Who are the Yazidi, and why does IS want them dead?

Yezidi at shrine in Lalish

One of the minorities in the gunsights of IS has been the Yazidi people. It was the harrowing story of their retreat up Mt Sinjar that helped galvanise world opinion for the new intervention in Iraq which Australia has joined. But who are they?

- Huffington Post

Sunni and Shi'a have attacked them in the past. Now, Islamic State fighters are attacking the Yazidi people in Iraq. 

Historically, the Yazidis are a religious minority of the Kurds. They are said to have existed since 2000 BC. Estimates of the number of Yazidis vary between 100,000 and 800,000, the latter being the claim of their website. According to the same site, Yazidi refugees in Germany number 30,000.

Researchers believe that the Yazidi religion has elements from Zoroastrianism, Manicheism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The Yazidis call themselves Dasin, not Yazidi. The term "Yazidism" comes from the Persian word "īzed", "angel". The name Yazidism is connected to the 6th caliph, Yazid (680-83), who, from Shi'a point of view, is one of world history's most hated men, and is highly disliked by most Sunnis, as well. There is little evidence to show what role, if any, Yazid played in the founding or development of Yazidism.

The Yazidis don't call themselves Yazidis and they're not attached to the 6th Caliph. That hasn't stopped the Sunni and Shi'a from hating them for the name they don't call themselves, as well as for the rumours that they worship the devil.

What are their true beliefs?

In the Yazidi -- or more correctly, Dasin -- world view, God created the world, which is now in the care of a Heptad of seven Holy Beings, often known as Angels or heft sirr (the Seven Mysteries). Preeminent among these is Melek Taus (Tawûsê Melek in Kurdish), the Peacock Angel, who is equated with Satan or Devil by some Muslims and Christians because of a similarity in a name.

"The reason for the Yazidis reputation of being devil worshipers, is connected to the other name of Melek Taus, Shaytan, the same name as the Koran's for Satan."

According to the Kurdish linguist, Jamal Nebez, the word Taus is most probably derived from the Greek and is related to the words Zeus and Theos, alluding to the meaning of God.

In the Yazidi religion, God stands above all, but only as a creator, not as a current force. Divine power is represented by Shaykh Adii, the benevolent deity and Malak Ta'us, the peacock angel who once fell into disgrace, but then repented with seven jars of tears collected over 7,000 years that were used to extinguish the fires of hell.

There are six minor deities. The two listed above are the focus of their theology, which looks to heaven, but no longer believes in hell, as it is seen as a uneventful place since the fires were put out.

Read full article: Who Are the Yazidi? (Huffington Post)

RELATED

In pictures: Yezidi Kurds (BBC)

LISTEN:

Trapped: Yezidis and Christians in Iraq (The Spirit of Things, ABC Radio National)

IMAGE: Yezidi at shrine in Lalish, Iraq (ABC/Christine De Bryun)

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