Yezidis - History and Cultural Relations

According to tradition, the Yezidis originated in Syria, in the vicinity of Basra, and later migrated into the Sindjar region of Iraqi Kurdistan, where they adopted the Kurdish language. Some Kurdish scholars hold that Yezidism was the national religion of the Kurds in the Middle Ages. The religion is believed to have been founded by Shaahid ibn Djarraah, the true son of Adam, and later restored by the caliph Yazîd ibn Mu'âwaiya (although there is no evidence that this latter individual was ever associated with the sect claimed by some to bear his name). Another semilegendary figure revered by the Yezidis is the Sufi Sheikh ʿAdî ibn Musâfir (died c. 1162), who they believe was sent by the Peacock Angel (see "Religious Beliefs") to educate and guide the Yezidis. His tomb near Mosul in northern Iraq is the most important site of pilgrimage in the Yezidi religion.

Throughout their history the Yezidis have been subject to persecution by their Muslim and Christian neighbors. The Muslims do not regard the Yezidis as a "People of the Book," and some have even considered them to be a heretic Muslim sect. This belief, along with their refusal to enter the military service, has at times been used by hostile governments to justify attempts at forced conversion and even extermination of the Yezidis. Several waves of religious persecution in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries drove Yezidi populations into Transcaucasia. In general, the Yezidis have enjoyed more amicable relations with Christians than with Muslims (including Muslim Kurds). A particularly close tie has evolved between the Yezidis and the Armenians, their fellow sufferers in many persecutions on Ottoman territory. By the 1830s many Yezidi tribespeople were being allowed to settle in the province of Yerevan. The largest waves of migration were subsequent to the Russo-Turkish conflicts of 1853-1856, 1877-1878, and 1914-1918. Most of these Yezidi newcomers settled in Armenia; a smaller proportion of them continued on into Georgia. The 1877 census counted 8,000 Yezidis in the province of Yerevan, and over twice that many were recorded in 1912. By 1916 nearly 5,000 Yezidis were living in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Subsequent to the rectification of the frontier between the USSR and Turkey in 1921, the Yezidis in the Surmaly District were resettled in villages near Mt. Aragats (northwest of Yerevan), which had been abandoned by Muslim Kurds and Turks.

literacy. In the past most of the Kurds of Transcaucasia were illiterate. In the case of the Yezidis, according to some accounts, the laity was forbidden, or in any event discouraged, from learning to read and write. Even most of the clergy was functionally illiterate until the twentieth century, when the Soviet government established a system of universal education.

Cultural Relations. The Yezidis have a relatively good reputation within Armenia. In urban areas, their socioeconomic status is a bit lower than that of Armenians, although assimilated Yezidis are accepted as the equals of members of the majority population. The social world of rural Yezidis is somewhat separate from their Armenian neighbors, however, because of the strict Yezidi caste system. In general, the economic role of the Yezidis is respected, and there is no interethnic conflict or hostility.

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