Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Yazidis" in the Iraqi religious mix...

Regarding Iraq, we usually hear about the Shia's, the Sunnis and the Kurds. Here is a NYT article about a small religious sect, the Yazidis and they are caught between the power struggle between the Kurds and some Sunni groups:
The people here are Yazidis, adherents of an ancient religion with roots in Zoroastrianism. Iraqi and American officials pinned responsibility for the bombings on Sunni Arab extremists, who consider the Yazidis devil worshipers.
From what little I know about the this group, their roots are more complicated than just Zoroastrianism. Here is a description of their religion from an earlier Reuters article:
- The Yazidi religion is a syncretic combination of Zoroastrian, Manichaean, Jewish, Nestorian Christian and Islam.

-- The Yazidi themselves are thought to be descended from supporters of the Umayyad caliph Yazid I.

* THEIR BELIEFS:

-- They believe that they were created quite separately from the rest of mankind, not even being descended from Adam, and they have kept themselves strictly segregated from the people among whom they live.

-- Yazidis are antidualists; they deny the existence of evil and therefore also reject sin, the devil, and hell.

-- The Yazidi relate that, when the devil repented of his sin of pride before God, he was pardoned and replaced in his previous position as chief of the angels; this has often resulted in Yazidis being described as devil worshippers.

-- Sheikh Adi, the chief Yazidi saint, was a 12th century Muslim mystic whom the Yazidi believe to have achieved divinity through metempsychosis.

* A RELIGIOUS CENTRE:

-- The Yazidi religious centre and object of the annual pilgrimage is the tomb of Sheikh Adi, located at a former Christian monastery in a town north of Mosul.

An intriguing mix of beliefs and an interesting view of being created separately from other humans. In any case, they face some serious challenges:

With tensions between Yazidis and Sunni Arabs growing, even Yazidis who bristle under the Kurdish presence say they would vote to join the Kurdish region in a referendum, if only for the security.

There is a further problem, though. The Sinjar area is separated from Kurdistan by a vast stretch of land occupied by Arab tribes that maintain friendly relationships with the Kurds but have no intention of joining Kurdistan.

The near impossibility of attaching the Sinjar area to Iraqi Kurdistan has prompted some local Yazidis — as well as some American military officials — to suspect that the Kurds are using these areas as leverage, a bargaining chip for political negotiations over the status of Kirkuk. Kurdish officials deny that this is the case, insisting that a popular referendum is the only way to redress Mr. Hussein’s demographic manipulation.

All of which leaves the largely peaceful Yazidis of Qahtaniya in the all-too-familiar position for Iraqi minorities of existing between two antagonistic forces. As the 2007 bombings made horrifyingly clear, that can be an extremely dangerous place to be.
Now their numbers are small - and even without violence, there is a good chance that this religion may more or less disappear soon. How should we feel about it? Many adherents will most likely be assimilated into another religion. But should we lament the loss (of diversity/culture) or celebrate the demise of a (another?) religion (ala Dawkins, Harris et al.)? As much as I want the world to be free of magical and supernatural beliefs, I do feel a sense of loss here.

Read the full article here.