The Yazidis have existed for over 4000 years in the region of Schingal in northern Iraq and that is exactly how long they have been victims of persecution, murder and terror. Nevertheless, they have hardly changed in their tradition and culture. We visited them and discovered a fascinating society – even before the black terror militia invaded their traditional settlement area.

by Gohdar Alkaidy

In the late afternoon we arrive at the temple thal of Lalisch. A small oasis in the desert area, 50 kilometres north of Mosul, which is now occupied and destroyed by the terrorist organisation “Islamic State”. The shrine of the holy Sheikh Adi is located in Lalisch and thus forms the central sanctuary of the Yazidis. Above it rise three large pointed towers, called Qubs, which can be seen from far away. In front of the temple is the “Market of Knowledge”, a large square where pilgrims stay and celebrate during the festivals.

“To be yazidi means to be a good person, but you don’t have to be yazidi to be good,” it says there in a prayer. And indeed, in Lalisch everyone – whether Yazidi, Christian, Muslim or even atheist – is welcomed as warmly as if they belonged to the family.

The goodness of each person is in the foreground, a Yazidi believer explains to us. This openness goes down well: “Many Muslim Kurds, even Europeans, come and casually ask if one could not become Yazidi,” a dignitary tells us, who welcomes us on holy ground. Although it can only be entered barefoot, we trample on it with our shoes. Only too late do we notice our faux pas. Amazing: None of the people present speak to us about it, find it offensive or roll their eyes. “I must then first explain that all people are equal before God,” the man continues unimpressed. One could also follow the true path without receiving a certificate or a stamp. One could be what one wants to be in one’s heart, even an atheist could take the true path without believing in a superiority. “And at the very end I often whisper that you can only be born a yazidi”, his smile turns into a hearty laugh.

“Oh Lord protect first the other peoples, then us” – a prayer that stands for their tolerance – unhindered by the cruelties that generations after generations had to experience.

Their peaceableness made the Yazidie people targets for their neighbors time and again. To date, the history of the Yazidis has documented an incredible 72 genocides and massacres. The overwhelming majority were committed by fanatical Arab and Kurdish Islamists.

The last attack now in summer 2014: In Schingal, the Yazidis’ core area, at least 5000 men and women, children and old people were murdered in a bestial way after they did not want to impose Islam as a religion. More than 7000 were kidnapped by the terrorist group “Islamic State” and offered for sale on slave markets like cattle.

And yet the Yazidis are proud to say, “For our religion, we do no harm to anyone.” During the Armenian persecution during the First World War, the Yazidis took in about 20,000 Christians and saved them from certain death. These gangs from difficult times still exist between them and the Christians living in Iraq, who still speak the language of Jesus Christ.

The roots of Yazidism go back more than 2000 years before Christ.

In this belief, one finds elements of all the long gone cultures from Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization: from the ancient Babylonians to Mithraism and Gnosticism.

When asked why the Yazidis have no binding scripture, such as the Christians have the Bible, for example, the man in his white robe answers: “Imagine that 4000 years ago we would have put everything in writing. How would you handle it now in modern times? And imagine how ancient and yet modern Yazidism is. We adapt to the times and we owe that to the fact that we pass it on orally.”

And as if we weren’t convinced enough, he sang a “Qewl”, a prayer in song form – even if we can’t understand a word, it takes us back in time in this archaeological treasure trove.

The monotheism in the Yazidistum is of great importance. One knows only one Almighty, who rules over everything. In the Yazidi faith it is God who rules over paradise and hell, there is no godlike power that can act without the intercession of God. Our Yazidi dignitary always speaks of “evil” in this context. By this he means the devil, for whom the Yazidis do not even know a term. From some one hears the synonym “Şaitan” from Arabic, which means Satan or devil.

Transmigration of souls

The Yazidis also believe in rebirth, despite the belief in paradise and hell. However, rebirth is only reserved for special people and nobody knows which deeds or which behaviour in this world leads to rebirth. One does not believe in the death of the soul, the soul returns to its master after the death of man. They call this aspect of Yazidia’s belief in the hereafter “Kiras guhartin” – literally translated it means “changing clothes”. By “dress” they mean the human shell, the body for every soul – that is, the rebirth as a new person.

“But all this doesn’t mean that you can just go about your business,” he tells us with a smile.

Only man himself is responsible for himself

The unique thing about the Yazidis is that you never look for someone to blame, but should always question yourself first and foremost.

“God has given us a mind that works well. You can not only think for yourself as a human being, but also see and hear.” Everyone has to decide for himself which way is the right one for him.

The symbol of the figure of Tausi Melek, the highest angel of seven, is omnipresent: a peacock with a fanned out feather dress. Because Tausi Melek did not want to bow down before man and he only worshipped God, he was lifted up by God to the highest angel. In Islam Tausi Melek is equated with the “fallen angel” and in the Koran with the devil. But in contrast to the Yazidi mythology, the Qur’an is very young and one can claim, according to theologians and scientists, that elements in the Qur’an were borrowed and modified not only from Christianity but also from Yazidism.

Worldwide, an estimated 800,000 people still live out the Yazidien faith. All over the world and yet mainly in Iraq. 500 000 of them are currently on the run. And it is now up to us, to those who live in freedom, not to make their suffering forgotten.