Yazidis: Origins, History, Identity, Religion, Demographics, and Persecution

The Yazidis are a unique ethno-religious group with deep-rooted historical and cultural significance in the Middle East. Despite their rich heritage, the Yazidis have faced significant persecution in recent years. This article delves into the origins, history, identity, religion, and demographics of the Yazidis, as well as the challenges they have faced throughout their existence.

Origins and History

Early History

The Yazidis are an ancient people whose origins can be traced back to the Mesopotamian region, present-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. They are primarily of Kurdish descent, and their culture and language are closely related to that of the Kurds. The exact origins of the Yazidis remain a subject of debate among scholars. Some argue that the Yazidi faith is a synthesis of pre-Islamic and pre-Christian religions, while others maintain that it has its roots in Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion.

Emergence of the Yazidi Faith

The Yazidi faith began to take shape around the 12th century, when Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, a Sufi preacher, settled in Lalish, a valley in present-day northern Iraq. He is considered the founder of the Yazidi faith and is highly revered by the Yazidis. Sheikh Adi’s teachings focused on the worship of a supreme being, known as Xwede, and his chief angel, Melek Taus, also called the Peacock Angel.

Identity and Religion

Ethno-Religious Identity

Yazidis are an ethno-religious group, meaning their ethnicity and religion are intertwined. While they share the Kurdish language and some cultural aspects with the broader Kurdish population, their religious beliefs set them apart. Yazidis consider themselves a distinct ethnic group and often face discrimination from other Kurdish groups due to their unique religious beliefs.

Yazidi Faith

The Yazidi faith is monotheistic and revolves around the worship of Xwede and Melek Taus. Yazidis believe that Melek Taus was sent by Xwede to govern the Earth and that he repented after initially refusing to bow to Adam. This has led to misunderstandings and accusations of devil worship by other religious groups, as they associate Melek Taus with the Islamic and Christian concept of Satan.

Yazidi religious practices include daily prayers, fasting, and annual pilgrimage to the holy site of Lalish. Their faith is transmitted orally, and the core religious texts, the Kiteba Cilwe (Book of Revelation) and the Mishefa Reş (Black Book), are considered sacred and not accessible to outsiders.


The majority of the Yazidi population is found in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq. Smaller communities can be found in Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. The Yazidi diaspora has spread to Europe, particularly Germany, where they have sought refuge from persecution.

Exact numbers of the Yazidi population are difficult to determine, but estimates range between 500,000 and 700,000 worldwide. The instability in the Middle East and the ongoing persecution of Yazidis have resulted in a significant decline in their population.

Persecution of Yazidis

Historical Persecution

The Yazidis have faced persecution throughout history, primarily due to their unique religious beliefs. They have been subjected to numerous massacres and forced conversions at the hands of various empires and religious groups, including the Ottoman Empire, which ruled over their homeland for centuries.

21st Century Persecution

In recent years, the Yazidis have faced renewed persecution, particularly at the hands of extremist groups such as ISIS. In August 2014, ISIS launched a brutal campaign against the Yazidis in the Sinjar region of Iraq, leading to what has been described as a genocide by the United Nations. This campaign resulted in the killing of thousands of Yazidis, the abduction of women and girls as sex slaves, and the forced displacement of tens of thousands more.

International Response and Support

The international community has expressed outrage and condemnation of the atrocities committed against the Yazidis. Various organizations and governments have provided humanitarian assistance, such as food, shelter, and medical care, to Yazidi refugees. Additionally, efforts have been made to document and preserve evidence of the crimes committed against the Yazidis for future prosecutions and to raise awareness of their plight.

In response to the ISIS assault, the United States and its allies conducted airstrikes against ISIS targets, which provided cover for Kurdish forces to launch a counteroffensive. These efforts ultimately helped to break the ISIS siege of Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis had sought refuge from the violence.

Resilience and the Future of the Yazidis

Despite the immense challenges they have faced, the Yazidis continue to display a remarkable resilience. Efforts are underway to rebuild their communities, including the reconstruction of destroyed temples and homes. The Yazidi diaspora has also played a crucial role in advocating for the rights and needs of their people, raising awareness, and mobilizing resources to support their communities in their homeland.

The future of the Yazidis remains uncertain, as the broader political and security situation in the Middle East continues to evolve. However, their rich cultural heritage and unwavering determination provide hope for their survival and eventual recovery from the devastation they have experienced.