By Lemma Shehadi
AKNALICH, Armenia (The Independent) — In the sleepy Armenian lakeside town of Aknalich, crowds gathered for the opening of a new temple on September 30. Inside the vast vaulted stone building, musicians dressed in ivory colored cotton garments and rolled headscarves processed in a circle. Some chanted sacred hymns, while others played the drum and flute. Those gathered around them danced shoulder to shoulder.
These musicians are known as qewwals, singers of the ageless, orally transmitted sacred songs from the Yazidi religion.
Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking religious minority, whose main population is concentrated in northern Iraq. In 2014, Isis militants killed, kidnapped and displaced thousands from their community. Today, this ancient minority is extremely fragile and scattered across the globe.
Yazidis agree on the ancient roots of their religion, but not on the details of these origins. The religion is monotheistic, and their principal saint is the 12th-century Sufi mystic Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, who was buried in a temple in Lalish, the religion’s main pilgrimage site in northern Iraq. Academics also point to connections with ancient Iranian religions.
This arid and sparsely populated Armenian province might at first seem like an unusual place for such a temple and ceremony. Yet Yazidis are the biggest minority in Armenia, where over 80 percent of the population is Christian and ethnic Armenian. In the last census in 2011, the Yazidi population in Armenia numbered at 35,000.