Yazidis, at risk minority in Mesopotamia and their extraordinary culture.

In northern Iraq in what is perhaps the most dangerous region in the world, Mosul, lives the majority of the tribal culture of Yazidis. Amongst the sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiite, political divisions between Baathist and Kurd, the Yazidis maintain their ancient religion and practices. The roots of Yazadinism are mysterious as with all ancient religions it seems a blend of different ideas, perhaps from the mix of cultures and travel creates a highly unusual faith. Elements of Yazadinism have been identified as coming from the Abrahamic faiths along with the supposition of some Mithraic influence, Zoroastrian and Sufi elements to mention a few. Whilst the break down of similarities and an attempt to trace the origins would create a speculative article, the tenets of their faith and the difficulties they face can be approached with some degree of certitude.

Regionally the Yazidis are spread across Iraq, Turkey, Syria, parts of Armenia and Georgia, they’re main concentration is in Iraq surrounding the city of Mosul known as Nineveh. They are reputedly accepted somewhat by the Kurds, who’s newly autonomous state has created a haven in Iraq for relative peace. The Kurds who administer the city of Mosul are however known for their heavy-handed tactics when it comes to policing a majority Sunni population. This acceptance of the Yazidis would in theory ensure a greater deal of protection from religious and cultural violence, however this appears not to be the case. The Yazidis as a minority group in Iraq have no representation in Parliament and are treated almost as devil worshippers by the local population for the fact that they do in a form worship what Abrahamic religions consider to be the Devil albeit in the translation of the Quranic Shaytan, also known a Melek Ta’us. The devil however as a figure in religious history has undergone some serious makeovers and in his many forms he is also Melek Ta’us the peacock god and the first of seven angels created by God. Among the theories of why Satan is worshipped is that God is considered so good that he does not need to be worshipped. Satan as a sort of ‘firewall’ between the earth and the divine God. In this way the necessity of brokering faith with Satan is of the utmost importance, as Satan is the ultimate presence on earth and access to God is brokered though him. Satan is however one of a few deities created by God to rule and administer earth. There is a theory that the Peacock god is a derivative of the Syrian Tammuz, others describe the Yazidi Satan as purely that of the Abrahamic faiths fallen angel. The Yazidis believe that Melek Ta’us wept for seven thousand years in repentance for disobeying god and filled seven jars which then quenched the fires of hell. As the principal deity between the supreme being and the earthly realm, the Peacock god is the deity who processes the prayers of the Yazidi people.

The creation of the universe according to the Yazidis was in 4750 B.C  or year one and that before this time the universe existed in the form of a small pearl maintained for a period of thousands of years. God created Melek Ta ‘us in his own form first and then created six other companion deities. There is also the belief in reincarnation, a bad person will be reborn as a pack animal and endure all the hardships of labour, a truly bad person will be re incarnated as a scorpion, only to then be reborn as a man and if he´s lucky, into a Yazidi. The unique cosmology of the Yazidis seems to open a portal into a distinctly different version of the Abrahamic creation story, which in itself provides a fascinating narrative.

It seems that the Yazidis are cursed with their identity, as a different religion they excite sectarian discrimination along with their ethnicity. The ‘devil worship’ provides a stigma that means that they are forced ethnically to adhere to Muslim beliefs and practices that other minority sects don’t have to endure. It seems that as a minority group they endure frequent abuse, robbery, kidnap, destruction of agricultural plots. They appear to be a kind of whipping boy in a region that is fraught with sectarian conflict, a regional disaster that rather that only exaggerates their already gloomy prospects.

Similar to Zoroastrianism. the Yazidis also believe in the sacred nature of elements, so earth, water, fire and wind are not to be mixed and custom forbids spitting on the earth as it is disrespectful to this holy element to mix it with water/ spit. the Yazidis have a somewhat androcentric view of their descent, believing that they were created from Adam’s sperm preserved in a jar, the seed turned into a perfect little boy who was revealed when the jar was opened. Eve’s seed however produced insects and the like, the seeds being stored in jars was a product of a competition between Adam and Eve over who had the creative element in begetting children, the  myth of the first test tube baby? This boy when grown mated with a houri (well matched companion) and therein created the line of Yazidis.

Yazidis today are under the systematic abuse, performed predominantly by the extreme aspects of Sunni Islam. In 2007 four trucks exploded in Sinjar, a Yazidi village, causing the deaths of 313 people and wounding 704. It was the worst terrorist attack since 9/11, reportedly over 400 houses were destroyed in the blast. Under Saddam Kurds in Sinjar were moved into outer-lying villages whilst their Arab counterparts moved further south to more arable land, this was the culmination of a sectarian and ethnic relocation plan implemented by the Baathist regime. Today the return of the Kurds to the region has gone hand in hand with an idea that they are a force for ‘protecting´the ethnically related Yazidis; this seems to be labeled more as a mere power grab than a humanitarian force by aspects of the Yazidi community. As a people under threat, 50, 000 Yazidis registered with UNHCR in Damascus on escaping Iraq, it must be said that the violence in Syria and Iraq today has exasperated their situation. The rise of Sunni extremism seems to target this ‘idolatrous’ culture and their respite seems to be in the form of neighbouring Turkey. Through a combination of their deemed blasphemous beliefs and vulnerability as a minority they are an easy target for extremists and represent another loser in the sectarian conflicts raging through Mesopotamia.



  1. Interesting!

  2. Very interesting, I hope their culture can survive, but I think it will be difficult. Their ‘melting pot’ of religious themes may suggest a nomadic/trading past that was quite widespread for some long period of time. Perhaps they travelled as traders, residing for periods of time in settlements they traded with as they journeyed. Then circumstances may have forced them to become more closed and self-protective.

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