The Yazidis (also Yezidi, Êzidî, Yazdani) are a Kurdish religious community whose syncretic but ancient religion Yazidism is linked to Zoroastrianism and ancient Mesopotamian religions. They live primarily in the Nineveh Province of Iraq. Additional communities in Armenia, Georgia, and Syria have been in decline since the 1990s as a result of significant migration to Europe, especially to Germany. In Armenia, the Yezidis are recognized as a national group.
The Yazidis are monotheists, 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 [Malek Ta’us], 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 favor, before his remorseful tears extinguished the fires of his hellish prison and he was reconciled with God.
This belief builds on Sufi mystical reflections on the angel Iblis, who proudly refused to violate monotheism by worshipping Adam and Eve despite God’s expressed command to do so. Because of this connection to the Sufi Iblis tradition, some followers of other monotheistic religions of the region equate the Peacock Angel with their own unredeemed evil spirit Satan, which has incited centuries of persecution of the Yazidis as “devil worshippers.” Persecution of Yazidis has continued in their home communities within the borders of modern Iraq, under fundamentalist Sunni Muslim revolutionaries.
In August 2014 the Yazidis were targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL, IS, and ISIS] in its campaign to “purify” Iraq and neighboring countries of non-Islamic influences.
The tale of the Yazidis’ origin found in the Black Book gives them a distinctive ancestry and expresses their feeling of difference from other races. Before the roles of the sexes were determined, Adam and Eve quarrelled about which of them provided the creative element in the begetting of children. Each stored their seed in a jar which was then sealed. When Eve’s was opened it was full of insects and other unpleasant creatures, but inside Adam’s jar was a beautiful boychild. This lovely child, known as son of Jar grew up to marry a houri and became the ancestor of the Yazidis. Therefore, the Yazidis are regarded as descending from Adam alone, while other humans are descendants of both Adam and Eve.
Historically, the Yazidis lived primarily in communities in locales that are in present-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, and also had significant numbers in Armenia and Georgia. However, events since the 20th century have resulted in considerable demographic shift in these areas as well as mass emigration. As a result, population estimates are unclear in many regions, and estimates of the size of the total population vary.
The bulk of the Yazidi population lives in Iraq, where they make up an important minority community. 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. The demographic profile has probably changed considerably since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Yazidis in Syria live primarily in two communities, one in the Al-Jazira area and the other in the Kurd-Dagh. 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. There may be between about 12,000 and 15,000 Yazidis in Syria, 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.
The Turkish Yazidi community declined precipitously during the 20th century. By 1982 it had decreased to about 30,000, and in 2009 there were fewer than 500. Most Turkish Yazidis have emigrated to Europe, particularly Germany; those who remain reside primarily in their former heartland of Tur Abdin. Population estimates for the communities in Georgia and Armenia vary, but they too have declined severely. In Georgia the community fell from around 30,000 people to fewer than 5,000 during the 1990s. The numbers in Armenia may have been somewhat more stable; there may be around 40,000 Yazidis still in Armenia. Most Georgian and Armenian Yazidis have relocated to Russia, which recorded a population of 31,273 Yazidis in the 2002 census.
This mass emigration has resulted in the establishment of large diaspora communities abroad. The most significant of these is in Germany, which now has a Yazidi community of over 100,000. Most are from Turkey and, more recently, Iraq. Since 2008 Sweden has seen sizable growth in its Yazidi emigrant community, which had grown to around 4,000 by 2010, and a smaller community exists in the Netherlands.
The Yazidis are a mostly Kurdish-speaking people. There are significant Yazidi communities that speak Arabic as their native language. The Kurdish speaking Yazidis speak Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish), which is an Indo-European language. Many Yazidis say that Kurds are originally Yazidi who shifted culturally after they adopted Islam.
Their principal holy site is in Lalish, northeast of Mosul. The Yazidis name themselves Êzidî or Êzîdî. Some scholars have derived the name Yazidi from Old Iranian yazata (divine being), and Yazidis themselves believe that their name is derived from the word Yezdan or Êzid “God”, denying the widespread idea that it is a derivation from Umayyad Caliph Yazid I (Yazid bin Muawiyah), revered as Sultan Ezi. The Yazidis’ cultural practices are observed in Kurdish, and almost all speak Kurmanjî with the exception of the villages of Bashiqa and Bahazane, where Arabic is spoken. Kurmanjî is the language of almost all the orally transmitted religious traditions of the Yazidis.
Their religion is a kind of Yazdânism and 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. Their cosmogonies apparently have many points in common with those of ancient Persian religions. Early writers attempted to describe Yazidi origins, broadly speaking, in terms of Islam, or Persian, or sometimes even pagan religions.
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 of the ‘Adawiyya Sufi order living in the Yezidi mountains, and caused it to deviate from Islamic norms relatively soon after the death of its founder, Shaykh ‘Adī ibn Musafir, who is said to be of Umayyad descent. He settled in the valley of Laliş (some 36 miles north-east of Mosul) in the early 12th century. Şêx Adî himself, a figure of undoubted orthodoxy, enjoyed widespread influence. He died in 1162, and his tomb at Laliş is a focal point of Yazidi pilgrimage.
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).
The yellow sun with twenty-one rays represents Mithra, the Sun as symbol of God, in Yazdani faiths.
Yazidis are monotheists, 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). Preeminent among these is Malek (Malek Ta’us), the Peacock Angel.
“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.” Non-Yazidis have associated Malek Ta’us with Shaitan (Islamic/Arab name) or Satan, but Yazidis find that offensive and do not actually mention that name.
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.
Furthermore, the Yazidi story regarding Malek’s rise to favor with God is almost identical to the story of the jinn Iblis in Islam, except that Yazidis revere Malek for refusing to submit to God by bowing to Adam, while Muslims believe that Iblis’ refusal to submit caused him to fall out of Grace with God, and to later become Satan himself.
Malek is often identified by Muslims and Christians with Shaitan (Satan). Yazidis, however, believe Malek is not a source of evil or wickedness. They consider him to be the leader of the archangels, not a fallen angel. They are forbidden from speaking the name Shaitan. They also hold that the source of evil is in the heart and spirit of humans themselves, not in Malek.
The Kitêba Cilwe “Book of Illumination”, which claims to be the words of Tawûsê Malek, 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 Malek 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 believe that God first created Tawûsê Malek from his own (God’s) illumination (Ronahî) and the other six archangels were created later. God ordered Malek 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 Malek. In answer to God, Malek 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 Malek 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 Malek 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 Malek, since if God commands anything then it must happen. In other words, God could have made him submit to Adam, but gave Malek the choice as a test. They believe that their respect and praise for Malek is a way to acknowledge his majestic and sublime nature. This idea is called “Knowledge of the Sublime” (Zanista Ciwaniyê).
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. Yazidis believe that good and evil both exist in the mind and spirit of human beings. It depends on the humans, themselves, as to which they choose. In this process, their devotion to Tawûsê Malek is essential, since it was he who was given the same choice between good and evil by God, and chose the good.
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 travelers’ and scholars’ interest in the Yazidi religion. 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. The qawls are full of cryptic allusions and usually need to be accompanied by čirōks or ‘stories’ that explain their context.
Two key and interrelated features of Yazidism are: a) a preoccupation with religious purity and b) a belief in metempsychosis. The first of these is expressed in the system of caste, the food laws, the traditional preferences for living in Yazidi communities, and the variety of taboos governing many aspects of life. The second is crucial; Yazidis traditionally believe that the Seven Holy Beings are periodically reincarnated in human form, called a koasasa.
A belief in the reincarnation of lesser Yazidi souls also exists. The Yazidis use the metaphor of a change of garment to describe the process, which they call kiras guhorîn (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. Yazidi theology also includes descriptions of heaven and hell, with hell extinguished.
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.
Yazidi society is hierarchical. The secular leader is a hereditary emir or prince, whereas a chief sheikh heads the religious hierarchy. 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.
The current hereditary emir of the world’s Yazidi is Prince Tahseen Said. The current religious leader of the Yazidis, the Baba Sheikh, is Khurto Hajji Ismail.
Yazidis have five daily prayers: 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. There is also a three-day fast in December.
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.
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 symbolising Tawûsê Malek. These are venerated, taxes are collected from the pious, sermons are preached and holy water distributed.
The greatest festival of the year for ordinary Yazidis is the Cejna Cemaiya “Feast of the Assembly” at Laliş, a seven-day occasion, which is celebrated from 23 Aylūl (September) to 1 Tashrīn (October). A focus of widespread pilgrimage, this is an important time for social contact and affirmation of identity. The religious center of the event is the belief in an annual gathering of the Heptad in the holy place at this time. During the celebration, Yazidis bathe in the river, wash figures of Tawûsê Malek and light hundreds of lamps in the tombs of Şêx Adî and other saints. The sacrifice of the ox is meant to declare the arrival of fall and to ask for precipitation during winter in order to bring back life to the Earth in the next spring. Moreover, in astrology, the ox is the symbol of Tashrīn.
Purity and taboos
The purity of the four elements 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. These may also reflect ancient Iranian preoccupations, as apparently do taboos concerning bodily waste, hair and menstrual blood. Too much contact with non-Yazidis is also considered polluting.
Children are baptized at birth and circumcision is common but not required. Dead are buried in conical tombs immediately after death and buried with hands crossed.
Yazidis are dominantly monogamous but chiefs may be polygamous, having more than one wife. Yazidis are exclusively endogamous; clans do not intermarry even with other Kurds and accept no converts. A severe punishment is expulsion, which is also effectively excommunication because the soul of the exiled is forfeit.
In 2007, an incidence of honour killing—the stoning of Du’a Khalil Aswad—made world headlines.
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.
Western theological references
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. 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 that Tawûsê Melek could be understood, from the Sufi viewpoint, as an allegory of the higher powers in humanity.
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”.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yazidis [April 14 2015]
See also: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/07/who-yazidi-isis-iraq-religion-ethnicity-mountains