Yazidi Temple

Yazidi Temple


Antiquity

In the 2nd century AD, Sinjar became a military base called Singara and part of the Roman limes. [6] It remained part of the Roman Empire until it was sacked by the Sasanians in 360. [6] Starting in the late 5th century, the mountains around Sinjar became an abode of the Banu Taghlib, an Arab tribe. [7] At the beginning of 6th century, a tribe called Qadišaiē (Kαδίσηνοι), who were of either Kurdish or Arab origin, dwelt there. The Qadišaye practiced idolatry. [6] According to the early Islamic literary sources, Singara had long been a bone of contention between the Sasanian and Byzantine empires and several times switched hands between the two empires. [7] A 6th-century sources describes the population of Singara being composed of Pagans, Christians and Jews. [8] There are few visible traces of the ancient town of Singara. [7]

Islamic era

Sinjar was conquered in the 630s–640s by the Arab Muslims led by the commander Iyad ibn Ghanm and thereafter incorporated into the Diyar Rabi'a district of the Jazira province. [7] In 970, the city was conquered by the Hamdanid dynasty, a branch of the Banu Taghlib tribe. [7] Toward the end of the century, another Arab dynasty, the Uqaylids captured the city and erected a citadel there. [7] Beginning with the rule of the Turkmen atabeg Jikirmish in 1106/07, Sinjar entered its most prosperous historical period lasting through the mid-13th century. The Zengid ruler Nur ad-Din conquered the area in 1169 and 1171 in the latter year, a cadet branch of the Zengids was established in Sinjar under Zengi II ( r . 1171–1197 ), whose court was noted for its high culture. [7] The scholar Ibn Shaddad (d. 1186) noted that Sinjar was protected by a double wall, the first being the original wall built by the Uqaylids and the newer wall built by the local Zengid ruler Qutb ad-Din Muhammad ( r . 1197–1219 ). [7] Also noted by Ibn Shaddad were two mosques, six madrasas (schools of Islamic law) for the Hanafi and Shafi'i schools of jurisprudence, a mashhad (shrine) dedicated to Ali ibn Abi Talib and three khanqas (buildings for Sufi gatherings) and Ibn al-Adim (d. 1262) further notes a zawiya (Sufi lodge). [7] A surviving mosque minaret from this era, remarked on by the 19th-century epigraphist Max van Berchem, contains an inscription crediting Qutb ad-Din as the minaret's builder in 1201. [7]

The city came under Ayyubid rule during the reign of Saladin and was controlled by the Ayyubid ruler of the Diyar Bakr district of the Jazira, al-Ashraf Muzaffar al-Din ( r . 1210–1220 ). It later was controlled by the ruler of Mosul, Badr al-Din Lu'lu'. [7] The Ilkhanid Mongols destroyed the double wall of Sinjar and the mashhad of Ali in 1262 the mashhad was rebuilt afterward by the Ilkhanid's Persian governor of the area Muhammad al-Yazdi. [7] Ibn al-Adim and al-Dhahabi (d. 1348) list several Islamic scholars who hailed from Sinjar, including the polymath Ibn al-Akfani (d. 1348). The geographer Zakariya al-Qazwini (d. 1283) referred to Sinjar as "little Damascus", noting in particular the similarities of Sinjar's ornate bathhouses with their mosaic-laced floors and walls and octagonal stone pools. [7] During his visit of the city, Ibn Battuta (d. 1369) mentioned that the inhabitants of the city were Kurds, whom he describes as "brave and generous". [9] He also remarked that Sinjar's congregational mosque was encircled by a perennial stream. [7]

The Timurid successors of the Ilkhanids captured Sinjar after a seven-month siege according to oral traditions cited by Evliya Celebi (d. 1682). [7] The city was later conquered successively by the Turkmen tribes of Ak Koyunlu and Kara Koyunlu before being taken by the Safavid dynasty of Iran in 1507/08. [7] During the Ottoman–Safavid War (1532–1555), Sinjar was captured by the Constantinople (Istanbul)-based Ottoman Empire in 1534. [7] The city became the center of its own sanjak (district) within Diyarbekir Eyalet (province of Diyarbakir). [7] It was later reduced to being the administrative center of its own nahiya (subdistrict) of the Mardin Sanjak. [7] Writing in the 17th century, Evliya Celebi noted that the population of the city of Sinjar was composed of Kurds and Arabs from the Banu Tayy tribe, while the Sinjar Mountains were inhabited by 45,000 Yazidis and Kurds. [7]

After 1830, the nahiya of Sinjar became part of the Mosul Sanjak. [7] During the 19th century, the Yazidis of the Sinjar Mountains often posed a threat to travelers in the region. The governor Dawud Pasha of Baghdad (in office in 1816–1831) was unable to suppress the Yazidis and the Yazidi revolts of 1850–1864 were ended after the diplomatic efforts of the Ottoman statesman Midhat Pasha enabled the authorities to tax and impose customs in the area. [7]

In 1974–1975, five neighborhoods in the city of Sinjar were Arabized during a campaign by the Iraqi government of President Saddam Hussein dubbed as a "modernization drive" the neighborhoods were Bar Barozh, Saraeye, Kalhey, Burj and Barshey, whose inhabitants were relocated to the new towns or elsewhere in Iraq and replaced by Arabs. [10] The majority of the Arabs resettled in the Sinjar Mountains have remained in the region as of 2010. [11]

On 13 August 2009, a suicide bombing killed 21 people and wounded 32 in a cafe in the Kalaa neighborhood of Sinjar. [12] On 14 August 2010, a series of truck bombings by al-Qaeda in Iraq in the towns of Qahtaniya and al-Jazira, both in the Sinjar District, killed 326 Yazidis and injured 530 more. [13]

According to statistical survey of the Sinjar District in 2013, the city of Sinjar had a population of 77,926. The ethnic composition of the city consisted of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, and Assyrians and the religious composition consisted of Yazidis, Sunni Muslims, and Christians. There were 23 primary schools, three intermediate schools and seven secondary schools, a hospital, two other health care facilities, three public parks and two sports fields. [14] The town had three churches, a Syriac Orthodox Church, Syriac Catholic Church, and Armenian Apostolic Church, all of which were destroyed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. [15] [16]

Northern Iraq Offensive (2014)

In the course of their second Northern Iraq offensive in August 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took over large areas of Nineveh province. Following the withdrawal of the Kurdish Peshmerga they captured the city of Sinjar on 3 August. During the following days, IS militants perpetrated the Sinjar massacre, killing 2,000 Yazidi men and taking Yazidi women into slavery, leading to a mass exodus of Yazidi residents. According to a United Nations report, 5,000 Yazidi civilians were killed during ISIL's August offensive. It is also known as the genocide of Yazidis by ISIL. The genocide was enabled partly as a result of the Peshmerga flight from the ISIL offensive, which left the Yazidis defenseless. [17] [18] [19]

On the night of 20 December 2014, in the course of a first offensive to retake Sinjar from ISIL militants, Kurdish forces pushed into the city. [20] However, the Kurdish advance into Sinjar was stalled, as they faced stiff resistance from ISIL militants inside the southern half of the city. [21]

On 13 November 2015, a day after launching a major second offensive, Kurdish forces and Yazidi militias backed by US airstrikes, entered the city and fully regained its control from ISIL. [22] Following the recapture, in the nearby hamlet of Solagh, east of Sinjar city, Kurdish forces found a mass grave with the remains of at least 78 Yazidi women from Kocho village believed to be executed by ISIL militants. [23] [24] Following the recapture of Sinjar, Yazidi groups engaged in revenge looting and burnings targeting Sunni Muslims, as well as reprisal killings. [25] [26]

Declaration of autonomy

In August 2017, the Yazidis of Sinjar declared their government autonomous at a press conference. [27] Peshmerga forces withdrew from Sinjar on 17 October 2017, allowing the Iraqi Army and the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) to enter the town. The control of the town was handed over to the PMU-backed Yazidi group called "Lalesh Brigades" after Peshmerga's withdrawal. [28] [29] [30] [31]

In June 2020, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom accused Turkey that during the Operations Claw-Eagle and Claw-Tiger, Turkey threatened Yazidis families who attempted to return to their homes in the town. Turkey rejected the claims. [32]

In 2021 the Iraqi government called for the local Yezedi protection forces (who had fought ISIS), in Sinjar to withdraw, which was rejected by the Yezedi administration. This has led to international calls for the Iraqi army to de-escalate and withdraw from the region. [33] [34] [35]


Contents

July 6, 2016 by Maxim Edwards

The small village of Aknalich, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) west of Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, will soon be home to the world’s largest Yazidi temple. For a people striving to rebound after a 2014 massacre by Islamic State militants in Iraq, the structure is a symbol of resilience.

Yazidis are one of Armenia’s largest ethnic minority groups, practicing an ancient, monotheistic faith that has similarities to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, along with elements of sun worship. Numbering around 35,000, according to Armenia’s 2011 census, they live mostly in the South Caucasus country’s western and northern regions.

Theirs is a tragic history. Yazidis were a persecuted minority in the Ottoman Empire and reached what is today Armenia in the 1820s. Persecution continues to this day. In August 2014, Islamic State (IS) fighters entered the northwestern Iraqi town of Sinjar and slaughtered thousands of Yazidi men and abducted a similar number of women, according to United Nations researchers. In June, the UN condemned IS terrorists’ anti-Yazidi campaigns in Iraq and Syria as genocide.

A small number of Yazidis fleeing the conflict have reached Armenia and its northern neighbor, Georgia, which also is home to a Yazidi temple. Most, though, do not stay for long, joining others in their search for a better life in the European Union.

Most residents of Aknalich, a mixed Yazidi-Armenian village of about 3,000, work in the agricultural sector. A few work at the nearby Metsamor nuclear plant. As is common in Armenia, many young people go to Russia in search of work, sending remittances back home.

Aknalich Mayor Gevork Misakian hopes that the temple will help slow the labor migration trend. Already, the village has the beginnings of a Yazidi cultural and religious center. Aside from the temple, a conference hall, museum and religious seminary are under construction. Weddings will also be held in the complex.

The village also contains the former Soviet Union’s first Yazidi temple, Ziyarat, erected in 2012. The symbolism of Ziyarat and Aknalich’s new temple, Quba Mere Diwane (roughly translated as “All Will Come Together”), has only increased since the Sinjar massacre, noted Khdr Hajoian, vice president of the Yazidi National Union, a Yerevan-based organization.

But the new temple, already under construction for nearly a year, is a project on a much larger scale.

Built of Armenian granite and Iranian marble, Quba Mere Diwane will stand 25.3 meters (83 feet) high and contain a prayer hall of 200 square meters (2,153 square feet). Seven domes will surround a large central dome representing Melek Taus, the most revered of the Yazidi angels. It will be crowned with a gold-plated sun, a symbol of the Yazidis’ faith.

Workers at the adjacent stonemasons’ yard do not expect the temple to be finished until 2017.

Its cost has not been made public. Financing for Quba Mere Diwane comes from 69-year-old Mirza Sloian, a successful Moscow-based Yazidi businessman, who also paid for Ziyarat. Sloian is a native of Armenia's Armavir region.

The new structure, envisaged well before the Sinjar massacre, reflects the Yazidis’ current need to “feel that we are a community,” commented Mraz Sloian, nephew of the project’s financier. Fears of assimilation and of conversion by proselytizing evangelical Christian groups active in Armenia’s regions also played a part, he added.

Yazidis in the Caucasus were historically nomadic and never built mega-temples. Ethnographer Hranoush Kharatian, the former head of the Armenian government’s department for minority affairs, sees the project as part of a broader Yazidi attempt to institutionalize their faith, establishing a spiritual center for the country’s Yazidis for the first time.

Despite the concerns about assimilation, Armenia’s Yazidis identify strongly with their ethnic Armenian neighbors.

Community members are quick to point out that Yazidis share a common history of genocide with Armenians many Yazidis were also killed amid the Ottoman-era mass slaughter of ethnic Armenians during World War I. It was no coincidence that construction on the Quba Mere Diwane temple began months after the centenary commemorations of that massacre.

The approach to the new temple stands in plain sight of Mount Ararat, just across the Turkish border. It is lined with monuments celebrating Armenian-Yazidi brotherhood such as an intertwined Armenian khachkar (cross) and sun.

That sense of fraternity often appears to work the other way, too. The Armenian parliament currently is reviewing a draft document on recognizing the Sinjar massacre as genocide.

Relations with the Armenian Apostolic Church, the country’s majority faith, are friendly. The Church’s patriarch, Catholicos Karekin II, and senior clergy attended the dedication of the monuments to Armenian-Yazidi brotherhood.

The new Yazidi temple’s architect is, in fact, better known for his work on Armenian Apostolic churches. Artak Ghulian designed Moscow’s new Armenian cathedral, and has built over 20 churches for many of Armenia’s big names, including a cathedral in Abovian financed by oligarch and politician Gagik Tsarukian.

Ghulian could not be reached for comment, although temple sponsor Sloian wrote in a 2015 book that the new temple’s style is inspired by the shrine at Lalish, the holiest of over 360 Yazidi shrines in northern Iraq.

Impressive though it will be, Quba Mere Diwane is not intended to overshadow Iraq’s historic Yazidi temples, stressed the Yazidi National Union’s Hajoian. “There will only ever be one Lalish,” he added. Sheikh Jendi Jendoian, a local religious leader from Artashar village, agreed that Lalish would always remain the holiest site for Yazidis.

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Tri Kala Surya Upasana (Brahmin Custom) in Iraq!


Yazidi girls in front of a worshipper (Picture from Daily mail on line)

The first Part of this Article was published under the title “HINDU VESTIGES IN IRAQ” on 12th August (Post No 1228)

Written by London Swaminathan
Post No. 1246 Dated 23rd August 2014

‘The Week’– magazine published from London (dated 16 August 2014) says

1.Yazidis lived in Armenia, Turkey and Iraq. Iraq is their homeland. When the situation became very bad in Turkey the entire community was given asylum in Germany.

2.Yazidis speak Kurmanji Kurdish, the Kurdish dialect spoken in Turkey.

3.What makes the Yazidis so interesting to anthropologists is that they are Kurds who, over the centuries, have resisted pressure to convert to Islam. There has been a long history of animosity between them and their Kurdish Muslim counterparts.

Yazidi Temple at Lalish

4.Yazidism is a “syncretic” religion borrowing from many different traditions. Its true origins are almost as mysterious as the people themselves, but it is said to have its roots in Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic religion arising in ancient Persia around 1500 BC. However many scholars trace its origins to an even older faith: Mithraism. Mithras is the Roman name for the Indo-Iranian deity Mitra, a God of the Sun, Justice, Contract and War, whose origins lie in Pre –Zoroastrian Persia. the Yazidis’ annual sacrifice of a bull near the Temple of Sun, some 60 kilometres north of Mosul, is thought to be a ritual derived from Mithraism.
(Mitra is a Vedic God the first namaskar in Surya Namaskar is ‘Om Mitraya Nama:’ It looks like Romans introduced bull sacrifice in its worship. For Hindus cows and bulls are sacred animals. Shiva rides on a bull/Rishaba)

5.Many Yazidi traditions are shrouded in such secrecy that most have never been witnessed by outsiders. However they are known to pray three times a day, always facing the direction of the Sun.


Yazidi Fire Worship resembles Hindu worship

6.Their most important festival, Cejna Cemaiya, the New Year “Feast of the Assembly”, takes place at Lalish, a small village in lush mountain valley in Northern Iraq, where Adi ibn Musafir, a member of wandering order of Sufi mystics has his tomb. It has become a sacred place of pilgrimage, and children are baptised in the waters of paradise that flow from two sacred springs, the White Spring and the Zem Zem (the same name as a stream in Mecca)—which rise there. Yazidis visit Lalish at least once in their life time.

(Hindus visit Kasi (also known as Varanasi and Benares), at least once in their life time take bath in the holy waters of River Ganga. Sfi mystics are very close to Hindu mystics in many respects).

Yazidis tie knots when they make wishes

7)Yazidis are divided into three castes – Sheikhs, Pirs and Murids, the first two being clerical castes, the Murids forming the general public. The function of the Sheikhs, the highest caste, is to educate the rest of the faithful in their religion and teach them the moral precepts.

8)The Yazidis married their women still in their teens. When Armenia moved to revise its law on marriage raising the minimum age of marriage for boys and girls to 18, Yazidi community erupted in protest.

9) They don’t wear blue colour clothes because it is considered sacred ( I have already discussed the importance of sacred blue peacock of Peacock Angel Lord Skanda/Kartikeya in the first part of this article)


Yazidi temple constructed like Hindu temple

My comments on Point 5 ,Point 6 point 7 and 8:
a)There is only one community in the whole wide world who do Sun Worship (Surya Upasana called Sandhya Vandhanam) three times a day facing sun using water oblation is the Hindu Brahmins. So Yazidis must have been Vedic Brahmins slowly mingling with others, yielding to pressures from other religions in the area. Vedic faith was older than Zoroastrianism.

b)There is only one community in the world who use water in every day worship — they are the Hindus. They can’t do any ritual without water.

c)The Hindus use Ganges water or any water in the name of Ganges. They use water to bathe themselves and Gods in over 100,000 temples in India every day. For the Hindu Brahmins the baptism is the sacred thread ceremony, on which day the boy has to bathe several times. Without water Hindus can’t do any ritual. From birth to death they use holy water in 40 rituals called Samskaras.


Yazidi sacred spring at Lalish

d)The caste system in Yazidi community is prevalent only in Hindu religion until today. In the olden days every culture had it. In England even today Lordship and Kingship are decided by birth in higher caste. Not everyone can become a Lord or King or Queen in Britain! The Brahmins only were teachers until Buddisht period.

e)Balya Vivaha (Child marriage) is a Hindu custom practised throughout ancient India. Tamil Sangam literature hints at teenage marriage. Tamil Hindu heroine Kannaki was 12 and her husband was 16 when they got married. Hindu law books called Smritis also advocated this.

I have already listed other similarities in the first part of this article.


Yazidis sacred Peacock (Lord Skanda’s vehicle)


Summary

  • Yazidi is the oldest known surviving monotheistic faith in the world. Yazidi faith shares a lot of similarities with Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism.
  • Yazidis believe in one God who created the world and assigned it to seven angels. The leader of the seven angels is called Tawûsê Melek and he holds authority over the world.
  • Yazidis call themselves Ezi, Izid, or Ezid and Dasini or Dasin which literally meant “the one who created me”.
  • Yazidis have unique beliefs which are largely misunderstood by their neighbors leading other religious cultures to think they are devil worshippers.
  • Most Yazidis come from Northern Iraq and have genetic links to the original Mesopotamian people.
  • Wrongly labeled as devil-worshippers by many Muslims, Yazidis have faced genocide throughout the years beginning in the late 16th century.
  • During Saddam Hussein’s era in 2003, hundreds of Yazidi have been murdered by the terrorist group Al-Qaida.
  • In 2014, ISIS began terrorizing Yazidi villages. When Islamic militants and extremists captured Sinjar, more than 500,000 Yazidis were in danger.
  • Yezidis are one of the many religious minorities in Iraq. There are about 700,000 Yazidis in the world scattered around Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, and North America.

Biggest Yazidi Temple in the World Opens in Armenia

AKNALICH, Armenia (The Independent) — In the sleepy Armenian lakeside town of Aknalich, crowds gathered for the opening of a new temple on September 30. Inside the vast vaulted stone building, musicians dressed in ivory colored cotton garments and rolled headscarves processed in a circle. Some chanted sacred hymns, while others played the drum and flute. Those gathered around them danced shoulder to shoulder.

These musicians are known as qewwals, singers of the ageless, orally transmitted sacred songs from the Yazidi religion.

Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking religious minority, whose main population is concentrated in northern Iraq. In 2014, Isis militants killed, kidnapped and displaced thousands from their community. Today, this ancient minority is extremely fragile and scattered across the globe.

Yazidis agree on the ancient roots of their religion, but not on the details of these origins. The religion is monotheistic, and their principal saint is the 12th-century Sufi mystic Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, who was buried in a temple in Lalish, the religion’s main pilgrimage site in northern Iraq. Academics also point to connections with ancient Iranian religions.

This arid and sparsely populated Armenian province might at first seem like an unusual place for such a temple and ceremony. Yet Yazidis are the biggest minority in Armenia, where over 80 percent of the population is Christian and ethnic Armenian. In the last census in 2011, the Yazidi population in Armenia numbered at 35,000.

“We don’t have a homeland, but our traditions are safe here in Armenia,” says Temur Akmiyan, a villager from the province.

The qewwals live only in the Yazidi heartland of northern Iraq. But they have come here to Armenia for the opening of Quba Mere Diwane, the biggest Yazidi temple in the world, and only the third modern temple outside of Iraq.

“We’ve come to sing sacred songs and play music to consecrate the temple. There are no sacred singers in Armenia, that’s why we’re here,” says Qewwal Ziad.

Event organizers estimated that over 20,000 people attended the opening day, from former Soviet Union countries as well as Europe. A delegation from Iraq included members of the Yazidi spiritual council and Yazidi military men. Representatives of the Armenian church, government officials, army veterans and the heads of Yazidi organizations in the US and Germany also attended.

For the visitors from the Yazidi diaspora communities of the former Soviet Union, this encounter with the Iraqi qewwals could be the first in generations. Throughout the morning, people approached them to take group pictures. As they processed inside the temple, crowds gathered to film the ceremony.

But the singers weren’t the only novelty. Reha, an elderly Armenian Yazidi from a nearby village, admired the embroidered white silk scarf worn by an Iraqi woman, “I can’t find scarves like this here. I’d like one to wear at weddings,” she sighs. Sun-shaped metal sculptures top the spires. (RFE/RL photo)

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Behind her, erect with eight spires and glistening white stone, was the massive new temple.

“What’s not to like?” asks Reha, “Have you been inside?” Like many elders from her secretive community, Reha is cautious when speaking to journalists. The view led to Mount Ararat, a mountain on the eastern border of Turkey, which many Armenians consider a symbol of their nation.

Yazidis have no holy book, and the religion’s sacred texts were passed on orally by members of their religious castes, who keep the details of the religion a secret. In the past, this oral tradition was preserved by close-knit tribal communities. But today this religious knowledge has weakened as a result of ongoing migration, modernity, and conflict in Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

In Yazidi creation stories, the world was created by light. As such, followers pray facing the sun, believing sunlight to be an emanation of God. Their archangel, melak el tawus, takes the form of a peacock. They do not accept converts, and are required to marry within the religion in accordance to the strict caste system. Their population numbers today, estimated to be around 700,000 globally, are dangerously dwindling.

Until recently, Yazidis did not build temples outside of their heartland in Iraq. As well as the temple at Lalish, hundreds of smaller shrines also exist in Iraq close to Yazidi villages.

“For a religion that does not have a book, these shrines helped preserve the religion, serving as points of confluence and pilgrimage for their communities,” explains Tyler Fisher, of the University of Florida, who researches the reconstruction of Yazidi temples in Iraq. Inside the Yazidi Temple (RFE/RL photo)

Now scattered, Yazidis of the former Soviet Union are the first among the community’s ever-growing diaspora to build modern temples. A smaller temple with a single spire was first opened in Aknalich in 2012. This was followed by a temple and religious center in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, which opened in 2015. These three temples were recognized by the Yazidi high spiritual council in Iraq, according to their organizers.

Yazidis living in Anatolian provinces of the Ottoman Empire – which today is eastern Turkey – began migrating to Armenia in the 19th century. And then in 1915, entire Yazidi villages fled genocidal campaigns against non-Muslim minorities of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, settling in Armenia.

Up to 1.5 million Armenians are thought to have been killed in these campaigns. Under the Soviet Union, religion was banned, but Kurdish-speaking communities of Armenia and Georgia, who were predominantly Yazidi, received support to develop their culture, language and folklore.

The absence of buildings for worship was particularly felt in the Caucasus. Yazidi communities were cut off from their main pilgrimage site, Lalish, in northern Iraq for over 100 years.

“I’ve never been to Lalish, we know it from our songs and its stays in our hearts,” says Anahit Sharuef, a Yazidi poet from a nearby village. Instead, Yazidi rituals in the Caucasus centered around the home and their cemeteries.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the church has played a powerful role in Armenia and Georgia, further weakening the religious minority’s sense of identity. Many Yazidis often visit churches to light candles, and kept Christian iconography in their homes.

In the home of Armenian Yazidi villager Murad Usoyan, I spotted images of the Virgin Mary. “She’s the Khatuna Fekhra, our Yazidi angel,” he explains. “Our religions have many parallels.”

Further, economic hardship in post-Soviet Armenia is weakening the community’s presence. Like many Armenians, Yazidis began migrating to Russia and Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. By 2011, the Yazidi population of Armenia had dropped by 30 percent. Today, many isolated villages in which Yazidi traditions were preserved are mostly empty.

“If we don’t build temples outside of Iraq, we will lose our religion and our culture,” says Ruslan Jawoyan, an Armenian-born Yazidi living in Moscow, who was at the opening.

On the week of the opening, a small temple-like shrine was inaugurated in the isolated village of Sorik on the Armenian-Turkish border, and another religious building was nearing completion in the village of Riya Taza in the Aparan region of Armenia.

Yazidi temples consist of one or two conical spires, or quba, each representing a Yazidi saint or angel. The spire has 12 or 24 ridges, and it ends in a circle symbolizing the sun. The temple’s base is rectangular or square, with either a flat or vaulted roof.

Hussein Hajji Othman, an Iraqi Yazidi writer who has come to Armenia for the opening, explains the spiritual significance of this architecture.

“The temples are built from the ground to the sky. The bottom has four corners, representing chapters of peace. Above it, the spire simulates the sun beams. Everything above the spire is sunlight. Yazidis say that the sunlight is goodness, it is the source of life.”

With its eight spires, the temple at Aknalich deviates from this traditional model. A central spire symbolizes the Yazidi archangel Melak Tawus. It is surrounded by seven smaller spires, each dedicated to an angel. At the top of the entrance is the elaborate stone carving of a sun – a modern invention made specifically for this temple.

The temple’s Yerevan-based architect, Artik Ghulyan, was influenced by ancient Armenian churches, whereby a central dome is surrounded by a series of smaller ones. Ghulyan introduced modern elements, such as a series of triangle-shaped motifs along the outer walls, which symbolize sun rays. “It recalls the ancient Mesopotamian cultures of Iraq,” he says.

The spire of Yazidi temples is topped with a brass icon, which is traditionally shaped as a crescent moon or a hand. However, all eight spires at Aknalich are topped with a brass sun. “The crescent moon symbol feels increasingly alien to us, particularly since the attacks from Islamic State,” says Dilman Jihad Qewwal Murad, another qewwal from Iraq. But other spiritual leaders are known to have opposed the sun-shaped icons at Aknalich, preferring the crescent moon or hand.

Inside are seven large sun-shaped chandeliers, and the icon of a peacock made of semi-precious stone. Colorful satin fabrics were laid out on an altar-like table facing the peacock. The visitors gathered around the table, kissing the fabric or tying knots to it. A visionary spiritual leader from Iraq known as a kochek blessed the visitors.

Yazidi temples are often connected to a burial ground. “Where a village does not have a temple, they will construct a small shrine by their cemeteries,” says Fisher. Likewise, the first temple at Aknalich was built adjacent to a local Yazidi cemetery.

The grounds also serve as a memorial park for Armenian and Yazidi history. With its stone monuments dedicated to war heroes and intellectuals, it is reminiscent of Soviet-era memorial parks. It includes a sculpture and tombstone for the Yazidi war hero Janghir Agha, who led victorious battles against the Turks in Armenia in 1918. And a monument to the “Armenian and Yazidi Friendship” brings together the symbol of a Yazidi peacock with a Christian crucifix.

A new monument commemorating the genocide of 2014 was unveiled on the opening day. It is the sculpture of Yazidi activist Nadia Murad, a former Isis captive and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Visitors placed white flowers at the foot of the sculpture and prayed.

As such, many view the temple as a modern expression of Yazidism in the Caucasus. “There’s been a renaissance of sorts. It’s not just about religion, it’s also about identity,” says the Yerevan-based Yazidi academic Tereza Amryan.

The new temple is also part of a wider trend in post-Soviet states, whereby successful businessmen from the diaspora build religious edifices in their home towns and villages. The economic and political vacuum following the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as lawlessness and organized crime, spelt extreme poverty for most and riches for the very few. Over 200 new churches are said to have emerged in Armenia since the 1990s.

The temple’s sponsor, the Moscow-based businessman Mirza Sloyan, who owns a shopping mall in Moscow, was born near Aknalich. “This enormous building is my latest project,” he says, pointing back towards the temple that was still under construction, just days before the opening.

In response to the Isis attacks in 2014, he also founded the All Russian Yazidi Congress in Moscow, and the online video channel Lalish TV, which covers Yazidi news and culture globally.

No expense was spared. “We lost track of the budget long ago,” says Hamlet Boghossian, who supervised the stone work. A stonemasonry workshop was installed next to the temple grounds, to carve the marble that was imported from Iran. “The temple will stand for hundreds of years,” says Boghossian.

“So many of our temples were destroyed in Iraq by Isis militants in 2014. That’s when I decided we should have a bigger temple here,” says Sloyan.

Inside a newly built reception hall in the temple grounds, Sloyan talked about his childhood in the Soviet Union. “Armenians didn’t have to go to work. Instead, they said: ‘Look at the face of a Yazidi person and you’ll find success’,” he recalls, a popular trope about Yazidis bringing prosperity. He rested back against his armchair, occasionally swatting passing flies. To the table on his left, was a glistening taxidermy peacock with all its feathers.

“As a child, I saw the religious institutions that the Armenians had, and I wondered why didn’t we have such a place,” he says.

Sloyan, who is now in his mid-70s, became interested in the Yazidi religion and culture in his later adult life. “Our language is so complex. For example, we have a different word for how humans sit, how dogs sit, how lions sit – and many other animals” he says. “The more I learn, the more it fascinates me.”

His first journey to Iraq, he said, was for a pilgrimage in 1994. This was also a time when Kurds from former Soviet countries joined partisan groups operating from war-torn northern Iraq.

“We flew from Moscow to Istanbul, then to Diyarbakir, and from there we drove across the border into Iraq,” he recalls. “Of course it was dangerous, but I went anyway. And I visited Iraq again during the recent war.” His aides say that he was supporting refugees in the recent crisis.

Today, Sloyan maintains relations with Iraq’s Lalish Brigade, a Yazidi militia that is supported by the Iran-backed paramilitaries, known as the Hash’d Al Shaabi. The brigade’s leader, Ali Serhan Issa, was among the official guests from Iraq at the opening.

Building the temple in Armenia was essential, Sloyan says.

“Armenia is the safest country in the world for the Yazidi people. I’m happy I built it here, facing Mount Ararat. My grandchildren will also be proud.”

However some Yazidi religious figures opposed the new temple. Sheikh Hasan Tamoyan, an influential cleric and current president of the Yazidi National Union of Armenia argues that these new temples go against Yazidi religious teachings.

“Our religion does not accept worshipping stone and wood. We believe in the sun and its light,” he said. Even the mausoleum at Lalish, he explains, is not a place for worship. “It’s where Yazidis go to pay respect for their dead Saints.”

Sheikh Hasan did not attend the opening, and I met him at his home in a suburb of Yerevan. Religious leaders interviewed for this article often had golden peacock figurines, paintings, and mini models of Lalish adorning their living rooms like icons. By contrast, Sheikh Hasan’s home had no visible religious symbols.

“Our holy texts do not tell us to worship replicas of peacocks,” he says. “It’s a form of totemism. I hope our community will one day look beyond the superficialities of our modern times.”

“Yazidis have only two places for prayer. First in the morning they should stand in front of the sun, facing the east and far from strangers. Their prayers should be discrete and not demonstrative,” he explains. “Then we have special places to pray in our homes.” He pointed to the ster, a colorful stack of folded mattresses which, among Yazidis of the Caucasus, is considered sacred. Sheikh Hasan, his wife and his children stood in front of the ster to pray, then kissed the fabric.

“The building of new temples such as the one in Aknalich aspires to imitate Christianity.”

Yet no religious opposition could curtail the excitement felt on the opening day at Aknalich.

“This is an important and historic day for the Yazidi people,” says Barfa Tamoyan, an Armenian-born Yazidi now living in France. Despite the heat of the opening day, she wears a voluminous black ball gown and velvet heels to mark the special occasion. “We have built a temple in a country that is not our homeland. I hope we’ll have temples in Europe in the future.”

In the gardens, well-known Yazidi bands from Russia and Germany played ceremonial songs, while crowds continued to pour in an out of the temple, filming the event on their phones, and taking selfies and group photos with friends and family.

In lyrics composed for the opening day, Aydin Amara sings, “Come to the temple to a place of prayer and worship. To the Yazidi temple, from which heaven blows.”


Who Are The Yazidi?

The Yazidi are an ethnoreligious people indigenous to Iraq, Syria, and Turkey who practice the Yazidi religion. A majority of the Yazidi people speak the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish, with most currently residing in Ninevah and Dohuk, Iraq. The Yazidi have long been persecuted, from the Ottoman Empire to the most recent large-scale 2014 Yazidi Genocide carried out by the Islamic State.


Armenia to House World’s Largest Yazidi Temple

The small village of Aknalich, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) west of Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, will soon be home to the world’s largest Yazidi temple. For a people striving to rebound after a 2014 massacre by Islamic State militants in Iraq, the structure is a symbol of resilience.

Yazidis are one of Armenia’s largest ethnic minority groups, practicing an ancient, monotheistic faith that has similarities to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, along with elements of sun worship. Numbering around 35,000, according to Armenia’s 2011 census, they live mostly in the South Caucasus country’s western and northern regions.

Theirs is a tragic history. Yazidis were a persecuted minority in the Ottoman Empire and reached what is today Armenia in the 1820s. Persecution continues to this day. In August 2014, Islamic State (IS) fighters entered the northwestern Iraqi town of Sinjar – home to the Yazidis’ holiest temple, Lalish – and slaughtered thousands of Yazidi men and abducted a similar number of women, according to United Nations researchers. In June, the UN condemned IS terrorists’ anti-Yazidi campaigns in Iraq and Syria as genocide.

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A small number of Yazidis fleeing the conflict have reached Armenia and its northern neighbor, Georgia, which also is home to a Yazidi temple. Most, though, do not stay for long, joining others in their search for a better life in the European Union.

Most residents of Aknalich, a mixed Yazidi-Armenian village of about 3,000, work in the agricultural sector. A few work at the nearby Metsamor nuclear plant. As is common in Armenia, many young people go to Russia in search of work, sending remittances back home.

Aknalich Mayor Gevork Misakian hopes that the temple will help slow the labor migration trend. Already, the village has the beginnings of a Yazidi cultural and religious center. Aside from the temple, a conference hall, museum and religious seminary are under construction. Weddings will also be held in the complex.

The village also contains the former Soviet Union’s first Yazidi temple, Ziyarat, erected in 2012. The symbolism of Ziyarat and Aknalich’s new temple, Quba Mere Diwane (roughly translated as “All Will Come Together”), has only increased since the Sinjar massacre, noted Khdr Hajoian, vice president of the Yazidi National Union, a Yerevan-based organization.

But the new temple, already under construction for nearly a year, is a project on a much larger scale.

Built of Armenian granite and Iranian marble, Quba Mere Diwane will stand 25.3 meters (83 feet) high and contain a prayer hall of 200 square meters (2,153 square feet). Seven domes will surround a large central dome representing Melek Taus, the most revered of the Yazidi angels. It will be crowned with a gold-plated sun, a symbol of the Yazidis’ faith.

Workers at the adjacent stonemasons’ yard do not expect the temple to be finished until 2017.

Its cost has not been made public. Financing for Quba Mere Diwane comes from 69-year-old Mirza Sloian, a successful Moscow-based Yazidi businessman, who also paid for Ziyarat. Sloian is a native of Aknalich’s Armavir region.

The new structure, envisaged well before the Sinjar massacre, reflects the Yazidis’ current need to “feel that we are a community,” commented Mraz Sloian, nephew of the project’s financier. Fears of assimilation and of conversion by proselytizing evangelical Christian groups active in Armenia’s regions also played a part, he added.

Yazidis in the Caucasus were historically nomadic and never built mega-temples. Ethnographer Hranoush Kharatian, the former head of the Armenian government’s department for minority affairs, sees the project as part of a broader Yazidi attempt to institutionalize their faith, establishing a spiritual center for the country’s Yazidis for the first time.

Despite the concerns about assimilation, Armenia’s Yazidis identify strongly with their ethnic Armenian neighbors.

Community members are quick to point out that Yazidis share a common history of genocide with Armenians many Yazidis were also killed amid the Ottoman-era mass slaughter of ethnic Armenians during World War I. It was no coincidence that construction on the Quba Mere Diwane temple began months after the centenary commemorations of that massacre.

The approach to the new temple stands in plain sight of Mount Ararat, just across the Turkish border. It is lined with monuments celebrating Armenian-Yazidi brotherhood such as an intertwined Armenian khachkar (cross) and sun.

That sense of fraternity often appears to work the other way, too. The Armenian parliament currently is reviewing a draft document on recognizing the Sinjar massacre as genocide.

Relations with the Armenian Apostolic Church, the country’s majority faith, are friendly. The Church’s patriarch, Catholicos Karekin II, and senior clergy attended the dedication of the monuments to Armenian-Yazidi brotherhood.

The new Yazidi temple’s architect is, in fact, better known for his work on Armenian Apostolic churches. Artak Ghulian designed Moscow’s new Armenian cathedral, and has built over 20 churches for many of Armenia’s big names, including a cathedral in Abovian financed by oligarch and politician Gagik Tsarukian.

Ghulian could not be reached for comment, although temple sponsor Sloian wrote in a 2015 book that the new temple’s style is inspired by the shrine at Lalish, the holiest of over 360 Yazidi shrines in northern Iraq.

Impressive though it will be, Quba Mere Diwane is not intended to overshadow Iraq’s historic Yazidi temples, stressed the Yazidi National Union’s Hajoian. “There will only ever be one Lalish,” he added. Sheikh Jendi Jendoian, a local religious leader from Artashar village, agreed that Lalish would always remain the holiest site for Yazidis.

Maxim Edwards is a writer and commissioning editor at openDemocracy Russia (oDR). He covers nationalism, minorities, and memory, with a focus on post-Soviet states.


Divided, oppressed and abandoned The Yazidis are still struggling to survive

L IKE A PICTURE of purity in white robes, white shoes and a white turban, Ali Iliyas emerged from a candle-lit sanctum. He had just been inaugurated as the new Baba Sheikh, or spiritual leader of the Yazidis, on November 18th. Believers gathered at Lalish, a temple in Iraqi Kurdistan, banging drums and tootling flutes to celebrate.

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But behind the scenes an unholy row is blazing between Yazidi leaders. The Asayish, or Kurdish police, had to intervene after scuffles broke out at a gathering to announce the new leader. Many Yazidi elders boycotted the temple ceremony. For the first time in its history, the esoteric Yazidi religion faces a schism.

Six years ago Western armies saved the Yazidis from Islamic State (IS). The jihadists killed 5,000 of their men and enslaved 5,000-7,000 of their women, mostly to rape. The genocide caused many Yazidis, who number perhaps 1m, to flee abroad. Inside Iraq new pressures are tearing the group apart.

Some Yazidis see themselves as part of the larger Kurdish community and have aligned themselves with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which rules Kurdistan. But others blame the KDP for not stopping IS. They objected when Mir Hazim Tahsin Beg, a former KDP parliamentarian, was chosen as head of the Yazidis’ spiritual council last year, believing he does the party’s bidding. Nevertheless, it was Mir Hazim who chose the Baba Sheikh.

Many of the disgruntled Yazidis hail from Sinjar, home to a mountain the Yazidis consider holy (see map). Shia militias, the Iraqi army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which fights for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey, hold sway in the area—not the KDP. A number of Yazidis went to Baghdad in October to meet the prime minister and to protest against Mir Hazim. “He rules like a dictator,” says one of them. Elders within this faction are trying to set up a more representative authority.

Many Muslims consider Yazidis to be devil-worshippers. The peacock etched on their buildings represents Lucifer, the angel cast from heaven—though in the Yazidi telling he is Malik Taous and has been restored to grace. In the summer Turkey, the region’s most powerful Sunni state, bombed Sinjar, claiming the Yazidis had teamed up with the PKK, which Turkey considers a terrorist group. In the Turkish-held province of Afrin in Syria, militants have driven Yazidis from their homes and defaced their shrines.

About 40% of Yazidis are thought to have fled to the West. Isolated and cut off from their homeland, many lose their religion. Yazidi elders oppose writing oral traditions down or putting them online. Meanwhile, they rigidly uphold a ban on marrying out. Some children born of Yazidi women raped by IS members are put out of the flock. Other strictures—such as the insistence on marrying inside the Yazidis’ caste system—are impractical among tiny communities abroad. Falling short, many give up altogether. It is common to see Yazidis abroad wearing blue clothes, which is taboo back home.

A little bit of liberalism could solve a lot of these problems. The opponents of Mir Hazim might be satisfied if he accepted a broader and more consultative council. Yazidi elders could ease up on those rules that are all but impossible to follow—and they could start writing things down. Many Yazidis want other countries to help rebuild Sinjar and guarantee their protection. But they are not holding their breath. They cite 74 massacres in their history—and expect to keep counting. ■

This article appeared in the Middle East & Africa section of the print edition under the headline "Divided, oppressed and abandoned"


Three small churches—and beyond

Beyond the three big conservation projects getting underway, many smaller buildings outside of Mosul require attention. During phase one of the MHSP, which took place in late 2018 and early 2019, Zettler and Danti had conducted condition assessments of more than 50 sites in and around Mosul, then supplied a priority list to the State Department.

They recently learned they received approval to start restoration on three churches: One is a Syriac Orthodox church called the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus in the town of Qaraqosh south of Mosul. The second and third are both Chaldean Catholic churches, one called the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Tell Keyf, between Mosul and Batnaya, and the other, the Church of Saint Cyricus in the town of Batnaya.

“When we visited Batnaya in April, it was a ghost town,” Zettler says. “Now the United Nations Development Programme and USAID are beginning to restore houses and the town’s water and electricity. Former inhabitants are beginning to return. Restoring the town’s main church, we hope, will also help to draw the population back.”

That’s ultimately the goal of all three smaller projects, and many more the Penn teams hopes will follow. “Christian populations are reluctant to return. Just like after World War II in Europe, there was a lot of population flux,” Danti says. “Yes, we [are] preserving very old churches, but we’re really hoping they’ll become functioning parts of the community again.”

In some cases, that will work in others, it won’t, partially because it’s not what the community desires. Over the next months and years, all of that will unfold as Zettler, Danti, and colleagues meet with key stakeholders to understand what’s important to each community and these cultural heritage sites.

Ultimately, it’s a cooperative effort between parties who all have a stake in returning these treasures to their original states. “ISIS sought to divide these communities,” Danti says. “But we’re seeing them all work together to try to reestablish themselves. Not everything is rosy, but the people we’re working with, most of them just want to get back to their lives. It’s been a long time.”

Funding for the Mosul Heritage Stabilization Program comes from a Department of State Cooperative Agreement, S-NEAAC-18-CA-0043, under the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, as well as from the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas

Michael Danti is project manager for the Mosul Heritage Stabilization Program and a consulting scholar in Penn Museum’s Near East Section. He is also academic director of the American Schools of Oriental Research Cultural Heritage Initiatives.

Homepage Photo: A group of people observe the ruins of Beit al-Tutunji, an Ottoman-era house built for an Ottoman governor of Mosul in the early 19th century, then subsequently occupied by a prominent Mosul family with the surname Tutunji—which means “tobacco merchant” in Arabic—hence how it’s known today. (Image: Allison E. Cuneo)


Watch the video: Long-persecuted Yazidis open worlds largest temple. AFP