Author: Artur Rodziewicz
Address: Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, University of Warsaw, Żurawia 4, 00-503 Warsaw, Poland
Issue: 1/2022 (18)
Page Range: 81–116
No. of Pages: 36
Keywords: Yezidism, Yezidi Diasporas, Georgian Yezidis, Taboos, Orality, Ban on Writing, Theology, Academy
Abstract: The International Yezidi Theological Academy established in Tbilisi is a breakthrough initiative in the history of Yezidism. The objective of my study is to describe the environment in which it was founded, its goals, leading figures and courses taught. The main part of the article is preceded by a brief description of Yezidism and its religious principles, which, due to the ban on writing, have been spread for centuries orally and have not been codified in writing. The following section outlines the changes that have taken place among Yezidis living in Transcaucasia, especially since the 20th century, when the ban on writing was widely violated, as well as the initiatives taken to preserve their cultural and religious identity. The latest of these initiatives is the Yezidi Theological Academy that provides Yezidis with traditional religious knowledge in an academic style.
The preparation of this article was supported by the National Science Centre (Poland), through research grant No. 2019/33/B/HS2/00397. I would like to thank the Yezidis of Georgia and Armenia who showed me hospitality and great help in my attempts to get to know their culture and the specificity of life in the South Caucasus. I am also very grateful to Peter Nicolaus for his valuable comments.
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After the aggression of ISIS in Sinjar (Kurm. Şingal) and the acts of genocide committed there, the migration of Yezidis has increased dramatically. The growing importance of the constantly expanding Yezidi diaspora is one of the results of this migration. The largest Yezidi diaspora, estimated at 250,000 people, lives now in Germany. Its origin dates back to the second half of the 20th century, when Yezidis migrated to Europe from Turkey mainly fleeing the civil war between the PKK and the Turkish army, but also for economic reasons. However, the large number is also a result of recent migration caused by the wars in Iraq and Syria. The Yezidi diaspora in Armenia, estimated at 35,272 based on the 2011 census, has a much longer history. Starting from the 19th century, large numbers of Yezidis arrived, seeing no prospects for progress in Turkey and seeking refuge from persecution by Muslims. They fled to the Christian-populated territories subordinated to the Russian Empire which were later incorporated into the USSR.
The least described of the major Yezidi diasporas is the one living in Georgia, which counts about 12,000 people. Although the presence of the Yezidis in Georgia is attested much earlier, the main wave of Yezidi immigration to Georgia, took place in the early 20th century. First came those who fled persecution in Turkey and, without stopping in Armenia, settled in Tbilisi. Then in the 1950s they were joined by those who migrated from Armenia for economic reasons, seeking better living conditions in the large urban agglomerations. Georgian Yezidis, though tightly related to their relatives in neighbouring Armenia, experienced rather different conditions than their brothers in Armenia. Living in the cosmopolitan capital, Tbilisi, rather than in rural areas, they led a different lifestyle, which resulted in a slightly different character of this community. The projects currently initiated and implemented by Yezidis in Georgia, with the International Yezidi Theological Academy at the forefront, begin to have an increasingly powerful impact both on the religiosity of other diasporas and on the whole Yezidi community. It seems that the Georgian Yezidis will play a significant role in determining the direction and form of Yezidism as well as the path the Yezidis self-identification will take in the future.
The Yezidi theocracy and its principles
The Yezidis constitute an ethno-religious community and many of their members, including some leaders, see themselves as a separate nation. They have their own religion, history, religious and political authority, and awareness of their features distinct from other groups. Their community began to take shape between the 12th and 14th centuries, originally consisting of members of various peoples living in Northern Mesopotamia united by mystic ideas. Representatives of these groups gathered around a famous Sufi mystic and a far descendant of the Umayyad dynasty, Adi ibn Musafir (c. 1075–1162) and formed the Adawiyya, the brotherhood of the Adawis. They shared a special reverence for the Umayyads and metaphysical ideas that also came to the fore in Sufism, Harranian ‘Sabianism’, Christianity and the local beliefs of Northern Mesopotamia.
However, over time, the group of the most faithful to Islam, constituting the core of the Adawiyya, split away and its representatives moved to Syria and Egypt, where they continued their activities as a Muslim brotherhood. The rest of the community remained in northern Iraq, in the areas of the Lalish valley and Mount Sinjar and developed a distinct identity, not only with regard to religion but also ethnicity. This was reflected by the religious prohibition of exogamy, their own anthropogonic myths, and the division of the Yezidis into three endogamous castes: Sheikhs, Pirs, and Murids. The organisation of this theocratic community, a state of the mystics – reminiscent in its structure of Plato’s Ideal State – has survived to the present day. The division into three castes, each focused on spiritual goals, and the specification of their mutual competences held the whole community together and saved it from internal fracture. The division was based on a distinction known also in Sufism, recognizing two groups of Yezidi spiritual leaders and teachers (Pirs and Sheikhs, collectively known as the House of Adi, Kurm. Mala Adîya) and the far more numerous group of their ‘disciples’ (Murids), who, in exchange for the received spiritual instructions, were obliged to provide material support for the other two groups. Pirs and Sheikhs were also obliged to have their spiritual teachers, whom they should make donations. Therefore, regardless of their caste of birth, all Yezidis in terms of their function in the community can be described as Murids, for each of them has his Pir and his Sheikh. This indicates the importance of the original organisational structure (based on Sufi models) in the formation of Yezidism – centred first on leaders such as Sheikh Adi and Sheikh Hasan, and then on other local masters, around whom the so-called zêws (equivalents of Sufi zawiyas) were established.
However, in the course of the years, as a result of the Yezidis dispersing around the world and coming into contact with other endeavours than mysticism, many Murids lost contact with the depositaries of religious knowledge. Also, many Pirs and Sheikhs became secularized and the material aspect of their relationship with the Murids replaced the spiritual.
Due to the ethnic and cultural diversity of the early Yezidi community, depending on which group gained dominance, other elements of belief came to the fore. This phenomenon is still present today. Nevertheless, one can distinguish a core of the Yezidi religion, which is called Yezidism or Sharfadin (Kurm. Şerfedîn). It is based on a pantheistic belief in God, who manifests himself through the world. His Essence or Mystery (Kurm. sur, Ar. sirr) is present especially through the seven Yezidi holy Sheikhs, the seven heavenly bodies, and the Seven Angels (Heft Sur). The first of these is Tawusi Melek, the Peacock Angel, whose incarnations were Sultan Yezid (Siltan Êzîd) and the latter’s distant relative Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir. These three figures are regarded by the Yezidis as God’s emanations, and – similarly to the Holy Trinity in Christianity – are one in essence, having the same sur. The one who is supposed to have proclaimed this ‘truth of faith’ was according to the Yezidi tradition and to Muslim sources Sheikh Hasan. The Yezidis consider him a manifestation of the angel Sheikh Sin, and as identical in essence to the 7th century mystic, Hasan al-Basri. Hasan’s special role was already reported by two 14th century Islamic theologians, Ibn Taimiya (d. 1328), and Abu’l-Firas Ubaisallah, who regarded him as the innovator who deformed the teaching of Sheikh Adi. Hasan, however, is mentioned above all in the Yezidi Profession of Faith, which begins with the phrase (similar in structure to the Muslim Shahada, but in place of Muhammad appears Sheikh Sin, called here Sheikhsin):
Şehda dînê min yek Ela, My Declaration of the faith: one God,
Melek Şêxsin heqq h’ebîbella… Angel Sheikhsin is in Truth the Beloved of God…
The core of Yezidi religious belief, based on the deification of the Peacock Angel, (Sultan) Yezid and Sheikh Adi, is at the same time the main reason for their centuries-long persecutions. The reason for this is that the Umayyad caliph is quite infamous among Muslims, especially Shi’ites, while the Peacock Angel is identified in Islamic fatwas directly with Shaytan. Whereas the Yezidis do not use this word, considering it an insult to their angel, since according to their belief, perhaps inspired by the teachings of Mansur al-Hallaj, he does not deserve condemnation, but is in fact the one who has proved his loyalty to God by having passed the test confirming his monotheism.
A specific set of religious beliefs and the above-mentioned rules associated with it resulted in the Yezidis being strongly isolated from other groups living in Northern Mesopotamia. In addition, there was another factor caused by another religious principle: the prohibition of using the written word. As a consequence, the Yezidis do not have a holy book (although they believe that there was such a book, written by Sheikh Hasan, but it disappeared a long time ago, or that it is hidden in Bashiqa, an Iraqi town connected with him). For this reason, they have not been recognized as a Religion of the Book and the followers of Yezidism were persecuted by the Muslims. However, this particular prohibition had another consequence too, namely that the religious principles, the history of the whole community and its legends were transmitted orally, in legends and prayers, but especially in the sacred hymns (qewls), whose difficult symbolic language, a mixture of Kurmanji and Arabic, required explanation.
Although the ban was finally broken in the middle of the 20th century, its consequences for the entire community are still felt today, as the Yezidis have ceased to be clear about both the origin of their religion and many of its principles. For centuries they had listened to hymns, recited prayers, and participated in festivals, but the religious knowledge of the majority consisted mainly of knowing a few prayer formulas and practices. Thus, many only knew how to participate in these rituals, and were not aware of the deep metaphysical justifications behind them, which only a few understood.
With the breaking of the ban on writing, groups of Yezidis hitherto excluded from key areas of discussion on religion, notably the Murids, have become immensely involved in the search for both the roots of their religion and its meaning. This knowledge was no longer sought from their Sheikhs and Pirs, but in the writings of scholars and popular content present on the internet, which in turn resulted (and still results) in various susceptible theories spreading confusion throughout the society with regard to their Yezidi identity.
The whole Yezidi community is currently trying both: to redefine itself for self-awareness as well as with regard to its relation with other peoples and other religions. This often leads to internal conflicts, as some Yezidis oppose the Kurds and some identify themselves with them, which is ably supported by Kurdish political circles. At the same time, some Yezidis, ideologically supported by their politically engaged intellectuals, see themselves as heirs to Zoroastrianism and Mithraism, criticising the figure of Sheikh Adi as the one who deformed their ‘original ancient religion’, while some, in turn, see him as the incarnate God and the founder or reformer of their religion.
This struggle for their own identity, as well as the internal fracture within the Yezidi community, can now be seen both in Iraq and in the Yezidi diasporas, especially in Germany and Transcaucasia. This is accompanied by conflicts arising from attempts to search for the roots and the original principles of their religion. Part of the community, seeing the danger this conflict raises and at the same time seeing the passive attitude of their religious leaders in Iraq, is trying to counteract by making various attempts to codify these principles. But due to the lack of agreement as to who would ultimately carry out such codification, this only further deepens the internal division and may in the future lead to the emergence of various parallel versions of Yezidism reminiscent of the divisions known in Islam and Christianity.
Prohibition on literacy
It is not known when the Yezidis established the ban on writing, which resulted in the lack of codification of their theological and religious principles. The oldest Yezidi legends and non-Yezidi accounts show that for centuries, contact with writing was regarded as a sin. According to the Yezidi Great Hymn (Qewlê Mezin), already Sultan Yezid himself was opposed to books, placing mystical union above them. However, according to some Yezidis, his words do not refer to the ban on writing in general, but specifically to Muslim writings:
- …Ez nûrim, eslê min ji nûre …I am the Light, my origin is from the light
Kasê digêrim şerab il-tehûre I make the cup of pure wine circulate.
We’de wê hatî, dê li bacêrê It has been promised that, in the city
Şamê betal kem of Damascus, I shall abrogate
Xet û kitêb û defter û mişûre. writings, books, tracts and family-manuscripts.
One of the earliest accounts on this Yezidi taboo dates from the 2nd half of the 18th century, from the prefect of the Dominican mission in Mosul, Maurizio Garzoni (d. 1790), who noted that
the faith of the Yezidis is preserved traditionally from father to son without any books, since they are forbidden to learn to read and write. 
A particular reservation towards writing is also evident in another account, written in 1869 by the French Vice Consul in Mosul, Nicolas Siouffi, on an event that “shook up the whole community” of the Iraqi Yezidis. The reason for the panic was the request that the Yezidi prince (Mir), Hussein Beg made to the Governor of Iraq, Midhat Pasha, to provide education for his children. However, as a result of powerful pressure from the Yezidi Sheikhs, Mir backed down from his ‘reprehensible’ idea.
The first Yezidi Mir, who broke with this prohibition and who put the principles of religion in writing, was Ismail Beg Chol, who, although illiterate, dictated the contents of the book (published only after his death, in 1934), The Yezidis: Past and Present (Al-Yazidiyya qadiman wa hadithan), in the hope that it would save Yezidi culture from oblivion.
The 20th century proved to be a breakthrough for the Yezidis. Since the middle of the 20th century the written word has been appearing more and more often on Yezidi tombstones, although on the oldest of them there are only graphic symbols indicating either religious objects (e.g. peacock, sanjaq, sun, and stars), or the function the deceased performed during his lifetime (e.g., a flute in the case of Qewals, a staff in the case of Sheikhs and Pirs and old men, a dagger or rifle in case of warriors, or a spindle in the case of women).
As late as the 1970s and 1980s, conservative Yezidis resisted attempts to document their religion in writing testimonies. Significant in this regard is a story shared with me in Ain Sifni in 2019 by the late Xidir Sileman. This Yezidi Pir, who made an immense contribution to the collection and dissemination of knowledge about Yezidism and to whom we owe some of the earliest publications of the Yezidi religious hymns, recounted what happened when he tried to record the Yezidi sacred hymns. He told that the elders repeatedly took away and destroyed his notes, as a result of which he began to record them secretly.
Although the ban on writing was such an important part of the Yezidi tradition, during the time of Sheikh Adi, this prohibition was not in force, or there were particular people who were exempted from it. Sheikh Adi himself wrote and his relative and third successor, Sheikh Hasan, regarded as one of the founders of the religious principles of Yezidism, wrote too. The Yezidi tradition attributes to him the authorship of the book Kitab al-Jilwa li-Arbab al-Khawa (The Revelation of the Skills of Solitude, different from the text with a similar title, which has been circulating among scholars since the end of the 19th century). For centuries, Hasan’s descendants – the clan of Adanis – were the only ones allowed to use writing, due both to the tradition of recognising Hasan as the kind of prophet who wielded writing, and for a very practical reason, namely the need to have a trusted member of the community who could correspond with non-Yezidis. Administrative functions were entrusted to the chiefs of the Adani Sheikhs, called Peshimams. With time, they also acquired an educational role and, caring for the purity of the faith, educated the Yezidi hymnists, the Qewals.
A special relic of the written word from the early phase of the development of Yezidism has, moreover, to be seen in the genealogical certificates, containing lists of Murids’ families connected with specific Pir lineages, the so-called mishurs (Kurm. mişûr). These manuscripts are kept exclusively by Pirs. In Transcaucasia they are stored in the ster, a kind of home altar which is also believed to be the bed for the guardian-angel of the household. One of them, the Mishur of Pir Khatib Pisi ibn Pir Butar, first published by Pir Khidir Sileman, dated to the beginning of the 13th century contains an annotation that it “was written down by Sheikh Hasan al-Basri”. Another, which dates precisely to 604 AH (1207/8 AD, some 50 years after Adi’s death), was published by an orientalist and Head of the Spiritual Council of the Yezidis of Georgia, Pir Dima (Dimitri Pirbari) as well as two other Yezidi scholars, Nodar Mosaki and Mirza Sileman Yezdin. In addition to a list of families and genealogies of individual leaders, mishurs sometimes contain poetic passages, such as the qasida attributed to Sheikh Adi. However, none of these texts can be considered a holy book or a kind of catechism that collects all the principles of the Yezidi religion. These documents are not widely known, even not among the Yezidis, because they are considered sacred objects endowed with miraculous powers (keramet) and therefore dangerous for the viewer, who may lose his eyesight while looking at them. This belief is still very strong. I myself have witnessed owners refusing to show them, even to representatives of the Yezidi clergy, precisely because of this fear. This shows that the old taboo has not completely disappeared and is still smouldering in the Yezidi consciences. Its strength is also evidenced by a situation I encountered several times during my field work in the Iraqi villages of Bashiqa and Bahzani, the traditional seats of the Qewals. When talking about religious hymns, they tended to refer to notebooks containing text of the hymns. However, when asked to pose for a photograph, they immediately removed the notebooks from the frame and insisted to be photographed without the texts.
Thus, although the Yezidi taboo has actually ceased to apply and has been broken on a massive scale, traces of its centuries-long influence can still be observed. Without being able to answer the question of when this prohibition came into being, one can, however, try to answer another question: What were the reasons for its establishment?
At least two sets of reasons can be indicated, which I would describe as theoretical and practical. By theoretical reasons I mean those which logically stem from metaphysical assumptions present in Yezidism, which in turn were adopted inter alia from Sufism. The first of these is related to the concept of sur, i.e., the mysterious essence present in every mystic, compared to light (Kurm. nûr), described by the classics of Sufism as “the innermost self”. If the mystic encounters Beloved Truth within himself, where he discovers God with the spiritual support of Pirs and Sheikhs, then he does not need the mediation of a book. This is well illustrated by both the passage from The Great Hymn quoted above and the statement in the Book of Revelation (Al-Jilwah) where the Deity addresses the Yezidis:
I guide without a scripture. I guide invisibly by beloved and chosen ones. 
The special reservation of the Yezidis towards writing has been written about, among others, by the already mentioned Siouffi. In 1880, he published a short interview which he conducted with an illiterate representative of the Iraqi Yezidis, Sheikh Nasser, who stated that only one Yezidi family was literate and “whenever we have an important question and need to consult the books, we go to the members of this family, and they are able to read and translate what is necessary. The community does not need to know what is in the books. Therefore, they are read in the presence of only a few of our leaders and the Mir.” According to the Sheikh
there are two ways to read. One is to decipher the letters in a book. The second is reading what is written in your heart. And we, the spiritual leaders, in a state of inspiration, read what God has written in our hearts. And that is why we do not need books. 
For the Yezidis, the impersonal text is something that constitutes a veil between the mystic and God. The people who seek truth in books are referred to by the Yezidis as Şerî’et (Law) and Ahlê Kitabe (People of the Book). In turn, the Yezidis call themselves Heqîqet (Truth), Sunet (Tradition) and Ahlê Sunetê (People of the Tradition) emphasizing the direct, personal relationship with God that was never been broken.
This distinction, also derived from Sufism, is reflected in the Yezidi anthropogonic myth and the belief – reminiscent of myths concerning the descendants of the biblical Seth – that the Yezidis form an unbroken chain of people having its source in God. They believe that through the Angel Sheikh Sin and then Adam and his descendant, Shehid ben Jarr, conceived without the participation of Eve, the divine Sur is embodied in them, whilst this cannot be said about the descendants of Adam and Eve.
Looking at the practical reasons for the ban on writing, the first that comes to mind is fear, i.e., the anxiety that the religious rules written down in a book could fall into the hands of infidels and contribute to accusations and persecution of the Yezidis. Furthermore, the ban on writing protected the Yezidis from attempts to convert them to the religions of the book, especially Islam, and at the same time gave a monopoly on teaching to the Sheikhs and Pirs. Thus, uniting the entire community and isolating them at the same time. Additionally, this prohibition undoubtedly protected the Yezidis from breaking another taboo, which involved the fear of coming into contact with the word ‘Satan’. Not being able to read, a Yezidi was not able to accidentally utter this word while reading. According to Garzoni
[t]hey have as their first principle to keep the Devil as a friend, and to defend him with the sword; for this reason, they not only abstain from naming him, but also from all the words that might have any resemblance. (…) However, all the chiefs of the tribes and large villages employ a Muhammadan doctor to read and interpret the letters they receive from the Turkish lords and pashas and in order to reply to them. 
The specific practice connected with the danger of encountering a forbidden word in a book was mentioned, among others, by a secretary of the Turkish representative to the International Boundary Commission of 1849–1852, Mehmed Khurshid, in the Description of the journey along the [Turkish-Persian] border (Siyahatname-i hudud):
Some of them read the Quran, but having come across the word shaytan in it, they cover it with wax, and instead of this word they pronounce insan (man) and rahman (merciful). 
The identical practice was also mentioned in 1886 by Dr. Browski, an Austrian who served in the Ottoman army. In his comprehensive account of the Yezidis, he wrote:
Complete reservation of their religious precepts from strangers is one of their most binding obligations. To make secrecy more effective, the founder of the sect. Sheik Adi, decreed that only a single person at a time should be initiated into the mysteries, and designated as the person to whom the secret should be confided, the eldest heir of the tribe of Hassan el Bassri. Previous to his initiation this person is to be instructed in written Arabic, knowledge of which is forbidden to all others of the race, under penalty of death and loss of eternal salvation. The instruction takes place in a room from which all other persons are excluded. The text-book is the Koran, the only book obtainable in the country; but as this book contains many unflattering mentions of the devil, whose name no Yezidee must hear or pronounce or read, a friendly Christian is employed to procure the copy to be used and carefully cover all places where the devil is named with wax. 
Immediately following this remark, Browski added that “by a most extraordinary accident the author obtained the sacred book of the Yezidees, whose place of concealment is known only to the single initiated, and was able to keep it long enough to copy it”. He summarises its contents at length, mentioning that it was written in Arabic with elements of Syriac (which could indicate interference by a Christian copyist), and attributes its authorship to Hasan al-Basri.
The Yezidi ‘apocrypha’ and the Yezid alphabet
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the growing interest in the mysterious Yezidis and the demand for source texts, in a sense generated the ‘holy books of the Yezidis’ so much awaited by the Western world. The issue is well described in the literature on the subject, so I will not refer to it in detail here. In the early 20th century several versions (Arabic, Kurdish and Syriac) of two texts appeared in Western scholarly circulation: The Book of Revelation (Kiteba Jilwe) and The Black Scripture (Meshefa Resh). Their synopses were already known at the end of the 19th century, and the first fragmentary translation was published in 1891 in an encyclopaedic article by the head of the American Board mission in Mardin, the Reverend Alpheus Andrus. The first complete translation, by the Cambridge orientalist E. G. Browne, appeared in 1895 as an appendix to the book by O. H. Parry, Six Months in a Syrian Monastery. The Arabic source text and its subsequent English translation were published in 1909 by Isya Joseph in two articles.
However, after the initial enthusiasm came criticism and accusations of forgery. According to the orientalist Alphonse Mingana, it was allegedly committed by a local Iraqi, a former Christian monk. Furthermore, also the Yezidi clergy does not regard these texts as authentic. It should be added, however, that even if we are dealing with a forgery, it was undoubtedly committed by someone familiar with the customs of the Yezidis, as much of the information contained herein can be considered reliable.
It seems that due to the impossibility of finding the original Yezidi holy scriptures, first legends were created about a secret language of the Yezidis in which these books were supposed to have been written, and then books were fabricated to satisfy, obviously for a good price, the expectations of travellers and Orientalists. These legends had already been discussed – albeit with scepticism – by Rev. George Percy Badger, an Anglican missionary who visited Yezidis in 1850. He expressed his doubts on the issue in his extensive work, The Nestorians and Their Rituals:
I very much doubt whether they ever had any sacred Scriptures. Their occasional pretensions to possess such must be regarded as another artifice to evade the hatred of the Mohammedans, who are taught in the Koran to consider those who are not the “people of a book,” i.e. have no written revelations, as fit objects for every species of indignity and persecution. Should this, however, be a mistaken conclusion, it is an indisputable fact, that hardly one Yezeedee exists who could understand a well written Arabic treatise; their Patriarch himself scarcely knows a letter of the alphabet, and his principal scribe can just read and write the colloquial dialect. So then, if they really have any books, it is clear that they can make no use of them. The notion entertained by some, that they had a secret language of their own, seems to be without foundation. 
In 1911, however, the academic world was provided with another find and a puzzle at the same time. A Carmelite from Baghdad, Père Anastase Marie, published an article La découverte récente des deux livres sacrés des Yézîdis, in which he included a facsimile of copies of two already known books, which he described as “one of the greatest literary treasures of our century, and the most secret in the world”. According to his account, it took one Yezidi two years of secret copying to compile them. What makes this version different, is the previously unknown script, “with particular characters, some of which resemble Arabic, others Hebrew, some Chaldean, and several Mandaite”, which Anastase identified as “the Yezidi alphabet”. This text, in turn, together with Kurdish and Arabic versions of both ‘Holy Books’, was reprinted in 1913 by the Austrian orientalist Maximilian Bittner in his work with the telling title Die heiligen Bücher der Jeziden oder Teufelsanbeter.
Although both the content of these two books and their script were considered unauthentic by some researchers, they managed to strongly affect the imagination of a wide range of scholars. These publications also influenced the Yezidis themselves, who, despite the rejection of their authenticity by the clergy, see in these texts the authentic books of their own religion. This is promoted by their popularity on the Internet, since many enthusiasts of Yezidism publish their contents as ‘Yezidi Holy Books’ according to the descriptions given to them in the scholarly literature. This also shows the great need in the Yezidi community to have, like the representatives of other religions, their own holy scriptures. Due to the fact that the majority of the Yezidis (mainly those who belong to the Murid caste) know religious principles only very superficially, and since many are cut off from their Sheikhs and Pirs, as a result of migration, some of them treat these texts almost as catechisms. In 2018, this approach was met with a strong reaction from Yezidi leaders in Georgia, who issued an official document called The Statement of the Spiritual Council of the Yezidis in Georgia on the so-called Yezidi Holy Books (Заявление Духовного совета езидов в Грузии по поводу т.н. езидских священных книг). The statement was a reaction to the publication by one of the Yezidi scholars The Yezidi Holy Books (with their Georgian and Russian translations), the text of which first appeared in 1999, but despite being recognised as forgeries by the Yezidi clergy, was reprinted in 2016.
The content of the Statement, which appeared on the website of the Spiritual Council, shows well the ‘orthodox’ position of the Yezidi clergy with regard to these ‘books’ and at the same time clearly emphasises the importance of the Yezidi oral tradition and sacred hymns as the main treasury of the Yezidi faith, which, as suggested, is awaiting publication:
The Spiritual Council of the Yezidis in Georgia adheres to the Yezidi tradition, according to which the source of the Yezidi faith are the sacred qewls and beyts. They are the only authoritative source of Yezidi teaching. Despite the fact that in recent decades attempts to disseminate distorted and falsified texts were made, both on internet and in publications, authoritative experts and Yezidi clergy men have sufficient information regarding each qewl that has reached us. They have been collected and systematised, but the full corpus of the qewls has still not been published. The Yezidi clergy does not follow any other scriptures and texts, and all falsifications and distortions are rejected and considered heresy. As for the so-called Mashafa Resh and Kitebah Jelwa scriptures written on several pages, which have been published in several languages by various researchers, they are not acknowledged by the clergy, who consider the copies of these manuscripts as forgeries. Moreover, the distribution and translations of these falsified texts have always been used to discredit the Yezidi faith and have caused irreparable damage to our religion. 
The publication, authorised by the clergy, of the most sacred works of the Yezidi tradition has not yet taken place. However, this will undoubtedly happen, considering the increasing number of false fragments added to old hymns (such as the fragment on Kurdistan published by Kreyenbroek and Rashow) or even new pieces stylised as ancient ones (such as the Hymn of Zoroaster published in the Yezidi journal “Lalish”), which makes it difficult for many Yezidis to distinguish the authentic pearls of their own legacy from imitations.
South Caucasus and the breaking of the literacy taboo
It was in the South Caucasus that the taboo of writing was broken on a massive scale. Two relatively large Yezidi diasporas have formed here: the Armenian, consisting of tribes and families living especially in villages in the provinces of Aragatsotn, Armavir, and Ararat; and the Georgian, living mainly in the capital, Tbilisi. Despite their kinship, representatives of both groups emphasise that over time they have developed their own specifics – one more traditional, rural, and the other more cosmopolitan, urban. Their common ancestors came from the Ottoman-Persian-Armenian borderland called Sarhad (on the [border] line), from where they migrated at the end of the 19th century fleeing persecution by Muslim Turks and Kurds to the areas under Russian jurisdiction. The largest waves of migration occurred during the wars that the Russian Empire waged against the Persians (1826–1828) and Ottomans (1828–1829 and 1853–1856). The tsarist administration used Yezidis in its anti-Ottoman policy, and in order to conduct this effectively, it collected information about them. Therefore, in the second half of the 19th century, several publications devoted to the Yezidis appeared. Their authors noted, among other things, the special attitude of the Yezidis towards writing. For instance, the Polish botanist, Prince Władysław Massalski, who at the end of the 1886 on behalf of the Russian Geographical Society conducted research in the valley of the Araxes River in Russian Armenia, remarked:
The religious beliefs and customs of the Yezidis living here appear in the following light: the Yezidis recognize the sacred books: Towrat (the Bible), Zabur (the Psalms of David), Quran and Indjil (the Gospels), since, according to their words, these books contain legends of their forefathers and hence provide materials for the formulation of the foundations of the Yezidi faith. These foundations, or principles of faith, were written down by Sheikhs in Arabic and are kept in Mosul. Our Yezidis do not possess any books, but they have promised to present one of them to the authorities in due course, so that the latter might know their faith. This promise still remains only a promise. There are no literate ones among the Yezidis, and reading is considered a sin. 
The mass incitement to commit this sin on a massive scale began in the first half of the 20th century. It was part of a deliberate policy of the Soviets, who took over Transcaucasia and, in all their territories, implemented a plan to pull the citizens out of “religious obscurity and backwardness” by introducing them to a single Soviet system of universal education. Given the high level of illiteracy in the USSR at the time, this policy did not, of course, apply only to Yezidis, although the Yezidis were the perfect aim, because they were illiterate and because the ban on writing had a religious dimension for them. Thus, with one stroke the Soviets were able to attack religion and prove the effectiveness of the new education system.
There were even attempts to provide the Yezidis with special alphabets. In 1921, one such alphabet based on the Armenian script was developed in Tbilisi by an Armenian, Akop Kazaryan (called Lazo). It was introduced by the Yezidi textbook Shams (The Sun) published in Tbilisi. In 1929, in accordance with the directives of the People’s Commissariat for Enlightenment of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, a new notation of the Kurdish script was developed on the basis of the Latin alphabet, and in 1946 an alphabet based on Cyrillic was published by the Armenian Yezidi, Heciyê Cindî. Simultaneously, the Yezidis were subjected to a strong propaganda, the example of which is the silent film The Kurds-Yezidis (Курды-езиды) directed in 1932 by the Soviet Armenian director Amasi Martirosyan. The film targeted the ancient customs of the Yezidi people and their clergy. It showed the bright path of the Yezidi people’s departure from religious superstition, which developed – as the subtitles showed – in “semi nomadic habitats far from the cultural centres of the Kurds-Yezidis”. As the viewer could appreciate, it was only thanks to the Soviet educators that some Yezidi understood that writing was not a sin, and that by attending school and learning the alphabet, social advancement and recognition of the Soviet tovarishchey opened up to them.
Although at first this policy met with resistance, with time it was overcome and Transcaucasia became the forge of Yezidi literature, where both novels and scholarly treatises started to be written. It was here, in 1935, that the first novel written in Kurmanji dialect used by the Yezidis was published – Şivanê Kurmanca (The Kurmanji Shepherd) by Arab Shamilov (Erebê Şemo). With the spread of literacy, the Transcaucasian Yezidis became participants not only in their own culture. They also cooperated with Armenia and Georgia universities and contributed to the collection and dissemination of knowledge of indigenous customs throughout the entire USSR. One such contribution to the study of peoples using the Kurdish language was the world’s first publication of several Yezidi qewls and legends in Kurmanji by Yerevan-born Kurdologists with Yezidi roots, Ordîxanê Celîl and Celîlê Celîl, who included them into the work entitled Zargotina K’urda (Kurdish Folklore) published in Yerevan and Moscow in 1978.
The Yezidi Spiritual Council of Georgia and its initiatives
The current population of Yezidis in Georgia is estimated at about 12,000 people. According to the 2002 census there were 18,329, but the next census in 2014 counted only 12,174, which accounted for 0.3% of the Georgia population, making Yezidis the fifth largest minority (after Azeris, Armenians, Russians, and Ossetians). According to the 2014 data, as many as 11,194 Yezidis lived in the capital Tbilisi. The Yezidi population in Armenia is almost three times bigger. Despite this, it is in Georgia that the most important changes for the Yezidi religion are currently taking place, with unprecedented initiatives being undertaken. During the Soviet period, Georgia was home of several Kurdish associations, a folklore group, a theatre, and a Kurdish weekly radio broadcast. In Georgia Yezidi academics as Lamara Pashaeva, Kerim Amoev, and publicist Kerim Ankosi were active and published numerous works on the Kurdish culture in Russian and Georgian. During this period, most intellectuals of the Transcaucasian Yezidis recognised themselves as Kurds or as Yezidi-Kurds. However, ordinary Yezidis did not see themselves as Kurds, and in their official identity documents issued by the state, the term ‘Yezidi’ was written in the национальность (nationality) section. This changed later, when a distinction between Kurdishness and Yezidiness took place, which many Georgian Yezidis (as well as the Armenian diaspora) considered not only a marker of religiosity but also of ethnicity. In the 1990s this led to the emergence of a strong nationalism among Transcaucasian Yezidis.
The cornerstone for future Yezidi initiatives in Georgia under new political conditions was the establishment of a religious institution, the Spiritual Council of the Yezidis in Georgia in 2011. In the same year, a Yezidi newspaper “Новый взгляд/Nêrîna Nû” (New Vision) was published. Headed by Kerim Amoev and Dimitri Pirbari it was devoted to historical and religious issues of Yezidism as well as to current affairs involving the Georgian diaspora.
The Spiritual Council was first registered as Civata Ruhaniya Êzdiyan li Gurcistanê, then, in 2014 later renamed to Şêwrdariya Ruhaniya Êzdiya li Gurcistanê, and in 2020 to Civata Ruhaniya Êzdiyan ya Gurcistanê, (Yezidi Spiritual Council of Georgia). After its establishment, the Spiritual Council gained its approval from the Yezidi leaders in Iraq, especially the Mir and Baba Sheikh, who came to Tbilisi in 2011 to bless the initiative. Currently, the Spiritual Council consists of the Council of the Clergy and the Board. The former (including two Pirs and four Sheikhs) deals with religious issues and is chaired by the head of the Yezidis of Georgia (an Akhtiyar). Whereas the seven-persons Board (one Pir, two Sheikhs and four Murids) deals with administrative matters.
Apart from the members of the Council of Clergy, there are many other Sheikhs and Pirs who are ordinary members of the organisation. Other institutions operating within the Spiritual Council are the Council of Elders, the Cultural Center, and the Center for Yezidi Studies. All the main initiatives of Georgian Yezidis are sponsored by the Spiritual Council, which also represents Yezidis vis-a-vis the state authorities. For the first three years, it was headed by Sheikh Nadir Aloian of the Shamsanis clan. Since 2014, this position has been held continuously by Dimitri Pirbari (Pir Dima), who has also been recognised as an Akhtiar since 2020 according to the Constitution adopted by the Spiritual Council.
This Constitution is without precedent in the history of Yezidism. It defines the basic principles for the organisation and the functioning of the Yezidi community in Georgia, the most important of which was the establishment of the Akhtiarat of Georgia, that is, an independent religious entity under the authority of the local Akhtiar. This structure is similar to the concept well-known in Eastern Christianity where Patriarchates are led by independent Patriarchs, who are not subject to anyone else and having legal autonomy, the so-called autocephaly (from Gr. αὐτοκεφαλία, self-headed). The designation of the religious head of the Georgian Yezidis as Akhtiar is a reference to the traditional title of the religious heads of Yezidis, esp. Baba Sheikh, known in Iraq as Extiyarê Mergehê (the Old Men from Margah, i.e. Lalish), and Extiyarê Başîqê, Extiyarê Bahzanê, Extiyarê Baskîand, and others. Significantly, these changes occurred with the approval and blessing of the late Akhtiare Margahi Baba Sheikh Khato Haji Ismail. The first version of the Constitution was intended to cover all Yezidis; it began with a preamble defining the Yezidi religion and its main principles and introduced a clear division of competences and the election of authorities, as well as their responsibilities. The preparatory work received the approval of Baba Sheikh, who managed to express his support for the independence of the Georgian Yezidi authorities before he passed away. The document was proposed for consultation and signature to the Yezidis in Iraq, but – among other things due to the death of the two most important leaders of all Yezidis (Mir Tahsin Beg and Baba Sheikh) and the conflict over the election of new ones – the representatives of the Iraqi Yezidis finally refused to sign it. As a result of the refusal, the Spiritual Council of the Yezidis in Georgia declared its autonomy and adopted the document.
In 2012, the next major initiative after the establishment of the Spiritual Council was to initiate the building in Tbilisi of the first Yezidi sanctuary in the South Caucasus, called Ziyareta êzdiyan Quba Siltan Êzîd (lit. Yezidi place of pilgrimage, the dome[-shaped building] of Sultan Yezid), usually referred to simply as Quba Siltan Êzîd. This is where the seat of the Council is located too. From now on, the Yezidis could gather for religious services and burn oil lamps (fitîl û çira) in their own temple and every Wednesday listen to sermons. Before that, the only places where Georgian Yezidis could perform religious practices were either local cemeteries, which brought families together when their loved ones were buried, or home altars, the so-called sters, in front of which the household members used to pray.
Next to the temple, a building called Mala Yezidiya (House of the Yezidis) was built, which contains the office of the Spiritual Council, the seat of the International Yezidi Theological Academy with an archive, conference, and lecture rooms, as well as a kitchen and social facilities for students. It also serves as a community cultural centre, library, and a place where Yezidi children learn Kurmanji. Among the numerous initiatives of the Georgian Yezidis, and Pir Dima in particular, one should also mention the establishment of the Department of Yezidi Studies at Giorgi Tsereteli Institute of Oriental Studies of Ilia State University in 2019, which became the first academic centre for Yezidi studies worldwide.
A particularly interesting initiative of the Georgian Yezidis was the reuse of the ‘Yezidi alphabet’ known from Anastase Marie’s publication. In 2013, Pirbari and Amoev decided to modernise the alphabet and adapt it to the phonetic features of modern Kurmanji. They began to use the script both in the Yezidi temple, where wall stelae with excerpts from Yezidi hymns inscribed with it are located, as well as in documents issued by the Spiritual Council. The alphabet was also used in a book edition of the most important Yezidi Prayers (Dua’yêd Êzdiyan) published by the Spiritual Council in 2018. Despite being aware of the obscurity of the origins of this script, Pirbari and Amoev acknowledged that “what is important to us is the very uniqueness of the Yezidi alphabet, which can serve as one of the elements of Yezidi self-awareness”. Thanks to the initiative of the Georgian Yezidis, this modernised alphabet has also been incorporated into the Unicode Standard (Range: 10E80–10EBF).
One of the initiators of these projects is Dimitri Pirbari. His exceptional activity has won him both devoted supporters and opponents, among the latter especially those who as a result of his activities have lost their former influence. This Tbilisi-born Yezidi Pir is the spiritus movens of the changes taking place with an impact which goes beyond the borders of Georgia. Devoting himself to work for his own community, at the same time, as an Arabist with an academic background and a researcher at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, he is also engaged in scholarly work. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Yezidi culture, published in Kurdish, Georgian, Russian, and English. Furthermore, he is also involved in Yezidi initiatives within the Armenian, Russian, and German diasporas and in interreligious dialogue. He enjoys great respect among the Yezidis of the South Caucasus, Russia, Germany, Turkey, as well as in Iraq, where he befriended spiritual leaders. He undertook his first pilgrimage in 2000, and then, until 2014, he came to Lalish several times a year and served there as xilmetkar (servant). During my field research in these places, the Yezidis with whom I spoke (for instance, Faqir Haji Shamo, Bedel Faqir Haji, Faqir Djirdo, Sheikh Farhad Baba Sheikh, Qewal Husein, Pir Khidir Sileman, and others) invoked his authority on several occasions and whom they considered as one of the greatest experts with regard to the Yezidi religion. Interestingly, an identical opinion was formulated even by those who do not agree with him.
In this context, it should be noted that many of the Council’s initiatives are opposed by parts of the Georgian diaspora. This is particularly true of those Yezidis who departed from the religious principles and either converted to another religion or married non-Yezidis. According to the tradition, such people were automatically excluded from the Yezidi community or declared dead. These people are now demanding acceptance despite their violations of the old rules. For them, Pira Dima’s activities are a constant reminder of their roots and that they have strayed away from the path of their own tradition. Although the Spiritual Council, which he heads, strongly disapproves violations of the principles of the religion, and firmly refuses to bless mixed marriages, at the same time it is aware that some solutions must be worked out which should be beneficial to the whole community. Thus, by the decision of the Spiritual Council, those Yezidis who have broken the marriage ban or converted to another religion may enter the temple and participate in the liturgy. Furthermore – in agreement with Mir Tahsin Beg, Baba Sheikh, Qewal Suleiman and Faqir Khidr Barkat from Sinjar – in 2011 a special procedure was enacted to bring back to Yezidism those who have converted to another religion (if they have a strong will to return to tradition and have not married a person from another religion).
The Yezidi Theological Academy
Apart from various projects to save the identity and religious knowledge of Yezidis, one of such far-reaching solutions, which could make Yezidis better understand the principles of their religion and foster the wish to live according to them, was the establishment of the International Yezidi Theological Academy (Akadêmiya Teolojiya Êzdîtiyê ya Navdewletî) in 2019. As Pir Dima told me, he had long considered to create such an institution:
I wanted to establish a place where professional academic knowledge could be acquired. Not just at the level of Qewlbêjs and Îlmdars, but at a scientific level, just as Christians and Muslims are learning. (…) In 2019, we established the International Yezidi Theological Academy. We have not met with any opposition in Iraq or elsewhere. We have a document from the Spiritual Council [of all the Yezidis] in which they bless us and congratulate us on the opening of this institution. 
The establishment of the Academy took place with the knowledge of representatives of the Iraqi clergy. This can be read in the contents of the official letter issued on 23.12.2018 by the Yezidi Supreme Spiritual Council in Lalish:
On the occasion of the opening of a religious school in Georgia, which is a magnificent thing in the service of Yezidism in Georgia, we bless you. The Supreme Spiritual Council of Yezidis wishes you success in this work for the benefit of Yezidism in Georgia.
Respectfully, vicegerent [waqil] of Emir Tehsin Beg. 
This enterprise is the first modern Yezidi academic institution aimed at Yezidis from all over the world dedicated to the study and teaching of the principles of Yezidism. Its establishment was a response to the conditions in which Yezidism finds itself today. Firstly, the fact that for several decades those who have been writing about the Yezidi religion are mainly non-Yezidis, i.e., people from the outside of the community who obviously have less knowledge than its committed members and who, moreover, sometimes implant ideas that are not reflecting the facts. However, a much more important reason for the establishment of the Academy was the attempt to protect the Yezidi community from a secularisation that had been taking place for years. More and more believers are moving away from the religion, the principles of which they often do not understand, and instead focus more on material gains than on mysticism. All these maladies, which had been evident for years, showed themselves with particular force after the deaths of two elderly Yezidi leaders, Mir Tahsin Beg (d. 2019) and Baba Sheikh Hato Haji Ismail (d. 2020), when the Yezidis plunged themselves into disputes over power and money. With Iraqi leaders focusing more on politics and business than on religion and with the diaspora scattered around the world, losing contact with their Pirs and Sheikhs, while the hitherto prevailing rules and social structures began to crumble, some Yezidis decided that it was high time to start working on the consciousness of the younger generation, especially on the young Pirs and Sheikhs who would in future be responsible for the religious development of their Murids. But even if the Sheikhs and Pirs, as clerical castes, had adequate knowledge of the religious practices they perform, many of them as well as many Murids, would long for a deeper religious knowledge that would explain the metaphysical background of these practices. Thus, the guiding idea of the Academy became a substantial return to the origins and to emphasise thatreligious leaders should not only know the practice but also the religious principles behind it. In other words, that the principles contained in the prayers they recite are understood as well as exemplified in their validity through the way the religious leaders live. When asked about the purpose of the Academy, Pir Dima replied:
The purpose of the Academy is not to establish any new teaching or anything new. The purpose of the Academy is to give a scientific explanation, a theological explanation of the Yezidi religion, and the Yezidi sacred texts. That is the primary task. And the second is that the Yezidi clergy should have knowledge and know the qewls, that they should have knowledge at such a level that they are able to explain their religion to the youth and the faithful in an universally understandable language. Also, these spiritual persons should not just be that because they are Sheikhs or Pirs by birth. It is obligatory for a person who wants to be a spiritual activist to have at least a proper elementary knowledge of his religion; and not only of his religion – this is important. And he should also have a general understanding of religious studies, philosophy, and history. 
However, the academy is not just targeting Sheikhs and Pirs:
The academy is open to all Yezidis regardless of their background: Sheikhs, Pirs, and Murids. Of course, Sheikhs and Pirs have their knowledge and are spiritual persons, but there are also Murids who wish to have deep religious knowledge. If a Murid devotes his life to religion and religious service, the Academy is open to him, too. If he wants to be a Qewlbêj or an Îlmdar, he can improve himself in our Academy. 
Such a large project required adequate financial resources, which were provided by a donor and financial supporter, a Turkish-born Yezidi living in Germany, Salih Çete. The Academy has its own website on the Internet and a page on Facebook, which documents current events. Its representatives are aware of the pioneering importance of their project. As can be read on the Academy website, “the International Yezidi Theological Academy in Georgia is a milestone in Yezidi history”. It is noteworthy that the motto of the Academy is: Knowledge, Truth, Integrity, which appears on its logo, written in the modernised Yezidi script.
Although I am not a Yezidi, but a Christian, I have had the opportunity to observe the functioning of the Academy from its the very beginning. I have also been honoured to be invited to participate in this venture as a lecturer in philosophy. The clear self-declaration of my identity and competences allowed me both to keep the necessary distance to observe the functioning of the Academy as well as not to interfere with the religious content of Yezidism, as the subject I was teaching did not directly concern it.
A full course at the Academy includes three years of classes, which take place in Georgia during the summer months and online during the rest of the period. After completing the full course, the student receives a certificate issued jointly by the Academy and Ilya University, with which the Academy has signed a memorandum of cooperation. This is not a degree, but a confirmation that he has passed the course and received a general knowledge of Yezidi theology. This offer is aimed at students who – as we read on the Academy’s official website “must be Yezidi and between 18 and 35 years old. Furthermore, a secondary education level or higher is necessary”.
They can study only theology or broaden their knowledge further with “Practical Theology (ritual service)” and “have additional practical lessons in Yezidi rituals and ceremonies”. The classes last from 10 am till evening, when the students have practical classes in Yezidi liturgy in the temple. The fact that the Academy mainly focuses on theory does not in any way mean that it devalues the importance of orthopraxy.
Most of the students are leaders of the worldwide Yezidi community, who will pass on the knowledge they have gained, making the activities of the Academy international in scope. They live in Georgia, Iraq, Armenia, Turkey, Russia, Germany, and Belgium. What distinguishes the atmosphere of the Yezidi Academy is the unique bond of mutual friendship, respect for the lecturers, and the sense of spiritual improvement that binds the participants together for the benefit of the whole community – to save its traditions and identity.
Among the lecturers, in addition to Pir Dima, special mention must be made of Dr. Majid Hassan Ali, an Iraqi-born Murid specialist in the history of Yezidism and Iraqi religious minorities, who completed his doctoral research in Bamberger Graduiertenschule für Orient-Studien at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the University of Bamberg. A class on religious studies is in turn conducted by Dr. Malkhaz Songulashvili, the Metropolit of Tbilisi, the former Archbishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, Oxford Center of Mission Studies PhD graduate, presently, the diocesan Bishop of Tbilisi and head of Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi and a lecturer of comparative theology at the Ilya University.
The classes are held mainly in the Yezidi variant of Kurmanji, which is commonly called Êzdikî here, as well as in Russian and English. The main courses taught at the Academy can be divided into theoretical and practical lessons. The theoretical ones include especially Yezidi Theology and Religious Terminology of Yezidism, during which Yezidis learn about the main principles of their religion, the most important qewls and bayts as well as their complex terminology. They learn about its etymology and dialectal diversity, as well as the idiomatic meaning in particular works. In turn, during classes on the History of the Middle East and the History of the Yezidi People, they learn about key figures and events in Yezidism as well as fatwas and persecutions. Other theoretical classes include Psychology, Religious Ethics of the Monotheistic and Hindu Religions, Introduction to Religious Studies, and Introduction to Philosophy, which provide an insight into concepts and terminology specific to these disciplines that are also useful when attempting to describe Yezidism within a contemporary academic discourse. In addition to these, students also have classes in English and Arabic languages. Practical classes, on the other hand, are devoted to Yezidi liturgy and the recitation of hymns and beyts.
All the students I talked to, said that through their studies at the Academy they had finally understood many previously unclear elements of their religion, especially the hidden meanings of the sacred hymns. In Iraq, the hymns are transmitted by a special group of so-called Qewals living in Bashiqa and Bahzani, from whom the Yezidis living in diasporas scattered all over the world are cut off. Now, the students could not only hear and learn about many of the religious hymns, but also understand their meaning during hours of lectures devoted to their linguistic and exegetical analysis. As a young Sheikh, Badr Choloyan from a Shiekh Sin clan told me:
I understood many things (…). I had heard a lot before, but I did not understand. (…) I got many deep answers and deep knowledge. I hope that with the knowledge I have gained, I can now be a better Sheikh. I will be able to help people better. 
Some students also attended practical classes. In 2021, this culminated in the ordination ritual of one of the Yezidi Pirs from Armenia, Pir Maxim. He was officially declared ready for a spiritual ministry and after a ceremony of ceremonial dressing in spiritual clothing, delivered his first sermon and recited a qewl.
Novelty or a return to an original idea of Academy?
What is happening to the Yezidis in Georgia now is their entry into the sphere previously reserved for those religions, which have developed their own institutions, theologies, and systems of hermeneutics of sacred texts. In this way, Yezidism can become a religion equal to them in the eyes of the wider public and become attractive to the young generation of Yezidis, who did not perceive themselves as religious before.
It cannot be said that it was the Academy that initiated these transformations. Rather, it emerged as a natural consequence, a response to changes that took place over decades – ever since the Yezidis began publishing texts that presented speculations and claims about their own religion. The founders of the Academy aimed to bring order to these endeavours and to base them on the solid foundations of the Yezidi tradition, confirmed by the authority of the hierarchs and uncontaminated by the visions of Orientalists and non-Yezidi academics.
The question remains as to whether the activities of the Academy and the entry of Yezidism into the academic-orthodox phase will not lead them to a Neo-Yezidism, which in turn will become the basis of reformation or even religious schism –the first signs of which can already be noticed. Undoubtedly, the Yezidis faced a dramatic choice: Whether to remain faithful to customs that had become ossified, paying the price of losing their own identity and knowledge of the foundations of their religion, or to adapt to the changes that were taking place and try to make reforms. In its history, Yezidism has undergone at least a few such reforms, starting from the time of Adi ibn Musafir and his successors, fighting for leadership, when the entire community faced the threat of losing its unity on several occasions.
However, does the establishment of the Yezidi Theological Academy actually break away from the principles and centuries-old religious tradition, or is it rather in harmony with it? To what extent do the founders of the Academy strive to break with tradition, and to what extent are they guided by the idea of being faithful to it, although at the same time reforming it? When asked this question, Pir Dima replied:
We, the Spiritual Council of Yezidis in Georgia, the Academy, and myself as an individuum, hold to the traditional understanding of the Yezidi religion, and by no means do we depart from the Yezidi tradition. Of course, we are trying to bring order and establish an institution, but within the framework of the Yezidi tradition, our customs, and the proper interpretation of the Yezidi qewls. We will not go beyond that. 
As a direct observer of the activities of the Academy, it is difficult for me not to agree with these statements. For one can see the enormous effort made by the founders of the Academy to base the knowledge of theology passed on to the students solely on Yezidi sources. Hymns are recited and explained orally. Knowledge of theology is also transmitted in this way by representatives of the clerical castes.
Regarding the use of writing during classes – given that the Yezidis have been using it widely for several decades, this is no longer a novelty. Even the highest authorities of the Yezidi clergy in Iraq have been publishing official letters, edicts, as well as proclamations; and some Yezidis have been printing the texts of religious hymns. Writing was also used at the beginning of the formation of the original Yezidi community at the time of Sheikh Adi and his first successors.
What is new is undoubtedly the institutionalisation, the undertaking by a single academic centre to standardise dogma and canonise sacred texts hitherto belonging to oral tradition. Although many Pirs and Sheikhs already published books and articles on theology, However, they did not do so as private individuals but within the framework of a Yezidi academic institution that aspires to be the voice of either a clerical caste or even an entire religion.
The emphasis on clarity and precision is also something new. Over the centuries, for various reasons, one of the established practices of Yezidism became secrecy and the concealment of religious content in a language of symbols. For this reason, the religious content was a secret not only for outsiders but also for the Yezidis themselves, who were gradually introduced to some of them by their clergy. In this respect, the Academy represents an intermediate stage on the way to full transparency, because some of these contents are not even mentioned by the Academy directly, and at the same time a certain atmosphere of secrecy is built up through usage of the Yazidi alphabet, which is not commonly known.
The other question is whether the very idea of the academy as such is innovative in the history of Yezidism? I would venture to say, however, that not only is it not a novelty, but it is in fact the very basis of Yezidism. I mean the original idea of the Academy, which originated from the Pythagorean brotherhood, a theocracy of mystics united by the idea of a spiritual and material community of friends focused on the contemplation of Truth, i.e., the divine reality manifested in numbers, planets, music of the heavenly spheres, and the universal harmony of the natural world. This idea took its most classical form in the first Academy (Gr. Άκαδήμεια), that is Plato’s school, so named after the garden of Academus, where Plato discussed philosophical questions with his students. Incidentally, it was Plato who first used the word ‘theologia’ (Gr. θεολογία, discourse on god), while one of these students, Aristotle, described it as the highest form of philosophy, the ‘first philosophy’. This ancient idea of the Academy was then continued by Christian monastic communities, followed by Sufi brotherhoods and their zawiyas. Its final culmination was the concept of the University, as a community of lovers of universal Truth. Therefore, starting from the initial phase of the formation of Yezidism in the times of Sheikh Adi and Sheikh Hasan, through the establishing of zêws in which the Murids were introduced to the field of religious knowledge, till the current activity of the Yezidis in Georgia – all these initiatives are united by the faithfulness to the same idea, which is embodied in the modern Yezidi institution, still named by Greek words: Theological Academy.
 I use the term ‘diaspora’, in accordance with its Greek etymology (from διασπείρω, ‘to disseminate’, ‘to scatter’), to describe scattered groups belonging to a single community (e.g. ethnic, religious) that exist outside their territory of origin.
 The number given to me in March 2022 by the Yezidi organisation in Oldenburg, Mala Êzîdîyan Oldenburg.
 A. Rodziewicz, Milete min Êzîd. The Uniqueness of the Yezidi Concept of the Nation, “Securitologia” 1 (2018), pp. 67-78.
 Ibn Khallikan, Wafayat al a’yan: Ibn Khallikans Biographical Dictionary, vol. II, tr. Baron Mac Guckin de Slane, Paris 1843, p. 197.
 M. Guidi, Nuove ricerche sui Yazidi, “Rivista degli studi orientali” 13, fasc. 4 (1933), pp. 418-420; R. Lescot, Enquête sur les Yezidis de Syrie et du Djebel Sindjār, Beirut 1938, pp. 105-108.
 Cf. Kh. F. Al-Jabiri, Stability and Social Change in Yezidi Society, [PhD dissertation], Oxford University, Oxford 1981 .
 The general name for a building or group of buildings which is the seat of a Sufi brotherhood, where prayers and zikr are performed and the adepts of Sufism are educated. Many of the zawiyas after the death of the spiritual leader became ziyarats, i.e. places of pilgrimage.
 The name of one of the Yezidi leaders Sharaf al-Din, the son of Sheikh Hasan, d. ca. 1257 AD.
 A. Rodziewicz, Heft Sur – The Seven Angels of the Yezidi Tradition and Harran, [in:] Inventer les anges de l’Antiquité à Byzance: conception, représentation, perception, ed. D. Lauritzen, (Travaux et mémoires 25/2), Paris 2021, pp. 943-1029.
 A. Rodziewicz, The Nation of the Sur. The Yezidi Identity between Modern and Ancient Myth [in:] Rediscovering Kurdistan’s Cultures and Identities: The Call of The Cricket, ed. J. Bocheńska, Cham 2018, pp. 259-326.
 Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu’at al-Rasa’il al-Kubra, vol. I, Cairo 1323, pp. 262-317; cf. M. Guidi, Nuove ricerche sui Yazidi, op. cit., pp. 394-403; Ph. Kreyenbroek, Yezidism – its Background, Observances and Textual Tradition, Lewiston 1995, p. 32.
 R. Lescot, Enquête sur les Yezidis…, op. cit., p. 38.
 I have heard several versions of this confession. In some of them, the Peacock Angel is mentioned (in the second verse) in place of Angel Shekih Sin.
 See fatwas against the Yezidis collected by: S. S. Ahmed, The Yazidis: Their Life and Beliefs, ed. H. Field, Coconut Grove, Miami 1975, pp. 385-398; M. Dehqan, The Fatwā of Malā Ṣāliḥ al-Kurdī al-Hakkārī: An Arabic Manuscript on the Yezidi Religion, “JKS” 6 (2008), pp. 149-151; idem, Muhammad al-Barqal‘i: A Yezidi Commentary by Mawlānā Muḥammad al-Barqal’ī, “Nûbihar Akademî” 3 (2015), pp. 137-151.
 Cf. A. Rodziewicz, The Mystery of Essence and the Essence of Mystery: Yezidi and Yaresan Cosmogonies in the Light of the Kitab al-Tawasin, [in:] Yari Religion of Iran, ed. B. Hosseini, Singapore 2022, pp. 103-187.
 Cf. J. Guest, Survival Among the Kurds: A History of the Yezidis, London – New York 1993 (2nd, revised edition), p. 227.
 Qewlê Mezin: Ph. Kreyenbroek, Kh. J. Rashow, God and Sheikh Adi are Perfect, Wiesbaden 2005, p. 167; translation slightly corrected by A.R.
 M. Garzoni, Della Setta delli Jazidj, [in:] Abate Domenico Sestini, Viaggi e opuscoli diversi, Berlin 1807, pp. 203-204; tr. A.R.
 N. Siouffi, Une courte conversation avec le chef de la secte des les adorateurs du diable, “Journal asiatique” 18 (1880), pp. 81-82, n. 3.
 Ismail Beg Chol, El Yazidiyya qadiman wa hadithan, ed. C. K. Zurayk, Beirut 1934.
 Cf. J. Guest, Survival Among the Kurds…, op. cit., p. 34.
 Kh. Omarkhali, The Yezidi Religious Textual Tradition: From Oral to Written: Categories, Transmission, Scripturalisation and Canonisation of the Yezidi Oral Religious Texts, Wiesbaden 2017, p. 379; X. Silêman, Mišūrat al-yazīdiyat [Mişûrs of Yezidis], “Lalish” 2-3 (1994), pp. 95–113.
 D. Pirbari, N. Mossaki, M. S. Yezdin, A Yezidi Manuscript: –Mišūr of P’īr Sīnī Bahrī/P’īr Sīnī Dārānī, Its Study and Critical Analysis, “Iranian Studies” 53 (2020), pp. 223-257.
 Abu’l Qasim al-Qushayri, Al-Qushayri’s Epistle on Sufism, tr. A. D. Knysh, Reading 2007, p. 110.
 Most likely a forgery but reflecting essential beliefs and dogmas of Yezidism.
 Arabic text and English translation: R. Y. Ebied, M. J. L. Young, An Account of the History and Rituals of the Yazīdīs of Mosul, “Le Muséon” 85 (1972), p. 512.
 N. Siouffi, Une courte conversation…, op. cit., p. 82; tr. A.R.
 Cf. A. Rodziewicz, The Nation of the Sur…, op. cit., pp. 287-292.
 Cf. Z. Khenchelaoui, The Yezidis, People of the Spoken Word in the midst of People of the Book, “Diogenes” 187 (1999), pp. 20-37.
 M. Garzoni, Della Setta delli Jazidj, [in:] Abate Domenico Sestini, Viaggi e opuscoli diversi, Berlin 1807, pp. 204-205; tr. A.R.
 Мехмед Хуршид-Эфенди, Сияхэт-намэ-и худуд: Описание путешествия по турецко-персидской границе. Санкт-Петербург 1877 [Turkish edition was published in1862], pp. 275-276; tr. A.R.
 L. E. Browski, The Yezidees, or Devil-Worshippers, “The Popular Science Monthly” 34 (1889), p. 474; the German text: idem, Die Jeziden und ihre Religion, “Das Ausland” 59 (1886), pp. 761-762.
 Ibidem, p. 474.
 Cf. J. Guest, Survival Among the Kurds…, op. cit., pp. 146-163.
 Alpheus N. Andrus, The Yezidees, [in:] The Encyclopaedia of Mission, vol. II, New York 1891, pp. 526-528; cf. J. Guest, Survival Among the Kurds, pp. 125 and 148.
 As an Appendix to O. H. Parry, Six Months in a Syrian Monastery, London 1895, pp. 374-387.
 I. Joseph, Yezidi Texts, “American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures” 1909 (25), pp. 111-156; idem, Yezidi Texts (Continued), “American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures” 1909 (25), pp. 218-254.
 A. Mingana, Devil-Worshippers: Their Beliefs and They Sacred Books, “Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland” (1916), pp. 505-526.
 Unless the original has been seen by Browski, as the summary he provides differs from the content of the known books.
 G. P. Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals, vol. I, London 1852, p. 115.
 A. Marie, La découverte récente des deux livres sacrés des Yézîdis, “Anthropos” 6 (1911), p. 9; tr. A.R.
 Ibidem, p. 4; tr. A.R.
 Ibidem, p. 10.
 M. Bittner, Die heiligen Bücher der Jeziden oder Teufelsanbeter (Kurdisch und Arabisch), Vienna 1913.
 К. Амоев, Езиды и их религия, Тбилиси 2016; idem, Езидские священные книги, Тбилиси 1999.
 Заявление Духовного совета езидов в Грузии по поводу т.н. езидских священных книг:
 Ph. Kreyenbroek, Kh. J. Rashow, God and Sheikh Adi are Perfect, op. cit., p. 221.
 Qewlê Zerdeşt, “Lalish” 15 (2001), pp. 13-14.
 Кн. В. И. Массальский, Очеркъ пограничной части Карсской Области, “Известия Императорскаго Русскаго Географическаго Общества” 23 (1887), p. 32; tr. A. R.
 E. Şemo, Şivanê Kurmanca, Yêrêvan 1935.
 CCZ1, pp. 5-53 (this work was published the same year in Yerevan and Moscow); SCÊ.
 Unfortuantely, all these initiatives ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
 Kurm. Extiyar and Îxt’iyar, ‘old man’.
 Dua’yêd Êzdiyan, Şêwrdariya Ruhaniya Êzdiyan li Gurcistanê (ed.), Tbilisi 2018.
 Д. Пирбари, К. Амоев, Езидская письменность, Тбилиси 2013, p. 24.
 E. Karaca, D. Pirbari, A. Rovenchak, Preliminary Proposal for Encoding the Yezidi Script in the SMP of the UCS: www.unicode.org/L2/L2018/18238-yezidi.pdf [18.03.2022]; cf. www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U10E80.pdf
 Qewlbêj is a person who is reputed to be an expert in qewls. Îlmdar is the one who ‘has knowledge’ (from Ar. ‚ilm, ‘knowledge’) about the Yezidi religious tradition.
 Interview conducted in Tbilisi, July 2021.
 Document from the Spiritual Council archives, tr. A.R.
 Interview conducted in Tbilisi, July 2021.
 Interview conducted in Tbilisi, July 2021.
 https://yeziditheoac.com/?page_id=2287 [18.03.2022]
 Interview conducted in Tbilisi, July 2021.
 Cf. Kh. F. Al-Jabiri, Stability and Social Change in Yezidi Society, op. cit.
 Interview conducted in Tbilisi, July 2021.
 In his Respublica he wrote about the poets who should know “the patterns concerning the discourse on god” (Plato, Respublica (Burnet) 379a5: “οἱ τύποι περὶ θεολογίας”).
 Aristotle, Metaphysica (Ross) 1026a and 1064a-b.
AHMED, Sami Said. The Yazidis: Their Life and Beliefs, ed. H. Field, Coconut Grove, Miami 1975.
AL-JAHIRI, Khalid Faraj. Stability and social change in Yezidi society. PhD Thesis. University of Oxford: 1981.
AMOEV, Kerim. Ezidskie svyashchennye knigi (Езидские священные книги). Tbilisi, 1999.
AMOEV, Kerim. Ezidy i ikh religiya (Езиды и их религия). Tbilisi, 2016.
ANDRUS, A. N. The Yezidees. In The Encyclopaedia of Mission, vol. II, New York 1891, pp. 526-528.
ARISTOTLE. Metaphysica: Aritotle’s Metaphysics, W. D. Ross (ed.), Oxford 1924.
BADGER, George Percy. The Nestorians and their Rituals, vol. I. London 1852.
BITTNER, Maximilian. Die heiligen Bücher der Jeziden oder Teufelsanbeter (Kurdisch und Arabisch). Vienna 1913.
BROWSKI, L. E. Die Jeziden und ihre Religion. Das Ausland 59 (1886), pp. 761-767, 785-790.
BROWSKI, L. E. The Yezidees, or Devil-Worshipers. The Popular Science Monthly. 34 (1889), pp. 474-482.
CELÎL, Ordîxanê, CELÎL, Celîlê. Zargotina K’urda: Kurdskiy fol’klor (Курдский фольклор). Vol. II, Moskva 1978.
CELÎL, Ordîxanê, CELÎL, Celîlê. Zargotina K’urda: Kurdskiy fol’klor (Курдский фольклор). Vol. I, Erevan 1978.
DEHQAN, M. Muhammad al-Barqal‘i: A Yezidi Commentary by Mawlānā Muḥammad al-Barqal’ī. Nûbihar Akademî 3 (2015), pp. 137-151.
DEHQAN, Mustafa. The Fatwā of Malā Ṣāliḥ al-Kurdī al-Hakkārī: An Arabic Manuscript on the Yezidi Religion. Journal of Kurdish Studies 6 (2008), pp. 149-151. DOI: 10.2143/JKS.6.0.2038094
Dua’yêd Êzdiyan, Şêwrdariya Ruhaniya Êzdiyan li Gurcistanê (ed.), Tbilisi 2018.
EBIED, Rifaat Y.; YOUNG, Michael JL. An Account of the History and Rituals of the Yazidis of Mosul. Le Muséon: Revue d’Études Orientales, 1972, 85.3-4: 481-522.
GARZONI, M. Della Setta delli Jazidj. In Abate Domenico Sestini. Viaggi e opuscoli diversi, Berlin, 1807.
GUEST, John S. Survival among the Kurds: A History of the Yezidis. London – New York: Routledge, 1993.
GUIDI, Michelangelo. Nuove ricerche sui Yazidi. Rivista degli studi orientali, 1933, 13. Fasc. 4: 377-427.
CHOL, Ismail Beg. El Yazidiyya qadiman wa hadithan, ed. C. K. Zurayk, Beirut 1934.
Ibn KHALLIKAN. Wafayat al a’yan, Ibn Khallikan’s Bibliographical Dictionary, tr. Baron Mac Guckin de Slane [William McGuckin] vol. I-II, Paris 1843.
Ibn TAYMIYYA. Majmu’at al-Rasa’il al-Kubra. Vol. I, Cairo 1323.
JOSEPH, Isya. Yezidi texts. The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, 1909, 25.2: 111-156. DOI: 10.1086/369616
JOSEPH, Isya. Yezidi Texts (Continued). The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, 1909, 25.3: 218-254. DOI: 10.1086/369621
KARACA, Erdal; PIRBARI, Dimitri; ROVENCHAK, Andrij. Preliminary proposal for encoding the Yezidi script in the SMP of the UCS. 2018. Available: www.unicode.org/L2/L2018/18238-yezidi.pdf [18.03.2022].
KHENCHELAOUI, Zaim; BURRELL, Jean. The Yezidis, People of the Spoken Word in the midst of People of the Book. Diogenes, 1999, 47.187: 20-37. DOI: 10.1177/039219219904718703
KHURSHID-EFENDI, M. Siyakhet-name-i khudud: Opisanie puteshestviya po turetsko-persidskoy granitse (Сияхэт-намэ-и худуд: Описание путешествия по турецко-персидской границе). Sankt-Peterburg 1877.
KREYENBROEK, Philip G. Yezidism—it’s background, observances’ and textual tradition. Texts and studies in religion, 62. Lewiston 1995.
KREYENBROEK, Philip G.; RASHOW, Khalil Jindy; JINDĪ, Khalīl. God and Sheikh Adi are perfect: sacred poems and religious narratives from the Yezidi tradition. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005.
LESCOT, Roger. Enquête sur les Yezidis de Syrie et du Djebel Sindjār. Beirut: Institut français de Damas, 1938, pp. 105-108.
MARIE, Anastase. La découverte récente des deux livres sacrés des Yézîdis. Anthropos, 1911, 1-39.
MASSAL’SKIY, Kn. V. I. Otcherk‘ pogranitchnoy tchasti Karsskoy Oblasti (Очеркъ пограничной части Карсской Области). Izvestiya Imperatorskago Russkago Geografitcheskago Obshchestva, 1887, 23: 1-35.
MINGANA, Alphonse. XV. Devil-Worshippers: their Beliefs and their Sacred Books. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1916, 48.3: 505-526. DOI: 10.1017/S0035869X00049364
OMARKHALI, Khanna. The Yezidi Religious Textual Tradition: From Oral to Written: Categories, Transmission, Scripturalisation and Canonisation of the Yezidi Oral Religious Texts. Wiesbaden 2017.
PARRY, Oswald H. Six Months in a Syrian Monastery. London 1895.
PIRBARI, D.; AMOEV, K. Ezidskaya pis’mennost‘. Tbilisi 2013.
PIRBARI, Dimitri; MOSSAKI, Nodar; YEZDIN, Mirza Sileman. A Yezidi manuscript:—Mišūr of P’īr Sīnī Bahrī/P’īr Sīnī Dārānī, its study and critical analysis. Iranian Studies, 2020, 53.1-2: 223-257. DOI: 10.1080/00210862.2019.1669118
PLATO. Respublica: Platonis opera, recognovit brevique adnotatione critica instruxit Ioannes Burnet. Vol. 4, Oxford 1902.
Qewlê Zerdeşt. Lalish 15 (2001), pp. 13-14.
QUSHAYRI, Abu‘l-Qasim al-. Al-Qushayri’s Epistle on Sufism, tr. A. D. Knysh, Reading 2007.
RODZIEWICZ, Artur. Heft Sur – The Seven Angels of the Yezidi Tradition and Harran. In Inventer les anges de l’Antiquité à Byzance: conception, représentation, perception, ed. D. Lauritzen, (Travaux et mémoires 25/2), Paris 2021, pp. 943-1029. DOI: 10.4467/24497436SCU.18.006.9929
RODZIEWICZ, Artur. Milete min Êzîd. The Uniqueness of the Yezidi Concept of the Nation. Securitologia 1 (2018), pp. 67-78. DOI:10.4467/24497436SCU.18.006.9929
RODZIEWICZ, Artur. The Mystery of Essence and the Essence of Mystery: Yezidi and Yaresan Cosmogonies in the Light of the Kitab al-Tawasin. In Yari Religion of Iran, ed. B. Hosseini, Singapore 2022, pp. 103-187. DOI: 10.1007/978-981-16-6444-1_6
RODZIEWICZ, Artur. The Nation of the Sur. The Yezidi Identity between Modern and Ancient Myth. In Rediscovering Kurdistan’s Cultures and Identities: The Call of The Cricket. ed. J. Bocheńska, Cham 2018, pp. 259-326. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-93088-6_7
ŞEMO, Erebê. Şivanê Kurmanca. Yêrêvan 1935.
SILÊMAN, X. Mišūrat al-yazīdiyat [Mişûrs of Yezidis]. Lalish 2-3 (1994), pp. 95–113.
SIOUFFI, N. Une courte conversation avec le chef de la secte des les adorateurs du diable. Journal asiatique 18 (1880), pp. 78-83.
Zayavlenie Dukhovnogo soveta ezidov v Gruzii po povodu t.n. ezidskikh svyashchennykh knig. Available: http://yezidi.ge/… [16.03.2022].