The final goal is to have two mappings of Ezidkhan: one that is a literal map of settlements and tribal regions, and another that is a diagrammatic tree showing the broadest caste groupings and the subsequent tribal divergences. Additional supplements will highlight what are the greatest differences and greatest commonalities, and the demographic groupings which make these the most evident on communal levels.
The methodology comes in three stages: first, cataloging the shrines at Lalish; and second, expert sampling for each caste, tribe, and village; and finally, the diagrammatization and interpretation of the results. There are some important limitations to the research which are described below.
The focus will be on modern demography and population structures among Ezidis in Iraq. This raises two important considerations about location and time. Regarding location, there are notable Ezidi populations in Armenia and a few other countries, but these areas are not considered the Ezidi heartland. These areas meet the population component of Ezidkhan, but not the spiritual component of Ezidkhan.
Regarding time, modern issues are often defined by historical events: the placement of the boundary between past and present must be informed by research on the present. For example, some villages have traditional origins while others are ‘collective towns’ established in recent decades as part of a forced resettlement program by Baathis. Knowing that a village is ancient may not be useful, except in contradistinction to other villages which were established by oppressive government resettlement policies: in this way, time should be used for explanation and chronologization of current circumstances, but not historicization into the distant past.
Of note, Ezidis do not do headcounts on the individual level but instead count populations by the number of households — like other Iraqis, and typical of tribal societies. Thus, populations will be counted by numbers of households; an approximate count of individual people based on average household sizes can be inferred.
First stage: Cataloguing Lalish
Lalish is the spiritual capital of the Ezidis, centered around the cenotaph of Shekh Adi as well as the baptismal spring where all Ezidis must be immersed at some point in their lives. Cataloguing the shrines at Lalish may seem like a peculiar approach to spatial demography. Conventionally, a researcher would go out visiting each Ezidi village to survey the population there. Unfortunately, the Ezidi settlements cover a large area under a multitude of governments, militias, and visa/permissions regimes. Additionally, there may be unknown unknowns — how can one be sure each major settlement and tribe has been contacted, if not by asking other village and tribal leaders who generally do not keep any such index?
However, there is a workaround: each Ezidi settlement and tribe is represented at Lalish with a shrine which doubles as a gathering place. It is mandated that all Ezidis should do pilgrimages to Lalish, and this is generally performed as a family and includes a full day of cooking and picnicking at that family’s village or tribal shrine. They will invest in the upkeep and expansion of the shrine, which oftentimes includes a full kitchen and everything needed for an overnight stay as well. For this reason, documenting the shrines at Lalish and their corresponding sponsors allows a fairly comprehensive overview of Ezidkhan all within a single place.
Because of the oral tradition favored by Ezidis, it is rare to have a single document within which to study the entire range of settlements and tribes. Lalish offers this rare opportunity, but not in textual format: indexing each shrine at Lalish is a thorough and economical approach to an initial description of Ezidkhan.
Second stage: Expert sampling
For the second stage, the list of settlements and tribes represented at Lalish — a proxy for Ezidkhan itself — can be used to initiate expert sampling. Each settlement generally has an administrator (similar to a mayor) who is responsible for deciding who can and cannot live there, and is aware of the general events happening in their domain — this person is called the “mukhtar” in Kurdish and Arabic. Also, each tribe has hierarchical leadership with a “shekh” at the top who is the ultimate leader responsible for intervening in disputes, forming alliances, and so forth; there are also leaders under the “shekh” who may be recognized but lack official titles. Contacting these experts is at the core of the expert sampling. Their responses can improve the list itself — refining the indexing of castes, tribes, and clans — in addition to placement these groupings onto a diagrammatic tree, as well as a map of geographic concentrations. There are also other experts for a range of other issues including gender, displacement, and so forth.
Qualitative foci include opinions around healthcare, education, security, emigration, and a range of other important topics for later researchers. Specific demographic questions for each tribal leader beside the location and size of his tribe include asking the respondent open questions about perceived financial conditions of their community (as some castes are substantially wealthier), access to major hospitals, quality of education available, proportion displaced into IDP camps and overseas, and relationship with security services (including a list of which security services are that tribe’s primary contacts).
Third stage: Diagrammatization, mapping, and interpretation
Ultimately, an understanding of Ezidkhan will interpolate gender, age, marital status, number of household members, income, education, caste, tribe, settlement type (e.g. a traditional village, or one established by the Iraqi government), experience to violence (e.g. whether close relatives have been killed by terrorists), and displacement status (e.g. currently displaced by the war with the Islamic State). In some cases, qualitative interviews with various families may supplement the primary methodology of expert sampling.
Some groupings may show substantial inequalities, while other groupings may have generally similar outlooks — exploring these areas of conjunction as well as disjunction reveals important insights on how the Ezidi population is structured along fault-lines of homogeneity and heterogeneity. These insights can be used to iteratively improve the demographic groupings that make the most sense for later researchers to know when studying Ezidi opinions. For example, in some cases tribal affiliation may be meaningful, while for others clans or even specific villages may have unique experiences and positions within Ezidkhan and broader society.
Please see combined bibliography for the ePortfolio here.