Yezids or yazidis is a sect dwelling principally in Kurdistan, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Armenia and Georgia, who call themselves Dasni and claims to have originated in India 6,000 years ago. Their population is now estimated to be less than one million worldwide.
As far as their memory goes back the Yezids– one of the minorities in Armenia- have been engaged in highland cattle breeding.
There are two theories about the origins of the Yezids: one says that the Kurds are their ‘forefathers’; the other says exactly the opposite; that the Kurds came forth from the Yezid. Whatever the truth, the main difference between these two peoples is that the Yezids have preserved their religion for nearly 4 millennia.
The Yezidis were Kurmanji Kurdish-speaking (a dialect they call Ezdiki or Yezideren), but many of them did not consider themselves Kurds, because they’re not Muslims, but Sharfadin. In fact, the Yezidi religion is the original faith practiced by the Kurds before most were converted to Islam. The first mentioning of the Temple of the Yezid is related to the ancient town of Babylon and today the most important temple is located in Lalish, north of Mosul, Iraq.
The Yezids worship the sun, the goats and their most important deity created the world while looking at the beauty of a peacock angel or demiurg they call Tawsy Melek, Melek Taus, Taus-e-Malak, Al-Kadir, Azazel, Aziz or Shaytan. Since the Qu’ram reserves this name for Satan, often the Yazidis have been erroneously identified as devil worshipers. Such deity is the leader of Seven Holy Beings, who reincarnates periodically in human beings in a process called koasasa (metempsychosis). Even if dismissed as devil worship, Yezidism in fact combines elements from Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. They celebrate the New Year’s day on the first Wednesday of Nisan (March/April), as they believe God created Melek Taus on this day.
Because of the identification Muslims made with a satanic sect, and due to their pre-Islamic beliefs, they have been oppressed by their Muslim neighbors. Treatment of Yazidis was exceptionally harsh during the rule of the Ottoman Empire during the 18th and the first half of 19th century and their numbers dwindled under Ottoman rule both in Syria and Iraq. Massacres at the hand of Ottoman Turks and Muslim Kurdish princes almost wiped out their community in the 19th century. They were murdered as if they were armenians during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 in Ottoman Turkey.
For the Yezid the peacock is therefore a holy animal and its image can be found on their pillows, blankets and in their tents. The Yezids do not have a Holy Book and their religion is based on the knowledge of their priests. The right to become a priest is inherited once sufficient knowledge has been gained. The most important ritual is the annual six-day pilgrimage to the tomb of Sheikh Adi in Lalish, north of Mosul, Iraq.
Yazidi society is hierarchical. The secular leader is a hereditary emir or prince, whereas a chief sheikh heads the religious hierarchy. The Yazidi are strictly endogamous. Within Yezid society there are three major castes below Mir (the yazidi prince) and Baba Shiekh (a kind of Pope): Sheikhs, Pyrs and Murids (lowest caste). Marriages are allowed only inside the castes and sometimes the bride does not know her future husband. Society is strictly regulated with rules and taboos that are passed on from generation to generation, e.g. the bride cannot talk to the oldest man in the family or eat in his presence before the marriage. Besides the caste system, the roles of men and women in Yezid society are also strictly defined according to tradition.
Yezids have a rich tradition of celebrations: at weddings for example the groom throws an apple at the bride’s head and the more pieces it breaks into the better. The New Year (Sere Sal) celebration includes the coloring of eggs, the Parade of the Sanjaks (bronze lamps with peacocks), remembrance of the dead on the cemetery, where the tables for the ceremonies by the graves are divided into sections for men and women. Many celebrations also have their specific sacrifice. Animals mostly, sheep and cows are sacrificed by slitting their throats and praying with the Pyrs (priest of highest rank) pouring salt into the animal’s nose. Other ways of slaughter are considered as murder.
The Yezid have always had a nomadic life that is intertwined with the rhythm of the seasons. They are ever ready to move, so there is no place to anything superfluous. Everything is connected with the cattle – meat, wool, cheese for sale, yarn, blocs of dung dried by the houses just by the entrance. The furniture is minimal, very rarely one can see photos of relatives on the walls.
One of the most crucial periods in the migration cycle starts a month before the Yezids move their cattle up the slopes of Mount Ara when the shepherds and their families prepare themselves and their tents for their 5-6 month stay in the mountains. The shepherds live in military tents of Soviet times, some 3-5 kilometers away from the village. At a distance the tents, set on the background of the rocky foothills, resemble the marquees made of sheep hides. The herds live in similar tents especially allotted to them.
Moving up to the meadows of Mount Ara takes one or two days. After that the shepherds move their camp every couple of weeks, grazing and living on mountain slopes up to 3 thousand meters. In the last stage the camp will be moved to an Alpine meadows where a large variety of herbs and plants will be available.
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