by Ezster Spat
Little is known about these ancient enigmatic Kurdish mountain people, considered one of the oldest ethnicities in the Middle East, and often unjustly derided as 'devil-worshippers'. Since 2002, and despite the political upheavals in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the Yezidis largely reside, Eszter Spat has made repeated visits to the region to live in their midst, observing and recording their ways of life. The result is amongst the first detailed surveys of Yezidi culture to appear in English. Distinct from the majority Sunni Muslim Kurds, the Yezidis' religion evolved through a curious fusion of Sufism with earlier religious beliefs indigenous to the region, including Zoroastrian, Jewish, Gnostic and Christian motifs. They are monotheists, but attribute a prominent place to their protector, the Peacock Angel, traditionally identified with Satan by Muslims. In Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the Yezidis' resolutely traditional culture endured radical changes including forced resettlement, geographical isolation and the political fallout from two Gulf wars. More recently, Spat shows, the pervasive influence of modern media culture is having possibly further-reaching effects. Proud to be known as 'the original Kurds', the Yezidis have also long supported the creation of an independent Kurdistan. The author has been privileged with very rare access to some of Yezidi culture's holiest sites and rituals. Together with an insightful analysis of Yezidi practices and beliefs, Spat documents the increasing demands of modernisation on one of the oldest ethnic minorities of the Middle East, which continues to endure despite many attempts at eradication over the centuries.