Tribes and Tribalism: Yazidis

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Kurdish tribe.

A Kurdish tribal group of nomadic clans numbering 60,000 to 70,000 persons indigenous to the area of northern Iraq (Mosul) and eastern Turkey (Diyarbekir), they practice a heterodox religion incorporating Islamic, Christian, Jewish, and pagan elements. These include baptism, dualism, the prohibition of certain foods, circumcision, fasting, pilgrimage, interpretation of dreams, and transmigration of souls. Though they possess two sacred booksKitab al-Jilwa (Book of revelation) and Mashaf Rash (Black book)written in Arabic, they are not accorded the status of Ahl al-Kitab (protected minority status).

The Yazidis (the name does not seem to be related to Yazid but probably to the Persian word ized or angel) refer to themselves as Dasin or Dawasin (possibly from the name of an old Nestorian diocese). They believe themselves to be a unique people; not, for instance, descended directly from Adam and Eve like the rest of humanity. They practice a form of dualism between God and the peacock angel, with whom Shaykh Adi (to whose tomb annual devotional pilgrimages are made) was united through transmigration. Figures of peacocks made of bronze or iron are ritual devotional objects. There is a hierarchy of clerics, tribal shaykhs, and lesser priests, headed by a religious chief shaykh and a lay leader, Mirza Beg.

Pejoratively labeled "devil worshipers" or associated with the Caliph Yazid, they were branded as heretics, and numerous unsuccessful attempts by Turks and Kurds were made to convert or completely annihilate them.


Held, Colbert C. Middle East Patterns: Places, Peoples, and Politics, 3d edition. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1994.

reeva s. simon