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Yarsanism is a belief system. Its adherents are known as Yarsani or, especially in Iraq, as the Kakaii.

Kakaii speak their language, in their home. It is closely related to Hawrami.

Kakaii identity is multi-dimensional and cryptic.




Regarding religion, the Kakaii are not Muslims. To the outside world, it is common for Kakaii to say they are Muslim. However, in private they deny this. It is just a protective measure.

When I first visited Sufaya and asked about their community, a gentleman in the village acted nonplussed and flatly told me, "No, the Kakaii is just like a tribe. We are Muslim. Kakaii has nothing to do with religion." But then the second time I visited began the revelatory introduction to their distinct religious tradition.

Interestingly, the Kakaii and Yezidis seem to take two radically different approaches to similar challenges of religious persecution. The Kakaii mainly protect themselves by concealing as Muslims, albeit Muslims who are never seen praying nor visiting the mosque. Kakaiis are intensely secretive and readily disguise or obfuscate their beliefs. At one extreme of secrecy, Mam Dilshad said some Kakaii in villages shared with Arabs might not even teach their own children about being Kakaii. And regarding obfuscation, when asked why there were portraits of Ali in every shrine, the explanations were either that Ali was a prophet, that Ali was a manifestation of god, or that the pictures simply look nice and have no religious significance.

In contrast to the Kakaii (who do accept converts) the main way that Yezidis protect themselves is by prohibiting conversions. This is largely rooted in the religious belief that Yezidis are descended from a single ancestor. However, reversions are also prohibited. (Exceptions were made for those under ISIS captivity.) It was ruled that families in Amedi who had converted to Islam -- despite doing so for fear of their lives -- could not revert back to Yezidism despite still being Yezidi by heredity. This was mostly viewed as sheer conservatism among fellow Yezidis but also I wonder if it also has kept their sect that much safer because it absolves the Yezidis from ever being accused of converting Muslims. Similarly, the indigenous (non-Protestant) Christians in Iraq refuse to perform baptisms on Muslims: the baptisms can be conducted outside, and Muslims can attend and otherwise join Christianity, but there must be deniability.

Aside from non-conversion, the only other means of protection for Yezidis is name-swapping: the practice of using false Islamic names on their shrines to try and resist destruction by Muslims. The Kakaii do not practice name-swapping but do sometimes use Islamic blessings on graves for similar reasons.

Kakaii are generally viewed by non-Kakaii as being close to Alawi in Syria, or Shia in Iran, for their love of Ali and for having some similar Shia traditions.


Kakaiis are generally viewed as Kurdish by the Kurdish Muslim majority. However, the overall Muslim majority also says there are Turkoman Kakaii who live in Kirkuk. Within Kirkuk the neighbourhoods for Turkoman-affiliated Kakaii and Kurdish-affiliated Kakaii are separate. Mam Dilshad there is no such thing as a Kurdish Kakaii or a Turkoman Kakaii, but rather that a Kakaii is just a Kakaii.

Identity always requires personal understanding of individuals and their families. The distinctions between Kurdish and non-Kurdish, Turkoman and non-Turkoman, and so forth are not always so clear. Mehmet described cousins of his who were just as Turkoman as he is, but who moved to Sulaymaniyah and started speaking Kurdish and now identify and introduce themselves as Kurdish. On a spectrum from Mehmet's fake-Kurdish cousins to a card-carrying Turkoman nationalist party member, there is a whole range of people in the middle. It reminds me of something my coworker Javo once told me, "Historically, what would identify you as Kurdish was just that you spoke Kurdish." It also reminds me of something else. I'd asked Soran, a Kurdish Jew, how he feels being part of an ethnicity that is mostly Muslim and which has treated him with so much hostility. "It is complicated," he told me. In the end he felt closer to the community that had shown him the most love: the Christians. He publicly identified as Christian when it was too dangerous to say he was Jewish, and he prefered to have a Bible in his home. He viewed the Kurdish majority -- a Muslim majority -- with hostility, filled with the painful memories of countless minor incidents which added up to a lifetime of discontent.

Mam Dilshad told me that all Kakaii are simply Kakaii, because they speak the Kakaii language at home. "Ah, you mean they speak Turkoman?" he replied when I asked about supposed neighbourhoods of Turkoman Kakaii in Kirkuk. He viewed being Kakaii as its own ethnicity because it has its own language; if someone also speaks Turkoman at home or with their neighbours, that was secondary to him. It seemed to me that we were speaking about the same people but from two different perspectives. He is, after all, of the more religious caste and tasked with preservation and transmission of his religion.

In fact, it seems many Kakaii occupy a place in the middle. I never heard of an Arab Kakaii, and so they may feel Kurdistani when staring at the Kurdistan-Iraq border that weaves past Wardek. (One Kakaii convert to Islam near Kalek, so close to Iraq, was mocked for picking up Arabisations -- gone was the Kakaii chayani and in its place was salaam alaikum.) And indeed the Kakaii do gladly affiliate with the Peshmerga, and they do definitely also participate in party politics. Most Kakaii are PUK because their Iraqi populations mostly are in PUK area. The Kalek-area villages are the only ones in KDP areas, and even there the PUK affiliation is strong. Wardek, a tiny village of only a few hundred households, made sure that alongside its KDP office it definitely had space for a PUK office as well. I imagine that in Kirkuk there must be Kakaii who affiliate with Turkoman party politics as well.

The strength of homeostasis among an absolute regional or local majority cannot be denied.


The language of their religion is called Kakaii, and is a dialect of Hawrami Kurdish. It is used in their religious texts, and like the Yezidis using their dialect to clue in one another, the Kakaii use their own dialect to recognise, strengthen, and celebrate their connections.

Sultani Ishaq is the main leader of Kakaii and is in Iran. He’s their prophet.

Their holiest site is Mazari Pirdawer in Iran, compared to the kaaba of the Muslims.

Kakaiis are mostly in Iran, where there are 2.9m to 3m people around Kirfrawer, Dalaho, Kirmanshah, Sahana areas. Their next major population is in Iraq, mostly around Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Kalek, and Halabja.

Kakaii are one tribe. Bawa Haidari, Mam Nazeri, Bawa Yadgari, Sayid Haftawana, Sayid Sheyasi, Mam Narimani. There are no Turkoman/Kurd Kakaii but rather just Kakaii.

Wed/Thur they read Ser Hanjam in Kakaii language. Not Kurdish, not Arabic, not English, it’s its own language. Close to Hawrami. Choni = Chaniyani Khasani Bashani. There is no real special day of the week otherwise.

There is not a singular prophet, but some can be connected to god, as is Sultan Ishaq and many more. These people are gifted with prophecy -- vision -- and can do miracles

The soul gets reincarnated 1,001 times. If someone is bad in one life, they may get reincarnated as an animal such as a sheep or a dog or a human with a difficult life. But after 1,001 lives the final judgment by god is made: hell or paradise.

Imam Ali for Kakaii is god, but not the cousin of Mohamed. He lived at an unclear time and that person is not the same as the Islamic one. There is no real connection between Kakaiism and the Islamic Ali. However, some people got confused — and some Kakaii actually do believe there is a connection. Some people do believe that Kakaiism is related to the Ali in Islam. For those who do contend there is a connection, they say Ali was in the many prophets — including Ali, Jesus, Nazar, and Moses — who were one soul reincarnated one after the other. This lineage includes eventually Sultan Ishaq. This connection is also supposedly confirmed in the Saranjam, but (perhaps reflecting an increasing discomfort with Islam) some say this is untrue. Interestingly, the reincarnation belief gives Kakaiism the opportunity to include any number of prophets and other holy leaders into their religious universe.

Pir -- belong to Sultan Ishaq's soul

1) Sultan Ishaq

2) Haftawana

3) Bawa Haydar — as Haydar is a nickname for Ali, this has reinforced the affection for Ali that we see in many Kakaii traditions.

4) Shah Hayas

5) Derwish Nazar

72 Pira Mam Dalil -- they belong to Dawood, a sort of angel, and there are 72 of them with different souls. They are wakeel (agents/representatives) of Dawood.

- 1 Pir Binyamin Dalil Dawood

- 2 Mam Nazar

- 3 72 Mam (Mam Narimana Gawra was #1)

-- Nariman

-- Hamzayi

-- Shwan

-- Piwad Pirozi

-- Yad Kalandori

Kakaii and other religions

What about Kakaii and Alawites, or Druze?