Identification. The Yezidis are a Kurdish-speaking people practicing a distinctive religion, neither Christian nor Muslim. They physically resemble the Muslim Kurds and the Armenians of the Lake Van region, although they consider themselves a separate people. (Some Yezidis, indeed, take umbrage at being referred to as "Kurds.") Some scholars believe that they may represent the remnants of the ancient Iraqi population.
Location. Most of the Yezidis dwell in five districts: (1) Sheihan, the most important, to the northeast of Mosul in northern Iraq; (2) Jabal Sinjar, near the Syrian border, 100 kilometers due west of Mosul; (3) Halitiyeh, in the province of Diyarbakïr (southeastern Turkey); (4) Malliyah, to the west of the Euphrates, including Aleppo; (5) Sarahdar, the Yezidi settlements in the Caucasus region. The vast majority of Yezidis in the former USSR live in Armenia and Georgia. Urban centers with significant Yezidi populations include Leninakan, Etchmiadzin, and Tbilisi. There are also communities in Aparan and Talin (Armenia) and Lachin and Kelbajar (western Azerbaijan). There are a few small communities in Turkmenistan, which arrived with Kurds from Iran in the twentieth century.
Demography. According to the 1926 census, the total population of Yezidi Kurds in the USSR was 14,523, of which 12,237 lived in Armenia. The Yezidis then comprised 80 percent of the Kurdish-speaking population of Armenia and 22 percent of that of Georgia. The subsequent Soviet censuses did not distinguish between the Yezidis and the Kurds. A census conducted in 1989 counted a Yezidi population of 51,900 in Armenia. There are as of yet no comparable figures for other republics of the former USSR. The Yezidi population in the former USSR was estimated at around 25,000 in 1980.
Linguistic Affiliation. Almost all of the Yezidis speak Kurdish dialects similar to the Kurmandz dialect of most Soviet Kurds. The Kurdish language belongs to the Northwestern Subgroup of the Iranian Group of the Indo-European Family.