Freya Stark

Dame Freya Madeline Stark (31 January 1893 – 9 May 1993), was an Anglo-Italian explorer and travel writer. 

On a visit to Iraq in 1930, Stark was introduced to a Yezidi. She later visited Yezidi sites and took some unique photographs, which have been published on our website by kind permission of the Middle East Centre Archive, St Antony's College, Oxford.


The Yezidis probably belong to some very old pre-Islamic and pre-Christian worship, and as we climb up by one fold after another into deeper and more rocky recesses of the valley and into greater solitude, we feel that we are visiting the original dwellers of the land in their last inaccessible home.

It is as peaceful a little valley as you could find in the Maritime Alps, with the same stony nakedness around
it. And it is strange to think that the tiny hamlet nesding there with its two white steeples should be reverenced as far north as Russia and as far west as Aleppo, wherever
Yezidis are found.

The Shaikh of the place was dressed in white with a turban a little wider and shallower than those worn by Moslems. He took us to the temple. His sister, also in white, with her mouth covered and her head swathed like a nun, waited under the vines outside with two tall Fakirs.

The white sister and the two black Fakirs and several small Yezidis were waiting in a group by the well under the vines. We sat there with them chatting under the sun, asking about the life of the sanctuary and explaining our own social status in return. My two friends both possess husbands in the Civil Service, which inspired respect: but I was unexpectedly exalted by the fact of not having a husband at all. When, after some doubt, this phenomenon was finally accepted as true, the three holy men and the white sister admired me with wonder as one who has obtained peace in this world and all sorts of advantages in the next. You are a nun as I am, said the white lady, looking across to me with the kind and quiet eyes that come to old age in the hills.

At Sheikh Adi, 1930
Waiting for the black bull, at Sheikh Adi, 1957
Yezidi feast at Sheikh Adi, 1957