I am currently reading the wonderful book ‘Tribes with Flags’ by Charles Glass, about his travels in the region of Syria several decades ago. In view of present events, it has a particular resonance, and I wonder how much of what he wrote about still exists. This is his account to one of the Dead Cities near Aleppo.
“He was the first Devil Worshipper I had met. I knew it was impolite to ask people their religion, but there were usually signs, like a crucifix on the wall, or a Koran on teh shelf. His was a traditional, single-room house with a low ceilign, with another house next door for cooking, and a wall around both to keep animals and children within. In one corner, the sleeping cushions were neatly stacked, and dishes wer piled on shelves along a wall. there were no talismans, no brass necklaces with “Allah” in Arabic. Tghe only decoration wa a photograph of President Assad. the village itself had no mosque, and the only church had celebrated its last Mass thirteen centuriesearlier. “We are not Muslims”,he said.
“No. We are Yazidis.”
“What do Yaxidis believe?” I asked him.
Open on most subjects and polite to a fault, he would not be drawn on teh subject of his religion. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. He spoke freely about himself and his family, telling us he had been born in 1958, that he had left schoo ten years ago, that he and his wife had three sons and a daughter. They worked in teh fields every day except friday from seven until 1:30, growing wheat, lentils and olives. He thought more than a thousand people, all Yazidis, lived in the village.
His wife brought us tea, and a little girl sat on his lap. He held her, but she did not speak. “My daughter is deaf and dumb,” he said. “I took her to the doctors in Aleppo. They said I had to get her medicine from lebanon. I got it, but it did nothing.”
Unlike the people iin Fafirtin,he had no complaints. when I asked if Basofan had running water, he answered hopefully, “It will come.” As we spoke, the whole family gathered silently around us, listening. “The important thing,” he said, truning at last to the philosophy of the Yazidis, “is so long as you are a human being, we are all human beings. We are all teh same.”
“You know,” he said, “the Christians and we are one religion.”
“I don’t see any church or mosque. where to Yazidis pray?”
“We can pray any time at home. We don’t need a church.”
He aksed whether we would like to hear any Kurdish music, and he put on a tape into his cassette player, It was the rhythmic soudn of the aud, the Middle East lute.
“You are Kurds?”
“Yes, we are Kurds. We are teh original Kurdish religion.”
There was a great deal of ignorance about the Yazidis, and everyone I spoke to in Syria was convinced that they worshipped the devil. In fact, the Yazidis believed in God and worshipped an angel, Malak Ta’us, whom God the Creator had left in control of the world. They did not believe in hell. They did not marry outside their faith. Like the Druze, the Yazidis did not accept converts. Like Christians, they baptised their children. If most Syrians were gnorant of Yazidis, the Yazidis too had strange notions about other religions. “I heard,” our host said, “that the Druze worship the cowl”
He went out and came back inside with some flowers. He gave a bunch to each of us. A little while later, his mother gave us each a pink rose and said somethign to her son before going outside. “Where is she going?” I asked.
“She’slooking for some arak for you to drink.”
“So, you drink here? In Islam, drink is haram.” Haram meant forbidden.
“The world without drink,” he said, “is haram.”
When we left, with our flowers and a bottle of local arak, Armen asked me, “Did you like those people?”
“I think we both did.”
“Yeah, I guess he was a nice guy. ” That was Armen’s only admission that there was more to the ruins than ruins.