in reincarnation, which they call the soul "changing its clothes". They have two holy books, but they believe the only copy of one of them, the Black Book, was stolen years ago and taken to Britain, where, they say, it is kept in a museum.

They have kept their religion alive through oral tradition. Yezidis known as Talkers can recite the entire lost book from memory. They are taught it as children by their fathers, and teach it to their own sons in their turn.

The Yezidi believe that after manís creation, God ordered the angels to pray for Adam, but that one angel refused - there is a similar belief in Islam. But the Yezidi believe that instead of becoming the fallen Satan, the recalcitrant angel was forgiven by God. They do not call this angel Satan - they will not say the word, and are deeply offended by it -- but Malek Tawwus, or the Peacock King, and they pray to him. As a result, the followers of other religions have condemned them as Devil-worshippers.

After a brief (almost derisively so) nod to the persecution of Yezidis suffered under Saddam Hussein's regime, the article notes what may be a disturbing source of continuing persecution:

After the war, Kurdish guerrillas poured into this area from further north. They appointed their own mayor and tried to take over the town. Eager to expland the area under their control, Kurdish forces were trying the same across northern Iraq. The victors were trying to take the spoils.

In a dingy liquor store on the outskirts of Sinjar - in Yezidism, drinking alcohol is allowed - we met Nawroz Ali, a local Yezidi who said the Kurds had ordered him out of his house in Sinjar and taken it over when they came.

There were many similar cases.

But, after so many years of persecution, the Yezidi were not going to take this lying down. Sheikh Kaski chuckled as he told us how he dealt with the problem. As Saddamís troops fled Sinjar, he and his Yezidi followers had collected the weapons they left behind. When things got out of hand with the Kurds, Sheikh Kaski and the Yezidi took the arms and surrounded the building in town where the Kurdish guerrillas had set up shop. The Yezidi were armed with rocket-propelled grenades. They even had an anti-aircraft gun pointing at the Kurds. Enough, said the Yezidi. Leave us alone. The Kurds got the message, but nobody here believes the problem is over.

Obviously, I can't vouch for the veracity of the account, and I'm not sure that the article's author can either. If true, it's disturbing, to say the least. The article goes on to note,

Across the rest of their homelands, the situation has been worse. In Georgia and Armenia, the Yezidis were forced out by nationalist movements that emerged in the new republics after Soviet rule, demanding that they become ethnic homelands and other races leave. Muslim Kurds have faced similar problems but the Yezidi have been rejected by the Muslim Kurds as well. In Turkey, the Yezidi suffered both as Kurds and because of their religion. The Turkish government has long made life uncomfortable for religious minorities. In the middle of a war between the Turkish military and Kurdish separatists, the Yezidi were particularly vulnerable. Looking to divide and rule, the Turkish government turned a blind eye when Kurdish Muslim extremists attacked the Yezidi. Yezidis were issued identity cards with "XXX" printed where their religion should have been entered. With those ID cards, they could expect no help from the police. They could not get jobs.

There's more to the piece than that -- the whole thing is worth reading, although I can't help noticing that The Independent's writer seems fixated on the notion that the plight of the Yezidis is potentially worse because of the toppling of Saddam Hussein. This strikes me as lunacy. For example, he notes in the article that the Yezidis pass on their religion orally; that their language is Kurdish, and the Saddam declared them Arabs and made it illegal for anyone (themselves included) to deny their "Arabic" character. I can't imagine a more direct way to suppress a religious tradition (excepting, of course, actually killing the believers, which, the article hints, Saddam wasn't above doing either).

Posted by Ideofact at November 30, 2003 10:58 PM