What do our friends and victims of decades of genocide actually believe?
Over the last two years we have worked with different groups of Yazidi peoples. By sharing a meal, playing games, sharing stories and spending time with them every week, they have become like family to us. Because of this relationship we’ve been able to share our beliefs together and during these times we got to know a little more about their faith.
As some of you may know though living in a Muslim country like Iraq, the Yazidis have their own separate religion. In the summer of 2014 they became world news while being chased by ISIS. Fleeing for their lives about 50.000 of them were trapped on Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq for days without food or water.
The ones who were not able to escape in time were captured by ISIS. The stories of what they have gone through are hard to put into words. At least 5.000 to 7.000 Yazidis were killed during these times, many of them women and children. Captured women were treated as sex slaves or spoils of war, and some were driven to suicide. Women and girls who converted to Islam are sold as brides, those who refuse to convert are tortured, raped and eventually murdered.
But who are the Yazidis? The Yazidis are a Kurdish religious people group, with an estimated population of 500.000-1.2 million worldwide. About 650.000 of them live in Northern Iraq, the place were call home.
For outsiders the Yazidi religion is an impenetrable mixture of Christianity, Islam, Mithraism and even Zoroastrian and other pre-Islamic Mesopotamian and Assyrian religious traditions. The Yazidi people themselves are convinced this mystery is necessary for their rituals to survive. But this mysticism itself has caused them to be a victim of genocide and oppression dozen of times.
The Yazidi religion has a hierarchal structure with many spiritual leaders. Yazidis will go to these spiritual leaders for guidance or help. A ritual greeting and form of respect is that they kiss the hand of leader by entering his house.
Some of those scholars and leaders are believed to have power to heal the sick. Through supplication and rituals like wearing a written word on a piece of paper with you throughout the day, people believe child barrenness can be lifted or a headache can be healed. It is important that those rituals need to be kept secret. Only the spiritual leader knows so it will keep on working and not lose its power.
A small village in Northern Iraq, Lalish is a holy place for every Yazidi. In the various holy sites in the village you are not allowed to wear any shoes. People come to this place to pray, make wishes or resolve conflicts together. Although there are various ways of prayers inside the Yazidi faith one way to pray in a temple is to make a knot in a piece of fabric in along the walls. You speak out a prayer and make a knot. In this way someone else can stop by and open the knot later on to receive prayer.
Although the Yazidi religion started about 2000 years before Christianity, It has taken various aspects from the Christian faith; one of them is baptism. People from all over come to Lalish to get their children baptized in the well.
Through the ages Yazidis are accused of worshipping the devil. And because of that they have been a victim of endless forms of oppression. But who do they actually worship?
Like Christianity and Islam the Yazidi faith is a monotheistic religion. The name Yazidi comes from the word ‘Ezid’ which means God. Yazidi literally it means worshippers of God. They would call God Yasdan or Ezid. He is the Creator of the world, but not the preserver. Seven angels emanate from him, one of them being the Peacock Angel known as Malak Ta’us - active executor of the divine will. The peacock in early Christianity was a symbol of immortality, because its flesh does not appear to decay. The storyline this archangel in the Yazidi believes has some similarities to the way we know the start of the angel Lucifer in Christianity or how Islam describes Shaytan, both synonyms for the Devil. In the Yazidi believes however the story is not about rebellion against God and Malak Ta’us was never kicked out of heaven. He is believed being God’s favorite and definitely not the source of evil.
The Yazidi tradition is an incredibly complex belief system which was not—and still is not—widely understood. The Irony is that while being the one who are accused of being worshippers of the devil the Yazidis have found themselves being the victim of various forms of evil over and over again throughout history.