A Special Case in a World which Is no Longer Like That Kurdistan

A Special Case in a World which Is no Longer Like That Kurdistan: A Bouquet of Colors of the Spectrum

Wherever you go along the roads of Kurdistan, poetry pursues you and astonishment follows you. You are in a world that sings while it fights, that writes poetry with the end of a rifle moving from the summit of one mountain to another summit. In Kurdistan you will find all the colors of the spectrum, and everything that a person believes is extremely strange: wisdom, superstitions, sects and creeds, a strong embracing of life, and a stronger clinging to the idea of death, acts of worship, religions, rituals and spells which to not allow one the opportunity to overlook them. It is a society mixed with magic, legends and weirdness. A visitor cannot help being surprised, and can only let himself take the risk of being astonished the astonishment of someone standing at the edge of the moment which separates death from life. In Kurdistan for decades, maybe centuries, the sorrows of departure and the joys of meeting, the pains of loss and the delights of reunion have embraced each other. All the contradictions, differences and creeds coexist in an amazing harmony that can seldom be found in any other spot. It is a special situation at a time which has come to lose its special character.

I still cannot forget the sight of the Kurdish woman who was sitting at the foot of a mountain in the morning frost. She put her hand on her cheek, and her gaze was turned towards the ground. She was the only person in that wilderness. That day my colleague the photographer and I had set out at five o'clock in the morning, when darkness still enshrouded the town of Sulaimaniya where we were staying at the hotel Ashty (which in Kurdish means peace, heading for Jamjamal district which contains dozens of villages inhabited by Kurds who had been deported from their original villages

After an hour we arrived at the outskirts of the area we were heading for. Our attention was attracted, with the beginnings of the threads of the setting sun, by lights sparkling. They were the woman's bright colored clothes, which were reflecting the light of the declining sun.

She was alone, there was no one else in that vast area. We headed over to her, appalled at her sitting in the open air of that cold winter's day in Kurdistan. I asked what made her sit like that alone. She replied dejectedly, after removing her hand from her cheek, I am waiting for death. I wait for it every day. This reply shocked us.

Will death come to this place specifically? I asked And at this bitterly cold hour?

Her dejection increased. "For days I have been coming here from midnight until morning, waiting for it, but it hasn't come yet. Do you know where it is?"

It was as if she was asking about a loved one. O God! What questions were these and what answers? If anyone told me such a story, I would never have believed him. But it was Kurdistan, where everything difficult to believe happens, and where wisdom and proverbs are vindicated by tragedies and everyone repeats them to coincide with all the details of their lives. It is live when it becomes harsh for people, wise sayings and admonitions pour forth from their mouths and sermons come out.

And why are you looking for death? I asked her.

When 11 of my men have been killed," she replied with deep sorrow, including my husband, a son and a brother in front of my own eyes, and I have become alone, what remains for me to live for?"

That was a shocking beginning for us. But our tour subsequently in the Jamjamal district made us say that this woman s situation was the least harsh of what we saw with our own eyes, heard with our own ears, and came into close contact with.

Ibrahim Al-Khalil

From Dahuk we took the road to Ibrahim Al-Khalil, a border crossing point which became famous for oil smuggling. But our purpose in going there was to see the place where the Kurds say the father of the Prophets, Abraham (peace be upon him) was buried. That is what gave this border crossing point between Turkey and Iraq its name.

All along the road which we traveled before reaching the town of Zakho, which is one of a network of good roads which extend over the length and breadth of the Kurdish areas and which have twice been resurfaced within a period of less than eight years, a long, apparently endless, line of oil tanker trucks was proceeding slowly. Spots of oil were shining on the asphalt of the road at noon, which would turn any small error by a driver a into fatal risk. This road is sprinkled with sand in winter, to prevent the trucks skidding. The sides are littered with stones from villages which were destroyed in the infamous anfal campaign in 1987 and 1988, in which 4,200 villages were removed from the face of the earth.

When we asked Dr. Kamal Fuad, a leading official in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan whom we met one evening in Sulaimaniya, How did you preserve your identity and your particular characteristics as a people in confronting the expulsion, deportation and extermination campaigns? he told us, This is a continuous operation which has historical and geographical dimensions, because Kurdistan has been exposed to invasions in the past, but some mountain strongholds remained, which no invading force or any state could penetrate. Thus a refuge remained for the Kurds. Fortunately in the past there was no one who used chemical weapons or advanced weapons, otherwise those invaders could have destroyed us.

Throughout their history the Kurds used to withdraw to the mountainous areas and fortify themselves in them. There they were able to preserve their national characteristics. Experiences have accumulated since past centuries, and the Kurdish people have acquired a national consciousness, through which they have been able to defend their identity and themselves, because they were defending their lives and their existence.

Since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, nationalist ideas have been growing among the Kurds, and many poets emerged who wrote patriotic poems with a developed nationalist consciousness. For example, we have the poet Ahmadi Khani, who lived from 1651 to 1707. This poet wrote the epic Mim and Zayn, in which he related a romantic love story, but full of patriotic spirit and nationalism. In this great work he criticizes the Kurds, and wonders why we are without a state, and why we do have a king or a president like other countries of the world. In this epic he pours all his anger onto his Kurdish people because its individuals are not united.

Nationalist ideas had begun to grow among the Kurdish masses. A hundred years ago a Kurdish Amir wrote a book about the history of the Kurds. It has been translated into Arabic. For an Amir in a Kurdish region to think of writing a book like this indicates that nationalist consciousness is there.

I can say that the Kurdish people are much older than the current of nationalist consciousness that has appeared among them and which dates back about four centuries," Dr. Kamal Fuad added. "A researcher can confirm that the Kurdish people were able to preserve their national characteristics at that time. And after the resurgence of nationalist consciousness, it has become extremely difficult for any invading force to destroy them.

We have passed through various periods since the arrival of Hulagu, when he

invaded the whole of the Levant. All the small peoples were threatened with extermination. At that time the geographical situation helped us, but after the resurgence of nationalist consciousness the geographical remained. But political consciousness and nationalist consciousness helped us to preserve our national characteristics, and we have been able to survive up to now and get through the phases, although they were difficult. Now we feel that we have really got through the most difficult phase.

A Cohesive Pluralism

Throughout our long journey along this road, dozens of scarecrows were standing in the dry fields. Our visit to Kurdistan coincided with a fierce wave of drought which turned its trees into black wooden sticks. But these scarecrows, a round which there was nothing for them to guard, intensified our apprehensions about security, until the road brought us to the border town of Zakho. There we noticed the building of a military college to graduate regular officers. It was militarization everywhere, as if tranquillity has no abode without a clear vision of weapons.

Before entering Kili Zakho , the defile of Zakho according to our companion white-colored mosques with small domes and thin green minarets were scattered around, indicating the religious situation in a region where the great majority of the inhabitants believe in Islam. The larger number belong to the Sunna, specifically the Shafii denomination, at the same time that the democratic experiment is absorbing other religions, creeds and denominations. This is happening by allowing wide scope for others to practise their rituals and participate effectively in political, intellectual and social life. We noticed the existence of large numbers of tombs and shrines in all parts of the Kurdish region, for Muslims and people of other religions. This is an indication of the religious and denominational pluralism which has continued to preserve a cohesive condition of coexistence for a long period of time, after this mixture of races, sects and peoples came together in that small spot whose area does not exceed a few thousand square miles.

Approaching Lalesh

The road which began from Dahuk passes through mountains several times before rising above them and then descending. There is no road in Kurdistan which is not guarded by mountains, nor any road along which a traveler does not see beauty, in spite of the evident strength. If one sees snow-covered mountain peaks, such a view can be difficult to describe.

We passed along a mountain road on the right-hand side of which herdsmen were holding their sticks to warn their livestock which were charging off upwards in a noticeable rebellion, while horsemen were riding down from the heights towards their villages. It was a twisting road which brought us down until we were in a deep valley, and then ascended. If we put our hands out of the window of the car, we felt as if we would touch the sky. What if we had set off in the other direction, where there was the extremely massive, snow-covered Metin mountain range?

We began to follow an extremely winding road, at the corners of which stood children whose severely impoverished faces made them look older than their years. They were selling fried potatoes and peas, as well as berries, which looked like dates but without stones and with brownish colored hard skins. Inside they were rather like almonds, but extremely bitter. It is said that they are good for the stomach. Tractors loaded with tins of petrol were proceeding along this road. Here specifically we took the road to the temple of Lalesh, which lies in a valley amidst towering mountains called the House of the Virgins , covered with oak and almond trees.

Before visiting Kurdistan I had never heard of this temple, nor of those who worship in it. So this in itself aroused my curiosity.

This temple lies in the meadowland of the Lalesh Valley which is regarded as a sacred spot by the Yezidi cult, one of several cults which live in Kurdistan and whose adherents follow strange beliefs which are not declared openly. Some people claim that in the eastern part of this valley there are features resembling Mount Arafat and the well of Zamzam. The Yezidi sect or the Azidis as they are sometimes called celebrate their religious festivals, while the Lalesh Cultural and Social Center of the Azidi Kurds, which was founded at the beginning of the 1990s and has become one of the cultural centers in the province of Kurdistan, organizes cultural seasons and literary and artistic festivals and publishes a quarterly magazine called Lalesh, which is concerned with the Yezidi literature and heritage.

Adherents of this sect celebrate New Year s Day, for which they prepare for a long time. They decorate the doors of their houses and their chests with red anemones, which grow in profusion in the wilderness.

During the festival, which begins on the first Wednesday of April, the Yezidis dress in their finest clothes, exchange greetings, hold dancing circles and give banquets. They believe that the Angel Gabriel descended to Earth on that day, and so they regard this as New Year's Day.

During this festival, which lasts for a week, they offer sacrifices and visit the graves of their dead. In the two towns of Baashiqa, which is thirty kilometres north of Mosul, and Sinjar, which is 110 kilometres away, where celebrations are held, thousands of Yezidis, men, women and children, go out into the open air to exchange boiled eggs which have been painted in bright colors.

According to one of the followers of this cult, visiting their main temple in Lalesh in the presence of the Amir of the cult and its priests to hold prayers is one of the main features of this festival. He added that the continuation of the festival for seven days is auspicious because there are seven angels, seven heavens and seven layers of the Earth.

Inside the temple of Lalesh is the tomb of Shaikh Uday Ibn Musafir, who is said to have been the founder of the Yezidi religion. He was born in the town of Baalbek in the year 5 of the Islamic calendar. Revelation came to him, according to the belief of the Yezidis, when he was on a journey to Persia, from which he returned to Mosul and preached his new cult. It was not long before Shaikh Uday became the leader of a cult which embraced thousands of people. Lucifer, according to their belief, wanted the man to be a martyr for his cult. After he had travelled one time to a distant country, the Angel Tawus (Peacock), namely Azrael, descended to Earth and assumed the form of Shaikh Uday, sat in his place and began to run the affairs of the cult with his knowledge. When Uday returned to his town, the Yezidis thought he was an evil impostor, and killed him in a horrible manner. Then the Angel Tawus revealed the truth to them. The founder of Yezidism has ascended to Heaven, he said. He is seated at Almighty God s right hand, to await the day when the Angel Tawus will return to Heaven and sit between the two.

The Yezidis - some of whose ideas and beliefs are presented here in order that readers may have some objective knowledge about them like the ancient books on religions and sects used to describe all sects and creeds including pagan ones consider this mystical Shaikh a saint, the guide of their religion, the theorist of their lives and the glorifier of their uniqueness, according to one of them. The religious philosophy of this cult is based on his sayings, particularly those in which he called on people not to curse the devil, in order to avoid injury from him, since God is kind and merciful towards His servants, whereas the devil is harmful and malicious, so one must avoid his harm in this life. Consequently they are called "devil-worshippers , or they are known to people as that. This makes many people say that they do not believe in Islam in any respect. But they do not worship the devil instead of God Almighty out of a belief that he is divine. No, they know that the devil is the same devil described in the holy scriptures of those who believe in divinely revealed religions. But in their view he is capable of causing harm to people because he is evil by nature . Whereas God does not harm or injure anyone. Even if people refrain from worshipping God, the Yezidis believe, He will forgive them , because He is forgiving and merciful. But Lucifer will not forgive them, and will take vengeance on them if they curse him.

Thus they worship the devil in order to ward off his evil. As evidence that their worship of the devil does not anger God, and even pleases Him, the Yezidis claim may God forgive me that God is now too busy to bother about this world, and has left full authority in it to Azrael (Tawus of the Angels or the Angel Tawus, as the Yezidis call him. So it is the Angel Tawus who now controls the world as he wishes, for 10,000 years, of which about 3,000 have now passed. The real master of the world now, whom people ought to worship, in the Angel Tawus or Azrael (who is one and the same), until the 10,000 years have elapsed and the world will return to the worship of God after Azrael himself has returned to Heaven, with God's pleasure.

At this time there is disagreement about the origins and the name of this cult. Some historians say the Yezidis appeared in the period when the Umayyad state collapsed in the middle of the eighth century AD. These historians explain that one of the grandsons of the second Umayyad Caliph, Yezid Ibn Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan (680-683) fled, after the great battle of Zab in which the Umayyads were defeated in 750 AD, to northern Iraq at the head of a group, affirming that Yezid "would return to Earth to fill it with justice as it had been filled with tyranny .

But one of the Yezidis whom we met in Lalesh said that "the history of Yezidism goes back to the third millenium BC, since they are the remnants of the oldest Kurdish religion in the region of great civilizations in the east.

He added that its adherents endured much from being thought evil as a result of misnaming. But the religious texts in their possession, which they inherited from their ancestors, affirm that there is no relationship between Yezid Ibn Muawiya and the cult and its followers.

This was confusing for us. But the strange thing is that some of those whom we saw affirmed the connection with Yezid. There are some who trace its origins back to more ancient beliefs. And there are those who told us that it is a monotheistic religion which believes in only one God and in the Day of Judgement, recognizes the divinely revealed religions and their holy scriptures, and believe that all the prophets were sent by God to spread faith in the Earth. There are those who say that the roots of Yezidism are connected with Zoroastrianism, which was the first religion of the Kurds before they converted to Islam, and consequently they separated themselves from the Muslims and resorted to living in isolation.

But the Yezidis do not accept any holy book, indeed they inherit religious texts through memorization. In addition to New Year s Day which they call Seri Sali, they celebrate another major festival, which they call "the Feast of the Community and which also lasts a week, in October; and also the Feast of Sacrifice, the Feast of Yezid, the Feast of Khadr Elias and the Feast of Balanda. They also have a night which they call the Black Night, Shafarshak.

On these tow major festivals and the other lesser ones, the Yezidis say prayers for peace to prevail in the world, and visit the temple of Lalesh.

The Yezidis are the largest religious minority after the Christians. They are distributed in the regions north-east of Mosul, along the Iraqi-Syrian border, in Diyarbakir and Mardin, near Aleppo around Kalas and Aintab, in some Armenian towns on the border between Turkey and Russia and around Tbilisi and Batum. Most of them are ethnically Kurds.

There are about 750,000 of them in Iraq, out of a total of some 1.5 million followers of the cult dispersed also in a number of countries, including Armenia, Germany, Syria and Turkey.

The highest spiritual authority of the Yezidi cult has the title of Baba. They do not have public prayer, but rather private rituals. They turn to where the sun appears at sunrise, and where it goes down at sunset. They kiss the ground, cover their faces with dust and read some prayers in a mixture of the Arabic, Kurdish and Persian languages.

While we were in Kurdistan, we heard many opinions about this cult. We heard many stories, which in fact amount to legends and go beyond superstition, including that they regard Lucifer as the Angel Tawus, that this has led them to venerate a copper statue of Tawus in the form of a cockerel the size of a clenched fist, and that they go around the villages with this statue to collect money.

It is said that they have a book called Mas-haf Resh (the black book) in which are the teachings and beliefs of the cult, which indicate that their declaration of faith is, I witness One God, Sultan Yazid is the beloved of God . The Mas-haf Resh contains two stories of the flood, one of them dealing with the flood of the Prophet Noah (peace be upon him), and the other the story of a flood which occurred only 6,000 years ago. At the beginning of each millenium there is a god, and the first of these seven gods was the Angel Tawus, the second of them was Yezid Ibn Muawiya, the third of them was the Shaikh of Yezidism (Uday), the fourth was one of their Shaikhs (Shamsuddin Hasan) also known as Dardael, who is nicknamed Al-Basri. It is he whose return they are awaiting.

Regarding the other three gods of the Yezidis, each one of them will come with a legal system in which he will differentiate between what is permitted and what is forbidden, and the duties of his followers during the thousand years from the day that he descends to Earth. They pray for three days each year in December, to coincide with the date of Yezid Ibn Muawiya's birth. This is regarded as a fast for the ordinary people, and it occurs on the first Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in December. The fast for the leading personalities is 80 days, which are fasted by the priests. They consider that the prayer performed on the middle night in the month of Shaaban is equivalent to prayers for a whole year. The Yezidis prayers are similar to invocations like:

Amen, Amen. Blessed be the religion, the first, Al-Abinin, the servants., God , Eternal , Forgiving , Ever-existing , Victorious , Provider , Arranger of the universe , Protector , Everlasting , Sun of the religion , Moon of the religion , Azrael , Gabriel , Samsael , Michael , Dardael , Israfil , my Lord, blessed art Thou. We have none other but Thee, Ya Qayim, among a people who are merciful, have mercy on me. You are my Generous One, you are my Everlasting One. Ta khudh abi siyuji kai karnah. Hayidi ta bibak. Ruhi mulk jihami khalek. They believe that the resurrection after death in the village of Batit on Mount Sinjar, where the scales will be placed in the hands of Shaikh Uday, who will call people to account, and will take his community and bring them into Paradise.

The charity tax is collected through the Tawus, and this is done by the hymn singers. It is collected and given to the leadership of the cult. Pilgrimage for them is done by standing on the tenth day of the month of Dhu'l-Hijja each year on what they consider is similar to Mount Arafat in the Nuraniiya Meadow in the Lalesh Valley.

An oath for them is by the hem of SultanYezid , which is the edge of his cloak. They visit mausoleums and tombs like the mausoleum of Shaikh Uday and Shaikh Shamsuddin, Shaikh Hasan, and Abdulqadir Al-Jailani. Every mausoleum has its servants, and they use oil and candles to light them. Marriage is forbidden between different classes. A Yezidi may marry up to six wives. Marriage is by the bridegroom first kidnapping the bride, and then relatives intervene to settle the matter. The color that is forbidden for them is blue, because it is one of the most prominent colors of the peacock. Red, white and yellow are the most widespread colors among them.

Forbidden and Desired

Among their strange customs are those related to forbidding the eating of lettuce, cabbage, pumpkin, green beans and the meat of cockerels, as well as the meat of the peacock which is sacred to them because it is the counterpart of Lucifer the Angel Tawus as they claim. Likewise the meat of chickens, fish, gazelles and pigs. This cult also forbids shaving one s moustache, which they prefer to leave to grow noticeably long.

The followers of this cult believe that, if you draw a circle on the ground around a Yezidi, he will not step outside this circle until you erase part of it, because he believes that it is the devil who ordered that. They forbid reading and writing for religious reasons because they rely on instinctive knowledge. This has led to the spread of ignorance and illiteracy among them, which has increased their extremism with regard to Yezid, Uday and Lucifer.

They believe that a man who holds the son of a Yezidi while he is being circumcised becomes a brother of that child s mother, and the husband has a duty to protect him and defend him to the death.

They say in their books, Obey and listen to my servants in what they teach you, and do not reveal it in front of foreigners like Jews, Christians and Muslims, because they do not know the nature of it. Do not give them any of your books in case they alter them for you without you being aware.

They believe in the transmigration of souls and are extremely secretive about displaying their beliefs. They have forbidden any Yezidi from being away from his country for more than a year. If he is compelled to do this, his wife is then forbidden to him.

A Yezidi is forbidden to look at the face of a non-Yezidi woman, and to caress a woman from his kind who is forbidden to him by their law. Also they are forbidden to get married in April.

Yezidis are forbidden to enter Muslim mosques or religious schools, because if he hears someone praying and seeking God s protection a Yezidi is required to fast for a week and offer a sacrifice to Tawus.

They said that a Yezidi is sinning if he stretches out his leg in front of someone who is sitting with him. They also forbid the poor and the Kawajik (one of the classes in Yezidi society) to sleep on beds. They also forbid work on Friday.

The classes of the Yezidi cult are:

First: Two priests, one of whom is temporal. He is traced back to Yezid Ibn Muawiya, and he is Mir Shaikhan, the Amir of the two Shaikhs. The other is a descendant of the line of Fakhruddin. They give him the title of Baba Shaikh, which means the Great Shaikh.

Second: The poor: these are hermits who devote themselves to worship. They wear special clothes which they call a poor man s rags.

Third: The singers: These sing religious hymns.

Fourth: The Kawajik: they are a group of ordinary people who are distinguished by their white clothes and their black or red woolen belts. Their task is to discover the fate of the dead, whether good or evil, and to contact the supernatural world to learn about the present and the future.

Fifth: The disciples: these are ordinary people, and they are compelled to give blind obedience and pay money to charity. They are allowed to marry among themselves, but may not be related by marriage to the other classes.

Hence one may say in general that the cult has passed through several phases. In the first, it was an Umayyad political movement which crystallized in love for Yezid Ibn Muawiya. In the second phase the cult turned into a tariqa (mystic order) in the days of Shaikh Uday Ibn Musafir the Umayyad. The third phase was a period of Shaikh Hasan s withdrawal for six years. Then he emerged with his books which were regarded as contrary to the teachings of religion. And in the fourth phase came the prohibition on them reading and writing, and the beliefs became what is widely described as clandestinity in their teachings.

Groups and Trends

When we asked Dr. Kamal Fuad, How has the Kurdish experience absorbed all shades of the political spectrum which exist in the arena in Kurdistan?" he replied, Because we are all in this worry together. Circumstances have compelled us to coexist. All the Kurdistani parties, regardless of their different tendencies, are agreed on that, because we have suffered from national persecution, not for a year or two, but for many centuries. We want to coexist with other forces, and so our acceptance of democracy and tolerance is a result of the national persecution we have gone through, which has pursued us for hundreds of years. Kurdish society s acceptance of coexistence with others is due to psychological reasons, maybe even because Kurdish society is also made up of ethnic, racial and religious groups. We have Kaka is and Yezidis, and we also have parties and people with political tendencies like the Communists and the Islamists. We have to accept to coexist together and with the parties which believe in the need for that. There may be an extreme Kurdish nationalist or Islamic party, but the predominant Islamic and Kurdish trend is the Islamic Movement and the Islamic National Union. These two forces are the main ones, as well as the other currents in Iraqi Kurdistan. But there is not this extremist tendency in these two main forces, and they do not have any problems. These extremist groups, whether nationalist or religious, do not have any popularity in Iraqi Kurdistan. With regard to the political parties, this trend is predominant. The same goes for the Islamic parties. There remain some extremist groups, but they do not have any great influence on the Kurdish people. For this reason, the situation is continuing. If God wills, the democratic and civilized tendency will control people s minds.

Here I must also mention the Turcomans and Chaldeans. We have no problem with them. They feel ecure in our areas, in spite of previous accumulated problems. Together we are facing a fierce enemy, who is a common enemy of all the groups. On the other hand, liberationist and humanitarian ideas to a great extent dominate the tendencies of all the leaderships of political parties in our region. Of course it varies from one party to another, but in general the civilized and democratic tendency prevails to a greater extent than fanatical nationalist or religious ideas.

Dolma and Shnayna

The month of Ramadan came upon us after we had decided to remain in Kurdistan for longer than we had planned. We had believed that the matter would not require more than several days to do an illustrated investigation. And here we found ourselves facing a world that compelled us to run the whole day throughout its length and breadth, without those days being enough to become acquainted with some of its details.

When it was announced that the new moon of the holy month of Ramadan had been seen, we were in Sulaimianya where we spent some days before returning to Irbil. In these two towns, as well as a third town Dahuk, there was no noticeable difference between the inhabitants' customs in Ramadan. The mosques, although numerous, were crowded with worshippers, and people were constantly visiting each other. Young men could be seen in the cafes playing siniya, a game with 12 metal counters made in conical shapes.

In the houses of Kurdistan we ate the customary foods for iftar, the meal to break the fast in Ramadan: dolma, which is made of aubergines stuffed with rice, kafta (rissoles) of several different types, raisin juice, shnayna (yoghurt) and orange drinks.

In one house from whose owners we received a generous invitation, we attended a celebration which is held every day after the evening prayer. In it many people assemble to recite adhkar (religious invocations, singular dhikr), and one person gives a recital, enumerating the virtues of the Prophet Muhammad (blessing and peace be upon him). The local inhabitants told us that it is a Kurdish custom on the Prophet s birthday for each category of professional people to reserve one of the mosques and distribute sweets to those whom they invite, before a religious scholar delivers a lecture, which usually ends at midday. Then another group begins from the afternoon prayer, and then a third from the sunset prayer until dawn. Thus the celebrations begin from the morning until dawn the following day.

Mystic Orders and Followers

After travelling a distance for nearly an hour since we had left Irbil heading for Sulaimaniya, on the Shahrazour road which was extremely green in spite of the drought which was then affecting other areas in Kurdistan, we approached the Dukan district, known for its dam which is used to generate electricity which is scarce in that region. The farmers had awoken early to obtain some of the water which was still flowing in the nearby lake which has the same name as the dam, and beside which is the Dukan tree nursery.

Although it was still early, we noticed a circle of linked hands of men and women widening and contracting to the loud sounds of drumbeats and flutes and the voice of a singer singing Kurdish songs, whose meanings we did not understand and others in Arabic. The latter were a mixture of songs used for bridal processions in the Arab countries. The singer insisted that we should greet him financially, which we did. He then poured out greetings to the guests who had given him coins, while the circle continued to expand and branched out into circles which surrounded each other. The women s embroidered dresses, which were glistening brightly, and the men s traditional Kurdish clothes created a splendor which was enough to break through our gloomy condition caused by the sight of the mountain ranges surrounding us.

Near the Dukan Dam we passed by a village in which there is the mosque of the well-known Kurdish historian Ibn Khallikan. He was one of the historians of the seventh century of the Islamic era and the author of the famous book Wafayat Al-A yan. His tomb is in the middle of the village which is called after his ancestor Khallikan.

Whether we were in Irbil or in Sulaimaniya, the fragrance of Sufism was all around us. One does not need a strong sense of smell to be aware of how much these tariqas have penetrated, particularly the Qadiriya and the Naqshbandiya, into the depths of details of life in Iraqi Kurdistan, including political activity itself. Sufi hospices abound in the villages and they have numerous centers, but they concentrated round Sulaimaniya, which is regarded as the source of their spread into the other areas. The Qadiriya is the most widespread among the ordinary people, whereas the Naqshbandiya is closer to cultural circles. It is said that the reason for this is that the Qadiriya depends on mental exercise which attracts attention and influences ordinary people, whereas the spread of the Naqshbandiya in cultural circles is due to the fact that it contents itself with hymns and religious music in its dhikr sessions.

Previously, this region had witnessed a wide spread of other Sufi orders like the Suhrawardiya, the Mawlawiya, the Baktashiya and the Barzaniya. The latter is named after the area where the well-known Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Al-Barzani was born. His extremely modest tomb is there and we visited it. We had published his photograph in a previous investigation on the Kurds which was published by Al-Arabi magazine in its March 2000 issue.

The Barzaniya was an offshoot of the Naqshbandiya and disagreed with it in some details. The name Naqshbandiya is derived from the Persian word naqshband which means debate. This word was used metaphorically as a name for its founder, Shaikh Bahauddin Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Al-Bukhari, who was known as Al-Naqshband. Naqshbandi is not derived from the profession of painting cloth (naqsh). The history of this tariqa goes back to the eighth century of the Islamic era.

This tariqa was brought to Iraqi Kurdistan by Shaikh Diyauddin Al-Naqshbandi (1779-1821), after he returned from studying in India to his place of origin, Qaradagh in Sulaimaniya. After that he studied the Qadiriya tariqa in Baghdad.

The members of this tariqa hold dhikr sessions several times a week. The most important of the Naqshbandis shrines are near Bayyara in the Hawarman region which includes a massive mountain range. Near there is the shrine of the two Shaikhs Alauddin and Sarajuddin, who it is said established the presence of the tariqa firmly in the region.

The Naqshbandiya rely on three ways to reach their aim: continuous mention of God in one s heart, monitoring and obedience to one s spiritual guide. At the same time its mystic work is built on a foundation of which consists of self awareness, looking at the past, travel in the country, seclusion in retreat, constant dhikr, return from dhikr to the self, guarding the heart against stupid mistakes and whims, preserving the effects of dhikr of the heart, and the other mystical states that Sufis attain.

The first person to spread the Qadiriya tariqa in the Sulaimaniya region was Shaikh Ismail Al-Wilyani. Whereas a Naqshbandi hospice is known as a khaniqah, a Qadiri hospice is called a takiya. This is derived from two words, tak which means solitude and kah which means a place, that is a place of solitude or a retreat.

The names of Sufi houses have changed over the time. They have been known as zawia, then ribat in the later Abbasid era, khaniqah in the Ottoman age; this means a house of princes or sultans. Khan means a prince or sultan, and kah means a place. The Naqshbandiya have kept this name until now. Women in the Qadiriya also have their own sessions, directed by a woman known as Khalifat Al-Shaikh. The Qadiriya use darbasha for men only because it is difficult and dangerous. The essence of this exercise is full control over breathing. This is usually done under supervision of the Shaikh, and for him to grant permission for this is an extremely important factor in its success. If the person who performs it is devoid of an inclination to show off and pride that he is doing better than others, in the sense that it should be purely for the sake of the dhikr, the darbasha means miraculous powers. It is measured by the extent by the extent to which sharp instruments can be inserted in various areas of the body, regardless of the danger, even to the extent of inserting a dagger into the skull using a hammer. One can also swallow glass, resist fire and drink its flames, resist snake bites and scorpion stings, eat a snake s head which contains the poison glands and a scorpion s head, and resist electric shocks after subjecting the body to them for several minutes.

The followers of this tariqa affirm that its purpose is to bring people back to the way of truth and righteousness, but the darbasha is not something that a disciple is compelled to do.

The Kaka is

When we were in Halabja, the martyred town as Kurdish people call it, we passed by one of the offices of the Kurdistan Patriotic Union. By chance four men were there who we were told were followers of the Kaka iya cult. What was conspicuous was their broad moustaches which were clearly well cared for. Their names were close to names common in the Middle East: Ramadan, Qutbuddin, Nawzat and Fariya Bawa. We had been given the opportunity to get to know this cult, about which one seldom hears any information outside Kurdistan.

The four told us that the Kaka is are concentrated in three villages in the Halabja district. These villages are called Hawar, Hawara Kawn and Dara Tubi, and they are about 15 kilometres from the town. Most of the inhabitants, who number about 3,000, are now living in complexes inside Halabja, after their villages were destroyed.

These people say that the members of the Kaka iya cult venerate Sultan Ishaq, who was born in the eighth century of the Islamic era. They believed that he performed miracles, and so they visit his tomb or shrine which is in the Iranian village of Shaikhan, twenty kilometres from their villages, and make supplcations there. They go there once a year in a sort of obligatory duty for every Kaka i. Their holy book is written in pencil and no copy of it has been printed. But the acts of worship according to this cult are done verbally.

According to what these men told us, they fast three days in winter, specifically in the middle of January. They pray seated and make a supplication.

They told us that their cult is called the Kaka iya in Kurdistan. According to what they told us, it is similar to a sect in southern Iraq called the Ali Ilahis , the Druze, the Bakdashiya in Turkey, Ahl Al-Haqq in Iran. They add to this that they have followers in Lebanon and even in Australia.

These men insisted that a moustache is a very important aspect of a Kaka i, to the extent that anyone who is not concerned with growing a large moustache is not a true Kaka'i. This is something on which the Yezidis also insist.

According to the scanty sources to which we referred after we returned from Kurdistan, and which required effort and a long search, some of them indicated that the Kaka'is are an independent, Kurdish religion which existed before the appearance of Islam, not merely a religious sect. Its essence is the transmigration of souls.

The Kaka'iya have mausoleums and tombs which many are eager to visit in order to obtain blessing from them. The most important of them include the shrine of Sultan Ishaq Ibn Isa Ibn Baba Al-Barzani, who lived between 1272 and 1313 AD. They consider him one of people of high status, and they visit his shrine every year. He is the most important of their famous men. Sayyid Ibrahim is considered to be of high status, and he is in the line of descent of their Amirs. They say that he appeared through reincarnation six times, and that they are waiting for him to appear for the seventh time. They have extreme respect for him, say that he is the Mahdi at the end of time and insist he will reappear, and Haj Al-Sayyid Ahmad and Barzani Sultan. This is very important for them. They say that he was living in a hospice of the Bktashiya in Najaf, and was raised up to Heaven and became a lion. Likewise Imam Ismail, to whom vows are made on a special day. They say that whoever swears a false oath to him will have his jaw made crooked, and regard this as one of his miracles. There is also Shaabuddin, who they say is asleep, and he is in charge of rainfall.

It is noteworthy that visiting these shrines has degrees, which include what they believe earns high status and this has special merit. Some of them were sons of Sayyids, or were spiritual guides.

These shrines are known to the Kaka'iya. They offer vows in them so that they will be freed of burdens.

The creed of the Kaka'iya is secret. They do not reveal it or allow the secret to be disclosed. One of their most important books, An Astrologer's Secret, is said to have been written down before Islam appeared. But it is said that they also have fifteen books and various religious sermons.

The Kaka iya are divided into a number of classes:

The sayyids are the princes and religious leaders, who combine temporal and religious leadership.

The dalils, also known as mam or uncle, have a special status. They are in charge of guidance, and one of them may be called murshid (guide) or baba.

The ikhwan (brethren) are the other members of the Kaka'iya, known as the ordinary people. There is apparent co-operation between them in accordance with the principle of brotherhood.

Marriage among the Kaka'iya does not follow particular rituals or ceremonies. It is a simple contract made out by their Shaikhs and depending on the consent of the two parties. It is carried out on a Monday or a Friday, which are holy days for them. Plurality of wives is forbidden among them. Divorce by one of the two parties is absolutely forbidden. The reason for this is that the contract was concluded with the consent of the two parties, and cannot be annulled except by both of them together, one cannot act independently without the other.

They consider that a Kaka'i is the brother of another Kaka'i, and a Kaka i woman is forbidden to him except in marriage. Otherwise, he is regarded as evil, since she is regarded as his sister. They must obey the leader who is known as the pir. He is their chief and they must follow him blindly. They may not deviate from the commands of their leaders.

Solidarity and mutual assistance between them is unlimited and unconditional, both in their co-operation and in working together to repel any danger.

They have a food of affection. A man slaughters a cockerel, cooks wheat or rice with it and presents it to the Shaikh. Or the chief slaughters a sheep and invites the inhabitants of the village. It becomes a big festival, people dance, a prayer for harmony is read and the food is distributed. Whoever eats from this blessed food is rewarded.

Mystery and Exaggerations

In spite of the fact that what has been written about these mysterious beliefs may contain a great deal of exaggeration, both by those who attacked them fiercely and by those who sided with them, for us who did not originally go to Kurdistan with the aim of researching the sects and beliefs of cults there, what we heard aroused our curiosity. This led us to try to arrange the information which we extracted with great effort from those followers of these cults who agreed to talk with us, and then to search exhaustively for sources that would shed light on what was still obscure for us.

Our aim here is to cast light on this amazing mixture that exists in that location, which we believe is still surrounded by deliberate mystery, and in which the divinely revealed religions, sects and opposing beliefs live side by side. On its soil various political, cultural and social factions coexist. In Iraqi Kurdistan the majority are Sunni Muslims, whose mosques are scattered through its length and breadth, to the extent that in one city, Irbil, there are 215 mosques. In addition to the Sunnis, there are the Shia, numbers of whom are concentrated in the south of Kurdistan, among them a group of the Fili Shia, of whom many people outside Kurdistan may not have heard, except after the forced emigration to which they were subjected.

There are Christians from the Syriac Church, who since the nineteenth century have been called Assyrians, who live in the northern half of Kurdistan. This group has five permanent seats in the Kurdish parliament in Irbil, which is still the only Kurdish institution which is not divided between the two administrations in Irbil and Sulaimaniya, for each of which there is a government with separate institutions, information media, political parties, associations and civilian and military organizations. In Kurdistan also there is another Christian sect, the Chaldeans, who are fewer in numbers than the Assyrians. Most of them live in Sulaimaniya, although we saw one of their churches called Daira Barani, in Dahuk near the office of the Rector of the University. We also saw two churches, one Chaldean and the other Assyrian, when we visited the village of Anakwa near Irbil, where many Kurdish Christians live. Along the road from Irbil to Dahuk, which usually takes five hours, there are some small villages, including Diyana where Christians live, and other villages which Muslims share with Christians and with Yezidis also.

While Iraqi Kurdistan contains this bouquet of colors of the political, religious and sectarian spectrum, all the minorities live in safety. We heard this affirmed by everyone whom we met from these minorities. The difficult circumstances of the Kurds decreed that all should join together to resist the threat to their existence, and choose coexistence together, Muslims, Christians, Yezidis, Kaka is, the Sabian sects, Ahl Al-Haqq and the Ali Ilahis. This region has become a melting-pot that has brought together all this mixture, which has become oblivious to its political, sectarian and doctrinal disagreements and its cultural and national differences, to agree on the need to coexist.

In Conclusion

To go to Kurdistan once will mean that astonishment will always be with you. This region, with its cities, its villages, its roads and its people, is able to touch one s heart from the first moment of arrival. Undoubtedly this people, about whom some others do not speak with friendliness, have become fully aware that a friendly encounter is a directly open road. The visitor to Kurdistan also becomes aware that in this region is something that touches the heart and makes it keep the memories of those days engraved and vibrant with life.


Zakaria Abduljawad


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