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Who are the Yazidi?

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In light of the recent coordinated suicide attacks on the Yazidi people in Iraq, many people are now asking who are the Yazidi?

Yazidi on Mt. Sinjar, Iraqi/Syrian Border - 1920's

Historically, the Yazidis are a religious minority of the Kurds. Purportedly, they have existed since 2000 BCE. Estimates of the number of Yazidis vary between 100,000 and 800,000, the latter being the claim of their website. According to the same site, Yazidi refugees in Germany number 30,000

Researchers believe that the Yazidi creed has elements from Zoroastrianism, Manicheism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The Yazidis call themselves Dasin, while the term 'Yazidism' probably comes from the Persian word 'īzed', 'angel'. The name Yazidism is, moreover, connected to the 6th caliph, Yazid (680-83), from Shi'a point of view one of world history's most hated men, and highly disliked by most Sunnis, as well. There is, however, little evidence to show what role Yazid may have played in the founding or development of Yazidism. Link.

The Yazidis don't call themselves Yazidis and they're not attached to the 6th Caliph. But that doesn't stop the Sunni and Shi'a from hating them for the name they don't call themselves, as well as for the rumors that they worship the devil.

What are their true beliefs?

In the Yazidi world view, God created the world, which is now in the care of a Heptad of seven Holy Beings, often known as Angels or heft sirr (the Seven Mysteries). Preeminent among these is Melek Taus (Tawûsê Melek in Kurdish), the Peacock Angel, who is equated with Satan or Devil by some Muslims and Christians.

"The reason for the Yazidis reputation of being devil worshipers, is connected to the other name of Melek Taus, Shaytan, the same name as the Koran's for Satan." However, according to the Kurdish linguist Jamal Nebez, the word Taus is most probably derived from the Greek and is related to the words Zeus and Theos, alluding to the meaning of God. Link.

In the Yazidi religion, God stands above all, but only as a creator, not as a current force. Divine power is represented by Shaykh Adii, the benevolent deity and Malak Ta'us, the peacock angel who once fell into degrace, but then repented with seven jars of tears collected over 7,000 years that were used to extinguish the fires of hell.

There are six minor deities, but it is the two listed above who are the focus of their theology, which looks to heaven, but no longer believes in hell, as it is seen as a uneventful place since the fires were put out.

So, not only no devil worship, but they don't have a hell.

That's not to say the Yazidi culture lacks problems, especially in their views on the treatment of women, honor killing, and intermarriage with other faiths. This became public after the stoning death of a Yazidi teen when she converted to Sunni Muslim to marry outside her faith.

But it was not the honor killing that led to the violence, nor has it stopped others from using the misunderstanding of their religion to both isolate the Yazidis from the Kurds and for political advantage:

It is alleged by some that during the regime of Saddam Hussein, Yazidis were considered to be Arabs and maneuvered to oppose the Kurds, in order to tilt the ethnic balance in northern Iraq, but this cannot be entirely substantiated. It is known, however, that the Yazidi's unique identity, despite being ethnically Kurdish, was in fact used by the Baathist regime to isolate one from the other. However, both groups fought against Baathist troops, often in joint Peshmerga units. Since the 2003 occupation of Iraq, the Kurds want the Yazidi to be recognized as ethnic Kurds to increase their numbers and influence.

The Kurds want the Yazidi to be recognized as ethnic Kurds.

The Yazidi, as so often in the past, are now caught between competing forces in Iraq:

Vying for a Voice, Tribe in N. Iraq Feels Let Down:

KHARSI, Iraq -- When the 101st Airborne first reached this remote village in Iraq's northwestern Sinjar Mountains in 2003, elderly Yazidi tribesmen were thrilled: Their ancient religious prophesy had come true.

"We believed that Jesus Christ was coming with a force from overseas to save us," said the village leader, Khalil Sadoon Haji Jundu, wrapping his gold-trimmed cloak around him against the morning chill.

[snip]

But more than two years later, as the Yazidis struggle for a political voice and an escape from the poverty they suffered during decades of oppression under President Saddam Hussein, tribesmen such as Jundu say they feel let down. Link.

The Yazidi are concentrated around the town of Bashika, in Northern Iraq, as well as small communities of Yazidi Kurds in Syria, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia. The Yazidi in Iraq claim to be ~800,000 strong in the region with another 30,000 living in Germany. The Iraqi Kurds want those numbers included in their ethnic demography and, given the Kurds' better understanding of the Yazidi faith (they know it is not devil worship) and their propensity for blood feud in protecting other Kurds, the recent attacks on the Yazidi have the potential to exacerbate the conflict between the competing forces in Iraq, which, of course, was their purpose.