AKNALICH (Armenia): People walk past the new Yazidi temple.—AFP
AKNALICH (Armenia): People walk past the new Yazidi temple.—AFP

YAZIDIS, an ancient ethnic group much persecuted for their faith, now have a massive new temple in Armenia to help preserve their religion and identity. The Yazidi community, which has suffered greatly in recent upheavals in the Middle East, has found a safe haven in the former Soviet Caucasus country. And now they have built a gleaming white temple there surrounded by a rose garden, which is already attracting pilgrims from abroad. The new temple stands 35kms from the Armenian capital Yerevan, in the village of Aknalich, where 150 of the residents are Yazidi. Built from milky-white Persian marble and polished granite, the 82-foot structure includes a large prayer hall, a religious school and museum. Its construction was partly funded by a wealthy Moscow-based Yazidi businessman Mirza Sloyan, who was born nearby.

The new temple is intended as a symbol of strength for the Kurdish-speaking religious minority group, as the community tries to preserve its unique faith. Yazidis worship one God, who they believe created the world and entrusted it to seven Holy Beings, the most important of which is Melek Taus, or the Peacock Angel. The temple’s seven domes topped with sun symbols represent the seven angels revered by the Yazidis, adherents of an ancient religion rooted in Zoroastrianism. Their beliefs and practices include a ban on eating lettuce and wearing the colour blue. But their unique beliefs have often been misconstrued as satanic.

While the 35,000 Yazidi community in Armenia can freely practise their religion, elsewhere they have suffered greatly. After years of persecution by Saddam Hussein in Iraq, in 2014 they faced the brutality of the IS. They suffered crimes that the UN has described as genocide. Last year, Yazidi activist Nadia Murad was joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her activism against sexual violence.

Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2019