Thursday, August 25, 2005

Michael Yon visits the mysterious Yezidis!

I recently ran across this blog, and Mr. Yon is a good writer with lots to say about Iraq. Here he blogs his visit to a Yezidi village in Iraq. The Yezidis have a fascinating religion, which combines their own ancient beliefs, with a mix of all the other religions that passed by over the years. Some have accused them of devil worship because they worship a fallen angel figuren named Melek Taus. I also include the link of the Wikipedia entry on the Yezidis.

Wikipedia article

Lost in Translation
Yezdinar Village, Iraq
Michael Yon


Dohuk is a welcoming place. After walking or taking taxis inside and around the city for two days, I covered enough ground and talked with enough people to see that while the welcome is clear for American, British, and other visitors, troublemakers can expect an entirely different greeting. People in Dohuk say they have no intentions of going back, or of carrying useless boulders from the past as they move forward.

After being in a war zone for nearly half a year, a few days in Dohuk becomes a chance to reconnect with civilized society, bustling with a people in hurried pursuit of progress. Seeing a little girl tucked away in a corner of her family's stall in the marketplace, absorbed in a book she’s reading about the solar system, it's easy to peek over her shoulder and peer into her imagination, and see it take her into space as Iraq's first astronaut. In her young life, never having known the fiery cage of war, the possibilities are still limitless.



Two Kids: One Bright Future

I had been hearing about the Yezidi people who live in villages near Dohuk. Followers of an ancient religion, whose proponents claim it is the oldest in the world, there are thought to be about a half million Yezidis, living mostly in the area of Mosul, with smaller bands in forgotten villages scattered across Northern Iraq, Syria, Turkey and other lands. Saddam had labeled the Yezidis "Devil Worshippers," a claim I'd heard other Iraqis make, but no source offered substantiation. I wanted to know more.

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.


The road from Dohuk

The village of Yezdinar is about twenty miles outside of Dohuk, and on the way I reflected on what I knew of the religion.

Some believe Yezidism is over 5,000 years old, while others claim thousands of years older. Nobody seems to know. The Yezidis have their own fuzziness on dates, and for the Yezidis it seems enough to say that theirs is the oldest religion in the world. The Hindus of India make the same claim about their religion, while others in Nepal and Tibet make calendar claims of their own. One might intuit such proclamations as offering evidence of the essential truth of a religion—having withstood the test of time, it must be the order of things. Some see age as the proof of the rightness of one path over others, implying that precedence is precedence, like when a Muslim man in Kashmir once said to me, as if it would explain everything, "Ahhhh, the Sikhs, they are just a young religion."

Some tenets of Yezidism are readily understandable to westerners: Yezidis worship one God but no prophets. They recognize and respect both Jesus and Mohammed, but as men of faith, not prophets. Where the doctrine starts to become hazy is when the angels appear.

An older Yezidi man with whom I speak on occasion says there are seven angels: Izrafael, Jibrael, Michael, Nordael, Dardael, Shamnael, and Azazael. All were gathered at a heavenly meeting when God told them they should bow to none other than Him. This arrangement worked for a span of forty thousand years, until God created Adam by mixing the "elements": earth, air, water and fire. When God told the seven angels to bow before Adam, six complied. A seventh angel, citing God's order that the angels bow only to God, refused. Although this angel was God's favorite, his disobedience cast him from grace.

There is some dispute among Yezidis about the identity of the seventh angel; some believe it was Jibrael, while others believe it was Izrafael. Much seems lost to time. But whatever his former name, when this seventh Angel, most beloved of God, fell from grace, he was the most powerful angel in Heaven and on Earth. He rose as the Archangel Malak Ta'us. (Although this, too, is the subject of some debate; some Yezidis call him Ta’us Malak.) His herald is the peacock, for it is "by far the most beautiful bird in the world," and the name, Malak Ta'us, literally means, "King of Peacocks."

Most Yezidis equate Malak Ta'us with Satan, a mainstay in many religions but otherwise not mentioned in Yezidism. Some Yezidis claim that Malak Ta'us is like a god himself, at least in terms of his power--particularly over the fortunes of the descendents of Adam. In this religion, God created Adam, but no Eve, and therefore all men came from Adam alone. The Yezidis were first born among all men, and consider themselves to be "the chosen people."

Malak Ta'us descended from Heaven to Earth on a Wednesday to tell man that he is the Archangel, making this a day for religious observation. The Yezidis mark the day by not bathing on Wednesday evenings. They believe their dead must wash, and for this they need water; the dead wash on the holy day of Wednesday.

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