"This is our Story: the Yezidi Cultural Movement and the Processes of a Collective Identity Constructing among the Yezidis in Kurdistan and the Diaspora" by Idan Barir

Dissertation submitted to the department of Middle East and African Studies at the Tel Aviv University on September 2009 and was graded "summa cum laude".

A heterodox religious sect with its roots going back to pre-monotheistic era, the Yezidis has certainly been one of the most enigmatic and elusive religious sects of Iraqi Kurdistan, home of the main and largest Yezidi community. Being a predominantly oral religion and culture, numbered only are the written resources that this religion has provided and not much numerous are the researches and accounts written on Yezidis.

My dissertation attempts to focus on a rather recent cultural, social and intellectual phenomenon among Yezidi communities in homeland Iraqi Kurdistan and in European diasporas. "The Yezidi Cultural Movement", a non-official network of Yezidi intellectuals has been attempting in recent years to construct a new, alternative, Yezidi collective identity and collective memory along with a new system o collective myths and symbols. The movement strives to create a new sense of Yezidi collectivity, separate from the old hegemonic Kurdish and Arab national movements that had been trying to win over the Yezidis. This is achieved by the construction of a new trauma-discourse in which a series of persecutions and annihilation campaigns that were declared on Yezidis in the past are interwoven and established as the community's authentic historical narrative.

Special attention will be given to the unique role played by the Cultural Centers in Iraqi Kurdistan and their parallel institutions in Germany ("The Yezidi House" – "Al-Bait Al-Yezidi"). These institutions are being used as the main indoctrinators of the new Yezidi narrative as well as the prompt agents of the new Yezidi "Imagined Community". No less attention will be given to the use made of the "New-Media" and the internet as well as "traditional" printed media as the main carriers of the new Yezidi traumatic discourse.

The first chapter of the dissertation portrays the emergence of the Yezidi religion, its evolution and its first contact with its monotheistic surroundings. Integrated in this chapter are many citations from other researches and reports written on Yezidis that have had a great influence on the way this religious community was perceived in the Islamic as well as the Western world and in turn on Yezidi self-views. The second chapter examines the history of the community from the last hundred years of the Ottoman rule in Iraq to the late 20th century. The military campaigns, repression and persecution surveyed in this chapter comprise the main stages in the Yezidi traumatic events continuum as was shaped by the Yezidi Cultural Movement.

The third chapter introduces the "Yezidi Cultural Movement", its aims and its methods of action. In this chapter I sought to examine the construction of the new Yezidi collective trauma in the Yezidi community's collective consciousness and narrative as a long and coherent continuum of "stages" and to elucidate the rationale behind the very processes of identity and memory reconstruction as well as indoctrination. The fourth and last chapter is a live example of the evolution of the new Yezidi discourse in what concerns the community's self definition and its collective identification. The examples brought in the chapter demonstrate the vitality of the new trauma-discourse among Yezidis. These examples also allow a good opportunity to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the Yezidi Cultural Movement to influence Yezidi day to day reality with its new discourse and actions.


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