Beleaguered Yazidi find peace high in Iraq's northern mountains

Beleaguered Yazidi find peace high in Iraq's northern mountains
October 13th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Beleaguered Yazidi find peace high in Iraq's northern mountains

Beleaguered Yazidi find peace high in Iraq's northern mountains
Media: AFP
Byline: Paul Schemm
Date: 13 October 2006

LALESH - A mysterious figure, swathed in black, emerged from the ancient
temple and began a slow circuit around the sacred fires, followed by
white-robed religious elders.

The crowd pressed forward, calling out praise to the peacock angel, kissing
their hands and touching their foreheads as the figure passed.

High in the mountains of northern Iraq, in the village of Lalesh, 13 elders
of the small Yazidi religion circled the fires seven times, in the first
performance of their Sama ceremony since the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Iraq's Yazidi minority -- long unfairly stigmatised as "devil worshippers"
by their Muslim and Christian neighbors -- have suffered much from Iraq's
current turmoil.

The half-million-strong community is caught between the intolerance of
Sunni extremists, who want to drive them out of their lands, and the
ambition of the Kurdish regional government, which wants to co-opt their

Sunni Muslim militants in northern Iraqi towns like Sinjar, Mosul and Tall
Afar have tried to force the Yazidis out.

In the three years since the invasion, the violence has kept many Yazidis
away from annual festivals like the seven day Eid al-Jamma (Feast of
Assembly) that ended on Thursday.

This year, however, the elders decided to hold the Sama ceremony, which
experts believe probably has its roots in the millennia-old Vedic fire
ceremonies of Eurasia's Aryan tribes.

As some 3,000 Yazidis from all over northern Iraq, as well as Turkey,
Germany and Georgia thronged Lalesh, Iraq's ongoing violence seemed far

Families found places on the terraces scattered around the hillsides and
were soon brewing tea for visitors and preparing picnic lunches under a
brilliant blue sky and warm sun.

Every Yazidi must, at some point in life, make a pilgrimage to the tomb of
Sheikh Adi bin Mussafir, a 12th century holy man, who laid down many of the
ceremonies of the Yazidis.

The black-robed figure circling the flame represents the sheikh guiding his
community around the sky and the four corners of the earth.

The only ceremony that didn't take place this year, was the ritual
sacrifice of a bull, an ancient custom celebrating the harvest and ensuring
winter rains that can be dated back more than 2,000 years to the cult of

"Some experts call us the museum of eastern religions," said Khider Domle,
a well known journalist who works at the Yazidi Cultural Center in Dohuk.

"This is because you can see Islam in there, Christianity in there,
Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Mithraism -- you can see everything in
the Yazidi religion."

The Yazidis believe in God the creator and respect Bilical and Koranic
prophets, especially Abraham, but their main focus of worship is Malak
Taus, the chief of the archangels, often represented by a peacock.

Inside the dark temple, sharp with the smell of oil lamps, pilgrims tie
knots in colorful cloths wrapped around the pillars and silently mouth
prayers, before paying their respects to the tombs in the seven-room

Outside, mothers bring their newborns to be baptized at the Kaniya Sipi or
"White Spring", where the sudden dribble of water elicits squawks of
outrage from the surprised infants.

Once the religious observances are done, most people spend a few days just
catching up with old friends from far away villages.

"We come first for the pilgrimage, of course," said Mustafa Danani, just
outside the temple with his wife and daughters. "But secondly for the
friends and to see relatives."

"We feel like one family, and if two friends have a problem, they would
come here to work it out," he said.

Danani will be going home following the sunset prayer, but many people stay
for a few days and sleep outside during the crisp autumn nights.

On the day of the Sama ceremony, white-clad boys and girls filled the
square in front of the temple and recited prayers. They came from a newly
opened Yazidi religious school, the first of its kind in over four decades.

"There is the sun and moon in the sky and like the planets there are seven
angels in heaven and they are respected by God," said Baba Sheikh Khurto
Hajji Ismail, the religious leader of the community.

"Malak Taus is one of them. He is an angel," said the bearded old man. "The
other angels asked him, 'why don't you bow before Adam and Eve,' and he
said, 'Adam is made of mud and we are angels formed of the spiritual

Unfortunately for Yazidis, in the other revealed religions, the chief of
the angels was cast out of heaven and was known as Lucifer -- which gave
rise to the claim the Yazidis worship the devil -- something they hotly

The finer points of religious differences are lost on the Sunni extremists
that have come to many of the Yazidi areas, and their intolerance has led
to hundreds of families fleeing cities like Mosul.

One victim was Marwan Khalil Murad, who worked as a project director for
international aid organizations and once hosted 20 Americans in his home in
Sinjar on the Syrian border. Afterwards, he was shot and wounded.

"The Yazidis feel they don't have any real friends," he said.

"The Turkmen have Turkey. The Sunnis have many countries. The Shia have
many countries, but who would help the Yazidis if they needed it? I think
the Christians will one day help us," he added.

One group that would like to help is the Kurdish regional government, which
has gone out of its way to woo the Yazidis, who are ethnically Kurdish and
speak the same language as their largely Muslim neighbours.

Many Yazidis live in areas around Mosul that the Kurds would like to see
incorporated into their autonomous region in a referendum set for 2007 and
they have been careful to support Yazidi religious rights in their new

"We still have a few demands for the regional government and would like
them fulfilled," said Amir Tahsin Said Beg, the secular leader of the
Yazidi community. "We are Kurds and we dwell in the region of Kurdistan."

Murad, however, is cautious and notes the persistence of prejudice.

"The Kurds won't eat from the same dish as us. How can we be good friends
if you don't eat my food?" he asked.

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