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Literature review

Existing literature is very scarce. In English, there are almost no population surveys of Ezidis which incorporate the demographic framework. Most studies ignore — or assume a simplistic and monolithic answer to — the question, “Who, what and where is Ezidkhan?”

Some researchers focus myopically on a very specific area of Ezidi culture, such as the mysticism of the Ezidi religion. Nonetheless, there are some important pieces of information to be extracted even from studies of Ezidi religion. “And the Pearl Became an Egg” is about Ezidi religious practice, but it also describes the Ezidi community’s secrecy and the challenges posed to researchers (Rodziewicz, 2016). Also, Açikyildiz’s (2009) work on the shrine of Sheikh Adi at Lalish sets an impeccable standard for how all of Lalish should be catalogued and described.

Nicolaus (2008) wrote a remarkable treatment on the various ‘sanjaq’ — sacred statues of Malek Taus. What stands out is not just the interesting topic, but how he describes the vast geography of Ezidi communities on the journey to track down a missing sanjaq. There is a broad range of research on Ezidi religious practice, often including a ‘comparative religion’ approach that looks for similarities between Ezidi traditions and Islamic, Christian, Jewish, and even Greek traditions (Rodziewicz, 2014). These problematized looks at Ezidi origins find parallel archetypes and mythemes which do suggest the underlying prismatic diversity of Ezidkhan, despite being far from demographic works.

The Ezidi community overwhelmingly views itself as Ezidi — sans any hyphenates. However, many researchers mischaracterize their syncreticness as being some sort of modified Zoroastrianism, or subtribe of Kurds. Ezidis emphasize that many Kurds are descended from them, but that it is a one-way relationship: many Kurds may be ancestrally Ezidi, but Ezidis are not Kurds. Spät (2008) describes Ezidis as if they are Kurds who just happen to practice a different religion, ignoring Ezidis’ own views as well as diminishing the ethnoreligious components of Ezidism such as the fact that an Ezidi automatically becomes non-Ezidi if they marry a non-Ezidi.

On the other hand, some researchers do seem attuned to Ezidi norms about their own identity. Mokhtar (2009) touches on land, religion, community, and persecution as part of the Ezidi presence, showing a familiarity with how Ezidis auto-describe. For example, Mokhtar describes impacts of anti-Ezidi violence, including the definitive and sensitive conclusion that zero Ezidis have been residents of Mosul, formerly Iraq’s second-largest city, since a wave of terror attacks in 2007. Such intense ethnic cleansing almost an entire decade before the Islamic State reflects a devastatingly fraught political situation. Cordesman (2017) describes the sectarianism that has wracked Iraq, and despite sectarianism largely being a Muslim issue we see that it can balkanize Ezidi parties and forces as well, when they are forced to seek Muslim sponsors with varying agendas.

There is some incisive research into Ezidkhan that is more closely related to this proposal’s research topic. Fuccaro (1997) takes a brilliant look at Sinjar in the 1990s, providing one of the clearest precursors to this proposal. However, the research is somewhat dated now. For example, almost no Ezidis are semi-nomadic any longer after forced urbanization by Saddam Hussein.

Although Armenia might not exactly be Ezidkhan — and thus not part of this research’s scope — research on Ezidis in Armenia may inform best practices and learnings about Ezidis in Iraq, as Ezidi communities anywhere are tightly related to one another. Nicolaus (2016) takes an expansive look at Ezidi practices and sheds light on religious practices among Iraqi and non-Iraqi Ezidis, especially regarding circumcision. Allison (2013) describes Ezidi monuments in Armenia, a reminder that the nation-building processes which have imbued Ezidkhan with so much information are the same processes which are an intrinsic part of the community’s self-preservation and anti-assimilation anywhere. In terms of methodology, Yepiskoposian (2010) goes an entirely different direction by using genetics to trace Ezidi migration patterns that led to Armenia. It is very notable that non-Kurdish ancestry was incorporated into Yepiskoposian’s assessment.

Much of the research on Ezidis does not really focus on Ezidis at all, but rather on political issues in which Ezidis are just one part, such as reconciliation, war, or female genital mutilation. For example, Khan (2007) looks at Iraqi tribal structures but only insofar as counter-terrorism. Kaválek’s (2017) treatment of Shingal district does provide a wealth of demographic information, but does not explicitly focus on Ezidi society and its organization. Abouzeid (2018) provides a compelling look at Ezidis through the prism of the war with the Islamic State.

Outside of academia, there are many Ezidi publishers and platforms which release content on every possible Ezidi-related topic — yet their usefulness in a peer-reviewed context is often hindered by informality, religiosity, and politicization. Many are simply the media outlets of specific parties or militias. Importantly, the rigorous and academic granularization of Ezidkhan’s populations conducted in this research may make these Ezidi materials more available for researchers by offering a systematized awareness of the stances, priorities, experiences, exaggerations, omissions, and folklorization that a particular voice may trend toward based on that voice’s position in the demographic and structural position.


Please see combined bibliography for the ePortfolio here.