With the kind permission of Dr. Eszter Spät, who has been working with and about Yezidis for about seventeen years, the photos she has taken over the years are published on our website. What has changed over the years?
Despite the changes sweeping through the Yezidi community, some elders, especially from Sinjar, still wear their traditional clothing. However, the change in the appearance of young people, since 2002, is nearly shocking. Their conservative, very “modest” appearance was supplanted by clothes and hairstyles which would be fashionable anywhere in the Western world, from blue jeans to leggings, sleeveless tops, capri pants and décolletage.
While girls still wear their hair long, boys’ hair imitates the latest male fashion. Traditional moustaches, a religious requirement, have all but disappeared. Beards, previously the prerogative of certain religious ranks or special social groups, have sprung up.
While in the years following the collapse of the Saddam system, young people started dressing in the same style as their Western peers, a new trend became detectable after August 03 2014, the attack by ISIS on the Yezidi community. Prior to this date tradition dress was worn only by the old generation. After 08.03.14 Yezidi folk dress was rediscovered by young people as a symbol of Yezidi identity in the face of existential threat.
My first visit to the Cema’iye was in 2002. I next had the occasion to participate in the festival in 2011. In a short decade after my first visit to Northern Iraq/the Kurdistan Region, Yezidi society underwent a radical transformation. This transformation is also reflected in their material culture, best observed in dress and overall appearance of young people visiting the Cema’iye at Lalish in 2011, 2013 and 2017.
Electricity also became available in the valley (which made charging phones and using other modern amenities possible), and by 2013 the valley had good mobile coverage. As the borders of Iraq and especially of Kurdistan opened, pilgrims coming from abroad, especially from Syria and the European diaspora, also appeared. The rituals, however, remained the same as did the festive atmosphere of the valley filled with pilgrims.
The Cema’iye or one-week-long Autumn Assembly is celebrated every year at the beginning of October. It is an important event, which offers both spiritual fulfillment and the chance to meet relatives and friends to socialize. Yezidis congregate in the sacred valley of Lalish, coming from all over Iraq. These days, most of the pilgrims are from Sinjar, as people living nearer to Lalish prefer to come when the sacred valley is less crowded. However, in 2002, when these pictures were taken, there was an internal border between Arab Iraq (where most of Sheikhan, Beshiqe- Behzani and Sinjar were located) and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (where Baadra and the collective settlements of Shariya and Khanke are located.) As the religious feast of Cema’iye was one of the rare occasions when Yezidis living under Baghdad’s rule were allowed to enter the Kurdistan Region by the Iraqi border patrol, many pilgrims also arrived from Sheikhan, while others from the Kurdistan Region came in order to meet their relatives.