“Because of the concept of reincarnation there is no belief in hell or devil in the Yezidi faith but it helps us create a partnership with God and co-exist with all faiths.” – Gulie Khalaf
As a Yezidi, Gulie Khalaf was brought up in America. The genocide by ISIS in 2014 of fellow Yezidis, many of whom she has never met or seen, moved her to help the community. She sacrificed her regular job as a teacher and went to India as part of the Yezidi delegation. She also met His Holiness Guruji Sri Sri Ravishankar, starting off a humanitarian mission to save thousands of Yezdis stranded in mount Singhal. She is also the founder and treasurer of Yezidis International. Yezidi Post caught up with her for a freewheeling interview as part of the Sere Sal interview series.
Let me first start with the Yezidi faith. The Yezidis like the Hindus and many Dharmic faiths believe in Reincarnation. Yezidis International wants to protect and preserve the Yezidi faith. For the audience, if you can please describe the fundamental elements of the Yezidi faith.
Yezidis are indigenous people of Iraq and Turkey and have unique rituals, customs, and religion. A few ideas that are the driving forces behind our religion include belief in transmigration and purity.
The concept reincarnation and its manifestation are very fundamental to our religion. The Yazidi believe that there is one God who essentially filled the world with beings that are made from his emanation. They believe that God manifested himself in form of 7 angels and the earth was made from his emanation. In turn, those angels were reincarnated as saints and deities and came to Earth in form of humans to guide us all. Reincarnation allows Yezidis to respect animals, nature, and everything around them and according to Drowers – The Divine for them is omnipresent, but especially reverenced in the Sun, the planets, the pure mountain spring, the green and living tree, and even in cavern and in the sacred Bethel stone some of the mystery and miracle of the divine lie hidden.
In Yezidi view, the guides do not have to be born a Yezidi to be able to help humans. Yezidis have many spiritual guardians, deities, historical personalities considered saints and holy men who are not necessarily Yezidi such as prophet Abraham and Moses. We believe good souls are good no matter what the religion is. This belief allows Yezidis to respect other religion and even visit priests, Seyyads, and places of worship of other religions without feeling they are forsaking their religion.
The idea of reincarnation also allows Yezidis to perform good deeds for all. Visitors to Yezidi homeland in 1800s would always comment on the hospitality and friendship of Yezidis with their neighbors. Respect for all religion, made Yezidis take in Armenian refugees fleeing the Ottoman forces even when Yezidis were threatened and attacked later on for not turning Armenians over. Yezidis did the same for the people of Tel’afer when ISIS attacked them
Because of the concept of reincarnation there is no hell or evil force. Humans create evil. The concept of hell is more a modern imposed phenomenon on Yezidis due to forceful influence of other religions. There is also no devil or evil force in Yezidi beliefs allowing us to create a partnership with God.
The second concept that has structured our religion is purity. Marriage to non-Yezidis is forbidden. Beside marriage, there are some taboos that are due to the idea of purity. Yezidis believe there are four sacred elements: earth, air, water, and fire and there are some elements that should not be mixed together. For example no spitting on earth, water or fire.
What motivated you to start Yezidis International?
After trying different options on serving the community, including helping raise funds through a different organization, we found the best way to do our part for the community was to establish an organization of our own.
With around 8,000 twitter followers and around 9000 facebook likes on the Yezidis International page, your organization plays a major role to raise the consciousness about Yezidi issues globally. How important do you see that role? Do you see it a part of the struggle to preserve the Yezidi faith?
Empowering the community through preservation of faith and heritage is as important as empowering the community in other ways. Preservation is done through informing people and decision makers, the Yezidis foremost, on Yezidi rituals, history and religion. As part of survivors of genocides and political regimes with different agendas, being informed of authentic information in the past was near impossible. But now being informed is easier and through information Yezidis can strengthen themselves and their community. They can consciously let go of part of the religion that no longer serves them and keep what has been source of strength such as belief in co-existence.
We can lead and make decisions for the coming generations only when we are informed on our history. In the past two centuries, Yezidis were restricted by rules and restrictions set by political leaders, empires, dictators and Yezidis had to make sure their beliefs fit into. By accommodating their beliefs, sometimes for survival and sometimes due to greed on part of our religious leaders, Yezidis beliefs were misrepresented.
What have been the major activities of Yezidis International during the last 1 yr, in US, in Iraq and outside Iraq?
Within US: We have played a role in helping inform the public on who the Yezidis are and their current plight through our website, appearance in media both nationally and locally, and at different schools. We also have started a Grandma project to help the Yezidi seniors integrate into the society and learn important skills such as language skills
In Iraq: our activities showed results after meeting with His Holiness Guruji Sri Sri Ravi Shanker who later air dropped 120 tons of necessary items to Yezidis in Iraq. We also have helped with lifesaving medical treatments along with necessary items such as baby formula.
Outside Iraq: with the help of Yezidis International supporters, we have helped a few students in India continue their education when it had seem impossible.
If someone wants to donate to Yezidis International, where will they go to help?
They can go to http://www.yezidisinternational.org/donate
What are your expectations from the global community and where are they falling short so far to address the plight of the community?
Yezidis are in need of a new home to heal and survive. A genocide took place, the most grave crimes a human can inflict on another human was committed, so more should be done to help those who managed to survive. We hear constantly of those who choose death to end their agony. We hear of those who take the 50/50 chances of survival as they sail to Europe in hope of finding a refuge.
International community should open its borders to the not just anyone but to survivors of genocide.
What is your message to the Yezidi community worldwide on the occasion of Sere Sal?
I wish you all happy holiday and pray that we find the strength and courage so that this genocide make us more resilient. I pray that the pain from injustice turns into motivation to assess what has not worked and we take it upon ourselves to make tomorrow better. The goal of the perpetrators of this crimes against Yezidis was to bring the few survivors to their knees and at their mercy. We should never allow them to succeed. I pray that you find comfort and hope this Charshma Nissana.