February 22, 2006

The Beginning of the Universe

Center of Lalish 1.jpg

LALISH, IRAQ – In Northern Iraq there is a place called Lalish where the Yezidis say the universe was born. I drove south from Dohok on snowy roads through an empty land, seemingly to the ends of the earth, and found it nestled among cold hills.

I went there because the President of Dohok University told me to go. “I am a Muslim,” he said. “But I love the Yezidis. Theirs is the original religion of the Kurds. Only through the Yezidis can I speak to God in my own language.”

Yezidis are ancient fire-worshippers. They heavily influenced Zoroastrianism, and in turn have been heavily influenced by Sufi Islam. The temple at Lalish is their “Mecca.” Hundreds of thousands of remaining Yezidis – those Kurds who refused to submit to Islam – make pilgrimages there at least once in their lifetimes from all over the Middle East and Europe.

“They worship Satan,” my Kurdish-speaking driver said to me through my translator Birzo before we got out of the car. It sounded like ignorant bullshit to me, and not only because Saddam Hussein also said so. I would have to ask the Yezidis about that.

We parked the car and approached a Yezidi man wearing Peshmerga pants and a checkered kerchief over his head and his shoulders.

Yezidi Man.jpg

He greeted us warmly and introduced to another man who said he would be happy to show us around.

A small conical monument sits in a courtyard in the center of Lalish. It represents heaven and earth. The round knob at the top is the sun. Inside the cone are seven layers. Supposedly there are seven layers in the earth. “Science proves this,” my Yezidi guide said. A candle representing the life force of the universe burns inside.

Center of Lalish 2.jpg

Candles are placed in wind-protected altars all around Lalish. The Yezidis keep the flames burning forever. Without fire, they say, all life would be extinguished. I supposed they were right. (I wondered what they would do to a person who blew out the candles.)

Yezidi Candle Outside.jpg

Small buildings that I first thought were houses surround the central courtyard. These small buildings are shrines. (Lalish isn’t a village. No one actually lives there.) The shrines are sacred places dedicated to various Yezidi prophets who are said to help people with physical ailments. There is a shrine where you go if you have a back ache. There is a shrine where you go if you have a tooth ache. And so on. The soil inside and under the shrines is supposedly magic.

Yezidi Shrine.jpg

My Yezidi guide (below, right) asked me and Birzo (below, left) to take off our shoes before he led us into the temple.

Yezidi Temple Door.jpg

“Please step over the entryway,” our guide said. “Don’t step on it.”

I stepped over the entryway.

“Why can’t we step on it?” I said.

“It isn’t proper,” he said.

The temple was dark inside. I could hardly see a thing. So I took out my digital camera, turned on the flash, and snapped a picture so I could see what it looked like.

Inside Lalish Temple.jpg

Silk cloth draped from ropes as though it were laundry hung out to dry. Simple brick arches separated two long narrow sides.

In the far corner was a small chamber. You had to duck your head to get inside. Non-Yezidis were not allowed to enter.

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.

Yezidi Flame.jpg

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.”

I wanted to ask about the accusation that the Yezidis are in cahoots with Satan, but it probably wasn’t the best thing to lead with.

“Are you married?” I said. “Can Baba Sheikh take a wife?”

Baba Sheik must be married before taking the job. Only men from his tribe can be sheikhs. It has always been thus.

I also wanted to know about prohibitions. I knew tobacco wasn’t a problem because there were several Yezidis around, including my guide in the temple, and they were chain-smoking Marlboros.

The Yezidis borrow from the three main monotheisms in the region. As it turns out, alcohol is prohibited. So is pork. So, of all things, is lettuce.

“Why do you not trust translators?” I said. “Do you think they misrepresent what you say on purpose?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “A journalist came and spoke to me twice in two years. He had a different translator each time. I was shocked the second time I saw him because his first translator told him so many things that weren’t true. There was no way I could know this until he came back with somebody else.”

“Are you friends with Satan?” I said. “Some Muslims have told me Yezidis are friends with Satan.” I didn’t tell him that my driver, who was standing right next to me, had said this only a half-hour ago.

“We are not friends with Satan. This is a common point of confusion. They mean Malek Taus. He is the King of the Angels, and the Yezidis follow his way.”

Malek Taus is some kind of celestial peacock. He supposedly said no to God, who did little more than create the universe from a pearl, when God asked all the angels to pray to Adam. “Adam,” he said (as in Adam and Eve) “was a prophet of God.” But Malek Taus later repented and has been in God’s good graces since.

What’s important about Malek Taus is that he (it?) was given the choice to follow good or evil, just as human beings are given that choice. Malek Taus chose the good path even though he did not have to. He sets the right example, then, for humans to follow.

“Can someone from another religion become a Yezidi?” I said.

“No,” Baba Sheik said. He shrugged his shoulders and cocked his head. “We are the original people,” he said and spread out his arms. “We can’t become a cocktail religion like Islam.” Everyone, including my Muslim driver and translator, thought that was hilarious.

They’re a bit like the Druze then, the fierce people who live in the mountains of Syria and Lebanon. You can’t convert and become a Druze either. Yezidis believe they will be reincarnated as Yezidis after they die, just as Druze believe they will be reincarnated as Druze.

Baba Sheikh apparently didn’t want me to think they were close-minded bigots. “We are a peaceful people,” he said. “We don’t interfere with others. We are the nation of generosity and kindness.”

He didn’t think that about everyone else in the region.

“72 times Muslims tried to conquer us,” he said. “Christians never once tried to conquer us. The Christians are wise, not like Muslims.”

I checked Birzo’s facial expression, body language, and tone of voice when he translated this for me. He didn’t seem offended at all, even though I knew he was a believing Muslim. He was almost certainly translating correctly. He’s a real professional, and I already trusted him anyway. If he was going to edit anything out, he probably would have edited that out.

“Can Yezidis marry people from other religions?” I said.

“No,” Baba Sheikh said. “We cannot intermarry. A Yezidi might want to convert to Islam or Christianity if he behaved badly as a Yezidi and needs a new beginning. Only then can he marry someone who is not a Yezidi.”

What about the significance of fire?

“Fire is from God,” Baba Sheikh said. “Without fire, no one would live. When Muslim Kurds swear today they still say I swear by this fire.”

“Do you think of yourselves as Kurds?” I said. They self-identify as Yezidis, but they speak Kurdish and obviously feel some kind of kinship with the Muslims.

“When there is politics, we are Kurds,” he said. “When there is no politics, we are Yezidis.”

He told me about their “Bible.”

“Our holy book is called The Black Book. It is written in gold. The book is in Britain. They took our book. That is why the British have science and education. The book came from the sky. If you go to the British Museum you can see it.”

Did they have any copies?

“There are no copies,” Baba Sheikh said. “The book is in our hearts.”

“Christians have churches,” I said. “Muslims have mosques. What do you call your temples?

“We call them mazars,” he said.

“Do you have any in Europe?” Hundreds of thousands of Kurds live in Europe, and tens of thousands of those are Yezidis.

“We have no mazars in Europe,” he said “Only in the Middle East and in Russia. We cannot make new ones. These are all originals. Muslims will build a mosque on top of a dump site after clearing the garbage. We could never do this.”

Birzo still didn’t seem offended by what Baba Sheikh said.

Lalish Courtyard.jpg

Night was coming soon and it was getting colder outside. Birzo and I started to get shifty. We needed to get moving.

“Thank you so much for meeting with me,” I said and firmly shook Baba Sheikh’s hand.

“All people in the world should be brothers,” he said. “You are always welcome here for the rest of your life.”

We drove away from Lalish and stopped in a field to watch the sun go down over the mountains.

Outisde Lalish.jpg

I asked Birzo if he found Baba Sheik’s comments about Islam and Muslims offensive.

“Of course not,” he said. “I understand his mentality and he understands mine. It’s okay. We are Kurds. Kurds don’t get upset about religion. We aren’t like Arabs. We believe in arguments based on reason, not emotion. If people don’t agree with me about something, I’m not going to get mad at them. We will just have different opinions.”

“I like the Yezidis,” I said.

“I do, too,” he said. “They are peaceful people, but they resisted Islam for so many centuries. You have to admire them.” I didn’t expect a Muslim to say that. Perhaps my expectations weren’t fair.

Watching the sunset after being welcomed at the birthplace of the Yezidi universe, there was nowhere else in the world I would rather have been at that moment. Hippies would love the Yezidis, I thought. I felt lucky that I was able to meet them.

When we got back in the car it hit me: Oh that’s right, I’m in Iraq. For the first time since I got there I had completely forgotten.

Twenty minutes later we passed the turnoff to Mosul.

Postscript: If you enjoy my posts from Iraq, please don’t forget to hit the tip jar. I can’t do this for free. Thanks!

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 22, 2006 04:07 PM
Comments

They’re a bit like the Druze then, the fierce people who live in the mountains of Syria and Lebanon. You can’t convert and become a Druze either.

The same is true of the Zoroastrians. This has actually become a pretty big problem for them, as it's causing their population to fall below a critical level.

Great reporting, as usual.

Posted by: Eric at February 22, 2006 05:36 PM

Absolutely-freaking-amazing! I just read this with my jaw dropping the whole time. I would never in a million years thought that you'd find this mini-culture in Iraq. And such mild reaction over his comments from a Muslim...I bet the Kurds aren't rioting over some cartoons. :)

Posted by: Megs at February 22, 2006 06:21 PM

I guess we could always test the Kurds' tolerance by sending over Ann Coulter. But that's really no way to treat an ally....

Posted by: Joe Katzman at February 22, 2006 06:51 PM

I'm with Megs: absofreakinglutely fascinating. I knew about Druze and Zoroastrians, but I'd never heard of Yezidi before. The parallels are probably too obvious to be anything but coincidence and cultural cross-fertilization.

Has anybody ever catalogued all the little religions/ethnicities through that region? I know there are several in Afghanistan, and as I understand it more in Iran/Persia. It would be interesting to see a compare and contrast piece about the various beliefs.

What a wonderful experience. I am insanely jealous.

Regards,
Ric

Posted by: Ric Locke at February 22, 2006 07:10 PM

Michael Yon also went to Dohuk and wrote about the Yezidis.

These two pieces complement each other well.

Posted by: Yehudit at February 22, 2006 07:20 PM

Fascinating! I can't express how much I value your blog.

"Malek Taus is some kind of celestial peacock."

Your description sounds very much like a religion followed by a character in one of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels--I believe Captain Aubrey's cook, although I believe he gave a different name and portrayed it as actually worshipping Satan.

Posted by: pst314 at February 22, 2006 07:30 PM

Hello MR.M.J.Totten.

Iam a Kurdish freelance journalist living in Toronto- Canada,
I read your impressions and articles about Southern Kurdistan (so called Iraqi Kurdistan),they are very objective ,Therefore I would like to inform you that I published an article about your views beside the translation of some of the significant point in your articles in a Kurdish weekly newspaper based in ARBIL,here its webside www.yndk.com page 12
Kind Regards
Noreldin Waisy
Toronto/Canada

Posted by: Noreldin Waisy at February 22, 2006 07:45 PM

See, this is exactly the kind of thing more people need to read.

"We believe in arguments based on reason, not emotion. If people don’t agree with me about something, I’m not going to get mad at them. We will just have different opinions.”

Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: TallDave at February 22, 2006 07:48 PM

I can't wait until you visit the mountains above Latakia, in Syria, the homelands of the Alawis. I hope you have better luck than most in getting them to talk about their religious beliefs.

You want amazing? Start saving up for a spare jaw now, as your current one will be much abused from all the dropping it's going to do.

Posted by: John Burgess at February 22, 2006 09:22 PM

Sigh; what a fantastic little trip.

Thanks.

(You know, Michael, if you had written a book before, even an eBook, you could also be selling it besides the tip jar hits. I think your post-Hariri Lebanon / Middle East journeys deserve a second, different book. )

My current suggestion is that you consider yourself a Liberal Falcon -- the BBC reported that some skydiver Falconeers went skydiving to test the speed of the "fastest bird." (And, apparently, many who become Falconeers become addicted to them.)
First book: Birth of a Liberal Falcon.
Second book: A Falcon Near Paradise.

In any case, please keep writing and posting.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Libertay Dad at February 23, 2006 01:32 AM

The first time I heard about Yezidis was in a German book by one Karl May about an alleged journey through Kurdistan by the hero (himself).

May's description turned out to be really accurate. He was never there. Karl May was famous for writing lots of books about all sorts of places around the world without ever having been there. His descriptions were mostly accurate, surprisingly so (but he knew nothing that wasn't known to educated Germans in the second half of the 19th century).

This article is excellent and it confirms what I already thought I knew.

Thanks, Michael!

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at February 23, 2006 02:39 AM

Delightful, Michael.

Re: Malek Taus, this is not unlike some of the Gnostic myths, except that these Kurds have reconciled the opposites and come down squarely on the side of free will to choose good.

I can't help but think that that has anchored the entire Kurdish culture in deep and valuable ways. If the King of the Angels, who refused in pride or misplaced piety an order to honor the first humans, could change his mind and reconcile to God, why should humans fight over religions?

Thanks again, Michael.

Posted by: Robin Burk at February 23, 2006 06:13 AM

I love the Kurds, and it is a real shame that we don't hear more about these wonderful folks. More please! Btw, this is my first time to your Blog. Excellent place, thank you!!

Posted by: Renée C. at February 23, 2006 08:17 AM

>>>"those Kurds who refused to submit to Islam"

Interesting choice of words.

Fantastic work, by the way.

Posted by: Jesusland Carlos at February 23, 2006 08:47 AM

>What’s important about Malek Taus is that he (it?) was given the choice to follow good or evil, just as human beings are given that choice.

This is a central (and my favorite) principle of the Zarathustrian religion, so it is easy to see the connection.

What a wonderful story, thank you so much for posting it.

Posted by: Jane at February 23, 2006 08:50 AM

Ric, without being a scholar on ancient fundamental religions, I'd hazard to say the idea of belonging by birth (and birth only) is probably common to all. It is similar to the way that each individual Indian tribe had special names for all their neighbors (friend and foe alike), but invarably referred to themselves simply as "people". Judiasm explicitly traces association by blood and without researching it I'd bet the idea of conversion is not very old. Even today many Japanese consider themselves Shinto by birth and I don't believe there is a formal way to become "Shinto".

Posted by: submandave at February 23, 2006 09:49 AM

submandave, for Judaism and conversion precedents, please see Genesis 34 as the first chapter that comes to my mind.

And Mike, keep up the good work.

Posted by: nichevo at February 23, 2006 10:20 AM

"In Northern Iraq there is a place called Lalish where the Yezidis say the universe was born."

Best.first.line.ever.

Posted by: hudson at February 23, 2006 10:36 AM

The Kurds could really teach the rest of Iraq a lot. We can always hope.

Posted by: Christine at February 23, 2006 10:49 AM

Thank you, Michael, for digging into the hearts of the people that live in this area.

I have a fundamental question that I've not found a succint answer to - what are the basic differences, ethnically, between Kurds and Arabs? I remember in a post you made the other day that Arabs were turned back at a certain checkpoint - how specifically can one tell the difference? Is there a coloration difference, or features, or other physical ways for people to tell one ethnic group apart from the other or are the differences really just cultural (manner of dress, language, etc)?

I've tried to research this but the texts I've read assume a level of knowledge of the people of that area that I just don't have.. Thank you.

Posted by: Barry at February 23, 2006 12:11 PM

Very well written Michael. For a brief moment I felt like I was travelling with you. Thank you.

Posted by: Graham at February 23, 2006 12:56 PM

This is a wonderful story. I've met similar small odd groups in remote parts of India and heard of others around the world. And I've studied the fascinating Zoroastrian/Sufi/Ebionite subtext of all religions from Israel to India.

But, please, especially you Americans, will everyone please stop this search for the Noble Savage? I mean it. The Kurds are as good or as bad as everyone else in the Middle East. They can be vicious and nasty. Here in Sydney they had some very violent riots because they were upset at someone for saying something or other. Its all about shame and honor everywhere outside the west, folks. They accept criticism from some people and not from others even amongst their own people.

I did a hippy search for the noble savage myself since the 60's. And I can tell you, ultimately, at the end of the day, they can teach westerners NOTHING. They can teach the world NOTHING. The problems the world faces now stem from such western self-doubt.

Still I very much appreciate what Michael Totten is doing here. Great stuff.

Posted by: Bruce at February 23, 2006 02:22 PM

Bruce,

I can't speak for your paricular Kurdish enclave, but...

"We believe in arguments based on reason, not emotion. If people don’t agree with me about something, I’m not going to get mad at them. We will just have different opinions.”

That's not a "noble savage," which I agree is a misguided notion too prevalent in modern thought. That's someone who has internalized Western values of free speech and tolerance.

Posted by: TallDave at February 23, 2006 03:22 PM

Brought tears to my eyes. Absolutely beautiful. Such a nice sign of hope.

Thank you

Posted by: Olga at February 23, 2006 03:27 PM

I came across the Yazidis in my studies of the darker side of humanity (even though they are not part of it) and used them in a short story I wrote called Yazidis Needed! From what Michael says in this wonderful report I think I got the attitude of my Iman towards the Yazidis about right.

Great piece and I am envious of you for going and meeting this fascinating group of people.

Posted by: Andrew Ian Dodge at February 24, 2006 07:43 AM

I don't know if anyone is interested in G.I. Gurdjieff, the Greek/Armenian guru-philosopher. Anyway, he was very influenced growing up in the Caucuses by his contact with the Yezidis. And here is an article on "Gurdjieff and Yezidism" that will be interesting to some:

http://www.gurdjieff-legacy.org/40articles/yezidism.htm

Posted by: Markus at February 24, 2006 01:02 PM

Yezidi are persecuted in this region, like all non-Muslims.

Yezidis are said to because they adore the chief of the Angels which is Lucifer or Satan (Shaytan in Arabic). Of course, in their religion, Lucifer is a good guy: they believe that Lucifer had sinned and disobeyed God, but at the end he repented his sins and he returned to God as an angel. Despite all this, Islamic bigots have deformed their religion and portray yezidism as a satanic cult.

More information about them:

http://hiddengates.blogspot.com/2005/07/syrian-devil-worshiper.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yezidi

Posted by: Vox P at February 24, 2006 01:29 PM

Yazidi leaders like Baba Chawush readily admit that Malik Taus led Eve out of the Garden of Eden. That they love and admire him, then, completely goes against the Abrahamic tradition of paradise lost.

The Yazidi claim that if Eve never left the garden, the world would not have been created. Thus, man's lowest moment in the eyes of the Abrahamic God is heralded as man's (actually, Eve's) greatest triumph.

That would be considered Satan worship to most Muslims and Christians, I would think.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at February 24, 2006 02:22 PM

LP -
Do you really care if that "qualifies as Satan Worship" or not?
And I would assume that would include Jews as well since they are the original inheritors and followers of the First Bible, Torah, where all this stuff you are speaking of is written.

Michael -
Hopefully the Kurds will have a big enough Army/Police Force to keep the borders secure and safe no matter what happens with the rest of Iraq.

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at February 24, 2006 05:22 PM

“Of course not,” he said. “I understand his mentality and he understands mine. It’s okay. We are Kurds. Kurds don’t get upset about religion. We aren’t like Arabs. We believe in arguments based on reason, not emotion. If people don’t agree with me about something, I’m not going to get mad at them. We will just have different opinions.”

When this becomes the common point of view among Muslims, the war will be over. No wonder the Kurds are living in relative peace while Iraq burns.

Posted by: Ardsgaine at February 24, 2006 07:21 PM

Great article! The Yezidis definitely get a bad press and are seen as unorthodox but their founder Shaikh Adi was quite conservative and accepted as theologically orthodox although he was a Sufi.

It seems that the confusion arises from the equating of Malik Taus with Satan and the idea that Satan's 'sin' was to refuse God's command to bow to Adam.

In Sufi thought however, Satan was a true monotheist and this action was a 'good' one as in Islamic theology nothing should be worshipped except God. Hence Satan was obeying God (passing God's test) by refusing to worship the created over the creator.

This kind of metaphysical speculation is the opposite of the literalism that underlies the extremism that is now suffusing the Islamic world and I agree with a previous comment that it definitely offers some hope of a solution to current problems.

Posted by: segovius at February 25, 2006 02:47 AM

Uhhh, yeah Mike, I do care, which is why we're having this conversation in the first place.

No, I'm not the kind of guy who's going to burn down an embassy, but I'm worried about trying to stop those people and think that bringing them into rational discourse is a way to curb the violence.

What Muslims and Christians think matters, and I really don't think that needs to be stated.

The Yazidi's worshipping of Satan could be used as justification for their extermination by religious fanatics.

And, no Mike, it doesn't include Jews because Jews don't have the same beliefs about Satan as Muslims and Christians.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at February 25, 2006 04:39 AM

LP -

My only point was this. The guy and the sect seem like reasonable, peaceful people. So who cares if they technically can be thought of as "worshipping Satan" because of what they believe about the Garden of Eden.

If your point is that your only concerned that they would be descriminated against as a result, than wey're on the same page anyway.

The story of Eden was written in the First Bible first. I'm no religious scholar but I do know that much.

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at February 25, 2006 10:56 AM

LP -

My point was who cares if one could argue on technical religious ground that they could "technically" worship Satan. They are peaceful, quiet and tolerant people. If your point was to protect them and not make a menutia religious point, than wey're on the same page anyway.

Re Judaism Christianity Islam
As far as I know the story of Eden etc... is first written in the First Bible, The Torah. I'm no religious scholar but I believe the story comes from there.

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at February 25, 2006 11:00 AM

Great stories on Iraqi Kurdistan! I congratulate you for this truly fascinating work. It really gave me much insight into the Kurdish Northern Iraq. I knew very little about them before, but now I feel like I've been there.

Keep it up,
and thanks!

Posted by: Lebanese-fan at February 25, 2006 11:29 AM

What do they have against lettuce?

Posted by: L. at February 25, 2006 11:53 AM

http://altreligion.about.com/library/faqs/bl_yezidism.htm

to learn more about Yezidism, click.

Posted by: Y. at February 25, 2006 11:55 AM

"So kass (lettuce) is debarred. We do not eat it, for it sounds like the name of our prophetess Hassiah. Fish is prohibited, in honor of Jonah the prophet. Likewise deer, for deer are the sheep of one of our prophets. The peacock is forbidden to our Šeik and his disciples, for the sake of our Tâ'ûs. Squash also is debarred. It is forbidden to pass water while standing, or to dress up while sitting down, or to go to the toilet room, or to take a bath according to the custom of the people. Whosoever does contrary to this is an infidel."

Posted by: Kass at February 25, 2006 12:07 PM

"So kass (lettuce) is debarred."
Posted by Kass

I guess that means you're debarred.

Posted by: B. Durbin at February 25, 2006 08:07 PM

Great article, Michael.
And I love the first picture. It really feels like the place at the beginning of the universe.

And gesundheit!

Posted by: Fabian at February 25, 2006 10:13 PM

Mike N.,

Yeah, we are on the same page. Religious prejudice is a frightening thing in this part of the world.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at February 26, 2006 05:17 AM

"We are Kurds. Kurds don’t get upset about religion. We aren’t like Arabs."

This probably explains why the Kurdish area is doing so much better than the rest of Iraq. The Arab mindset finds it incomprehensible that religious differences can be tolerated. A so-called good Muslim is obligated to impose Islam onto the general population---by violent means if necessary. Not to do so, is to insult Allah. Bloodshed and social friction, needless to add, are inevitable.

I remain, unlike William F. Buckley, very optimistic concerning Iraq. The death totals are awful, but number far less than one percent of the total population. How much is the economy growing? Is it minimally five per cent per year? If so, things look quite promising.

Posted by: David Thomson at February 26, 2006 07:54 AM

Armenia also has a minority Yezedi population. They also worhip shams- the sun god. They are mostly heardsmen.

Posted by: j at February 26, 2006 10:00 AM

David Thomson, I think I remember reading that the ecomony grew by 50% last year. I doubt that it is true because it is too much in the middle of an insurgency but it might be. I don't know if you can get an accurate idea about the economy by looking at the growth only three years after sanctions were dropped.

Bruce, I already know where the noble savage is. 3 acres, 3 days and 3000 men. The great outdoor fight;)

Posted by: Mike#3or4 at February 26, 2006 03:07 PM

“I doubt that it is true because it is too much in the middle of an insurgency”

Please do the math. Middle of what insurgency? The total population of Iraq is about 26 million. The Islamic nihilists may have killed less than 16,000 people last year. In 2006 the figure should be lower. The so-called insurgency leaves many Iraqis' lives relatively untouched.

Posted by: David Thomson at February 26, 2006 07:31 PM

I did a hippy search for the noble savage myself since the 60's. And I can tell you, ultimately, at the end of the day, they can teach westerners NOTHING. They can teach the world NOTHING. The problems the world faces now stem from such western self-doubt.

That is stupid of you to say, what do know about these people. While you sit in your 2 million dollar house, drink your expensive Champaign, watch your 100" plasma screen and drive your new Bentley to work every day, so I ask you again what do you know about these people. They have struggled for there nation before history ever told of your people. Don't just say that these people have nothing to contribute to this world, or that they have nothing to teach anyone, unless you have something to back up your claims.

P.S try to make your comments constructive not destructive.

Posted by: Dyako at February 27, 2006 12:19 AM

Michael, the comment has nothing to do with the post, it's just to let you know that we added your blog to news.beiruter.com.

Keep up the good work.
Cheers.

Posted by: Chief at February 27, 2006 04:01 AM

Hello!

Well I would just like to say I LOVE YOUR POSTS!!I'm orginally a kurd but I've grown up in Northern Virginia almost all my life (however I was born in Suli and lived in turkey for a few months)..but Wow..thats really all I can say! you're posts are amazying! I actually visted Iraq (kurdish region and kirkuk) over the summer but i believe you've managed to explore a lot more then we had...I really do wish we had visited the Yezidis they seem so facinating..but again wonderful job! Im so thankful for the journalists like yourself who show iraq in a whole new light..=)

Posted by: Lava at February 27, 2006 10:43 AM

The post is wonderful unlike some of the ignorant comments. Thank you for reporting your visit so beautifully.

As for what the West can learn, I agree that there is nothing to be learned from the "noble savage" because that is a delusional character in the minds of colonial hegemons. I've met quite a few morons running around the hills of India looking for this fictional character in a guru, a swami, what have you. As for learning from other cultures, etc., Michael Totten has clearly shown that even simple things can be learned from visiting other places and peoples. Only the most arrogant believe that other people have NOTHING to teach.

And for those who would generalize to all Arabs these really idiotic traits like emotionalism, I think it might be wise to consider the varied history of the Arab peoples in which they like the rest of the world have shown great tolerance and great intolerance. Nobody assumed that there was no hope for the Germans after WWII, or that all WASPs are evil because their forebears massacred large numbers of indigenous folks. Besides, no religion has cornered the market on "rationalism" especially not a people who aren't allowed to eat lettuce because it rhymes with the name of a holy person. As for why the Kurds are doing better...and I'm truly glad they are...I wonder why Haliburton is doing better? Hmmm, there is that small little issue of patronage.

Anyway, great post. And those of you with the problem of Islamophobia or anti-Arab racism: Take the damn rainforest out of your own eye!

Posted by: kila at February 27, 2006 03:36 PM

"Poetic Justice (Don't burn the flag. Wash it!)" has a new poem posted that may interest you... Persecution's Lament...
Kind regards,
Mark

http://apoeticjustice.blogspot.com/

Posted by: thepoetryman at February 27, 2006 09:57 PM

When Arabs brought Islam to Kurdistan, all Kurds were Zoroastrians (Yezidis), Yezidis were a minority of Kurds who escaped the beheadings, went to hide in Kurdistan mountains, and refused to convert to Islam.
Thank you (Supas) Michael for your article.

Posted by: Friz at March 1, 2006 06:07 AM

More information on the Yezdis

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 1, 2006 03:51 PM

Hey ...

I Am really glad that some people care to know about the Yezidi's. I'm a Yedizi girl from Iraq, but live in denmark. AND I can tell you all that I am so proud to be a yezidi. it's a bless!

Keep up with your work (love it)

Biji Kurd ü kurdistan :-D

Posted by: YezidiLady at April 2, 2006 11:41 AM

Great article Michael but you need to listen to more educated yazidis who can answer all your questions scientifically because yazidi religion is the first and the ancient religion on the earth and unfortunatelly little people look for such facts and i hope in the future there will be more people like you looking for truth and fact and this is my email for any one want to have informations about yazidi hkk19802001@yahoo.com
thanks again
Haval

Posted by: Haval at July 14, 2006 12:23 PM

These are not Kurds, they are pagan arabs! They dress arabic as well. And Kurds did protest agansit the Danish Cartoons for the poster that claimed we didnt.

Posted by: Kurd at August 9, 2006 03:13 PM

For someone travelling around the Middle East you seem to have a peculiarly Orientalist view of their inhabitants - particularly with your references to Muslims.

Though I am not Arab, I am working in Baghdad currently and the perspective from here is extraordinarily different to the picture you paint, although your descriptions were interesting; if not telling.

Posted by: Zeitgeistgirl at September 25, 2006 08:06 AM

I have never heard of such a place, religion,or story.
Quite incredible--My brother and I have always been interested in family ancestry. He went back to Czech Republic and Slovakia (having two village names) and found family members and graves of others--on either side of the border.
I found on maps a village in Israel called La'ish and another village north of Bagdad called Khalis. There are various spellings of the name (found on ancestry web sites).
Thank you so much, your story will be added to our family mythology.
Perhaps someday we will visit the place where the universe was born. (the extreme stubbornness of the Yezidis rings a bell in family traits )

Thanks so much, I'm glad I stumbled onto your blog/site.
Best wishes, Jeff Lalish
(I have gotten involved in peace issues-at the advanced age of 58---I instigated and helped to organize a granite peace pole at our local N.H. UCC church--the original was put up at Hiroshima---go to peace pole .org ). I have begun to sell small versions of the peace pole--called instead peace posts, at 4' high--made of NH granite)

shalom--salam--salem--selam--peace--pax--paix--pace--pacs--paz......all the best to you and yours.

Posted by: jeff lalish at September 30, 2006 09:35 PM

I have never heard of such a place, religion,or story.
Quite incredible--My brother and I have always been interested in family ancestry. He went back to Czech Republic and Slovakia (having two village names) and found family members and graves of others--on either side of the border.
I found on maps a village in Israel called La'ish and another village north of Bagdad called Khalis. There are various spellings of the name (found on ancestry web sites).
Thank you so much, your story will be added to our family mythology.
Perhaps someday we will visit the place where the universe was born. (the extreme stubbornness of the Yezidis rings a bell in family traits )

Thanks so much, I'm glad I stumbled onto your blog/site.
Best wishes, Jeff Lalish
(I have gotten involved in peace issues-at the advanced age of 58---I instigated and helped to organize a granite peace pole at our local N.H. UCC church--the original was put up at Hiroshima---go to peace pole .org ). I have begun to sell small versions of the peace pole--called instead peace posts, at 4' high--made of NH granite)

shalom--salam--salem--selam--peace--pax--paix--pace--pacs--paz......all the best to you and yours.

Posted by: jeff lalish at September 30, 2006 09:35 PM

I give this guy much respect. It’s not common to find anything about these ancient people. You always here about Vikings, Native Americans, etc... And the conversion of Islam and Christianity. Never anything like this. You have to respect these people, for centuries they have stayed devoted and true to there origins unlike the majority of the world who convert to foreign ethics. These people escaped persecution in freaking mountains, just to stay true to themselves, and no one else. You would think that these people would be uncivilized wakshees (Kurdish for animal) but they are very calm and nice people.

Posted by: Serwan at December 8, 2006 03:11 AM

i am a ezdi there are three groups in ezdi religion (sheik,pir and mirid) i am mirid and i love all the ezdis

Posted by: ezdi4life at February 24, 2007 06:15 PM

I have been reading George Gurdjieff's first book in his All and Everything Series - Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson. I had never heard of the Yazidis before this journal and it is very interesting. I am beginning to wonder whether that difficult but charming raconteur Mr Gurdjieff may have found some of his stories, images and understanding from the Yazidis as quite a few things do fit. Thanks for the report. I liked the contrast between the eternal fires and the cold floor.

Posted by: Huw at March 25, 2007 03:03 PM

Dear Sir,
I am impressed by your travels and research.
About the connection of the Yezidis to the Devil: someone told me that to Moslems all gods except Allah are to be seen as sprung from Satan. The word "Sheitán" in Arabic is used for any demon, djinn or heathen god from the past. Symbols for ancient gods have in all cultures come to signify evil in later religions - like the goat's or bull's horns of Baal to Christians have become an attribute of the Devil.I don't think the Yezidis worship evil. However, Melek Ta'us has many traits in common with the Assyrian god Tammuz or Dumuzi,the husband of Ishtar, the Assyrian moon goddess. He was young, a "trickster" in the words of C.G. Jung. The place is right.Lalish is close to the ruins of Nineveh.The time is not right- but the Kurds of these mountains have kept other things intact through 3000 years. Their place of residence and their language - why not keep their religion? Yezidism is a syncretistic religion - a mix between the old Persian Zoroastrism and later Sufi philosophy.Why should they not have kept traces of even older gods, when their language keeps words which tie the modern world together with the Vedic scripts?

Thank you for the inspiration,
Lotte.

Posted by: Lotte at April 12, 2007 03:56 PM

Hi again.
A comment on an article: "Peshmerge" means literally "those who look death in the eye".

Cheers, Lotte.

Posted by: Lotte at April 12, 2007 04:04 PM

Dear Michael J. Totten,
when posting my comments I hadn't read your articles. You're a brilliant writer, you know your subject and you've made the research.You even get the Kurdish humour right.
I live in Sweden, where we have a large community of Kurdish refugees and a huge problem with racism directed towards immigrants.I am married to a descendant of Turkish Yezidis. For a long time I've wanted to write on the history of "the Kurdish knot", mainly in response to Swedish racists. But I have relatives in Turkey. You may be the answer to my prayers. Reading your articles, I would rather have your words than my own.

If I were to translate your articles into Swedish and publish them in a Swedish newspaper - would you accept it?

Thank you! Great reading!
Lotte

Posted by: Lotte at April 12, 2007 05:20 PM

In answer to Barry:
Kurds are indoeuropean while Arabs are a semitic people. That only refers to the language: the Kurdish languages - there are three- are related to all european languages except Basque, Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian.They are also related to the Persian language, Farsi, the Afghan language Pashtún, to Hindi and to Romani, the language of the gypsies. (There may be an exception: the Kurdish language Zaza is unclear in its origin.)
Many Kurds like to count their ancestry from the Medes, who, according to T. Holland, lived in the Hindukush mountains and called themselves Aryans before they around 1500 B.C. descended on the Mesopotamian plains and conquered Assyria. That may be true or not-"cha hiye, che tene" in kurdish: no one can prove it. But it is a fact that kurds have lived in approximately the same area for at least 2500 years in the Taurus and Zagros mountains of Mesopotamia.The greek historians Herodotos and Strabo wrote about them.

Some Kurds have a streak of light hair: blond or red-headed, and some have green eyes, but normally they are dark, tall, with hooked noses,like the image I presume you have of the Arabs.
My question is: why do you need to know this?

Lotte.

Posted by: Lotte at April 12, 2007 06:28 PM

Re David Thomson:
"...The Arab mindset finds it incomprehensible that different religions can be tolerated."
Would you then please care to explain to me how the Osman Empire for 800 years managed to administrate a society which allowed freedom of religion, and where jews found asylum from a Europe which was busy burning, drowning and torturing witches and killing jews? And, by the way, hunting Christians so they had to seek refuge in America.

Lotte.

Posted by: Lotte at April 12, 2007 06:50 PM

I cannot imagine that the same community not only tolerated but promoted the stoning of a 17 year old girl. http://www.themuslimweekly.com/fullstoryview.aspx?NewsID=C78AD71C990B2A4BA86D46FF&MENUID=INTNEWS&DESCRIPTION=International%20News

There are videos of this on youtube but I couldnt bring myself to watch it or post links of such barbarity in action. How can such a beautiful religion/culture lead to something so disgusting, shameful and inhumane ?

Posted by: Gayathri Iyer at May 4, 2007 11:01 PM

I cannot imagine that the same community not only tolerated but promoted the stoning of a 17 year old girl. http://www.themuslimweekly.com/fullstoryview.aspx?NewsID=C78AD71C990B2A4BA86D46FF&MENUID=INTNEWS&DESCRIPTION=International%20News

There are videos of this on youtube but I couldnt bring myself to watch it or post links of such barbarity in action. How can such a beautiful religion/culture lead to something so disgusting, shameful and inhumane ?

Posted by: Gayathri Iyer at May 4, 2007 11:03 PM

As an aspiring scholar of religion, I find the Yazidis fascinating for a vriety of reasons. But I feel that people have some very silly approaches to such fascinating religions: i.e., the noble savage approach that has already been touched upon. Why should the Yazidis not find room in the expression of their identity for destroying the life of an innocent child for violating social taboos and the collective egos of their (probably patriarchal) establishment?

In every human breast is mingled wisdom and folly in different proportions. Also, our ability to perceive and to detach is limited, and even the wisest of us will run into their limits sooner or later. We all have egos, and some streams of religion teach us about taming those egos, but while many are called, to use Jesus' words, few are chosen.

I regret the destruction of a 17 year old girl's life. A child to us, she was probably a grown woman to her own people; following her heart's inclination to love, she violated the taboo of her people and eloped with a Muslim. To us Westerners, the Yazidis are the barbarians, for them, the outcome was natural: a taboo was broken, shame and guilt were accrued, and the offender ceases to be one of us and must be punished. I am not a moral relativist so I really don’t want to accept this but the fact is that is how our different cultures construct the ethical situation. Let us not delude ourselves that "beautiful religions don't do this." Religions are just too complex to peg down with simplistic labels of "good" and "bad," "true" and "false," or even "beautiful" and "ugly." Religions are all of these things at once at every time, in every place, among every group or sect, and within the same person practicing the religion.

Judaism produces wonderful theologians and activists like Abraham Joshua Heschel and Marshall Meyer; it also gave us Meir Kahane. Islam is a fascinating religion, and its spirituality embodied in Sufism is inspiring, yet Westerners simplistically seem to imagine that Sufism is Anti-Shari'a and therefore it is “good” Islam. It isn't true: Sufism has a history of militancy--that's how Iran became Shi'ite; the Safavids were a militant Azeri Sufi order seeking independence from Ottoman Sunni hegemony. Also, Ayatollah Khomeini was not a fundamentalist: he was a Sufi, he taught `Irfan (gnosis) in the Shi’i seminaries, wrote mystical poetry, and even (I have heard) ruled that transgender operations were allowable in Islamic law—he also led a revolution that killed innocent people (although the present regime has a somewhat better human rights record than the our former ally the Shah, believe it or not). “Good” Muslims might easily, in my mind, be Wahhabis, while “Bad” Muslims could almost certainly be Sufis. Nonetheless, my heart goes out to Sufism and it is a beautiful form of Islam.

Likewise, I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian; for me Christianity is the ultimate way I see reality and it is beautiful to live life in the light of the Resurrection. But let me not kid myself that we have our history of intolerance, collusion with power, enforcing questionable (from today's point of view) moral and social outcomes. Roman Catholics can be ashamed of their history of anti-semitism and the Inquisition; protestants can be ashamed of their constant bickering and collusion in “holy war”; likewise I and other Orthodox can be ashamed of the manifestations of anti-semitism, nationalism, and hairsplitting that have divided us.

None of the bad in religions invalidates the good. But nor can we say of the violent Christian, Muslim, Jew, Yazidi (etc) "They are not a true or real Christian, Muslim, Jew, Yazidi." The fact is that our members who commit wrong deeds are still part of our community, and indeed are representing some honest aspect of it: it is their identity; they are somehow committed to it and believe it.

Another angle to explore is how Western secular and liberal societies see their system as the ideal to which all other systems ought to aspire, as the originator of humanistic values and their perpetuator, and how we blatantly ignore our own failings, irrationality, and stumbling along the way. It is a stitch to hear about the irrationality of the Arab mind when most Americans (God bless us) are so stupid that we allow our leaders to knowingly terrorize us with a faceless, Orwellian “Goldstein-like” concept of…well…”terrorism.” Russians (and others) I know would not fall for this, and do not fall for this (they know from experience when their government is screwing them). Few things we do are the product of long, contemplative thought and true consciousness; we are brainwashed with the myth of our own freedom and prosperity and consequently we view the world ideologically: good and bad, black and white, us and them. Nice and neat but very inaccurate.

Posted by: Nathan A at May 6, 2007 07:07 PM

There is also the very real possibility that this video is fabricated. I haven't seen it, and I'm sure a young girl somewhere has been killed - but was it by yezidis? And was it for the reasons we were told?All I know is that yezidis and kurds have since the Osman Empire been victims to the old Roman strategy "divide and rule",where gossip and slander are main ingredients. I also know that yezidis diminished at a frightening rate during the 20:th century, and that there now are 150-300 000 left in the world, most in exile.
Their main enemies were Osmans - who no longer exist- and muslim fundamentalists. So if I hear something bad about yezidis, I would do like the old Romans and ask: "Qui bonem?" Who benefits from a bad rumour about the few yezidis that are left?
Lotte

Posted by: Lotte at May 11, 2007 06:45 PM

It is refreshing to hear an american question american fundamentalism. Thank you, Nathan - I had lost hope.
Lotte

Posted by: Lotte at May 11, 2007 06:54 PM

I think now everybody has a clear information about the Satan worshipers (Yazidies) after martyring the inocent yazidi lady. I was realy shocked when I saw the video of the punishment of that lady. I am sure that Yazidies are being conducted by Satan!

Posted by: Moheen at June 16, 2007 11:19 PM

hello everyone!

I´m a Yeside and the only thing I can say is, if you want to believ in our religion, than just shut your mouths or respect it.

Thank you and if you dont believ me, than travel to britain and visit the museum, where the black book is.

have a nice life and god bless all the yesids!

Posted by: yesidi at June 30, 2007 03:07 PM

thank you for your informative posting.

I found this website after reading of today's massacre suicide truck bombings in Iraq.

I deplore violence in any way, shape or form and wish that the Islamic Fundamentalists in Iraq and Iran would realize that in today's society, people should have a choice - a choice to choose how to govern themselves, a choice on how to participate in their religious beliefs.

Too often the fundamentalists of Islam want to bring our world back to the middle ages, however those same fundamentalists will use today's modern technology, which they claim to abhor, to further their means ot taking us backwards to those dark days.

The Yezidis have the right mindset - "All the People in the World should be Brothers."

Why? Because we are.

Posted by: kenr at August 14, 2007 08:48 PM
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