They are spoken of in whispers; the shadowy and little-known "devil-worshippers" who pay homage to Satan in secret rites held in the mountains of Central Asia. Fragments of their tradition have come down to us from adventurers who have dared to travel to their inaccessible homes, tales of Melek Taus, the "peacock angel" who rules over this world and over his children, the Yezidis. As with most things, the truth is both more and less interesting than the legend. The Yezidi are not "devil worshippers" at all. Much as Cuban Lukumi has incorporated African traditional practices and Roman Catholicism into a unique melange, the Yezidis combine Mithraism, Zorastrianism, Christianity, Gnosticism and Sufi Islam with ancient Persian folk beliefs. As many as 1 million Yezidi remain in Iraq, most around their holy city of Lailash. There they continue in their traditions… and continue to incur suspicion and misunderstanding from their neighbors.
Q'uranic scholars consider the Yezidi heretics; under most interpretations of Sha'aria (Q'uranic Law) they are not entitled to the toleration afforded to "People of the Book" (i.e. Christians and Jews). Instead, they are to be slain as blasphemers who have set other gods beside Allah. Christians have long believed that the Yezidi were devil worshippers; the Shi'ites have linked them to the Caliph Yazid, murderer of Husayn and one of the most hated figures in the Shi'ite pantheon. The Yezidi refuse to utter the word "Satan," since they believe it is an insult aimed at Melek Taus, and their name most likely comes from "Yazad," an ancient Persian word for "angel." The Yezidi believe Melek Taus is ruler and creator of the material world," left in charge after God lost interest in dealing with the universe and its various complications. They follow numerous taboos; they will not eat lettuce, wear blue clothing, spit on the earth, or drink water in such a way that it makes a gurgling noise. As in Zoroastrianism, fire is revered; Melek Taus is frequently compared with fire, which can both warm and burn.
The Yezidi are ethnic Kurds, but that has not endeared them to their Kurdish neighbors. There is a long history of intertribal squabbling among the Kurds: traditionally they have united to wage war against an invader and then, when that invader is repelled, returned to fighting amongst themselves. The Yezidis, who claim to have preserved the ancient Kurdish religion, have set themselves apart from other Kurds. One is born a Yezidi; there is no conversion into Yezidism, nor is intermarriage permitted between Yezidis and Moslem or Christian Kurds. Moslem Kurds have been among the first to attack Yezidi Kurds, and
These niceties were lost on Sadaam Hussein, who made no distinction between Kurds and subjected all of them to brutal genocidal attacks and forced "Arabization." Under this policy land belonging to Kurds was confiscated and redistributed to Arab supporters of the Hussein government. Kurds were forbidden from using their language in public or, in the case of the Yezidis, from teaching their religion. Thousands of villages were depopulated, their residents sent into refugee camps after being given new identity cards with Arabic names and a declared "Arabic" ethnicity.
It is unclear what the future will hold for the Yezidis in a postwar Iraq. Yezidi leaders are hoping for a democratic, multiparty society which will allow them full participation - or at least leave them in peace. They are horrified at Iraqi and Kurdish flirtation with Islamic fundamentalism, and with good reason: Over the last 200 years, in some 70 campaigns to decimate or destroy the Yezidi population, over 500,000 Yezidi have been killed, over 50,000 Yezidi woman and girls raped and over 3 million Yezidi forcibly converted to Islam. Should Iraq become an Islamic state, the Yezidi are likely to be victims of yet another pogrom. Most of the Yezidi - and most other minorities, like the Assyrians and Turcomen, who live in the Kurdish zone - are in favor of a Kurdish zone within an Iraqi federalist system (something like the Soviet Republics). This will grant them autonomy as Kurds, while at the same time taking steps to ensure the survival of their unique culture and to protect them from their less tolerant brethren.