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Research question

The primary research question is, "What is the demography and population structure of Ezidkhan?” This primary question is answered through applied demography, with a focus on spatial demography and Ezidi tribal systems.

Information gathered through expert sampling will be used to answer the secondary research question, which is, “What are the most meaningful groupings for researchers, based on the patterning of Ezidi experiences and opinions?” Various demographic characteristics and social units can result in potentially hundreds of groupings, but qualitative interviews with experts can highlight which of these groupings reveal hierarchies and inequalities in the demography and population structure of Ezidis.

Beyond topics of theology and war, academic interest in Ezidis is remarkably scant. Many reports have focused on the war with the Islamic State and used the demographic framework to study gendered experiences in wartime, but researchers have otherwise almost totally ignored demography and population structure — including the vast criss-cross of tribal, village, and caste boundaries which together form Ezidkhan’s many planes. In other words, nearly all research assumes a high degree of homogeneity for Ezidi populations. This assumption is seldom challenged, justified, nor even addressed.

There are several reasons why information on settlements, castes, tribes, and clans are meaningful in describing demography and population structure for Ezidis. Reasons include: marriage between castes is strictly forbidden; marriage between tribes within a single caste is highly contested; tribes can form their own political alliances with each other and with governments; tribes generally have geographic zones which may have different political authorities; tribes may have different immigration and marriage patterns.

However, it is not entirely clear what differences may exist between groupings, nor is it clear which groupings show the greatest differences. There may be disparities that have arisen between tribes. Alternatively, there may be inequalities only between castes but generally not between tribes. On the other hand, perhaps castes and tribes show few or no differences but instead inequalities arise primarily according to genealogical distance from tribal leadership or some other consideration.

By answering these questions, researchers will have a starting point for more thorough approaches to Ezidi studies. Also, researchers will be provided with greater opportunities to use Ezidi sources, a point described in the literature review.

This research makes another important contribution that is worth noting: a broader and more intellectual understanding of the living Ezidi world, which faces the existential threat of outright extermination in its ancestral lands. Disseminating this research in Iraq through articles, posts, and media helps combat misinformation which has made Ezidis into one of the Middle East’s most persecuted targets.

However, this granularization also has an important caveat. Ezidis loudly and overwhelmingly insist that all Ezidis are equally and principally Ezidi, and reject any suggestions to the contrary. This is not a contradiction of the proposed research strategy. After all, Ezidkhan is split between three different administrative areas as recognized in Iraq’s Constitution: federal Iraq; the autonomous Kurdistan Region; and the disputed territories. There are further peaks and valleys in the political geography overlaid across Ezidkhan: various militias; disparate security assessments; and many other potential divisions. However, these are not to be exaggerated or misrepresented. These may create inequalities between groupings based on demography and population structure, but it is crucial that readers remember that Ezidi-ness itself is not under question at all.

Applied demography

This research provides the granularization needed to better understand the issues confronting Ezidis. Applied demography is prevalent throughout: from spatialization to demographization, the principles and tools of applied demography guide the strategy — including the prioritization of explanatory power with limited resources versus academic sophistication requiring expansive (but unavailable) resources.

Also, there is the ‘applied’ aspect of applied demography — the leveraging of an extremely lean budget and minimal staffing, to achieve robust and publishable results. This prioritizes pushing research forward even when high precision might be unachievable, so long as there is a level of certainty that conclusions are unlikely to shift drastically with additional resources.

There is also the 'demographic' aspect of applied demography. Many scholars describe the Ezidi community as a single population. However, there are many strictly or mostly endogamous groups based on castes, tribes, and ranges of settlement. There are many socioeconomic inequalities between different groups. Among the most explicit differences are based on geography: some tribes are based in the Shingal region, which was hardest hit by the genocidal campaign that began in 2014; while other tribes are based in relatively safe areas that were not overtaken by the Islamic State. Also, there is a hierarchization built into the population structure: Ezidi society is organized into three castes which cannot intermarry and which have different concentrations of political and religious power. Principles and tools from demography can help parse these many overlapping groups.


Please see combined bibliography for the ePortfolio here.