Friday, August 17, 2007

Yezidi Links

Yesterdays savage coordinated attack on the Yezidi people of Iraq takes this evil conflict to another level of madness. All I have read of these people leads me to think of them with the same cultural respect due any other minority. Their beliefs and customs are alien to both Muslims and Christians and their origins predate both faiths. They are a small and isolated population, tightly bound by tribal loyalties, with no ambitions toward tyranny over others.

Wikipedia article.

The Yazidi number around 200,000 to 300,000 individuals in total, but estimates vary on their population size, partially due to the Yazidi tradition of secrecy when asked about one's religious beliefs. Low estimates range around 100,000, and high estimates around 700,000.
Expatriate Yazidi are concentrated in Germany, numbering between 20,000 and 40,000, mainly in Niedersachsen and Nordrhein-Westfalen, most of them from Turkey. A much smaller diaspora community is found in the Netherlands. Very small groups are also found in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the USA, Canada and Australia, probably totalling to below 5,000 people.

Michael Yon visited Dohuk in February and published a beautiful account.

Nearly everything I heard pronounced as fact about Yezidis was certain in only one narrow sense: before long, someone equally confident of their information would provide a different set of facts. The only way to find the truth would be to talk with Yezidis in situ, so I asked an interpreter in Dohuk to take me to a Yezidi village.

This wasn’t my first foray in search of mythic danger. I’d learned some things from when I tracked down cannibals in the jungles of northern India. A current anthropological rap sheet is of paramount necessity before venturing alone into the wild. Safety first is my motto.

“Will they kill me?” I asked.

“Of course not!” he answered immediately, incredulous at the very idea. “They are Yezidi! They are good people.”

“Just asking.” I said, thinking safety first.

Michael Totten was there the year before with another good account.

Two young men entered the temple, ducked into the sacred chamber, and came out with small metal stands with what look looked like square cooking pans attached to the tops. They poured oil into the pans, brought them into the public space, and dropped in some lit matches. Small flames burned in the corners.

My feet froze. Never in my life have my feet been so cold. I’ve taken my shoes off in lord-knows-how-many mosques, but mosques have carpeted floors. The temple at Lalish was open to the winter mountain air, the floor was made of cold hard stone, and I stood on it for a long time. Pain shot up my ankles through the balls of my feet. But I wasn’t about to complain. When would I ever be here again? I was honored that they let me inside their “Mecca,” their birthplace of the universe, only because I showed up and said hi.

When we went back outside the temple I put my shoes back on with tremendous relief. Birzo’s feet didn’t seem to be doing any better than mine, but the Yezidis were used to the cold.
Birzo and I waited on a small elevated platform above the temple courtyard while our guide went and summoned Baba Sheikh, the Yezidi version of a top imam or priest. Actually, he was more like their Pope.

Baba Sheikh greeted us warmly. He wore a white robe, sandals despite the cold, a tan shawl, and a black belt. His face, with its fiercely intelligent eyes, was framed by a long black beard and a one-inch thick headband.

“Sometimes translators do not translate correctly for me,” he said to me in Kurdish through Birzo. He then squinted just slightly at my innocent translator before nodding at me as though he trusted me more, as though we shared some sort of a bond.

“Please,” he said. “Ask me anything you like.”

My first awareness of the Yezidi was via my friend Abu Khaleel. He described them briefly at his blog, now available in book form, a year before Totten wrote of them.
I can't think of anything intelligent to say about yesterday's events. Once the animal in man is animated there is no boundary to his capacity for obscene behavior.
God, protect us from becoming like those who would annihilate a group like the Yezidis.

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