During my brief stay in Iraqi Kurdistan I got to tick one item off the top of my bucketlist: a visit to Lalish.
We took a taxi from Erbil to Duhok (I am sorry I cannot remember the cost!) and then were lucky enough to be picked up by a friend for the final 40 km. Lalish is the holiest temple of the Yezidi faith, and we had the unique opportunity to be guided through it by our housemate from Sinjar.
Yezidis are primarily Kurdish, mostly from Iraq, and some bits of Syria, Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. (This has some overlap with ancient Hurrian and Urartian civilizations! But no direct connection.) Yezidi religion is very interesting, and to an outsider it probably looks like it combines several elements from other religions including Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and even ancient Mesopotamian beliefs. Yezidi faith is based on one God and seven angels, one of whom is the Peacock Angel. I would go into details, but I do not have all of them, so that does not seem quite right. Finding some articles via Google might help though.
One thing I can tell you about, is Yezidi festivals. There are a couple of important ones throughout the year, such as the Yezidi New Year (Red Wednesday) in the spring, and the feast of assembly, in the autumn – which was while we were visiting. Or well, it should have been – due to persecution by IS it did not take place as it normally would for several years. I could write a lot about IS here, but I really do not want them to be the only reason people know about Yezidis so lets’ leave that for now. During the festival many Yezidis will come to Lalish specifically, to the tomb of Sheikh Adi (ibn Musafir). In fact, I am pretty sure Lalish is a place every Yezidi should try to go once in their life in general.
You are meant to enter Lalish barefoot, and never step on a threshold in a doorway. Next to the doorway into Sheikh Adi’s tomb is a large black snake, which many people touch before they enter. There are several legends surrounding this, one of which is that the snake was trying to harm the villagers – upon which the Sheikh transformed it into the harmless solid representation attached to the wall today. Immediately inside we were faced with dozens upon dozens of colourful pieces of fabric, with endless knots tied into them, tied to seven columns representing the seven angels. The knots represent prayers, and untying a knot should grant the prayer of a previous pilgrim. Right next to the door is also a deep, black pool: the Lake of Azreal, the Angel of Death.
Further inside is the shrine of Sheikh Hassan and the tiny entrance to the cave containing a sacred spring. Non-Yezidis are forbidden from entering, so we shuffled past into the next chamber. This room holds the coffin of Sheikh Adi. It is the tallest dome in the complex, but otherwise fairly empty, dark, and undecorated. In the next room is a pillar, which people were trying to throw a piece of cloth onto. If it stays on the top, you can make a wish. The room after that contains rows of clay amphorae filled with olive oil. This would have been used to burn lamps, and in rituals. The space is likewise bare and dark. At the end of the room was a caretaker, looking after a small flame. My friend gave him some money.
We then turned back and tracked our steps all the way out of the tomb again, proceeding to climb up the hill overlooking Lalish. This as probably the most challenging bit to do barefoot! We sat on a rooftop so we could see all the beautiful ancient structures, and crowds of people flowing through the streets. Festival or no festival, it was busy. Lalish is situated in a beautiful valley, surrounded by three mountains (Mishetê, Hizretê, and Arafat). It is absolutely one of the most unique places I have ever visited.
Afterwards, we were invited for a proper Kurdish/Yezidi meal at our friend’s home. It’s definitely the best meal I had in Kurdistan and I am so grateful for their hospitality. I would return it a hundred times, if I ever get the chance! Zor, zor, zor supas!