Wolfman! My favorite picture!
I got to see many different places and cultures while I was in the military. I lived in South Korea for a year and a half, spent eight months in Afghanistan, and the better part of a year in Iraq. During these deployments I had the opportunity to see many different cultures and experience them first hand. Each is unique in their own way, but out of all of the different groups I came in contact with, the Yezidis, or Izidians as I call them, were my favorite. Prior to heading to northern Iraq, I had never even heard of this mysterious Kurdish religious sect, but I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to live amongst them and to get to know them personally.
Since most people do not know who they are, some information might be helpful.
Eatting... Notice the awesome Kermit the Frog shirt on the left.
The Yezidis are a minority religious group that live in Northern Iraq, Eastern Syria, Eastern Turkey, Armenia, and Northwestern Iran. There are also Yezidis refugees that have moved to Germany. There are an estimated 600,000 Yezidis total with about 10,000 living in Germany. I do not know alot about their religion, but I do know that they have been persecuted by the Muslims as being heathens who worship the devil. I did have some basic talks with them about their religion and nothing seemed too disturbing to me. I read an article by Robert Lindsay that states that they admittedly "worship the devil" in the form of a peacock angel they call Lucifer. This being said, this is not analagous with Western people who worship Satan.
Wolfie with a cowboy hat
The Yezidis are still basically good, moral, upstanding people. I would caution readers not to get hung up on the worshiping the devil thing. It is definitely different than our concept of devil worship. They do not believe in heaven or hell and worship Lucifer as the chief of angels and creator of this world. Very different from the Christian view of Lucifer as someone banished to hell to torment us. These people are kindhearted, family oriented people. Without understanding the religion better, I would not pass judgement.
After the initial combat died out in the 2003 invasion, we began to settle in to other roles in Iraq. By summer 2003, we had spent time in Baghdad and the Mosul area.
The Yezidis had made an American flag to show their support
We then went to the western side of the Sinjar Mountains in Northwest Iraq. My company moved into border forts and began helping the local communities with public works projects like repairing the schools and fixing the drinking water situation by adding wells and water lines. Moving up into this Kurdish area was a pleasant change after being in the Muslim areas in Baghdad. The people in Sununni and Sharfadin, where we were living, were much friendlier and seemed genuinely happy to have us there helping. After I was there for a bit and got to know the people better I learned that they were Yezidis and had suffered under the Saddam Hussein regime. This was why they were so happy to have the US Army in their area. The area west of the Sinjar Mountains had been clear cut in the 80s (not that there were many trees to begin with) and they were settled in to colonies parrallel to the mountains.
On the left, my favorite little girl
In 1978 126 Yezidi villages in Sinjar were "collectivized" into 10 villages while 10 villages near Dahuk were destroyed and the villagers forced into other villages. This was something that was forced upon them by a government that mistrusted them and sought to persecute. As I mentioned before, the Muslims do not particularly care for the Yezidis and I was under the impression that Saddam also gassed some of them. I have not researched the gas incident to confirm if it is true or not, so don't quote me on it.
Life among the Izidians was very pleasant and rewarding. With the help of translators I got to know many of them. The young people in the town were fascinated by us and we would have a crowd of children outside our the wire surrounding or fort from sunup to sundown.
The Sheik in Sharfadin
This sound cute, but it was hard to even use the restroom without having a dozen little eyes glued to you. A menacing glance and a few unaimmed rock throws could usually buy me a minute of privacy though. The support for the US troops has always been fantastic so we would regularly receive care packages from the States. I would take what I needed from the packages and give the rest to the families of the children that I liked. After following some of the children home with presents for their family, I soon had a number of loving Iraqi families that looked out for me. One day a family would send a child with a hot pot of fresh tea or another day I might receive a plate of fresh cooked potatoes. I even got to know one of the village elders.
Sharfadin from a distance
I don't know how to spell his name, but I know it was a Kurdish translation of "David." After time, I developed a strong bond with David and his family. He even began to call himself my Iraqi father and would send his grandson to where I lived each day to see how I was doing. I was very proud of this. I ended up giving him a very nice knife that I had purchased in the United States and had worn on my body armor. He had noticed it before and looked around with a proud glance at everyone when I presented it to him before leaving to return to the USA. He, in return, gave me several presents including the tradition head gear that established men of the community wore.
We worked with the religious leaders at Sharfadin to put a large well in the area to supply the locals with plenty of fresh water to drink and much needed water for irrigation.
Gene and Wolfie
There were several families that lived at the foot of the mountains near an old Yezidi temple. I lived several miles down the road from these people, but they would come to visit from time to time or to invite us to dinner. One of the men that came to see us was named Majedt (spelling), but we called him Wolfie or Wolfman because of his huge beard. He was a gentle giant and one of the kindest men I met. He was incredibly strong and he liked to crush your hand when you first met him. I remember when I first met him. His Izidian buddies and some of the army guys who knew him were all eagerly watching the introductions. I did not think anything of it until he took my hand in his then proceeded to crush it. Everyone died laughing while I tried to hold back tears.
One of the elders and me
Afterwards, I had great pleasure in introducing Wolfie to everyone I could so that I could return the favor.
One of the best experiences over there was actually getting a chance to tour their age old temple. As I mentioned earlier, this is an incredibly mysterious religion. These people have quietly maintained the tenets of their faith under withering persecution and incredible opposition. The Yezidi religion is not one that you are converted to, rather, it is one you must be born into. This may ultimately lead to the end of the religion. This being said, it was an incredible honor to be able to enter into on of their holiest places. The best I could gather was that the temple was over 600 years old and it seemed to be carved straight from the rock upon which it stood.
I cannot claim to have had a miraculous religious experience when I visited. There was no sense of awe or awareness of a higher being, just simply sheer delight at being able to meet such remarkable people and to be able to share in their culture. After leaving the area to return to the United States, I was not able to keep in touch with the friends I left behind there. There is no mail system that will deliver mail from Texas to small town Iraq, nor do they have computers, phones, or other communication equipment. After leaving the army, I tried to volunteer to go back to that area with the Red Cross or another aid agency working in the area. I offered to go for free, but I could not even find anyone that would return my calls.
I am not sure if I will ever get to see my Iraqi father, Wolfie, or any of the others again, but at least I am left with fond memories, pictures, and an intimate knowledge of a group of people that most people have never heard of.
Note: I was able to learn alot about these people living there, but most factual information came from outside research. While writing this I leaned heavily on an article by Robert Lindsay. http://robertlindsay.blogspot.com/2005/06/yezidis-mysterious-kurdish-religious.html In his article, Lindsay also states: "A famous Yezidi, Sharfadin, has a tomb in Sinjar. Sharfadin also serves as a personified sun god.
Wolfie and the 100 year old man (who later gave me his cool hat)
Note that sun-worship is one of the most ancient of human religious tenets, dating back to the Egyptians and probably beyond." It would stand to reason that the Sharfadin that I mention is actually this place. That would also imply that the "temple" I mention above is in fact this tomb. While I was there I don't recall hearing anything about a tomb, but there was a significant language barrier and only so much an interpreter interprets for you. I have noticed that interpreters tend to tell you what they think you are interested in hearing rather than every word that is said so any tomb conversations may have slipped past me unknowingly.