The Yezidi in Syria

The Yezidi are a Kurdish religious minority that live in the transnational Kurdish region in Syria, Southeastern Turkey, Armenia, in the Kurdish heartland of Northern Iraq, and in diaspora communities, particularly in Germany. Yezidi beliefs are a syncretic blend of Islamic ‘Adawiyya Sufism, pre-Islamic Kurdish religion, and Zoroastrianism, strongly influenced by the 12th century Sufi mystic Sheikh ‘Adi ibn Musafir (d. 1160/1162). Sheikh ‘Adi’s burial site in Lalish, Iraq, is Yazidism’s primary pilgrimage site. The Yezidis are a closely-knit community that stresses endogamy and a prohibition against conversion.

Yezidis have been persecuted by Arab and Kurdish Sunni Muslims for their perceived heretical belief system. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Yezidis had political prominence in the Kurdish region but it weakened with the rise of the Ottoman and Persian Safavid Empires in the 16th and 17th centuries, during which period many Yezidis converted to Sunni Islam. Yezidis fled Ottoman persecution to Armenia in the early 19th century. In 1849, the Yezidi received protection under Ottoman law which henceforth considered them as Ahl al-Kitaab, members of an Abrahamic faith.

There are an estimated 15,000 Yezidis in Syria. The contemporary Syrian government categorizes Yezidis as Muslim, though Yezidis do not see themselves as such.

Sources:

Christine Allison, “Yezidis,” Enclopedia Iranica, July 20, 2004, accessed June 5, 2012.

Philip Kreyenbroek and Khalil Rashor, God and Sheikh Adi are Perfect: Sacred Poems and Religious Narratives from the Yezidi Tradition. (Wiesbaden: Hassarowitz Verlag, 2005).

See also: Syria