Christians of Iraq
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Beleaguered Yazidi find peace high in Iraq's northern mountains
by Paul Schemm
Oct 13, 06
LALESH, Iraq (AFP) - A mysterious figure, swathed in black, emerged from the ancient temple and began a slow circuit around the sacred fires, followed by white robedreligious 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 stigmatized as "devil worshippers" by their Muslim and Christian neighbors -- have suffered much from Iraq's current turmoil.
A Yazidi woman(BackR) kisses
the door of the Lalesh temple
situated in a valley near...
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 this year, was the ritual sacrifice of a bull, an ancient custom celebrating the harvest and ensuring winter rains that can be dated back more than 2,000 years to the cult of Mithras.
"Some experts call us the museum of eastern religions," said Khider Domle, a well known journalist who works at the Yazidi Cultural Center in Dohuk.
"This is because you can see Islam in there, Christianity in there, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Mithraism -- you can see everything in the Yazidi religion."
The Yazidis believe in God the creator and respect Bilical and Koranic prophets, especially Abraham, but their main focus of worship is Malak Taus, the chief of the archangels, often represented by a peacock.
Inside the dark temple, sharp with the smell of oil lamps, pilgrims tie knots in colorful cloths wrapped around the pillars and silently mouth prayers, before paying their respects to the tombs in the seven-room complex.
Outside, mothers bring their newborns to be baptized at the Kaniya Sipi or "White Spring," where the sudden dribble of water elicits squawks of outrage from the surprised infants.
Once the religious observances are done, most people spend a few days just catching up with old friends from far away villages.
"We come first for the pilgrimage, of course," said Mustafa Danani, just outside the temple with his wife and daughters. "But secondly for the friends and to see relatives."
"We feel like one family, and if two friends have a problem, they would come here to work it out," he said.
Danani will be going home following the sunset prayer, but many people stay for a few days and sleep outside during the crisp autumn nights.
On the day of the Sama ceremony, white-clad boys and girls filled the square in front of the temple and recited prayers. They came from a newly opened Yazidi religious school, the first of its kind in over four decades.
"There is the sun and moon in the sky and like the planets there are seven angels in heaven and they are respected by God," said Baba Sheikh Khurto Hajji Ismail, the religious leader of the community.
"Malak Taus is one of them. He is an angel," said the bearded old man. "The other angels asked him, 'why don't you bow before Adam and Eve,' and he said, 'Adam is made of mud and we are angels formed of the spiritual light.'"
Unfortunately for Yazidis, in the other revealed religions, the chief of the angels was cast out of heaven and was known as Lucifer -- which gave rise to the claim the Yazidis worship the devil -- something they hotly dispute.
The finer points of religious differences are lost on the Sunni extremists that have come to many of the Yazidi areas, and their intolerance has led to hundreds of families fleeing cities like Mosul.
One victim was Marwan Khalil Murad, who worked as a project director for international aid organizations and once hosted 20 Americans in his home in Sinjar on the Syrian border. Afterwards, he was shot and wounded.
"The Yazidis feel they don't have any real friends," he said.
"The Turkmen have Turkey. The Sunnis have many countries. The Shia have many countries, but who would help the Yazidis if they needed it? I think the Christians will one day help us," he added.
One group that would like to help is the Kurdish regional government, which has gone out of its way to woo the Yazidis, who are ethnically Kurdish and speak the same language as their largely Muslim neighbours.
Many Yazidis live in areas around Mosul that the Kurds would like to see incorporated into their autonomous region in a referendum set for 2007 and they have been careful to support Yazidi religious rights in their new constitution.
"We still have a few demands for the regional government and would like them fulfilled," said Amir Tahsin Said Beg, the secular leader of the Yazidi community. "We are Kurds and we dwell in the region of Kurdistan."
Murad, however, is cautious and notes the persistence of prejudice.
"The Kurds won't eat from the same dish as us. How can we be good friends if you don't eat my food?" he asked.
Tishrin 1 = October
Beleaguered Yazidi find peace high in Iraq's northern mountains Oct. 14, 06
Iraq priest 'killed over pope's speech' Oct. 13, 06
Prominent Assyrian Priest Beheaded Oct. 12, 06
Who Will Remember the Assyrian Genocide? Oct. 11, 06
Traditional Assyrian Costumes Oct. 9, 06
Organisation and Substitutionism Oct. 8, 06
A Nation Without a Country Oct. 8, 06
Terror campaign targets Christians of Iraq Oct. 6, 06
\FIRST-PERSON: Assyrian haircut Oct. 5, 06
Two Iranian Christians arrested in Mashad. Oct. 4, 06
Ealool = September
Violence Against Christians Grows in Iraq Sept. 29, 06
Nenveh Essa, 21, studied accounting, Dies in Car Accident Sept. 27, 06
Kurds and Arabs Vie for Control of Mosul Sept. 26, 06
Iraq ensnared in quest to escape Arab politics Sept. 25, 06
Two Assyrian churches attacked in Mosul and Baghdad Sept. 25, 06
Tense Time for Christians in Iraq Sep. 24, 06
Assyrian Police Officer Murdered in Mosul Sept. 24, 06
Muslims react to the speech of Pope Benedict XVI Sept. 20, 06
Iraq: International Religious Freedom Report 2006 Sept. 19, 06
Fear Strikes Iraq's Christians Over Pope Words Sept. 19, 06
Assyrian Cultural Day Sept. 19, 06
When Iraqi Christians Vanish, Locals Pay the Price Sept. 18, 06
Dozens Dead in Kirkuk Bombings Sept. 17, 06
Book Exhibit in Baghdeda Iraq Sept. 17, 06
'I Felt God Was With Me,' Says Released Assyrian Priest' Sept. 15, 06
Two Assyrians Killed in Separate Terrorist Attacks Sept. 15, 06
Two Assyrians Killed in Separate Terrorist Attacks Sept. 14, 06
Kirkuk: The potential spark for civil war Sept. 14, 06
Sabri Atman in Sweden Sept. 14, 06
Assyrian Candidate Gains Republican Endorsement Sept. 13, 06
Priest Kidnapped in Baghdad Released Sept. 12, 06
Rosie Malek - Younan; The Assyrian Woman of the Year Sept. 10, 06
A Feast Awaits At Annual Assyrian Festival Sept. 6, 06
Turkey's terror against Christians in Midyat Sept. 4, 06
Syria; Sanctuary for Iraq's Displaced Christians Sept. 3, 06
August = Tubbakh
Assyrians: from Bebar Khan to Saddam Hussein (a new book) August 28, 06
A New Film by Lina Yakubova August 27, 06
PM Maliki urges tribal unity in Iraq August 27, 06
Iraqi Christians Caught in the Crossfire August 23, 06
Iraqi Christians on Edge After Priest's Kidnapping August 23, 06
The Secrets Of Mustafa Barzani In KGB Archives August 23, 06
Pope urges release of priest in Iraq August 20, 06
Heading Toward an (Inevitable) War in Kirkuk August 20, 06
TWO CHALDEAN PRIESTS KIDNAPPED IN BAGHDAD August 18, 06
Confiscation of the Assyrian villages by the Kurds August 18, 06
The Kurdish Democratic Experiment: an Assyrian Tragedy August 17, 06
Lebanese Bishops Call for Single National Leadership August 16, 06
Lebanese Cardinal Concerned About Christian Exodus August 16, 06
In Turkey non Muslims are listed as Foreigners August 14, 06
Murdered Assyrians in Iraq in August August 14, 06
Why Can't A Christian Be More Like A Muslim? Revisited August 13, 06
Peter W. Galbraith's 'The End of Iraq' August 12, 06
Babylon the Great lives August 12, 06
We Don't Want a Proxy War in Lebanon:' Cardinal Sfeir August 10, 06
Go-ahead for dam that will drown history August 9, 06
750,000 Christians Caught in Middle East Crossfire August 8, 06
Arabist Indoctrination At Middlebury College August 8, 06
Middle-Eastern conference: from worship to ‘reunion’ August 8, 06
Family Pays Ransom in Iraqi Kidnapping August 7, 06
June, July 06