Discoveries At Nineveh
Austen Henry Layard, Esq., D.C.L.
A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh. Austen Henry Layard. J. C. Derby. New York. 1854.
A few days after my return to Mosul from the Tiyari mountains, a priest of the Yezidis, or, as they are commonly called, "Worshipers of the Devil," was sent by Sheikh Nasr, the religious chief of that remarkable sect, to invite Mr. Rassam and myself to their great periodical feast. The vice-consul was unable to accept the invitation; but I seized with eagerness the opportunity of being present at ceremonies not before witnessed by an European.
The origin of my invitation proves that the Yezidis may lay claim to a virtue which is, unfortunately, not of frequent occurrence in the East, - I mean gratitude. When Keritli Oglu, Mohammed Pashaw, first came to Mosul, this sect was among the objects of his cupidity and tyranny. He seized by treachery, as he supposed, their high-priest; but Sheikh Nasr had time to escape the plot against him, and to substitute in his place the second in authority, who was carried a prisoner to the town. Such is the attachment shown by the Yezidis to their chief, that the deceit was not revealed, and the substitute bore with resignation the tortures and imprisonment inflicted upon him. Mr. Rassam having been applied to, obtained his release from the pashaw, on the advance of a considerable sum of money, which the inhabitants of the district of Sheikhan undertook to repay, in course of time, out of the produce of their fields. They punctually fulfilled the engagement thus entered into, and looked to the British vice-consul as their protector.
Owing to the disturbed state of the country, and the misconduct of the late pashaws, some years had elapsed since the Yezidis had assembled at Sheikh Adi. The short rule of Ismail Pashaw, and the conciliatory measures of the new governor, had so far restored confidence among persons of all sects, that the Worshipers of the Devil had determined to celebrate their great festival with more than ordinary solemnity and rejoicings.
I quitted Mosul, accompanied by Hodja Toma (the dragoman of the vice-consulate), and the cawal, or priest, sent by Sheikh Nasr. We were joined on the road by several Yezidis, who were, like ourselves, on their way to the place of meeting. We passed the night in a small hamlet near Khorsabad, and reached Baadri early next day. This village, the residence of Hussein Bey, the political chief of the Yezidis, is built at the foot of the line of hills crossed in my previous journey to the Chaldean Mountains, and about five miles to the north of Ain Sifni. We traveled over the same dreary plain, leaving the mound of Jerrahiyah to our right.
On approaching the village I was met by Hussein Bey, followed by the priests and principal inhabitants on foot. The chief was about eighteen years of age, and one of the handsomest young men I ever saw. His features were regular and delicate, his eye lustrous, and the long curls, which fell from under his variegated turban, of the deepest black. An ample white cloak of fine texture was thrown over his rich jacket and robes. I dismounted as he drew near, and he endeavored to kiss my hand; but to this ceremony I decidedly objected; and we compromised matters by embracing each other after the fashion of the country. He then insisted upon leading my horse, which he wished me to remount, and it was with difficulty that I at length prevailed upon him to walk with me into the village. He led me to his salamlik, or reception room, in which carpets and cushions had been spread. Through the center ran a stream of fresh water, derived from a neighboring spring. The people of the place stood at the lower end of the room, and listened in respectful silence to the conversation between their chief and myself.
Breakfast was brought to us from the harem of Hussein Bey; and the crowd having retired after we had eaten, I was left during the heat of the day to enjoy the cool temperature of the salamlik.
I was awakened in the afternoon by that shrill cry of the women, which generally announces some happy event. The youthful chief entered soon afterward, followed by a long retinue. It was evident, from the smile upon his features, that, he had joyful news to communicate. He seated himself on my carpet, and thus addressed me:- "O Bey, your presence has brought happiness on our house. At your hands we receive nothing but good. We are all your servants; and, praise be to the Highest, in this house another servant has been born to you. The child is yours: he is our first-born, and he will grow up under your shadow. Let him receive his name from you, and be hereafter under your protection." The assembly joined in the request, and protested that this event, so interesting to all the tribe, was solely to be attributed to my fortunate visit. I was not quite aware of the nature of the ceremony, if any, in which I might be expected to join on naming the new-born chief. Notwithstanding my respect and esteem for the Yezidis, I could not but admit that there were some doubts as to the propriety of their tenets and form of worship; and I was naturally anxious to ascertain the amount of responsibility which I might incur, in standing godfather to a devil-worshiping baby. However, as I was assured that no other form was necessary than the mere selection of a name (the rite of baptism being reserved for a future day, when the child could be carried to the tomb of Sheikh Adi, and could bear immersion in its sacred waters), I thus answered Hussein Bey:- "O Bey, I rejoice in this happy event, for which we must return thanks to God. May this son be but the first of many who will preserve, as their forefathers have done, the fame and honor of your house. As you ask of me a name for this child, I could give you many, which, in my language and country, are well sounding and honorable; but your tongue could not utter them, and they would moreover be without meaning. Were it usual I would call him after his father, whose virtues he will no doubt imitate; but such is not the custom. I have not forgotten the name of his grandfather, - a name which is dear to the Yezidis, and still brings to their memory the days of their prosperity and happiness. Let him therefore be known as Ali Bey; and may he live to see the Yezidis as they were in the time of him after whom he is called." This oration, which was accompanied by a few gold coins to be sewn to the cap of the infant, was received with great applause; and the name of Ali Bey was unanimously adopted; one of the chief's relations hastening to the harem, to communicate it to the ladies. He returned with a carpet and some embroidery, as presents from the mother, and with an invitation to the harem to see the females of the family. I found there the chief's mother and his second wife; for he had already taken two. They assured me that the lady, who had just brought joy to the house, was even more thankful than her husband; and that her gratitude to me, as the author of her happiness, was unbounded. They brought me honey and strings of dried figs from the Sinjar, and entertained me with domestic histories until I thought it time to return to the salamlik.
The Yezidis were some years ago a very powerful tribe. Their principal strongholds were in the district which I was now visiting, and in the Jebel Sinjar, a solitary mountain rising in the center of the Mesopotamian desert to the west of Mosul. The last independent chief of the Yezidis of Sheikhan was Ali Bey, the father of Hussein Bey. He was beloved by his tribe, and sufficiently brave and skillful in war to defend them, for many years, against the attacks of the Kurds and Mussulmans of the plain. The powerful Bey of Rowandiz, who had united most of the Kurdish tribes of the surrounding mountains under his banner, and long defied both Turks and Persians, resolved to crush the hateful sect of the Yezidis. Ali Bey's forces were greatly inferior in numbers to those of his persecutor. He was defeated, and fell into the hands of the Rowandiz chief, who put him to death. The inhabitants of Sheikan fled to Mosul. It was spring; the river had overflowed its banks, and the bridge of boats had been removed. A few succeeded in crossing the stream; but a vast crowd of men, women, and children were left upon the opposite side, and congregated on the great mound of Kouyunjik. The Bey of Rowandiz followed them. An indiscriminate slaughter ensued; and the people of Mosul beheld, from their terraces, the murder of these unfortunate fugitives, who cried to them in vain for help - for both Christians and Mussulmans rejoiced in the extermination of an odious and infidel sect, and no arm was lifted in their defense. Hussein Bey, having been carried by his mother to the mountains, escaped the general slaughter. He was carefully brought up by the Yezidis, and from his infancy had been regarded as their chief.
The inhabitants of the Sinjar were soon after subdued by Mehemet Reshid Pashaw, and a second time by Hafiz Pashaw. On both occasions there was a massacre, and the population was reduced by three fourths. The Yezidis took refuge in caves, where they were either suffocated by fires lighted at the mouth, or destroyed by discharges of cannon.
It will be remembered that Mohammedans, in their dealings with men of other creeds, make a distinction between such as are believers in the sacred books, and such as have no recognized inspired works. To the first category belong Christians of all denominations, as receiving the two testaments; and the Jews, as followers of the old. With Christians and Jews, therefore, they may treat, make peace, and live; but with such as are included in the second class, the good Mussulman can have no intercourse. No treaty nor oath, when they are concerned, is binding. They have the choice between conversion and the sword, and it is unlawful even to take tribute from them. The Yezidis, not being looked upon as "Masters of a Book," have been exposed for centuries to the persecution of the Mohammedans. The harems of the south of Turkey have been recruited from them. Yearly expeditions have been made by the governors of provinces into their districts; and while the men and women were slaughtered without mercy, the children of both sexes were carried off, and exposed for sale in the principal towns. These annual hunts were one of the sources of revenue of Beder Khan Bey; and it was the custom of the Pashaws of Baghdad and Mosul to let loose the irregular troops upon the ill fated Yezidis, as an easy method of satisfying their demands for arrears of pay. This system was still practiced to a certain extent within a very few months of my visit; and gave rise to atrocities scarcely equaled in the better known slave-trade.
It was not unnatural that the Yezidis should revenge themselves, whenever an opportunity might offer, upon their oppressors. They formed themselves into bands, and were long the terror of the country. No Mussulman that fell into their hands was spared. Caravans were plundered, and merchants murdered without mercy. Christians, however, were not molested; for the Yezidis looked upon them as fellow-sufferers for religion's sake.
These acts of retaliation furnished an excuse for the invasion of the Sinjar by Mehemet Reshid and Hafiz Pashaws. Since the great massacres which then took place, the Yezidis have been completely subdued, and have patiently suffered under their misfortunes. Their devotion to their religion is no less remark able than that of the Jews; and I remember no instance of a person of full age renouncing his faith. They invariably prefer death, and submit with resignation to the tortures inflicted upon them.
Sheikh Nasr, the chief priest of the sect, had already left Baadri, and was preparing for the religious ceremonies at the tomb of Sheikh Adi. I visited his wife, and was gratified by the unaffected hospitality of my reception, and by the cleanliness of the house and its scanty furniture. All the dwellings which I entered appeared equally neat, and well built. Some stood in small gardens filled with flowers, and near them were streams of running water, brought from the abundant springs which issue from the hill above the village.
Next morning at dawn, Hussein Bey issued from his harem, armed and dressed in his gayest robes, ready to proceed to the tomb of the saint. The principal people of the village were soon collected, and we all started together, forming a long procession, preceded by musicians with the tamborine and pipe. The women were busily employed in loading their donkeys with carpets and domestic utensils. They were to follow leisurely. Hussein Bey and I rode together, and as long as the ground permitted, the horsemen and footmen who accompanied us, engaged in mimic fight, discharging their fire-arms into the air, and singing their war-cry. We soon reached the foot of a very precipitous ascent, up which ran a steep and difficult pathway. The horsemen now rode on in single file, and we were frequently compelled to dismount and drag our horses over the rocks. We gained the summit of the pass in about an hour, and looked down into the richly wooded valley of Sheikh Adi. As soon as the white spire of the tomb appeared above the trees, all our party discharged their guns. The echoes had scarcely died away, when our signal was answered by similar discharges from below. As we descended through the thick wood of oaks, we passed many pilgrims on their way, like ourselves. to the tomb; the women seated under the trees, relieving themselves awhile from their infant burdens; the men readjusting the loads which the rapid descent had displaced. As each new body of travelers caught sight of the object of their journey, they fired their guns, and shouted the cry of the tribe to those below.
At some distance from the tomb we were met by Sheikh Nasr and a crowd of priests and armed men. The sheikh was dressed in the purest white linen, as were the principal members of the priesthood. His age could scarcely have exceeded forty; his manners were most mild and pleasing; he welcomed me with warmth; and it was evident that my visit had made a very favorable impression upon all present. After I had embraced the chief, and exchanged salutations with his followers, we walked together toward the sacred precincts. The outer court, as well as the avenue which led to it, was filled with people; but they made way for us as we approached, and every one eagerly endeavored to kiss my hand.
The Yezidis always enter the inner court of the tomb bare-footed. I followed the custom, and leaving my shoes at the entrance, seated myself, with Sheikh Nasr and Hussein Bey, upon carpets spread under an arbor, formed by a wide spreading vine. The sheikhs and cawals, two of the principal orders of the priesthood, alone entered with us, and squatted around the yard against the walls. The trees, which grew among and around the buildings, threw an agreeable shade over the whole assembly.
The tomb of Sheikh Adi is in a narrow valley, or rather ravine, which has only one outlet, as the rocks rise precipitously on all sides, except where a small stream forces its way into a larger valley beyond. It stands in a court-yard, and is surrounded by a few buildings, inhabited by the guardians and servants of the sanctuary. The interior is divided into a large hall partitioned in the center by a row of columns and arches, and having at the upper end a reservoir filled by an abundant spring issuing from the rock; and two smaller apartments, in which are the tombs of the saint, and of some inferior personage. The water of the reservoir is regarded with peculiar veneration, and is believed to be derived from the holy well of Zemzem. In it children are baptized, and it is used for other sacred purposes. The tomb is covered by a large square case, made of clay and plastered, over which is thrown an embroidered green cloth. It is in the inner room, which is dimly lighted by a small lamp. On it is written the chapter of the Koran, called the Ayat el Courci. It is thus made to resemble as nearly as possible the tomb of a Mussulman saint, to preserve it from profanation by the Kurds.
In the principal hall a few lamps are generally burning, and at sunset lights are placed in niches scattered over the walls.
Two white spires, rising above the building, form a pleasing contrast with the rich foliage by which they are surrounded. They are topped by gilt ornaments, and their sides are fashioned into many angles, causing an agreeable variety of light and shade. On the wall near the doorway are rudely carved a lion, a snake, a hatchet, a man, and a comb. The snake, painted black, is particularly conspicuous. Although it might be suspected that these figures were emblematical, I could obtain no other explanation from Sheikh Nasr, than that they had been cut by the Christian mason who repaired the tomb some years ago, as ornaments suggested by his mere fancy. I observed the hatchet, comb, and a hooked stick, such as is generally carried in the country, carved on many stones in the building, but was assured that they were only marks placed upon them at the request of those who had furnished money toward the restoration of the building, or had assisted in the work.
In the center of the inner court, and under the vine, is a square plaster case, in which is a small recess filled with balls of clay taken from the tomb of the saint. These are sold or distributed to pilgrims, and regarded as very sacred relics - useful against diseases and evil spirits, and to be buried with the dead. Certain members of the priesthood and their families alone inhabit the surrounding buildings. They are chosen to watch over the sacred precincts, and are supported and supplied with provisions by the tribe.
The outer court is inclosed by low buildings, with recesses similar to those in an Eastern bazar. They are intended for the accommodation of pilgrims, and for the stalls of pedlers, during the celebration of the festival. Several gigantic trees throw their shade over the open space, and streams of fresh water are led round the buildings.
Around the tomb, and beneath the trees which grow on the sides of the mountain, are numerous rudely constructed edifices, each belonging to a Yezidi district or tribe. The pilgrims, according to the place from which they come, reside in them during the time of the feast; so that each portion of the valley is known by the name of the country, or tribe, of those who resort there.
I sat till nearly mid-day with the assembly, at the door of the tomb. Sheikh Nasr then rose, and I followed him into the outer court, which was filled by a busy crowd of pilgrims. In the recesses and on the ground were spread the stores of the pedlers, who, on such occasions, repair to the valley. Many-colored handkerchiefs, and cotton stuffs, hung from the branches of the trees; dried figs from the Sinjar, raisins from Amadiyah, dates from Busrah, and walnuts from the mountains, were displayed in heaps upon the pavement. Around these tempting treasures were gathered groups of boys and young girls. Men and women were engaged on all sides in animated conversation, and the hum of human voices was heard through the valley. All respectfully saluted the sheikh, and made way for us as we approached. We issued from the precincts of the principal building, and seated ourselves on the edge of a fountain built by the road side, and at the end of the avenue of trees leading to the tombs. The slabs surrounding the basin are to some extent looked upon as sacred; and at this time only Hussein Bey, Sheikh Nasr, and myself were permitted to place ourselves upon them. Even on other occasions the Yezidis are unwilling to see them polluted by Mussulmans, who usually choose this spot, well adapted for repose, to spread their carpets. The water of the fountain is carefully preserved from impurities, and is drank by those who congregate in the valley. Women were now hastening to and fro with their pitchers, and making merry as they waited their turn to dip them into the reservoir. The principal sheikhs and cawals sat in a circle round the spring, and listened to the music of pipes and tamborines.
I never beheld a more picturesque or animated scene. Long lines of pilgrims toiled up the avenue. There was the swarthy inhabitant of the Sinjar, with his long black locks, his piercing eye and regular features - his white robe floating in the wind, and his unwieldy matchlock thrown over his shoulder. Then followed the more wealthy families of the Kochers, - the wandering tribes who live in tents in the plains, and among the hills of ancient Adiabene; the men in gay jackets and variegated turbans, with fantastic arms in their girdles; the women richly clad in silk antaris; their hair, braided in many tresses, falling down their backs, and adorned with wild flowers; their foreheads almost concealed by gold and silver coins; and huge strings of glass beads, coins, and engraved stones hanging round their necks. Next would appear a poverty-stricken family from a village of the Mosul district; the women clad in white, pale and care-worn, bending under the weight of their children; the men urging on the heavily-laden donkey. Similar groups descended from the hills. Repeated discharges of fire arms, and a well known signal, announced to those below the arrival of every new party.
All turned to the fountain before proceeding to their allotted stations, and laying their arms on the ground, kissed the hands of Hussein Bey, Sheikh Nasr, and myself. After saluting the assembled priests they continued their way up the sides of the mountains, and chose a wide spreading oak, or the roof of a building, for a resting-place during their sojourn in the valley. They then spread their carpets, and, lighting fires with dry branches and twigs, busied themselves in preparing their food. Such groups were scattered in every direction. There was scarcely a tree without its colony.
All, before entering the sacred valley, washed themselves and their clothes in the stream issuing from it. They came thus purified to the feast. I never before saw so much assembled cleanliness in the East. Their garments, generally white, were spotless.
During the afternoon, dances were performed before the bey and myself. They resembled the Arab Debke, and the Kurdish Tchopee. As many young men as could crowd into the small open space in front of the fountain joined in them. Others sang in chorus with the music. Every place, from which a sight could be obtained of the dancers, was occupied by curious spectators. Even the branches above our heads were bending under the clusters of boys who had discovered that, from them, they could get a full view of what was going on below. The manoeuvers of one of these urchins gave rise to a somewhat amusing incident, which illustrates the singular superstitions of this sect. He had forced himself to the very end of a weak bough, which was immediately above me, and threatened every moment to break under the weight. As I looked up I saw the impending danger, and made an effort, by an appeal to the chief, to avert it. "If that young Sheit - "I exclaimed, about to use an epithet generally given in the East to such adventurous youths: 1 I checked myself immediately; but it was already too late; half the dreaded word had escaped. The effect was instantaneous: a look of horror seized those who were near enough to overhear me; it was quickly communicated to those beyond. The pleasant smile, which usually played upon the fine features of the young bey, gave way to a serious and angry expression. I lamented that I had thus unwillingly wounded the feelings of my hosts, and was at a loss to know how I could make atonement for my indiscretion - doubting whether an apology to the Evil principle or to the chief was expected. I endeavored, however, to make them understand, without venturing upon any observations which might have brought me into greater difficulties, that I regretted what had passed; but it was some time ere the group resumed their composure, and indulged in their previous merriment.
My carpets had been spread on the roof of a building of some size, belonging to the people of Semil. Around me, but at a convenient distance, were scattered groups of pilgrims from that district. Men, women, and children were congregated round their caldrons, preparing their evening meal; or were stretched upon their coarse carpets, resting after the long march of the day. Near me was the chief, whose mud castle crowns the mound of the village of Semil. He was a stern-looking man, gayly dressed, and well armed. He received me with every demonstration of civility, and I sat for some time with him and his wives; one of whom was young and pretty, and had been recently selected from the Kochers, or wanderers. Her hair was profusely adorned with flowers and gold coins. They had sacrificed a sheep, and all (including the chief, whose arms, bare to the shoulder, were reeking with blood) gathered round the carcass; and, tearing the limbs, distributed morsels to the poor who had been collected to receive them.
At some distance from the people of Semil were the wife and family of Sheikh Nasr, who had also slain a sheep. The sheikh himself resided in the sacred building, and was occupied during the day in receiving the pilgrims, and performing various duties imposed upon him on the occasion. I visited his harem; his wife spread fruit and honey before me, and entertained me with a long account of her domestic employments.
Below the cluster of buildings assigned to the people of Semil is a small white spire, springing from a low edifice, neatly constructed, and, like all the sacred places of the Yezidis, kept as pure as repeated coats of whitewash can make it. It is called the sanctuary of Sheikh Shems, or the Sun; and is so placed, that the first rays of that luminary should as frequently as possible fall upon it. Near the door an invocation to Sheikh Shems is carved on a slab; and one or two votive tablets, raised by the father of Hussein Bey, and other chiefs of the Yezidis, are built into the walls. The interior, which is a very holy place, is lighted by a few small lamps. At sunset, as I sat in the alcove in front of the entrance, a herdsman led into a pen, attached to the building, a drove of white oxen. I asked a cawal, who was near me, to whom the beasts belonged. "They are dedicated," he said, "to Sheikh Shems, and are never slain except on great festivals, when their flesh is distributed among the poor." 2 This unexpected answer gave rise to an agreeable musing, and I sat, almost unconscious of the scene around me, until darkness stole over the valley.
As the twilight faded, the fakirs, or lower order of priests, dressed in brown garments of coarse cloth, closely fitting to their bodies, and wearing black turbans on their heads, issued from the tomb, each bearing a light in one hand, and a pot of oil, with a bundle of cotton wicks, in the other. They filled and trimmed lamps placed in niches in the walls of the courtyard, and scattered over the buildings on the sides of the valley, and even on isolated rocks and in the hollow trunks of trees. Innumerable stars appeared to glitter on the black sides of the mountain, and in the dark recesses of the forest. As the priests made their way through the crowd, to perform their task, men and women passed their right hands through the flame, and then devoutly carried them to their lips, after rubbing the right eyebrow with the part which had been purified by the sacred element. Some, who bore children in their arms, anointed them in like manner, while others held out their hands to be touched by those who, less fortunate than themselves, could not reach the flame.
The lamps are votive offerings from pilgrims, or from those who have appealed to Sheikh Adi in times of danger or disease, and a yearly sum is given to the guardians of the tomb for oil, and for the support of the priests. They are lighted every evening as long as the supplies last. In the daytime the smoked walls mark where they are placed; and I have observed the Yezidis devoutly kissing the blackened stones.
About an hour after sunset the fakirs, who are the servants of the tomb, appeared with platters of boiled rice, roast meat, and fruit. They had been sent to me from the kitchen of the holy edifice. The wife of Sheikh Nasr also contributed some dishes toward the repast.
As night advanced, those who had assembled - they must now have amounted to nearly five thousand person - lighted torches, which they carried with them as they wandered through the forest. The effect was magical; the varied groups could be faintly distinguished through the darkness; men hurrying to and fro; women, with their children, seated on the house-tops; and crowds gathering round the pedlers who exposed their wares for sale in the court-yard. Thousands of lights were reflected in the fountains and streams, glimmered among the foliage of the trees, and danced in the distance. As I was gazing on this extraordinary scene, the hum of human voices was suddenly hushed, and a strain, solemn and melancholy, arose from the valley. It resembled some majestic chant which years before I had listened to in the cathedral of a distant land. Music so pathetic and so sweet I had never before heard in the East. The voices of men and women were blended in harmony with the soft notes of many flutes. At measured intervals the song was broken by the loud clash of cymbals and tamborines; and those who were without the precincts of the tomb then joined in the melody.
I hastened to the sanctuary, and found Sheikh Nasr, surrounded by the priests, seated in the inner court. The place was illuminated by torches and lamps, which threw a soft light over the white-walls of the tomb and green foliage of the arbor. The sheikhs, in their white turbans and robes, all venerable men with long gray beards, were ranged on one side; on the opposite, seated on the stones, were about thirty cawals in their motley dresses of black and white - each performing on a tamborine or a flute. Around stood the fakirs in their dark garments, and the women of the orders of the priesthood arrayed in pure white. No others were admitted within the walls of the court.
The same slow and solemn strain, occasionally varied in the melody, lasted for nearly an hour; a part of it was called "Makam Azerat Esau," or the song of the Lord Jesus. It was sung by the sheikhs, the cawals, and the women; and occasionally by those without. I could not catch the words; nor could I prevail upon any of those present to repeat them to me. They were in Arabic; and as few of the Yezidis can speak or pronounce that language, they were not intelligible, even to the experienced ear of Hodja Toma, who accompanied me: The tamborines only interrupted at intervals the song of the priests. As the time quickened they broke in more frequently. The chant gradually gave way to a lively melody, which, increasing in measure, was finally lost in a confusion of sounds. The tamborines were beaten with extraordinary energy; the flutes poured forth a rapid flood of notes; the voices were raised to their highest pitch; the men outside joined in the cry; while the women made the rocks resound with the shrill tahlehl. The musicians, giving way to the excitement, threw their instruments into the air, and strained their limbs into every contortion, until they fell exhausted to the ground. I never heard a more frightful yell than that which rose in the valley. It was midnight. The time and place were well suited to the occasion; and I gazed with wonder upon the extraordinary scene around me. I did not marvel that such wild ceremonies had given rise to those stories of unhallowed rites, and obscene mysteries, which have rendered the name of Yezidi an abomination in the East. Notwithstanding the uncontrollable excitement which appeared to prevail among all present, there were no indecent gestures nor unseemly ceremonies. When the musicians and singers were exhausted, the noise suddenly died away; the various groups resumed their previous cheerfulness, and again wandered through the valley, or seated themselves under the trees.
Some ceremony took place before I joined the assembly at the tomb, at which no stranger can be present, nor could I learn its nature from the cawals. Sheikh Nasr gave me to understand that their holy symbol, the Melek Taous, was then exhibited to the priests, and he declared that, as far as he was concerned, he had no objection to my witnessing the whole of their rites; but that many of the sheikhs were averse to it, and he did not wish to create any ill-feeling in the tribe. Indeed, I found him frank and communicative on all subjects.
After the ceremonies in the inner yard had ceased, I returned with the sheikh and Hussein Bey to the fountain in the avenue. Around it were grouped men and women with torches, which flung their red gleams upon the water. Several of the cawals accompanied us to the spot, and sang and played on their flutes and tamborines until nearly dawn.
Daylight had begun to appear before the pilgrims sought repose. Silence reigned through the valley until mid-day, when new parties of travelers reached the tomb and again awakened the echoes by their cries and the discharge of fire arms. Toward the evening about seven thousand persons must have assembled. The festival was more numerously attended than it had been for many years, and Sheikh Nasr rejoiced in the prospect of times of prosperity for his people. At night the ceremonies of the previous evening were repeated. New melodies were introduced; but the singing ended in the same rapid measure and violent excitement that I have described. During the three days I remained at Sheikh Adi, I wandered over the valley and surrounding mountains; visiting the various groups of pilgrims, talking with them of their dwelling-place, and listening to their tales of oppression and bloodshed. From all I received the same simple courtesy and kindness; nor had I any cause to change the good opinion I had already formed of the Yezidis. There were no Mohammedans present, not any Christians, except those who were with me, and a poor woman who had lived long with the sect, and was a privileged guest at their festivals. Unrestrained by the presence of strangers, the women forgot their usual timidity, and roved unvailed over the mountains. As I sat beneath the trees, laughing girls gathered round me, examined my dress, or asked me questions. Some, more bold than the rest, would bring me the strings of beads and engraved stones hanging round their necks, and permit me to examine the Assyrian relics thus collected together; while others, more fearful, though not ignorant of the impression which their charms would create, stood at a distance, and weaved wild flowers into their hair.
The men assembled in groups round the fountains and about the tomb. They talked and made merry; but no dissension or angry words disturbed the general good-humor. The sound of music and of song rose from all sides above the hum of voices. The priests and sheikhs walked among the people, or sat with the families assembled under nearly every tree.
The Yezidis recognize one Supreme Being; but, as far as I could learn, they do not offer up any direct prayer or sacrifice to him. Sheikh Nasr endeavored to evade my questions on this subject; and appeared to shun, with superstitious awe, every topic connected with the existence and attributes of the Deity. The common Mohammedan forms of expression - half oath, half ejaculation - are nevertheless frequently in the mouths of the people, but probably from mere habit. The name of the Evil spirit is, however, never mentioned; and any allusion to it by others so vexes and irritates them, that it is said they have put to death persons who have wantonly outraged their feelings by its use. So far is their dread of offending the Evil principle carried, that they carefully avoid every expression which may resemble in sound the name of Satan, or the Arabic word for "accursed."
When they speak of the Devil, they do so with reverence, as Melek el Kout, the mighty angel. Sheikh Nasr distinct]y admitted that they possessed a bronze or copper figure of a bird, which, however, he was careful in explaining was only looked upon as a symbol, and not as an idol. There are several of these figures - one always remains with the great sheikh, and is carried with him wherever he may journey. When deputies are sent to any distance to collect money for the support of the tomb and the priests, they are furnished with one of these images, which is shown to those among whom they go, as an authority for their mission. This symbol is called the Melek Taous, and is held in great reverence. Much doubt has prevailed among travelers as to its existence; but Sheikh Nasr, when I had an opportunity of speaking to him in private, so frankly admitted it, that I consider the question as completely set at rest. The admission of the sheikh is moreover confirmed, by the answer of the guardian of the tomb, to a question which I put to him on my first visit, when he was completely off his guard. 3
They believe Satan to be the chief of the Angelic host, now suffering punishment for his rebellion against the divine will; but still all-powerful, and to be restored hereafter to his high estate in the celestial hierarchy. He must be conciliated and reverenced, they say; for as he now has the means of doing evil to mankind, so will he hereafter have the power of rewarding them. Next to Satan, but inferior to him in might and wisdom, are seven archangels 4 who exercise a great influence over the world; - they are Gabrail, Michail, Raphail, Azrail, Dedrail, Azrapheel, and Shemkeel. Christ, according to them, was also a great angel, who had taken the form of man. He did not die on the cross, but ascended to heaven.
They hold the Old Testament in great reverence, and believe in the cosmogony of Genesis, the Deluge, and other events recorded in the Bible. They do not reject the New Testament, nor the Koran; but consider them less entitled to their veneration. Still they always select passages from the latter for their tombs, and holy places. Mohammed they look upon as a prophet; as they do Abraham, and the patriarchs.
They expect the second coming of Christ, as well as the reappearance of Imaum Mehdi, giving credence to the Mussulman fables relating to him.
Sheikh Adi is their great saint; but I could not learn any particulars relating to him; indeed the epoch of his existence seemed doubtful; and on one occasion Sheikh Nasr asserted that he lived before Mohammed.
As to the origin of their name, it is well known that the Mussulmans trace it to the celebrated Ommiade caliph, Yezid, who figures as the persecutor of the family of Ali in their own religious history; but there is reason to believe that it must be sought for elsewhere, as it was used long before the introduction of Mohammedanism, and is not without connection with the early Persian appellation of the Supreme Being. 5 It is difficult to trace their ceremonies to any particular source. They baptize in water, like the Christians; if possible, within seven days after birth. They circumcise at the same age, and in the same manner as the Mohammedans; and reverence the sun, and have many customs in common with the Sabaeans. All these ceremonies and observances may indeed have had a common origin, or may have been grafted at different times on their original creed. They may have adopted circumcision to avoid detection by their Mussulman oppressors; and may have selected passages from the Koran, to carve upon their tombs and sacred places, because, as suggested to me by Sheikh Nasr, they corresponded with their opinions, and were best suited to a country in which Arabic was the spoken language. They have more in common with the Sabaeans than with any other sect. I have already alluded to their reverence for the sun, and have described the temple and the oxen dedicated to that luminary. 6 They are accustomed to kiss the object on which its first beams fall; and I have frequently when traveling in their company at sunrise, observed them perform this ceremony. For fire, as symbolical, they have nearly the same reverence; they never spit into it, but frequently pass their hands through the flame, kiss them, and rub them over their right eyebrow, or sometimes over the whole face. 7 The color blue, to them, as to the Sabaeans, is an abomination; and never to be worn in dress, or to be used in their houses. Their Kubleh, or the place to which they look while performing their holy ceremonies, is that part of the heavens in which the sun rises, and toward it they turn the faces of their dead. 8 In their fondness for white linen, in their cleanliness of habits, and in their frequent ablutions, they also resemble the Sabaeans.
The lettuce, the bamiyah, 9 and some other vegetables, are never eaten by them. Pork is unlawful; but not wine, which is drunk by all. Although they assert that meat should not be eaten, unless the animal has been slain according to the Mosaic and Mohammedan law, they do not object to partake of the food of Christians.
I could not learn that there were any religious observances on marriage. I was informed by the cawals that the men and women merely presented themselves to a sheikh, who ascertains that there is mutual consent. A ring is then given to the bride, or sometimes money instead. A day is fixed for rejoicings, on which they drink sherbet, and dance, but have no religious ceremonies. The number of wives is limited to one, but the chief has the power to transgress the law.
Their year begins with that of the Eastern Christians, whom they follow also in the order and names of their months. Some fast three days at the commencement of the year; but this is not considered necessary. They do not observe the Mohammedan Ramazan. Wednesday is their holyday, and although some always fast on that day, yet they do not abstain from work on it, as the Christians do on the Sabbath.
Sheikh Nasr informed me that they had a date of their own, and that he believed we were then, according to their account, in the year 1550. This suggested some connection with Manes; but neither by direct nor indirect questions could I ascertain that they were acquainted with his name, or recognized him in anywise as the originator of their peculiar doctrines with regard to the Evil principle.
Their names, both male and female, are generally those used by Mohammedans and Christians or such as are common among the Kurds, and not strictly of Mussulman origin. The name of Goorgis (George) is, however, objectionable; and is never, I believe, given to a Yezidi.
They have four orders of priesthood, the Pirs, the Sheikhs, the Cawals, and the Fakirs; and, what is very remarkable, and, I believe, unexampled in the East, these offices are hereditary, and descend to females, who, when enjoying them, are treated with the same respect and consideration as the men.
The Pirs, 10 or saints, are most reverenced after the great sheikh, or religious head of the sect. They are believed to have the power, not only of interceding for the people, but of curing disease and insanity. They are expected to lead a life of great sanctity and honesty; and are looked up to with great reverence. They are not confined, I believe, to any particular fashion of dress. The only pir I knew was one Sino, who was recognized as the deputy of Sheikh Nasr, and had suffered imprisonment in his stead.
The Sheikhs are next in rank. They are acquainted with the hymns, and are expected to know something of Arabic, the language in which the hymns are written. Their dress should be entirely white, except the skull-cap beneath the turban, which is black. As servants of Sheikh Adi, they are the guardians of his tomb, keep up the holy fires, and bring provisions and fuel to those who dwell within its precincts, and to pilgrims of distinction. They always wear round their bodies a band of red and black, or red and orange plaid, as the mark of their office; with it they bind together the wood, and other supplies which they bring to the sacred edifice. The women carry the same badge, and are employed in the same services. There are always several sheikhs residing in the valley of Sheikh Adi. They watch over the tomb, and receive pilgrims; taking charge in rotation of the offerings that may be brought, or selling the clay balls and other relics.
The Cawals, or preachers, appear to be the most active members of the priesthood. They are sent by Hussein Bey and Sheikh Nasr on missions, going from village to village with the symbol of the bird as teachers of the doctrines of the sect. They alone are the performers on the flute and tamborine; both instruments being looked upon, to a certain extent, as sacred. I observed that before, and after, using the tamborine they frequently kissed it, and then held it to those near them, to be similarly saluted. They are taught singing at a very early age, are skillful musicians, and dance occasionally at festivals. They usually know a little Arabic, but barely more than necessary to get through their chants and hymns. Their robes are generally white, although colored stuffs are not forbidden; but their turbans, unlike those of the sheikhs, are black, as are also their skull-caps.
The Fakirs are the lowest in the priesthood. They wear coarse dresses of black, or dark brown cloth, or canvas, descending to the knee and fitting tightly to the person; and a black turban, across which is generally tied a red kerchief. They perform all menial offices connected with the tomb, trim and light the votive lamps, and keep clean the sacred buildings.
While each tribe and district of Yezidis has its own chief, and Hussein Bey is really both political and religious head of the whole sect, Sheikh Nasr is looked up to as the high-priest, and is treated with great reverence and respect. His office is hereditary; but the Yezidis frequently chose, without reference to priority of claim, the one among the descendants of the last sheikh most qualified, by his knowledge and character, to succeed him. The father of Sheikh Nasr held the office for some years; and no one better suited to it than the son could have been chosen to fill his place.
The language in general use among all the Yezidis is a Kurdish dialect, and very few, except the sheikhs and cawals, are acquainted with Arabic. The chants and hymns, - the only form of prayer, which, as far as I could ascertain, they possess, - are, as I have already stated, in Arabic. They have, I believe, a sacred volume, containing their traditions, their hymns, directions for the performance of their rites, and other matters connected with their religion. It is preserved either at Baazini or Baasheikha, and is regarded with so much superstitious reverence that I failed in every endeavor to obtain a copy, or even to see it. This I much regretted, as its contents would probably throw new light upon the origin and history of this remarkable sect, and would clear up many doubts which still hang over their tenets. It is considered unlawful to know how to read and write. There are only one or two persons among the Yezidis who can do either: even Sheikh Nasr is unacquainted with the alphabet. Those who know how to read have only been taught in order that they may preserve the sacred book, and may refer to it for the doctrines and ceremonies of the sect.
The Yezidis have a tradition that they originally came from Busrah, and from the country watered by the lower part of the Euphrates; and that, after their emigration, they first settled in Syria, and subsequently took possession of the Sinjar hill, and the districts they now inhabit in Kurdistan. This tradition, with the peculiar nature of their tenets and ceremonies, points to a Sabaean or Chaldean origin. With the scanty materials which we possess regarding their history, and owing to the ignorance prevailing among the people themselves, - for I believe that even the priests, including Sheikh Nasr, have but a very vague idea of what they profess, and of the meaning of their religious forms, - it is difficult to come to any conclusion as to the source of their peculiar opinions and observances. There is in them a strange mixture of Sabaeanism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism, with a tincture of the doctrines of the Gnostics and Manicheans. Sabaeanism, however, appears to be the prevailing feature; and it is not improbable that the sect may be a remnant of the ancient Chaldees, who have, at various times, outwardly adopted the forms and tenets of the ruling people, to save themselves from persecution and oppression: and have gradually, through ignorance, confounded them with their own belief and mode of worship. Such has been the case with a no less remarkable sect than the Sabaeans or Mendai (the Christians of St. John, as they are commonly called), who still inhabit the banks of the Euphrates, and the districts of ancient Susiana.
The Yezidis are known among themselves by the name of the district or tribe to which they respectively belong. Those who inhabit the country near the foot of the Kurdish Hills, are called Dasni or Daseni, most probably from the ancient name of a province. 11 Tribes of Yezidis are found in the north of Syria, in Northern Kurdistan, Georgia (where they have migrated), Gebel Tour, Bohtan, Sheikhan, and Missouri. In the plains, their principal settlements are in the villages of Baazani, Baasheikha, and Semil.
Having spent three days at Sheikh Adi, and witnessed all the ceremonies at which a stranger could be present, I prepared to return to Mosul. Hussein Bey, Sheikh Nasr, and the principal sheikhs and cawals, insisted upon accompanying me about three miles down the valley; as I preferred this road to the precipitous pathway over the mountains. After parting with me, the chiefs returned to the tomb to finish their festival. I made my way to the village of Ain Sifni, and reached Mosul early in the afternoon.
Tahyar Pashaw had for some time been planning an expedition to the Sinjar, not with any hostile intention, but for the purpose of examining the state of the country; which had been ruined by the vexatious extortions, and cruelty of the late governor of Mosul. He had previously sent an agent to inquire into the condition of the villages; and a deputation of the inhabitants had returned with him to petition for a diminution of taxes, which, from the destitute state of the district, they were unable to pay.
His excellency had invited me to accompany him on this expedition, the arrangements for which, after numerous delays, were completed on the 8th of October. Three o'clock of that day was declared to be the fortunate hour for leaving the town. The principal inhabitants, with the cadi and mufti at their head, were collected in the large square opposite the palace and without the walls, ready to accompany the pashaw, as a mark of respect, some distance from the gates. It was with difficulty that I made my way to the apartments of the governor, through the crowd of irregular troops, and servants which thronged the court-yard of the serai. The attendants of his Excellency were hurrying to and fro, laden with every variety of utensil and instrument; some carrying gigantic telescopes, or huge bowls in leathern cases; others laboring under bundles of pipe sticks, or bending under the weight of calico bags crammed with state documents. The gray headed kiayah had inserted his boots into a pair of capacious boots, leaving room enough for almost any number of intruders. Round his fez, and the lower part of his face, were wound endless folds of white linen, which gave him the appearance of a patient emerging from a hospital; and he carried furs and cloaks enough to keep out the cold of the frigid zone. The Divan Effendesi, although a man of the pen, strutted about with sword and spurs, followed by clerks and inkstand bearers. At the door of the harem waited a bevy of aghas; among them the lord of the towel, the lord of the washing-basin, the lord of the cloak, the chief of the coffee-makers, and the chief of the pipe-bearers, the treasurer, and the seal bearer. 12 At length the pashaw approached; the cawasses forced the crowd out of the way; and his excellency placed his foot in the stirrup, the trumpet sounded as a signal for the procession to move onward. First came a regiment of infantry, followed by a company of artillerymen with their guns. The trumpeters, and the pashaw's own standard, a mass of green silk drapery, embroided with gold, with verses from the Koran, succeeded; behind were six led Arab horses, richly caparisoned in colored saddle-cloths, glittering with gold embroidery. The pashaw himself then appeared, surrounded by the chiefs of the town and the officers of his household. The procession was finished by the irregular cavalry, divided into companies, each headed by its respective commander, and by the wild Suiters, with their small kettle-drums fastened in front of their saddles.
I was accompanied by my cawass and my own servants, and rode as it best suited, and amused me, in different parts of the procession. We reached Hamaydat, a ruined village on the banks of the Tigris, three caravan hours from Mosul, about sunset. Here we had the first proofs of the commissariat arrangements; for there was neither food for ourselves nor the horses, and we all went supperless to bed.
On the following day, after a ride of six hours through a barren and uninhabited plain, bounded to the east and west by ranges of low limestone hills, we reached a ruined village, built on the summit of an ancient artificial mound, called Abou Maria. The Aneyza Arabs were known to be out on this side of the Euphrates, and during our march we observed several of their scouts watching our movements. The irregular cavalry frequently rushed off in pursuit; but the Arabs, turning their fleet mares toward the desert, were soon lost in the distance.
We passed the ruins of three villages. The plain, once thickly inhabited, is now deserted; and the wells, formerly abundant, are filled up. In spring, the Arab tribe of Jehesh frequently encamp near the pools of water supplied by the rains. The remains of buildings, and the traces of former cultivation, prove that at some period, not very remote, others than the roving Bedouins dwelt on these lands; while the artificial mounds, scattered over the face of the country, show that long ere the Mussulman invasion, this was one of the flourishing districts of ancient Assyria.
A most abundant spring issues from the foot of the mound of Abou Maria. The water is collected in large, well-built reservoirs. Near them is a mill, now in ruins, but formerly turned by the stream, within a few yards of its source. Such an ample supply of water, although brackish to the taste, must always have attracted a population in a country where it is scarce. The village, which was deserted during the oppressive government of Mohammed Pashaw, belonged to the Jehesh.
Three hours' ride, still over the desert, brought us to Tel Afer, which we reached suddenly on emerging from a range of low hills. The place had a much more important and flourishing appearance than I could have expected. A very considerable eminence, partly artificial, is crowned by a castle, whose walls are flanked by numerous towers of various shapes. The town, containing some well-built houses, lies at the foot of the mound, and is partly surrounded by gardens wooded with olive, fig, and other fruit trees; beyond this cultivated plot is the broad expanse of the desert. A spring, as abundant as that of Abou Maria, gushes out of a rock beneath the castle, supplies the inhabitants with water, irrigates their gardens, and turns their mills.
Tel Afer was once a town of some importance; it is mentioned by the early Arab geographers, and may perhaps be identified with the Telassar of Isaiah, referred to, as it is, in connection with Gozan and Haran. 13 It has been three times besieged, within a few years, by Ali Pashaw of Baghdad, Hafiz Pashaw, and Injeh Bairakdar Mohammed Pashaw. On each occasion the inhabitants offered a vigorous resistance. Mohammed Pashaw took the place by assault. More than two thirds of the inhabitants were put to the sword, and the property of the remainder was confiscated. Great wealth is said to have been discovered in the place, on its pillage by Mohammed Pashaw, who took all the gold and silver, and distributed the remainder of the spoil among his soldiers.
The inhabitants of Tel Afer are of Turcoman origin, and speak the Turkish language. They occasionally intermarry, however, with the Arabs, and generally understand Arabic.
Toward evening I ascended the mound, and visited the castle, in which was quartered a small body of irregular troops. The houses, formerly inhabited by families whose habitations are now built at the foot of the artificial hill, are in ruins, except that occupied by the commander of the garrison. From the walls I had an uninterrupted view over a vast plain, stretching westward toward the Euphrates, and losing itself in the hazy distance. The ruins of ancient towns and villages rose on all sides; and, as the sun went down, I counted above one hundred mounds, throwing their dark and lengthening shadows across the plain. These were the remains of Assyrian civilization and prosperity. Centuries have elapsed since a settled population dwelt in this district of Mesopotamia. Now, not even the tent of the Bedouin could be seen. The whole was a barren, deserted waste.
We remained two days at Tel Afer. The commissariat was replenished, as far as possible, from the scanty stores of the inhabitants. The pashaw recommended forbearance and justice; but his advice was not followed; nor were his orders obeyed. The houses were broken into, and a general pillage ensued. At length, on the 13th, we resumed our march.
The Sinjar is about thirty miles distant from Tel Afer. A very low range of hills diverges from its southern spur, and unites with that behind the town. The pashaw, with his troops, took the road across the plain.
We passed the first night on the banks of a small salt stream, near the ruins of a village, called, by the people of the Sinjar and Tel Afer, Zabardok; and by the Arabs simply Kharba, or the ruins. We had seen, during the day, several other ruins, and water courses. The second day we encamped in the plain, near the southern end of the Sinjar mountain, and under the village of Mirkan, the white houses of which, rising one above the other on the declivity, were visible from below. Here the pashaw was met by all the chiefs of the mountain, except those of the small district in which we had halted.
Mirkan is one of the principal Yezidi settlements in the Sinjar. Its inhabitants had been exposed to great extortions, and many were put to death by Mohammed Pashaw. They expected similar treatment at our hands. No promises could remove their fears, and they declared their intention of resolutely defending their village. The pashaw sent up an officer of his household, with a few irregular troops, to reassure them, and to restore obedience. I accompanied him. As we entered the village we were received by a general discharge of fire arms. Two horsemen, who had accidentally, - and as I thought at the time somewhat disrespectfully, - pushed forward before the officer and myself, fell dead at our feet, and several of our party were wounded. The pashaw, exasperated at this unprovoked and wanton attack, ordered an advance of the hytas and Arab irregulars; who, long thirsting for plunder, hastened toward the village. The Yezidis had already deserted it, and had taken refuge in a narrow gorge; abounding in caverns and isolated rocks, - their usual place of refuge on such occasions.
The village was soon occupied; the houses were entered, and plundered of the little property that had been left behind. A few aged women and decrepit old men, too infirm to leave with the rest, and found hiding in the small dark rooms, were murdered, and their heads severed from their bodies. Blazing fires were made in the neat dwellings, and the whole village was delivered to the flames. Even the old pashaw, with his gray hair and tottering step, hurried to and fro among the smoking ruins, and helped to add the torch where the fire was not doing its work.
The old Turkish spirit of murder and plunder was roused; the houses were soon burnt to the ground; but the inhabitants were still safe. When the irregulars had secured all the property they could discover, they rushed toward the gorge, scarcely believing that the Yezidis would venture to oppose them. But they were received by a steady and well directed fire. The foremost fell, almost to a man. The caverns were high up among the rocks, and all attempts to reach them completely failed. The contest was carried on till night; when the troops, dispirited and beaten, were called back to their tents.
In the evening the heads of the miserable old men and women, taken in the village, were paraded about the camp; and those who were fortunate enough to possess such trophies wandered from tent to tent, claiming a present as a reward for their prowess. I appealed to the pashaw, who had been persuaded that every head brought to him was that of a powerful chief, and after some difficulty prevailed upon him to have them buried; but the troops were not willing to obey his orders, and it was late in the night before they were induced to resign their bloody spoil, which they had arranged in grim array, and lighted up with torches.
On the following morning the contest was renewed; but the Yezidis defended themselves with undiminished courage. The loss of the hytas was very considerable; not a cavern had been carried; nor a Yezidis, as far as the assailants could tell, killed, or even wounded.
The next day the pashaw ordered a fresh attack. To encourage his men he advanced himself into the gorge, and directed his carpet to be spread on a rock. Here he sat, with the greatest apathy, smoking his pipe, and carrying on a frivolous conversation with me, although he was the object of the aim of the Yezidis; several persons within a few feet of us falling dead, and the balls frequently throwing up the dirt into our faces. Coffee was brought to him occasionally as usual, and his pipe was filled when the tobacco was exhausted; yet he was not a soldier, but what is termed "a man of the pen." I have frequently seen similar instances of calm indifference in the midst of danger among Turks, when such displays were scarcely called for, and would be very unwillingly made by an European. Notwithstanding the example set by his excellency, and the encouragement which his presence gave to the troops, they were not more successful in their attempts to dislodge the Yezidis than they had been the day before. One after another, the men were carried out of the ravine, dead or dying. The wounded were brought to the pashaw, who gave them water, money, or words of encouragement. The "Ordou cadesi," or cadi of the camp, reminded them that it was against the infidels they were fighting; that every one who fell by the enemies of the prophet was rewarded with instant translation to Paradise; while those who killed an unbeliever were entitled to the same inestimable privilege. The dying were comforted, and the combatants animated by the promises and exhortations of the cadi; who, however, kept himself well out of the way of danger behind a rock.
Attempts were made during the day to induce the Yezidis to surrender, and there was some chance of success. However, night drew near, and hostilities still continued. The regular and irregular troops were then posted at all the known places of access to the gorge. The morning came, and the attack was recommenced. No signs of defense issued from the valley. The hytas rushed in, but were no longer met by the steady fire of the previous day. They paused, fearing some trick or ambuscade; they advanced cautiously, but still unnoticed. They reached the mouths of the caves; - no one opposed them. It was some time, however, before they ventured to look into them. They were empty. The Yezidis had fled during the night, and had left the ravine by some pathway known only to themselves, and which had escaped the watchfulness of the Turkish soldiery.
While attempts were being made to discover the retreat of the fugitives, the Turkish camp remained near the village of Mirkan. I took this opportunity of visiting other parts of the Sinjar. The residence of the governor of the district is in the village built among the ruins of the old city - the Singara of the Romans, and the "Belled Sinjar" of the Arabs. A small mud fort, raised a few years ago, stands on a hill in the midst of the remains of walls and foundations; but the principal part of the ancient city appears to have occupied the plain below. Around this fort, at the time of my visit, were congregated about two hundred families. The Yezidi inhabitants of the village, unlike those of the other districts, are mixed with Mussulmans. The latter, however, are so lax in their religious observances, and in dress so like the Yezidis, that it is difficult to distinguish them from the unbelievers. I was continually falling into mistakes, and eliciting a very indignant exclamation of "God forbid!"
It would be difficult to point out, with any degree of certainty, ruins at Belled Sinjar more ancient than the Mohammedan conquest. It became a place of some importance in the early ages of Islam, and had its own semi-independent rulers. There are the remains of several fine buildings; and the lower part of a minaret, constructed, like that of the great mosque of Mosul, of colored tiles and bricks, is a conspicuous object from all parts of the plain. There are very abundant springs within the circuit of the old walls; the air is declared to be salubrious, and the soil rich and productive.
All the villages of the Sinjar are built upon one plan. The houses rise on the hill sides, and are surrounded by terraces, formed of rough stones piled one above the other as walls, to confine the scanty earth. These terraces are planted with olive and fig-trees; a few vineyards are found near some villages. The houses, which are flat-roofed, are exceedingly clean and neat, and frequently contain several apartments. The walls of the interior are full of small recesses, like pigeon holes, which are partly ornamental, and partly used to keep the domestic utensils and property of the owner. They give a very singular and original appearance to the rooms; and the oddity of the effect is considerably increased by masses of red and black paint daubed in patches on the white wall.
The principal, and indeed now the only, trade carried on by the inhabitants of the Sinjar, is in dried figs, which are celebrated in this part of Turkey, and supply all the markets in the neighboring provinces. The soil is fertile, and, as the means of irrigation are abundant, corn and various useful articles of produce might be raised in great plenty from the extensive tracts of arable land belonging to the villages. But the people have been almost ruined by misgovernment; they can now scarcely cultivate corn enough for their own immediate wants.
The pashaw still lingered at Mirkan; and as I was anxious to return to Mosul, to renew the excavations, I took my leave of him, and rode through the desert to Tel Afer. I was accompanied by a small body of irregular cavalry, - a necessary escort, as the Aneyza Arabs were hanging about the camp, and plundering stragglers and caravans of supplies. As evening approached, we saw, congregated near a small stream, what appeared to be a large company of dismounted Arabs, their horses standing by them. As we were already near them, and could not have escaped the watchful eye of the Bedouin, we prepared for an encounter. I placed the baggage in the center of my small party, and spread out the horsemen as widely as possible to exaggerate our numbers. We approached cautiously, and were surprised to see that the horses still remained without their riders: we drew still nearer, when they all galloped off toward the desert. They were wild asses. We attempted to follow them. After running a little distance they stopped to gaze at us, and I got sufficiently near to see them well; but as soon as they found that we were in pursuit, they hastened their speed, and were soon lost in the distance. 14
I reached Mosul in two days, taking the road by Kessi Kupri, and avoiding the desert beyond Abou-Maria, which we had crossed on our march to the Sinjar.
1 The term Sheitan (equivalent to Satan) is usually applied in the East to a clever, cunning, or daring fellow.
2 The dedication of the bull to the sun, so generally recognized in the religious systems of the ancients, probably originated in Assyria, and the Yezidis may have unconsciously preserved a myth of their ancestors.
3 I had afterward an opportunity of seeing the Melek Taous. It is the fanciful image of a bird supported by a stand resembling a candlestick, the whole being of bronze.
4 It will be remembered that in the book of Tobit (12:15) Raphael is made to say: "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One." "The seven spirits before the throne of God" are mentioned in Revelations 1:4; 4:5. This number seven, in the hierarchy of the Celestial Host, and in many sacred things, appears to have been connected with Chaldean traditions, and celestial observations.
5 Theophanes (Chronographia, p. 492 ed. Bon), mentions a settlement of Iesdem, on the lesser Zab, near which the Emperor Heracleus encamped - (GREEK) kai Hpilkeusen eis tous oikous tou Issdem. They may have been Yezidis, and of the ancestors of the present sect. Major Rawlinson has pointed out the name as occurring in Adiabene.
6 I must observe that although the inscriptions, in the sanctuary described were all addressed to Sheikh Shems, and that both Sheikh Nasr and the cawals assured me that it was dedicated to the sun, it is just possible that under the title of Sheikh Shems, some other object than the sun or some particular person is designated, and that my informants were unwilling to enter into any explanation.
7 Some travelers have asserted that they will not blow out a candle; but such is not the case; nor is it an insult to spit in their presence.
8 All Eastern sects appear to have had some Kubleh, or holy point, to which the face was to be turned during prayer. The Jews, it will be remembered, looked toward Jerusalem. The Sabaeans, according to some, to the north star, or, according to others, toward that part of the heavens in which the sun rises. The early Christians chose the East; Mohammed who recognized the general custom, and found it necessary to adhere to it appointed the holy Kaaba of Mecca to be the Kubleh of his disciples.
9 Hibiscus Esculentus.
10 This is a Kurdish (Persian) title, - it means, literally, an old man.
11 There is a tribe of Kurds of this name, living in the mountains near Suleimaniyah.
12 These are all offices in the household of a Turkish pashaw.
13 Isaiah 37:12. The name does not occur elsewhere in the Bible; and we have consequently no means of determining its locality.
14 The reader will remember that Xenophon mentions these beautiful animals which he must have seen during his march in these very plains. He faithfully describes the country, and the animals and birds which inhabit it, as they are to this day, except that the ostrich is not now to be found so far north. "The country," says he, "was a plain throughout, as even as the sea, and full of wormwood; if any other kinds of shrubs or reeds grew there, they had all an aromatic smell; but no trees appeared. Of wild creatures, the most numerous were wild asses, and not a few ostriches, besides bustards and roe deer (gazelles), which our horsemen sometimes chased. The asses, when they were pursued, having gained ground of the horses, stood still (for they exceeded them much in speed); and when these came up with them, they did the same thing again; so that our horsemen could take them by no other means but by dividing themselves into relays, and succeeding one another in the chase. The flesh of those that were taken was like that of red deer, but more tender." (Anab. lib. i. c. 5.) In fleetness they equal the gazelle: and to overtake them is a feat which only one or two of the most celebrated mares have been known to accomplish. The Arabs sometimes catch the foals during the spring, and bring them up with milk in their tents. I endeavored in vain to rear a pair. They are of a light fawn-color - almost pink. The Arabs still eat their flesh. The "wild asses of the desert" are mentioned in Job 34:5, 39:5.