Photographs and narratives by ROBERT LEUTHEUSER from and of his travels through Kurdistan and the greater Middle East. Published in conjunction with his photographic website

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04 November 2012

A Return to Sinjar: Yezidi Temples - Part III

26 October 2012 - There is an annual celebration – a tawaaf – held at every Yezidi temple. It is an occasion to celebrate not only the Yezidi religion, but the community as well, remembering that the Yezidis remain a marginalized, if not persecuted, hyper-minority among the Kurds and in the “middle east.”

Gharbi, Xider, and I had just driven across the west end of Sinjar Mountain, paralleling the Iraq-Syrian border. Gharbi had been told that the tawaaf at Sheikh Ali Shemsa temple is to be today, and we hastened our pace to attend.

Not but 3 kilometers off the main road we see the scrum of cars; Xider turns and follows the pot-holed tracks bumpling through the parchment. I can see the temple's spire, and as we got closer, I notice with measured attention, human figures not only on the temple's roof, but up the fluted spire as well. Experiences at Lalish's annual gathering, jemaiyaii, have taught me that Yezidis can have an exuberant attitude towards their religious sites, some would say irreverent in appearances, but to climb the spire?

Xider parks the car in the helter skelter and we walk towards the temple. There is a rickety scaffolding upon which the young men perch precariously. They are replastering the entire structure in a gleaming white plaster; only the top quarter of the spire remains earthen brown.  Mixed one dish at time, the lime paste is passed hand-to-hand from base of the temple, up the ladder, and into the hands of a square man cutting an imposing figure in his red-and-white checkered kaffiya against the blue sky. He raises the dish each time received, makes a proclamation to which the crowd joyfully responds, and passes it up the human chain to the one teetering at the top who spreads the paste with his hand. When in the day they began this herculean effort I do not know, but it is not until 2 hours later that it is completed to a roar of approval.

All the while, crowds stream into the small temple, littering their shoes outside of the doorway. The mejewer and other men commanding religious respect, sit on cushions in the outer chamber, smoking cigarettes and talking as the faithful squeeze through. As the pilgrims enter the inner sanctum, they leave a gift of money on the threshhold which the mejewer deftly scrapes up and tucks in his robe in a single motion. The pieces of brightly colored silk cloth endure thousands of knots tied and untied. Many wishes should be fulfilled today. 

A short distance away a larger throng of Yezidis compress under the deafening din of live music powered by a generator in the back of a pick-up truck. The young musicians sit on lime green plastic chairs, their traditional rhythmic music screeching and squawking as the surrounding circle of 200 dancers hold hands straight-armed and move their feet in united restraint. A cluster of women in the traditional dress of white robes and black jackets, topped by white head scarves or oversized buns, watch impassively.

As I think that the tawaaf is complete in its relentless energy, a parade of Yezidis approach from another direction. It is the pari sewarkeren (the carrying of the fabric) ceremony. The silk cloth in the temple is replaced during the tawaaf at each temple. Even fabric can only grant so many wishes.

The afternoon grows late. Gharbi, Xider, and I retreat to the car for the hour longdrive back to Gharbi's home. I sit tiredly in the back seat, smiling. It  has been a good return to the Sinjar; a good journey indeed.

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