Thursday, October 26, 2006
Iraq’s Yazidis Find Peace
By Paul Schemm - LALESH, Iraq
A mysterious figure, swathed in black, emerged from the ancient temple and began a slow circuit around the sacred fires, followed by white-robed religious elders. The crowd pressed forward, calling out praise to the peacock angel, kissing their hands and touching their foreheads as the figure passed.
High in the mountains of northern Iraq, in the village of Lalesh, 13 elders of the small Yazidi religion circled the fires seven times, in the first performance of their Sama ceremony since the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Iraq's Yazidi minority - long unfairly stigmatised as "devil worshippers" by their Muslim and Christian neighbors - have suffered much from Iraq's current turmoil. The half-million-strong community is caught between the intolerance of Sunni extremists, who want to drive them out of their lands, and the ambition of the Kurdish regional government, which wants to co-opt their votes. Sunni Muslim militants in northern Iraqi towns like Sinjar, Mosul and Tall Afar have tried to force the Yazidis out.
In the three years since the invasion, the violence has kept many Yazidis away from annual festivals like the seven day Eid al-Jamma (Feast of Assembly) that ended on Thursday.
This year, however, the elders decided to hold the Sama ceremony, which experts believe probably has its roots in the millennia-old Vedic fire ceremonies of Eurasia's Aryan tribes.
As some 3,000 Yazidis from all over northern Iraq, as well as Turkey, Germany and Georgia thronged Lalesh, Iraq's ongoing violence seemed far away.
Families found places on the terraces scattered around the hillsides and were soon brewing tea for visitors and preparing picnic lunches under a brilliant blue sky and warm sun.
Every Yazidi must, at some point in life, make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Sheikh Adi bin Mussafir, a 12th century holy man, who laid down many of the ceremonies of the Yazidis.
The black-robed figure circling the flame represents the sheikh guiding his community around the sky and the four corners of the earth. The only ceremony that didn't take place