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Wilfred Thesiger

Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger (3 June 1910 – 24 August 2003) was a British military officer, explorer, and writer. He visited the Yezidis between 1950 and 1951 in Iraq.

His photos are published on the Yezidi Photo Archive with the kind permission of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. 

Another oppressed people whom I met were the Yezidis. They were abhorred by their neighbours and by the Government and lived in villages round Jabal Sinjar and in north-east of Mosul. I met a Kurdish official who was administering them. I had known and liked him when he was in Halabja; now he horrified me by bursting out; These filthy people should be exterminated! Once a year, in October, they assemble at Sheikh Adi and sacrifice a bull to the sun. On the doorway of the shrine is an embossed black serpent which the pilgrims kiss. I attended this festival but did not see the sacrifice. Booths had been set up among the trees, near the shrine, with its two fluted, pointed white cones, and the scene resembled a fair, crowd with happy, relaxed people. There was much dancing and singing, in which the women joined.

They gave me a feeling of paganism, of strange rites of the sacred groves type, and yet of a friendly ingenuousness. Their houses were spotless like monks’ cells. I had visited most of their villages on the lower slopes of Jabal Sinjar. I was much impressed by their good looks, their dignity and the cleanliness of their dwellings. They are extraordinary and very fascinating.

The young men and boys, many of whom were remarkably good-looking, dressed in long white shirts and coats, and their braided hair fell in plaits to their shoulders from beneath round felt caps.

The older men, of the ascetic order of Faqirs, wore black shirts, black turbans round their felt caps, short white jackets and buggy trousers. Most had distinguished faces, enhanced by their long beards.