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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. The Yezidis, as a result, have historically been labelled heretics and mercilessly persecuted; thus their self-willed isolation, which has led to the development of a unique culture and caste system.
This traditional culture underwent radical changes in the 1970s and again in 1992, with, respectively, the forced resettlement into collective villages and the establishment of the Autonomous Kurdish Region, which divided the community in two. Along with her enquiry into the meaning and manner of their practices, Spat takes note of the increasing demands of modernisation and the shifting balance of power in the region, and also observes the stirrings of inner strife in an otherwise tough, resilient community that has endured continuous attempts at eradication over centuries.
Eszter Spat is a Hungarian academic and specialist in Yezidi history and culture.