Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Persecution of Yazidis Kurds in Iraq

As has been related on many news channels, yesterday Iraqi extremists targeted and killed at least 175 people and injured at least 200 more near the Syrian border. Many of the dead and injured are from another minority pre-Islamic religious group that outsiders call Yazidis. From what I have been able to discover, their name for themselves is Ezidi which means in Kurdish "believer in God." Ezd means God or Angel in Kurdish.

Like the Mandaeans, they appear to have connections with old Gnostic traditions, perhaps even retaining elements from Manichaeism. They believe in one God but this God has seven assistant angels, the chief among them Ta'us Malak which is understood to mean "Peacock Angel," since Taus means "peacock" in Kurdish. But this must be a modern interpretation of an ancient Semitic or Persian name whose old meaning was not retained. I haven't worked out the possibilities yet, but I am certain that Taus did not originally mean peacock. Although God is one, he does not rule the world directly, but these angels do. At least one of the angels is female.

Another confusion arises over the word Shatan which has wrongly been assimilated by outsiders to Satan. Thus they are known as devil-worshipers. But the word is actually a Kurdish word that means "with the body of an angel".

This religion is a syncretistic religion. From what I have been able to discern, it has taken up certain aspects of ancient Persian religion, Manichaeism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I will continue to look into this religion and post more as I learn more. But for now, these latest attacks on minority religious populations in Iraq should be more incentive for legislation to be enacted NOW to help these refugees.


Pastor Bob said...

First, I agree with you that the Iraqi government has to do something to protect minorities. I don't think it is going to happen. As America is responsible for this mess we must be willing to take all persecuted minorities in as refugees.

Second, I appreciate your statement about their connection to Gnosticism. I was wondering about that. Finally I was doing some research of my own and found one suggestion that Taus comes from Zeus. I found this a bit unlikely.

Jared said...

I just found a few articles in ATLA. IT looks like the most comprehensive one most directly about Yazidis is from 1973, probably meaning these are people who have largely fallen through the cracks of scholarly consciousness. Anyway, here is the publication info:

Sami Said Ahmed, "A Study of the Yazidis: An Introduction," Iliff Review 30 (1973) 37-48.

Columbia has a full length book by the same author, but it is written in Arabic!

Under the spelling of Yezidi, I found this article:

Viktoriia Arakelova, "Healing Practices among the Yezidi Sheiks of Armenia," Asian Folklore Studies 60 (2001) 319-28.

I also found a book in Italian about their cosmology.

gdelassu said...

I was doing some research of my own and found one suggestion that Taus comes from Zeus. I found this a bit unlikely.

I am hardly any sort of expert on the Kurdish language, but I am wondering if this really is so unlikely. The Kurds could easily have assimilated Greek gods into their early pantheon back during Alexander the Great's time. Come to that, it might well be that "Taus" comes not from "Zeus" itself, but from an earlier Indo-Aryan ancestor word which also gave rise to "Zeus" among the Greeks. That is to say, given the fact that Kurdish and Greek are both Indo-European languages, it is not so odd to suppose that they could share some names for important divinities.

April DeConick said...

I think the link with Greek - Zeus and Theos - is very improbable. All we can go on is the alliteration I think, since that is what is preserved in kurdish "peacock."

I got the impression that these folks have fallen through the cracks, and are not being studied. I imagine that there is a lot we can learn about Gnostic thought and practices from these folks. But to do so, one will probably need to know Kurdish, Persian, Coptic, Greek, Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac.

I wonder what their historical association with the Mandaeans may have been?

Geoff Hudson said...

The US and UK have at least tried their best. They should now be out of Iraq and let the nationals sort out their own problems. The UK is flooded with immigrants and the strain on services is great. Both countries will have to restrict immigration.

bulbul said...

I wonder what their historical association with the Mandaeans may have been?
Back in 1998, a friend of mine (a Kurd from Syria) wrote and succesfully defended an MA thesis on the Yazidis. If I'm not mistaken, one of the chapters focused on their heritage and it included some remarks on their relationship to Manadaeans. I should have a copy of the thesis somewhere, let me see if I can find it...

April DeConick said...


Fantasic! I would love to see it!

Lameen Souag said...

Taus means "peacock" in Arabic (ṭāwūs), Syriac (ṭaws-o), Persian (tāvos), and Greek (taôs) as well as Kurdish. The Yezidis seem to think it means "peacock", since peacocks are a major part of their religious iconography. Why do you say it must not have originally meant peacock?