How ISIS is hastening the end of the Yezidis’ ancient oral tradition

83245Alex Cuadros at Lapham's Quarterly:

There is a Yezidi hymn about a man whose tongue was cut off by the sultan of Mosul. For three days and three nights, he could not even lament. So he went to the valley of Lalish, to the holy community led by Sheikh Adi—the only perfect being other than God. “Sheikh Adi blew on his mouth / four times,” and the man’s tongue grew back better than before.

Some nine hundred years ago, before Sheikh Adi settled in Lalish, he is said to have stopped at a spring in the Sinjar Mountains, eighty miles west, near what is now the border with Syria. I could hear the spring’s trickle when my pickup’s engine shut off. It was at the end of a rutted track off a narrow asphalt road, past hundreds of white poly-cotton tents branded UNHCR and UNICEF. A shrine was built there, a conical spire rising from a slash of green in the dry scree. My interpreter called out for the caretaker, and from an adjoining compound a man emerged whose beard reached almost to his eyes. He was a feqir, literally “poor man”—a Yezidi ascetic. Introducing himself as Khalid Barakat, he led us to a patio and pulled out mats for us to sit on. One of his sons served fresh goat yogurt and sugar-rich tea.

Khalid agreed to talk about August 2014, when the black flags came. Suddenly the valley filled with Yezidis fleeing their villages in the surrounding plains. ISIS had rounded up and murdered a thousand Yezidis in the space of a few days. Thousands of women and children had been abducted. Khalid sheltered as many people as he could, American planes dropped water and food, but it was not enough.

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