Yazidism: A Heterodox Kurdish Religion

The article below by Christine Allison was first published in the CAIS website. Kindly note that the pictures/illustrations and accompanying captions written by Kavehfarrokh.com inserted in the article below do not appear in the original CAIS posting.


Yazidis, a heterodox Kurdish religious minority living predominantly in northern Iraq, Syria and south-east Turkey, with well-established communities in the Caucasus and a growing European diaspora. Anecdotal evidence of the existence of Yazidi groups in North-Western Persia has not yet been proven. There are probably some 200,000-300,000 Yazidis worldwide. The Yazidis have long been the object of fascination among Orientalists, largely due to their erroneous description by outsiders as ‘devil-worshippers’ (see below). The literature devoted to their religion is disproportionately large, considering how few they are in number by comparison with the large majority of Kurdish Muslims. Their name for themselves is usually, Êzdi, Êzidi, or, in some areas, Dâsini (the last, strictly speaking a tribal name). Some scholars have derived the name Yazidi from Old Iranian yazata (divine being), though the current consensus among Western academics is a derivation from Yazid b. Mo‘âwiya, revered by the Yazidis as an incarnation of the divine figure Sultan Êzi. (Kreyenbroek, 1995, p. 3).

Yezidi Kurds-4-Meleke Tawus

Metalwork representing the spiritual entity Malak Tawous (Saradistribution.com); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…


The Yazidis’ cultural practices are observably Kurdish, and almost all speak Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish), with the exception of the villages of Ba’æiqa and Baházânê in Northern Iraq, where Arabic is spoken. Kurmanji is the language of almost all the orally transmitted religious traditions of the Yazidis. Religious origins are somewhat complex. The religion of the Yazidis is a highly syncretistic one: Sufi influence and imagery can be seen in their religious vocabulary, especially in the terminology of their esoteric literature, but much of the mythology is non-Islamic, and their cosmogonies apparently have many points in common with those of ancient Iranian religions. Early writers attempted to describe Yazidi origins, broadly speaking, in terms of ‘Islam’, or ‘Iranian,’ or sometimes even ‘pagan’ religions; however, publications since the 1990s have shown such an approach to be over-simplistic. The origin of the Yazidi religion is now usually seen by scholars as a complex process of syncretism, whereby the belief-system and practices of a local faith had a profound influence on the religiosity of adherents of the ‘Adawiyya sufi order living in the Kurdish mountains, and caused it to deviate from Islamic norms relatively soon after the death of its founder, Shaikh ‘Adi b. Mosâfer.

Yezidi Kurds-8-plan of lales

Detailed architectural plan of the Mausoleum at the Temple at Lalesh (Saradistribution.com); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

History and Development

‘Adi b. Mosâfer, who was of Omayyad descent, was born c. 1075 CE in the Beka‚a valley. After studying in Baghdad under Abu’l-Khayr Hammâd al-Dabbâs and alongside ‘Abd-al-Qâdir al-Jilâni, he settled in the valley of Lâleæ (some thirty-six miles north-east of Mosul) in the early 12th century. Groups who venerated Yazid b. Mo’âwiya and the Omayyads–already known as Yazidis–had existed for some time in the area; beliefs and practices which were apparently part of an ancient Iranian religion were also retained by some of the local tribes. Shaikh ‘Adi himself, a figure of undoubted orthodoxy, enjoyed widespread influence; he died in 1162 and his tomb at Lâleæ is a focal point of Yazidi pilgrimage. His name, pronounced Âdi or even Hâdi, passed into Yazidi oral tradition, though full knowledge of his identity was lost within the community. Yazidism grew during the period of Atabeg and Mongol rule. Only two generations later, led by Hasan b. ‘Adi, the community had grown large and powerful enough to come into open conflict with the Atabeg of Mosul, who killed Hasan in 1246. At about the same point, it seems, the community began to incur the opprobrium of more orthodox Muslims for its excessive veneration of both Shaikh ‘Adi and Yazid b. Mo’âwiya. During the fourteenth century, important Kurdish tribes whose sphere of influence stretched well into what is now Turkey (including, for a period, the rulers of the principality of Jazira) are cited in historical sources as Yazidi. (Guest, p. 45) Muslim leaders clearly perceived Yazidis as a threat; a significant battle took place in 1414, during which Shaikh ‘Adi’s tomb was razed. After the battle of Ùâlderân (1514; q.v.), Yazidi influence at first remained considerable; a Yazidi was appointed ’emir of the Kurds’ by the Ottomans, and, in the 1530s, Yazidi emirs ruled the province of Sorân for a time. The current family of Yazidi mirs (emirs), claiming Omayyad origins, replaced the descendants of Shaikh Hasan in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. However, as time passed, conversions to Islam became increasingly common and Yazidi power declined. By the end of the Ottoman Empire many important tribes and confederations still had sizeable Yazidi sections, and the dynasty of Yazidi mirs remained dominant within a limited geographical area, but Yazidis had suffered enormously from religious persecution. Until 1849, when provision for their protection was made under Ottoman law, they had not had the status of ‘People of the Book’ (Guest, pp. 103-107; Edmonds, pp. 59-60). In the 19th century complex social and political changes, many related to the Tanzimat reforms, produced an environment of increasing religious intolerance culminating in large-scale massacres of the Christian minorities. The Yazidis, also targets of militant Sunnism, suffered at the hands of Kurdish tribal leaders such as Moháammed Beg of Rowanduz (1832) and Bedir Khan Beg (1840s), as well as Ottoman officials, such as ‘Omar Wahbi Pasha (1893; Guest, pp. 96-97, 134-9; Edmonds, p. 60). There was some co-operation between the minorities; Yazidis of Mount Senjâr sheltered Armenians during the massacres of 1915-16. During the nineteenth and early twentieth century many Yazidis fled to Georgia and Armenia. In the second half of the twentieth century, most of Turkey’s Yazidis, who still lived in fear of religious persecution, emigrated to Germany, and in the 1990s many of Iraq’s Yazidi intelligentsia arrived there, where they play an active role in diaspora affairs, maintaining contact with co-religionists in Iraq and the Caucasus (Guest, pp. 193-203, Ackermann, forthcoming).

Geographical Distribution and Identity

The Yazidi heartland is in Northern Iraq. A substantial community known for its conservatism lives on Mount Senjâr some 80km west of Mosul on the border with Syria. A collection of farming villages and small towns lies in the Šaikân area, in the foothills north-east of Mosul; this area is adjacent to the shrine of Lâleæ and contains the home of the mir and the settlements of Ba’æiqa and Baházânê, home of the qawwâls, reciters of sacred texts. In the 20th century both Šaikani and Senjâri communities struggled for religious dominance. In Syria there are also two main groupings, in the Jazira and the Kurd Dâg@ areas (the latter including the Sem’ân and ‘Afrin communities). However, these are much smaller, probably totaling only about 15,000. In Turkey some Yazidis still live in the villages of the Tur ‘Abdin, south-east of Diyarbakir, remnants of a much more widespread community. The Transcaucasian communities, which once numbered some 60,000, have also declined due to economic and political factors, though accurate statistics remain unavailable. During the 1990s the population in Georgia decreased from some 30,000 to under 5,000, though numbers in Armenia have apparently remained more constant. Diaspora communities have increased correspondingly; most importantly, some 40,000 Yazidis now live in Germany, mainly in the Western provinces of Niedersachsen and Nordrhein-Westfalen. Most are from Turkey, with arrivals during the 1990s from Iraq including some influential figures. This profile may change as the situation in Iraq evolves following the fall of the Saddam regime. A much smaller community exists in the Netherlands. Other groups of Yazidis, in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and in the USA, Canada and Australia, are extremely small, and probably total well under 5,000.

Yezidi Kurds-2-Yezidi-khatun

Excellent depiction of a Khatoun at an ingress into the Temple in 1907 (Saradistribution.com). The term Khatoun in this cultural context designates a matriarch; ancient cults such as Mazdakism, Yazdanism, Yazdism as well as the ancient Zoroastrian faith, have often held men and women in equal regard, especially with regard to learning and leadership roles (for more see here).

Many attempts to define the Yazidis’ ethnic identity (notably the policies of the Ba’athist government in Iraq, which designated them as Arabs) have been politically motivated. Apart from a few Arabic-speaking clans, Yazidi communities speak Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish) as their first language, and their cultural practices are Kurdish. Most Yazidis claim Kurdish identity; in Iraq, this view has had the support of the government in the Kurdish Autonomous Region since 1991. In the Caucasus however, particularly in Armenia, to be ‘Kurdish’ is often popularly associated with an Islamic (and thus pro-Azari) identity. Many Caucasian Yazidis, therefore, claim to belong to a separate ethnie, though the politicization of the Kurdish question in Turkey and the influence of the PKK have reportedly caused a number in Armenia to redefine themselves as Kurds. In the diaspora, the Yazidis’ status as Kurds is not debated so much as their religious origin. In nationalist discourse, the Yazidi religion is seen as the ‘original’ Kurdish faith, a view that distinguishes the Kurds from Arabs and Turks. It is sometimes inaccurately presented as a form of Zoroastrianism or, spuriously, as a ‘Cult of Angels.’ In the Caucasus, a hypothesis of Babylonian origins is favored. Such different interpretations of the Yazidis’ origins are closely interlinked with expressions of identity, and tend to be explicable in terms of the prevailing political climate.

Religious Belief and Practice

Contemporary Yazidism is a religion of orthopraxy. Practice, in terms of careful adherence to rules governing all aspects of life, is more important than the role of scriptural text, dogma and professions of personal belief. Two key and interrelated features of Yazidism are: a) a preoccupation with religious purity and b) a belief in metempsychosis. The first of these is expressed in the system of caste, the food laws, the traditional preferences for living in Yazidi communities, and the variety of taboos governing many aspects of life. The second is crucial; Yazidis traditionally believe that the Seven Holy Beings (see below) are periodically reincarnated in human form, called a kâss. Not only does this reinforce the caste system, as the members of the dominant religious castes are the descendants of the most recent manifestations of the Holy Beings in Shaikh ‘Adi and his companions, but it also provides a mechanism for syncretism, as figures from other traditions can be said to be earlier manifestations of the kâss. A belief in the reincarnation of lesser Yazidi souls also exists; like the Ahl-e Haqq (q.v.), the Yazidis use the metaphor of a change of garment to describe the process, which they call kirâs gehorrin, ‘changing the shirt.’ Alongside this, Yazidi mythology also includes descriptions of heaven and hell, and other traditions attempting to reconcile these ideas with the belief-system of reincarnation.

In the Yazidi worldview, God created the world, which is now in the care of a Heptad of seven Holy Beings, often known as ‘Angels’ or haft serr (the Seven Mysteries.) Pre-eminent among these is Tâ’us-ê Malak or Malak Tâ’us, the Peacock Angel, who is equated with Satan by outsiders. Most Yazidis find this identification highly offensive; however, it is clear that Malak Tâ’us is an ambiguous figure. The Ketêbâ Jelwa ‘Book of Illumination” which claims to be the words of Malak Tâ’us, and which presumably represents Yazidi belief (see below), states that he allocates responsibilities, blessings and misfortunes as he sees fit and that it is not for the race of Adam to question him. The Yazidi taboo against the word Š, and on words containing æ and t/t that might (to their ears) recall it, may indicate some perceived connection between this figure and Malak Tâ’us. The reasons for the connection remain unclear. Although some Sufi traditions have presented Satan as a redeemed or holy figure, Shaikh ‘Adi b. Mosâfer was apparently orthodox on the matter. However, pre-Islamic Zoroastrian tradition indicates some link between Ahriman and the peacock, and this ambiguity may predate Islam. Yazidi accounts of creation, which have much in common with those of the Ahl-e Haqq (q.v.) state that the world created by God was at first ‘a pearl’. It remained in this very small and enclosed state for some time (often a magic number such as forty or forty thousand years) before being remade in its current state; during this period the Heptad were called into existence, God made a covenant with them and entrusted the world to them. It has been suggested, on the evidence of pre-Zoroastrian Iranian cosmogony and its similarity to Yazidi cosmogonies, that if the Yazidis’ ancestors venerated a benign demiurge who set the world (in its current state) in motion, the role of this figure may have become ambiguous when they came into contact with Zoroastrians, whose cosmogony was essentially similar, but whose demiurge was Ahriman, who polluted the world. Thus Yazidism would be, not a form of Zoroastrianism, but a religion possessing an Iranian belief-system akin to it.

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Entrance portal to the Temple of the Yazdis or Yazidis at Lalesh (Saradistribution.com); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

Besides Malak Tâ’us, members of the Heptad (the Seven), who were called into existence by God at the beginning of all things, include Shaikh ‘Âdi, his companion Shaikh Hasan, and a group known as the ‘four Mysteries’, Šamsadin, Fakradin, Sajâdin and Nâsáerdin. These latter, according to oral tradition, were the sons of an Êzdinâ Mir, whom Shaikh ‘Âdi met at Lâleæ. All these figures are eponyms of clans of Âdâni shaikhs (see below); in Yazidi accounts of the cosmogony they tend to have other names, and they are also identified in other incarnations, such as Hasan al-Bâsári as an incarnation of Shaikh Hasan. Not all listings of the Seven are identical; sometimes, for instance, Shaikh ‘Âdi himself is identified with Malak Tâ’us, and Shaikh Obakr is added.

The kâss and other holy beings are the focus of frequent veneration. The Heptad, under the names of the families of Shaikh ‘Âdi and his companions, are objects of devotion, but so also are numerous lesser figures, also usually eponyms of clans of shaikhs or pirs (see below), who are requested for help on practical matters. Shaikh Mand, for instance, is believed to cure snakebites, and his descendants may handle snakes safely; the family of Pir Jarwân has power over scorpions. A female figure, Khâtuna Fakra, is associated with help in childbirth. Help from such beings may be sought by consultation with their descendants, or by veneration of a sacred site associated with them–occasionally a tomb, but more often a shrine consisting of a room with a spire, a small votive altar, a sacred tree, or a pool or cave. Many people who know little of the higher-status sacred texts make offerings at such places. Some of these cults appear to be very localized, but others are respected by members of other religions, and Yazidis also solicit help from local saints associated with other religions, especially Christianity (Kreyenbroek, 1995, pp. 91-123, 145-68; Drower, pp. 24-29, 51-60).


The holiest Yazidi site is the valley of Lâleæ, site of the tomb of Shaikh ‘Âdi. A sacred microcosm of the world, as it were, it contains not only many shrines dedicated to the kâss, but a number of other landmarks corresponding to other sites or symbols of significance in other faiths, including pirrâ selât (SerâtÂÂ Bridge) and a mountain called Mt. ‘Arafât. The two sacred springs are called Zamzam and Kâniyâ spi ‘The White Spring’. The former rises in a cave below the sanctuary of Shaikh ‘Âdi, the heart of the holy place. Water from the springs is mixed with earth from the holy valley to make barât, little molded balls that are taken away and treated with reverence; they play a part in some rites of passage such as marriage and funerary rites. If possible, Yazidis make at least one pilgrimage to Lâleæ during their lifetime, and those living in the region try to attend at least once a year for the autumn ‘Feast of the Assembly” (see below). As for Lâleæ, pilgrimages to lesser sites may also be undertaken, to seek intercession, in gratitude for prayers answered, or as a vow.


Formalized prayer is largely a matter of personal preference and is not obligatory. The practice of praying facing the rising, noonday, and setting sun which is described by travelers seems not to have been universal and is now seen as an ideal rather than a norm. Such prayer should be accompanied by certain gestures, including kissing the rounded neck (gerivân) of the sacred shirt (kerâs). Those who wear the girdle–the black resta for certain dignitaries, the white æutik for other Yazidis–say a prayer when putting it on. Prayers have almost exclusively been transmitted orally; their texts have themes in common but vary in details.


Apart from individual rites of passage, such as marriage, baptism, circumcision, and death, Yazidis observe a number of communal festivals, some more widespread than others. The Yazidi New Year falls in Spring (somewhat later than Nowruz). There is some lamentation by women in the cemeteries, to the accompaniment of the music of the qawwâls (see below), but the festival is generally characterized by joyous events: the music of dahol (drum) and zornâ (shawm), communal dancing and meals, the decorating of eggs. Similarly the village tÂewaf (Ar. tÂawâf), a festival held in the spring in honor of the patron of the local shrine, has secular music, dance and meals in addition to the performance of sacred music. Another important festival is the tâwusgerrân (circulation of the peacock) where qawwâls and other religious dignitaries visit Yazidi villages, bringing the senjâq, sacred images representing the peacock and associated with Malak Tâ’us. These are venerated, taxes are collected from the pious, sermons are preached, and holy water distributed. The greatest festival of the year for ordinary Yazidis is the Je‘nâ Jamâ’iya (Feast of the Assembly) at Lâleæ, a seven-day occasion. A focus of widespread pilgrimage, this is an important time for social contact and affirmation of identity. The religious center of the event is the belief in an annual gathering of the Heptad in the holy place at this time; rituals practiced include the sacrifice of a bull at the shrine of Shaikh Šams, the washing of the ‘bier of Shaikh ‘Âdi,’ the practice of samâ’ (see below). Other festivals are more likely to be kept by the few than the many. Religious leaders observe forty-day fasts in summer and winter; a three-day winter fast culminating in the celebration of the birth of the kâssÊzid is kept more widely. The Ùêlkân, a tribe originating in the border areas of Turkey and Syria, keep a winter festival called Bâtizmiya. For some Yazidis at least, the kâss have their feast-days. Counterparts to certain Islamic feasts, including , ‘Id al-fetâr, and Laylat al-barâ’a are also observed by some.

Yezidi Kurds-12-Youths 1950s

Yazdi or Yazidi youth in the 1950s in Lalesh (Saradistribution.com); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

Purity and Taboos

The Yazidis’ concern with religious purity, and their reluctance to mix elements perceived to be incompatible, is shown not only in their caste system, but also in various taboos affecting everyday life. Some of these, such as those on exogamy or on insulting or offending men of religion, are widely respected. Others, such as the prohibition of eating lettuce or wearing the color blue, are often ignored when men of religion are not present. Others still are less widely known and may be localized. The purity of the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, is protected by a number of taboos–against spitting on earth, water, or fire, for instance. These may reflect ancient Iranian preoccupations, as apparently do the taboos concerning bodily refuse, hair, and menstrual blood. Too much contact with non-Yazidis is also polluting; in the past Yazidis avoided military service which would have led them to live among Muslims, and were forbidden to share such items as cups or razors with outsiders. The mixing with others brought about by formal education may be a major reason behind the well-known Yazidi taboo on learning to read and write. In the past, only Shaikhs of the Âdâni lineage group had the right to do so. Certain words are the subject of taboos, such as those dealing with cursing or stoning, or those which are felt to sound like the name Š, whose utterance is an unforgivable insult to Malak Tâ’us, obliging any Yazidi who heard it (in the past at any rate) to slay the speaker. Auditory resemblance may lie behind the taboo against eating lettuce, whose name kâs resembles Kurdish pronunciations of kâss. The taboo against eating pork appears to be a custom which follows Islam rather than a specifically Yazidi edict. Prohibitions are also attested, in certain areas at least, against fish, cockerel, gazelle, and various vegetables including okra, cauliflower, and pumpkin.

A widespread myth about the Yazidis’ origin which gives them a distinctive ancestry expresses their feelings of difference from other races. Adam and Eve quarreled about which of them provided the creative element in the begetting of children. Each stored their seed in a jar which was then sealed. When Eve’s was opened it was full of insects and other unpleasant creatures, but inside Adam’s jar was a beautiful boy-child. This lovely child, known as Š (Šahed, son of Jar) grew up to marry a houri and became the ancestor of the Yazidis.

Social and religious groups

The Yazidis divide themselves into three endogamous major castes, with religious orders also playing an important role. Most Yazidis belong to the morid (layman; literally ‘disciple’]) group, which is endogamous, but, within the group, marriage is not restricted. Every morid must have a shaikh and a pir; the lineage of these is determined by the morid’s own heredity. The Shaikhs are divided into three endogamous lineage groups, the Šamsâni, Âdâni and Qâtâni, the latter of which also shares its ancestry with the family of the mir. The pirs are divided into four main groups, and forty clans, most of whom may intermarry. Both groups receive alms from their morids. Tithes paid to the Shaikh are more substantial; however, the difference between the two groups lies not in the nature of their religious tasks, but rather in ancestry (the shaikhs apparently associated with non-Kurdish companions or relations of Shaikh ‘Âdi, and the pirs with his Kurdish companions). At puberty, each morid should also choose a ‘brother’ or ‘sister of the Hereafter’, berâyê or k, normally a Shaikh, who performs certain important rituals at transitional points such as marriage and death.

The Qawwâls or reciters constitute a different class, and come from two clans, the Kurmanji-speaking Dimli and the Arabic-speaking Tazhi, settled in the villages of Ba’æiqa and Beházânê, in the Šaik an area. They specialize in the playing of religious music on sacred instruments, the daf (frame-drum) and æebâb (flute), and in the recital of the sacred hymns or qawls. They also carry out the tâwusgerrân; these were severely curtailed in the twentieth century when crossing international frontiers became more difficult; the Transcaucasian communities in particular were effectively cut off from the Yazidi religious centers.

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The Yazidi faithful engaging in their “Festival of Eid al-Jamma” (photo taken on 7 October, 2010 & displayed the International Business Times); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

There are also religious ‘orders’ whose members may come from different castes. The Faqirs become members of their order by an initiation which was once open to all, but as time has passed have become in effect a hereditary group, with initiation undergone almost exclusively by members of faqir families. They are expected to lead a life of piety and abstinence, by fasting, refraining from drinking and smoking, avoiding any violent behavior. Their clothes, especially their black woolen k or tunic that recalls that of Shaikh ‘Âdi, are considered to be sacred, and their persons must not be harmed. Some are very learned in religious lore. The Kochaks are a small non-hereditary group charged with outdoor labor for Shaikh ‘Âdi, such as cutting wood and drawing water for the shrine. Some in the past have been clairvoyants, miracle workers and interpreters of dreams; a few have acquired political influence in this way, such as the nineteenth-century Kochak Mirzâ of Mount Senjâr, who predicted the fall of Islam.

There are a number of important offices in the Yazidi hierarchy. The Mir (prince) is both temporal and spiritual head of the community; his person is sacred, and in theory all Yazidis owe him spiritual allegiance. In practice the temporal influence of the family, based in Bâ’drê in Šaikân, has declined since the late 18th century, though it remains a substantial landowner, and is active in Kurdish politics. Members of this family are linked to the Qâtâni Shaikhs. The Prince, along with other dignitaries, is a member of the Yazidi Majlesi Roháâni ‘Religious Council’. The Bâbâ Shaikh (Father Shaikh), is the leader of the Shaikhs and must come from the Šamsâni branch. He must lead a pious life; regarded by many as the spiritual leader of the Yazidis, he supervises the Kochaks and many of the ceremonies at Lâleæ cannot take place without his presence. The functions of the Piæ-imâm (Foremost Imam) are less clear; a representative of the Âdâni Shaikhs, he leads certain rituals. The Bâbâ Ùâwuæ, (Father Guardian), guardian of the shrine at Lâleæ, leads a life of piety and celibacy. He lives there permanently and has authority over what happens there; he is assisted by the feqrayyât, (celibate ‘nuns’) who are unmarried or widowed and also care for the sanctuaries. These are very few in number. Successive families of faqirs living there on a temporary basis also look after the fabric of the shrine and take care of guests.

The institution of karâfat, whereby a relationship of sponsorship is created with a man on whose knees a boy is circumcised, exists among Yazidis as for other groups. This often creates close relationships with other communities; since the family of the child may not intermarry with that of the kariv for seven generations, the kariv himself is usually not a Yazidi, and the institution serves to make useful alliances with neighbors. Yazidis in Northern Iraq may also have a mirabbi (literally ‘teacher’), chosen from any caste by rules of heredity.

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Local Yezidis engage in the traditional Kurdish dance outside the Lalesh temple (photo displayed theInternational Business Times); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

Textual traditions

Most Yazidi religious texts have been passed on exclusively by oral tradition, and many features characteristic of oral literature can be seen in them. It is now generally accepted that the manuscripts of the Yazidi Sacred Books, the Masháafâ Reæ and Ketêbâ Jelwa, published in 1911 and 1913, were ‘forgeries’ in the sense that they were written by non-Yazidis in response to Western travelers’ and scholars’ interest in the Yazidi religion, amid a general environment of trading in ancient manuscripts. However, the material within these manuscripts is consistent with the contents of the Yazidi oral traditions, and to that extent they may be considered authentic. Nevertheless, it seems that written texts with the titles Masháefâ Reæ and Ketêbâ Jelwa were known among the Yazidis long before this date, though they have remained unseen even by the vast majority of the community. The latter title is a shortened form of the title of a work by Hasan b. ‘Adi, but it currently seems to denote manuscripts used for divination, which are still kept by certain Âdâni Shaikhs. Other written texts were known; meæur, kept by Pirs, giving accounts of lineages and attached morid families, and kaækul, which included prayers, religious history and some Qawls. These collections may also have included some of the Arabic odes (qasáidas) attributed to Shaikh ‘Âdi which are used in the community. However, there is no evidence that the large corpus of sacred texts once existed in the form of a book.

The core religious texts are the qawls, hymns in Kurmanji which are often dedicated to a kâssand which make frequent allusions to events and persons not explained in the texts. These have, for most of their history, been orally transmitted, though there is some evidence that not all were orally composed. Knowledge and recitation of the qawls has traditionally been the province of the Qawwâl, though their training school no longer exists in their home villages. Few members of the Qawwâl families now learn either sacred texts or sacred instruments and those with the widest knowledge of the Qawls and their interpretation are now from other classes. In 1979 two young Yazidi intellectuals published a number of the qawls, provoking considerable controversy within the community. (A few had been published in the Soviet Union the previous year, but were presented as part of a folklore anthology and largely ignored). By the beginning of the 21st century more had been published in Armenia and a research program in Germany was almost complete. With the assent of the community, this latter aimed to collect and transcribe the many unpublished qawls for use in academic research and the education of Yazidi children, especially in the diaspora. Yazidism is thus being transformed into a scriptural religion.

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Yazidis lighting candles outside the Lalesh temple in celebration of the Yazidi New Year (photo taken on April 17, 2007 & displayed the International Business Times). The Yazidis celebrate the ingress of light into the world; For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

The qawls, with their allusions and obscurities, are not easy to understand, and a tradition of interpretation has grown up. Each qawl has a ch or ‘story’ associated with it, which explains its context. Some of these chirôks show signs of having been developed long after the qawl. In general the qawls and the knowledge within them are the province of men of religion, but on certain occasions, a mosáháâbat is given. This is a sermon usually consisting of narrative interspersed with couplets from a qawl, which explains the sacred text, and is aimed at a general audience.

Other types of sacred text exist: the bayt which is difficult to distinguish from the qawl in formal terms, but unlike the secular Kurdish bayt (q.v.) is used to accompany religious events such as tâwusgerrân; the qasáida in Kurdish, often a praise-poem for a holy man which does not formally correspond to the Arabic or Persian qasáida; du’â and dirozâ, prayers for private and public use. There are seven forms of Yazidi samâ’, consisting of music and the singing of hymns, usually a combination of qawl and qasáida; a solemn procession is also often part of these.


A. Ackermann “A Double Minority: Notes on the emerging Yezidi Diaspora” in W. Kokot and Kh. Tölölyan, eds., Religion, Identity and Diaspora. London, forthcoming.

P. Anastase Marie, “La de‚couverte re‚cente des deux livres sacre‚s des Ye‚zîdis,” Anthropos 6, 1911, pp. 1-39.

W. F. Ainsworth, Travels and Researches in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Armenia, London, 1841.

M. Bittner, Die Heiligen Bücher der Jeziden oder Teufelsanbeter (Kurdisch und Arabisch), Denkschriften der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, Phil.-Hist., Klasse, Band 55, Vienna, 1913.

O. and C. Celil, “Qewl û Beytê ÊEzdiya” in Zargotina K’urda/Kurdskij Folklor, Moscow 1978, pp. 5ff.

S. al- Damlûj^, al-Yaz^diyya, Mosul 1949. E.S. Drower, Peacock Angel, London, 1941.

R.Y. Ebied and M. J. L. Young, “An account of the history and rituals of the Yaz^d^s of Mosul,” Le Muse‚on 85, 1972, pp. 481-522.

C.J. Edmonds, A Pilgrimage to Lalish, London, 1967.

R. H. W. Empson, The Cult of the Peacock Angel, London, 1928.

R. Frank, Scheich ‘Adî, der grosse Heilige der Jezîdîs, Berlin, 1911.

N. Fuccaro, The Other Kurds: Yazidis in Colonial Iraq, London,1999.

G. Furlani, Testi Religiosi dei Yezidi, Testi e Documenti per la Storia delle Religioni 3, Bologna, 1930.

J. S. Guest, The Yezidis: A Study in Survival, New York and London 1987, rev. ed. Survival Among the Kurds: A History of the Yezidis 1993.

M. Guidi, “Origine dei Yazidi e Storia Religiosa dell’Islam e del Dualismo,” RSO 12, 1932, pp. 266-300.

P. G. Kreyenbroek, “Mithra and Ahreman, Binyâm^n and Malak Tâwûs: Traces of an Ancient Myth in the cosmogonies of Two Modern Sects,” in Recurrent Patterns in Iranian Religion, ed. Ph. Gignoux, pp. 57-79, Stud.Ir., Cahier 11, Paris, 1992.

Idem, Yezidism–Its Background, Observances and Textual Tradition, Lampeter, Wales, 1995.

Idem, “On the study of some heterodox sects in Kurdistan,” in Islam des Kurdes, Les Annales de l’Autre Islam no. 5, Paris, 1998, pp. 163-84.

Idem, with Kh. Jindy Rashow, God and Sheykh Adi are Perfect: Sacred Hymns and Religious Narratives of the Yezidis, in the series Iranica, ed. M. Macuch, Berlin, forthcoming.

A. H. Layard, Nineveh and its Remains, 2 vols, London, 1849.

R. Lescot, Enquête sur les Yezidis de Syrie et du Djebel Sindjar, Beirut, 1938.

J. Menant, Les Ye‚zidiz : Épisodes de l’Histoire des Adorateurs du Diable, Paris, 1892.

A. Mingana, “Devil-worshippers; their beliefs and their sacred books,” JRAS, 1916, pp. 505-26.

Idem, “Sacred books of the Yezidis,” in ibid., 1921, pp. 117-19.

F. Nau and J. Tfinkdji, “Receuil de textes et de documents sur les Ye‚zidis,” Revue de l’Orient Chre‚tien, 2nd series, vol. 20, 1915-17, pp. 142-200, 225-75.

N. Siouffi, “Notice sur la secte des Ye‚zidis,” JA, ser. 7, vol. 19, 1882 pp. 252-68.

Idem, “Notice sur le Che‚ikh ‘Adi et la Secte des Ye‚zidis,” JA, ser. 8, vol. 5,1885, pp. 78-100.

Kh. Silêman, and Kh. Jindy, Êezadiyatî liber Ronaya Hindek Têkstêd Aînê ÊEzdiyan, Baghdad, 1979, repr. 1995 in Latin script, n.p.

Article by Kaveh Farrokh and Taraneh Farhid on Achaemenid Era Edicts, Stele and the Cyrus Cylinder

An important recent contribution to the field of Iranian Studies is the publication in 2018 of the following textbook:

Arj-e-Xirad: Papers in Honour of Professor Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh (edited by Farhad Aslani & Massoumeh Pourtaghi). Tehran: Morvarid Publications.

Professor Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh (Hamburg University, Iranian Studies) is a doyen of Iranian Studies much like Dick Davis and those who have passed such as Richard Nelson Frye (1920-2014) and Shapour Shahbazi (1942-2006).

The above textbook includes scholarly articles by world-class scholars such as Dariush Akbarzadeh, Dick Davis, Richard Foltz, Shaul Shaked, Gholamreza Karamian, Jurgen Ehlers, Touraj Daryee, Kamyar Abdi and a slew of other scholars.

Kaveh Farrokh and Taraneh Farhid have also contributed the following article to the above textbook [this can be downloaded in pdf from Academia.edu]:

Farrokh, K., & Farhid, T. (1396/2018). [استوانه کوروش بزرگ و اسناد “دیگر” در بابل, مصر و ستون سنگی یادبود خانتوس] “Other” Cylinders and Records before and after Cyrus the Great: Kelar, Babylon, Egypt and Xanthus. Studies in Honor of Professor Jalal Khaleghi Motlagh (ed. F. Aslani & M. Pourtaghi), Tehran: Morvarid Publications, pp.379-394.

The above article challenges a number of new Eurocentric theories proposed since 1979 with respect to the history of Cyrus the Great and the Cyrus Cylinder. The new theories were promoted in Spiegel Magazine (by Matthias Schultz, July 15, 2008) and the Daily Telegraph (by Harry de Quetteville, July 16, 2008) … these however were responded to by Kaveh Farrokh:

The Cyrus Cylinder housed at the British Museum (Picture Source:  Angelina Perri Birney).

Photo Portraits of Syrian and Iraqi Kurds

Below are a number of photographs that were displayed by French photographer Eric Lafforgue who traveled to refugee camps near the town of Erbil in northern Iraq. For more on the Kurds and their Iranian culture and identity consult the following article by Professor Garnik Asatrian (Chair, Iranian Studies Department, Yerevan State University; Editor, “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden-Boston):

For more information on the Kurds kindly see the following link: The Kurds

The photographs by Lafforgue are of Kurds who have fled from the turmoil in nearby Syria as well as local Yezidi Iraqi Kurds. The report and pictures are available in the Daily Mail article entitled “Pale eyed portraits of Kurdistan”.

Syrian Kurdish girl-1[Click to Enlarge] A Syrian Kurdish girl (Picture source: Daily Mail/Eric Lafforgue).

Syrian Kurdish boy-1[Click to Enlarge] A Syrian Kurdish boy (Picture source: Daily Mail/Eric Lafforgue).

Syrian Kurdish man-1[Click to Enlarge] A Syrian Kurdish man (Picture source: Daily Mail/Eric Lafforgue).

Iraqi Kurdish girl-1[Click to Enlarge] An Iraqi Kurdish girl (Picture source: Daily Mail/Eric Lafforgue).

Syrian Kurdish boy-2[Click to Enlarge] An Syrian Kurdish boy (Picture source: Daily Mail/Eric Lafforgue).

Iraqi Kurdish girl-2 [Click to Enlarge] An Iraqi Kurdish girl (Picture source: Daily Mail/Eric Lafforgue).

Syrian Kurdish girl-2[Click to Enlarge] A Syrian Kurdish girl (Picture source: Daily Mail/Eric Lafforgue).

Use of Misleading Terminology for “Convenience”?

Below is a recent article of Dr. Sheda Vasseghi (April 29, 2018) posted in Evakdat in which she discusses a document written by a well-informed CIA official (whose name has now been redacted from the original document). As cited by Vasseghi in her article below:

In the CIA Memo, the author claimed that the CIA tends to be “alert and responsive to official changes in the names of individual political entities.”  However, when it comes to geographic terms, the CIA adheres “to usages that are imprecise, egocentric, and anachronistic“. … According to the CIA Memo, terms such as “the Middle East” are, and always were, imprecise and egocentric given they reflect “the world as viewed from London and western Europe.”  The [CIA] author is alarmed at how widespread the usage of these imprecise terms among the intellectual circles were, including as part of titles for respected publications such as The Middle East Journal

Kindly note that readers are also referred to the article by Dr. Mohammad Ala (Recipient of the 2013 Grand Prix Film Italia Award) entitled:

The “Middle East”: A 20th Century Neologism Or Malapropisms?


In connection with below-linked article Farrokh & Vasseghi (2017) on the 20th century “invented term”—the Middle East—one may refer to a declassified, internal memo by the CIA’s Office of Basic and Geographic Intelligence (OBGI) to Deputy Director for Intelligence dated February 26, 1973 (the “CIA Memo”), in which the author, whose identity is redacted, noted his “strong aversion” to the use of the term “the Middle East.”

In the CIA Memo, the author claimed that the CIA tends to be “alert and responsive to official changes in the names of individual political entities.”  However, when it comes to geographic terms, the CIA adheres “to usages that are imprecise, egocentric, and anachronistic.”  One of the common ways in which the CIA ignores precise geographical names is by “the use of longitudinal compass directions as nouns” (emphasis in original).

The term “Middle East” was first invented by Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914). Mahan’s invention first appeared in the September 1902 issue of London’s monthly “National review” in an article entitled “The Persian Gulf and International Relations”. Specifically, Mahan wrote: “The Middle East, if I may adopt the term which I have not seen…”.  The term – “Middle East” – when examined in cultural, anthropological and cultural terms makes very little sense. Iran and Turkey for example are not Arab countries and in fact share a long-standing Turco-Iranian or Persianate civilization distinct from the Arabo-Islamic dynamic. Instead, the Turks and Iranians have strong ties to the Caucasus and Central Asia (Image: Encyclopedia Brittanica).



According to the CIA Memo, terms such as “the Middle East” are, and always were, imprecise and egocentric given they reflect “the world as viewed from London and western Europe.”  The author is alarmed at how widespread the usage of these imprecise terms among the intellectual circles were, including as part of titles for respected publications such as The Middle East Journal.

The author of the CIA Memo is concerned with how those in the field of intelligence defend the use of imprecise geographic terms by arguing that everyone knows to what location one is referring when, for example, one says, “the Middle East,” so why worry about it.  Further, correcting such terms may cause confusion and inconvenience!  The author responded to these officers by reminding them that as responsible leaders in the intelligence community, they “should always strive to be practitioners of precision” in written materials.

Mahan’s invented term “Middle East” was popularized by Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852-1929), a journalist designated as “a special correspondent from Tehran” by The Times newspaper. Chirol’s seminal article “The Middle Eastern Question” expanded Mahan’s version of the “Middle East” to now include “Persia, Iraq, the east coast of Arabia, Afghanistan, and Tibet”. Surprised? Yes, you read correctly -Tibet! The term Middle East was (and is) a colonial construct used to delineate British (and now West European and US) geopolitical and economic interests. These same interests help promote the usage of terminology such as “Islamic arts and architecture”  (Image: Ria Press).



As examples of changing how these officers think and write, the author of the CIA Memo encouraged them to substitute imprecise terms for accurate ones as listed in the chart below:

           Imprecise and Improper Terms       Accurate and Refined Terms

            the Far East                                                   East Asia

            the Middle East deadlock                           the Arab-Israeli deadlock

            the industrial West                                      the non-Communist industrial nations

            the Near East                                                the Eastern Mediterranean

            the Middle East                                            the Persian Gulf states

Mahan and Chirol’s invention (Middle East) provided the geopolitical terminology required to rationally organize the expansion of British political, military and economic interests into the Persian Gulf region. After the First World War, Winston Churchill (1874-1965) became the head of the newly established “Middle East Department”.  Churchill’s department redefined Mahan’s original “The Middle East” invention to now include the Suez Canal, the Sinai, the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the newly created states of Iraq, Palestine, and Trans-Jordan. Tibet and Afghanistan were now excluded from London’s Middle East grouping. The decision to include non-Arab Iran as a member of the “Middle East” in 1942 was to rationalize the role of British political and Petroleum interests in the country (Image: Wikipedia).




Central Intelligence Agency. (1973, February 26). Toward improved precision in regional terminology (Approved for Release 2003/03/28: CIA-RPD80T01497R000100080031-9). McLean, VA: CIA Library.

Farrokh, K., & Vasseghi, S. (2017). The “Middle East”: An Invented Term from the 20th Century. Persian Heritage, 88, 12-14.  Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/35445793/Farrokh_K._and_Vasseghi_Sh._2017_._The_Middle_East_An_Invented_Term_from_the_20th_Century._Persian_Heritage_88_pp.12-14

Sharon Turner: The Persian Origin of Anglo-Saxon Words

The article below was written in a letter Sharon Turner in 1827  and was first posted in the CAIS (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies) venue hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav.

Kindly note that the images and accompanying descriptions inserted below do not appear in the original article posting in CAIS.


If more important communications be not, at the present moment, occupying the attention of the Royal Society of Literature, it may not perhaps be wholly uninteresting, if I submit to its consideration a few circumstances in regard to the Asiatic origin of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, which have lately occurred to me on examining the affinities of their ancient language.

It has been stated in the History of the Anglo-Saxons, that the most probable derivation of this people which had been suggested, was that which deduced them from the Sakai or Sacae, who, from, the Caspian, besides branching into Bactriana on the east, had also spread westward into the most fertile part of Armenia, which, from them, as we learn from Strabo, was called Sakasina.

Pliny terms the Sakai, who settled there, the Sacassani; which is so similar in sound to Saca-sunu, or the sons of the Sakai, that we are tempted to identify the two appellations. It was Goropius Becanus who first hinted this etymology: the celebrated Melanchthon adopted it; and though, as is usual on such subjects, others doubted and disputed, our Camden gave it the sanction of his decided preference.

Eastern Scythians or “Saka Tigrakhauda” (Pointed cap Saka) as depicted in Persepolis. The Scythians played an important role in the military machine of the Achaemenids. A branch of the Scythians or Saka, the Parthians, were to revive the Iranian kingdom after Alexander’s conquests and his Seleucid successors.

It appeared to me to be the most rational derivation which had been mentioned; and the fact that Ptolemy, writing in the second century after Strabo and Pliny, actually notices a Scythian people, who had sprung from the Sakai, by the very name of Saxones, seemed to verify the conjecture, that the appellative Saxones did originate from Saca-sunu, or the sons of the Sakai.

The Romans spelt the word with a c instead of a k, and we therefore call them Sacae, with the s sound of the c.But this is only our mispronunciation of the Roman c; for we find that Cicero’s name is written in the Greek authors who mention him, as Kikeroo.

The preceding derivation thus leads to the opinion, that the progenitors of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors came from Asia into Europe; and that before they made this emigration, they had dwelt in Armenia and in the regions about the Caspian.

The Honourable Mr. Keppell, in his late interesting travels, visited this country, and thus notices it. After crossing the river Arras – the Araxes of Plutarch – he says:

“Between this river and the Kur – the ancient Cyrus or Cyrnus – is the beautiful province of Karabaugh, formerly the country of the Sacae or Sacassani, a warlike tribe of Scythians, mentioned by Pliny and Strabo, and supposed to be the same people as our ancient ancestors the Saxons.”

After quitting Karabaugh, Mr. Keppell proceeded to Shirwan, the Albania of the ancients. The beautiful province of Karabaugh, between the Arras and the Kur – the ancient Araxes and Cyrnus – may therefore be considered as one of the Asiatic localisations of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. The Kur has been the late boundary of the Russian acquisitions in this district.

The late war between the Russians and the Persians has been chiefly carried on in or near the regions where the ancient Sakai or Sacassani were seated, and which appear to have begun from the south of the Kur. If the Russians make any further acquisitions in these parts, they will become possessed of the country of our Sakai ancestors.

Viking Helmet (Right; Picture Source: English Monarchs) and reconstruction of earlier Sassanian helmet at Taghe Bostan, Kermanshah, Iran (Left; Picture Source: Close up of Angus Mcbride painting of Sassanian knight at Taghe Bostan, Wilcox, P. (1999). Rome’s Enemies: Parthians and Sasanid Persians. Osprey Publishing, p.47, Plate H1).

These circumstances, drawing the mind to this part of the world, led me to recollect that former antiquaries had observed a few words in the Persian language to resemble some in the Saxon. Camden mentions, that “the admirable scholar, Joseph Scaliger, has told us that fader, muder, brader, tuchter, band, and such like, are still used in the Persian language, in the same sense as we say father, mother, brother, daughter, and band.” (Camden’s Brit. Introd. cxxiii.)

Musing upon this intimation, it occurred to me, that if five words, so much alike as these, were found in the two languages, an attentive comparison of the Persian with the Anglo-Saxon might discover many more, if the allegation were really true, that the Saxons had come from these regions; and in that case, if any considerable number of similarities were really existing in the two languages, they would tend to confirm the belief, that the origin of our Saxon forefathers should be thus sought in Asia, and that their primeval ancestors had gradually moved from the Caspian Sea to the German Ocean.

Scythians on the steppes of the ancient Ukraine. Scholars are virtually unanimous that the Scythians were an Iranian people related to the Medes and Persians of ancient Iran or Persia (Painting by Angus McBride).

This view of the subject induced me to attempt a cursory examination, whether such resemblances could, by a general inspection, be perceived, as would satisfy the mind that the chorographical relationship was not an unfounded conjecture.

But it was obvious, that whatever the ancient identity between these languages may have been in their original state, no very great proportion of it could be expected to be visible now, because the Saxons have been separated from these regions at least 2000 years; and in their progress along the north of Asia, and through the whole breadth of the upper surface of Europe, and amid all the evils, sufferings, triumphs, and events, which must have befallen them before they reached the mouth of the Elbe; and from the new scenes and conflicts which accompanied their three centuries of depredations on the Roman empire and upon the ocean, and which afterwards, for four hundred years more, awaited them in Britain, before those works were written which display their language to us; – from all these causes, the Anglo-Saxons, in the days of Alfred, must have used a very different tongue, in the mass of its words, from that simpler and ruder one which their progenitors had conversed with in the beautiful province of Karabaugh, and on the Araxes, the Kur, and the Caspian.

So, during the same lapse of time, the Persian language has ceased to be what it was in the days of Cyrus or Darius. It has become, within the last 1,000 years, the most polished language of the Eastern world, and has been most exercised in clothing with select and ornate phrase the finest effusions of the Oriental genius.

Persian (Zoroastrian) inscription in Ateshgah (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Modern Persian can, therefore, be scarcely less unlike the original language of those, in his war, against whom the self-confident Julian found an early grave, instead of the victorious triumph he expected, than our present English is to the Anglo-Saxon of the same period. Neither Persian nor Saxon are now what they were when the Sakai and the Persae confronted each other on their dividing rivers, and from their bordering mountains. Hence no such pervading identity could be expected as may yet be traced between the Welsh, the Bas Breton, the Irish, and the Gaelic, however originally similar.

The likeness would be also less, because the Saxons did not spring from the Persians. No one has alleged this parentage. The Sakai were the relatives only, not the children of the Persae. So far from any filial or paternal feelings existing between them, the most furious hostilities disparted the two tribes; and at one epoch, the Persians, by attacking the Sakai by surprise, nearly exterminated them.

This disaster disinclined our valuable antiquary, Sheringham, from adopting this derivation of our ancestors. But as it is manifest that no attack of surprise could annihilate at that time more than the forces which were surprised, the calamity is more likely to have been a reason for the rest of the Sakai, after this weakening catastrophe, to have moved hastily out of their pleasing settlements in those parts of the world, and to have migrated westward to a safer locality.

The main fire altar at the Atash-kade (Zoroastrian Fire-Temple) of Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) (Picture Source: Panoramio). This site is now registered with UNESCO as a world heritage site. 

This defeat may have forced them from Armenia to other districts nearer Europe; and the war of the Romans, or of Mithridates, or similar disturbing causes, may have afterwards impelled them to proceed onward to the Vistula, and at last to seek refuge on the islands and peninsula of the western extremities of the continent.

The probability is, that all the tribes which anciently inhabited the immediately conterminous countries were, for the most part, branches of the same main parental stem. The Persae, the Sakai, and their neighbours, may be therefore considered as ramifications of the great Scythian stock – part of the audax genus of Japetus, or Japhet; and as such, although the old Persians and the Sakai would not have spoken the same language in all its words and forms, yet their respective tongues would be dialects of their family original, and therefore would have many terms in common, as we still find between the ancient Franco-theotisc and the Saxon.

Of these assimilating terms, I expected that many fragments would be preserved, both in the Anglo-Saxon and in modern Persian, notwithstanding all the changing fortunes of the two nations; but that they would, from these mutations, exist and be perceptible now only as fragments.

Remains of the Temple of Mithra at Carrawburgh, England (Source: Britain Express). The culture 0f Mithras continues to endure among the Iranians (within Iran and the Kurds of the Near East beyond modern-day Iran. The Kurds speak West Iranian languages (i.e. Kurmnaji, Gowrani, etc.) that are akin to Persian and Luri.

Proceeding on this principle – that if the ancestors of the two nations did once live in vicinity to each other, although this was 2000 years ago, some indications of their neighbourhood would appear from subsisting similarities in their languages, and expecting to find these only as occasional fragments, I have compared the Anglo-Saxon with the modern Persian. The result has been, that, upon a general examination, I have found 162 Persian words which have a direct affinity with as many Anglo-Saxon terms of the same meaning; and these I beg leave to submit to the notice of the Society.

But before I attach the list of these, I will take the liberty also of mentioning, that I thought it right, after these similarities had been ascertained, to consider that two other languages, older than the modern Persian, had prevailed in that country. These were the Pehlvi and the Zend. The latter, the most ancient that we know of in those parts from actual specimens; the other, the Pehlvi, an intermediate one, in point of chronology, between the Zend and the Persian.

A detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy.  Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans. For more see Ken R. Vincent: Zoroaster-the First Universalist

Of both the Zend and the Pehlvi, M. Anquetil found some specimens among the ancient manuscripts which he consulted in exploring and translating the Zendavesta, or sacred book of the still subsisting worshippers of the sacred fire in those regions. Recollecting this fact, I have been led also to look into these specimens, and I have observed fifty-seven words in these fragments of the Zend language, which resemble as many in the Anglo-Saxon, and forty-three of accordant similarities between our old tongue and the Pehlvi.

These one hundred and sixty-two Persian words, fifty-seven Zend, and forty-three Pehlvi, present to us two hundred and sixty-two words in the three languages that have prevailed in Persia, which have sufficient affinity with as many in the Anglo-Saxon to confirm the deduction of our earliest progenitors from these regions of ancient Asia.

The Three Wise Men as depicted in Ravenna (Sant’Apollinare Nuovo), Italy (Source: Public Domain). Note the European depiction of Partho-Sassanian Iranian dress, caps and cloaks. 

That these affinities are too many to be ascribed to mere chance, there seems to be no difficulty in affirming. But on adverting to the positions suggested in my former papers, of a primeval oneness of language among mankind, and of the abruption of that into the diversities which now pervade the world, it is a reasonable question, whether these two hundred and sixty-two similarities are only remains of the primitive unity, or whether they be indications of specific subsequent relationship of two of the newer languages that were formed after the dispersion.

The Iranian Kandys cape and its legacy in Europe (click to enlarge). (A) Medo-Persian nobleman from Persepolis wearing the Iranian Kandys cape of the nobility 2500 years past (B) figure of Paul dressed in North Iranian/Germanic dress from a 5th century ivory plaque depicting the life of Saint-Paul (C) reconstruction by Daniel Peterson (The Roman Legions, published by Windrow & Greene in 1992, p.84) of a 4th-5th century Germanic warrior wearing Iranian style dress and the Kandys. The Iranian Persepolis styles of arts and architecture continued to exert a profound influence far beyond its borders for centuries after its destruction by Alexander (Pictures used in Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

Both the nature and the number of the analogies I have remarked satisfy my own mind that they are more truly referable to the latter than to the former cause, and therefore I will proceed to enumerate them, as corroborating testimony of our Sacassenian derivation, beginning with the Persian affinities, and then proceeding to those of the Zend and the Pehlvi.


am, I am.
aelan, to burn
alaw, a flame of fire
afora, a son
afa, the eldest son
andega, an appointed term
andan, a term
abidan, to abide
abadan, an abode
are, honour
aray, decoration
arian, to honour
arayidan, to adorn
ase, as
asay, like
andget, the intellect, sense
angar, reason.
andgashtan, to think
enge, trouble
anjam, grief.
andjugh, a sigh
angel, a hook
angulah, a button
ewe, water
aw, water
earmth, misery
urman, trouble
ende, the end
anjam, the end
berend, fruitful
bar, fruit
beeran, to carry
bar, a load
brother, a brother
bradar, a brother
barn, a barn
barn, a covered place
bearn, a son
barna, a youth
bedan, to offer
bedroz, a present
balew, depraved
bulad, a malefactor
beal, destruction
bulaghan, a calamity
bilewite, simple
biladah, foolish
beado, cruelty
bada, wickedness
barbacan, a front tower
burbik, a portico
bur, a chamber
barkh, an open room
blessian, to bless
balistan, to bless
blad, fruit, the blade
balidan, balandan, to grow
basing, a pallium, a chlamys
basuian, to be clothed in purple
baz, a habit, rich dress
bered, vexed
barat, disgusted tired
beard, a beard
barbar, a barber
breost, the breast
bistan, the breast
bysmor, infamy
bazat, a crime.
basaj, depravity
bysgu, business
bishing, business
bile, the beak, the bill
bull, the beak
bio, I exist
bud, existence
benn, a wound
bunawar, a sore
bil, a mattock
blowan, to flower
bilak, a flower
bidan, to expect, to await
bidar, watching.
bidari, vigilance
byld, firmness
bilah, firm
bend, a bond
band, a band, a chain
bendan, to bind
bandan, bandidan, to bind
bold, a town
balad, a city
bolt, a house
bulud, a dwelling
byan, to inhabit.
binland, cultivated land
bingha, a dwelling
beam, the sunbeam.
beamian, to beam
bam, the morning
sifer, pure, chaste
saf, pure
safa, purity
samod, together, in like manner
saehim, a partner, even
mirran, to hinder
maraw, go not.
marang, a bar
man, wickedness
mang, cheating, a thief
mona, the moon
mang, the moon
mxden, a maiden
madah, a female
moder, mother
madar, mother
mara, the night-mare
mar, sick
mal, pay, reward, tribute
malwar, rich
maldar, a rich man
mani, many
mali, many
morth, death
murda, dead
morther, murder
murdan, to die
mearc, a limit
marz, a limit
mus, a mouse
murz, a mouse
must, new wine
mustar, new wine
na, not
nah, not
naegl, a nail
nakhun, a nail
nafel, the navel
nal; the navel
nama, a name
nam, a name
iiameutha, illustrious
nami, illustrious
necca, the neck
nojat, the collar
neow, new
no, new
nu, now
nun, now
nigan, nine
nuh, nine
hol, health
hal, quiet, firmness
hare, hoary
harid, venerable
isa, ice
hasir, ice
eam, I am
hayam, I am
iuc, a yoke
yugh, a yoke
rad, a road
rah, a road
reste, quiet
rast, secure
duru, a door
dar, a door
deni, slaughter
dam, a groan, black blood
dim, obscure
damah, a cloud
gabban, to deride
ghab, a foolish bitter expression
gaf, loquacious
guftan, speech, to relate
cu, a cow
go, a cow
gers, grass
gryah, grass
gifr, greedy
guri, avarice
faeen, fraud
faj, a lie
sum, some
suman, a little
reel, prosperity
salaf, luxurious
steorra, a star
sitarah, a star
losewest, deception
losidan, to deceive
leogan, to tell a lie
lay, lying
hlogun, they laughed
lagh, a jest. lof, praise
laf, praise
lufa, love
laheb, love
lam, lame
lam, crooked
lang, lame
lippa, the lip
law, the lip
laf, the remainder
lab, remaining
less, the less
lash, small
lar, learning
lur, ability
lust, delight
lustan, to sport
lust, luxuriousness
lashan, nice, soft
blyd, tumult.
hlydan, to rage, to make a noise
lud, furious altercation
list, knowledge
listum, skilfully
lazir, clever
thu, thou
to, thou
thinan, to decline, to become thin
tanik, thin
tinterg, torment
tang, tight
tintregan, to torture
tangi, anguish
tawian, to cultivate
tan, an inhabitant
teman, to teem, to bring forth abundantly
toma, twins
wen, hope
awanidan, to hope
wenan, to expect
awanidan, to expect
ysel, a spark
azar, fire
raene, pride, glorying
awrang, power, glory
ae, a law
aym, a law
paeca, a deceiver
pak, vile
paecan, to deceive
pakh, ingratitude
paeth, a path, a footway
pay, pa, a footstep
pal, a stake
palar, a beam of wood
paell, colour
paludan, to besmear
pyndan, to shut up, impound
pynding, a fettering
paywand, a chain, a shackle
to, to
ta, to
taer, a tear
tar, moist
tarb, torture
taeran, to tear
tarakidan, to split
telan, to tell
talagh, a voice
teiss, affliction
tasah, grief
teisse, a stripe
tazyanah, a scourge
tir, a lord. tir, a chief
tir, glory
tur, a hero, bright
siofotha, bran
sapos, bran
seel, time
sal, a year
seepah, age
sul, a plough
suli, a plough
sac, discord, quarrel
sakht, violent, stubborn
sur, surig, sour
sirka, sirkah, vinegar
salh, a willow
salah, a wicker-basket
sorg, sorrow. sog, grief
sugwar, sorrowful
sol, solen, a shoe, a sandal
salu, a coarse shoe
supwah, a shoe
sole, the sole
sul , the sole
thunar, thunder
tundar, thunder
thunrian, to thunder
tundidan, to thunder
tan, a bud
tundar, the bud of a leaf

It is remarkable that all, or nearly all, of the Anglo-Saxon words spelt in the Lexicon with sc, which are now used in our English phrase, are at present pronounced by us as sh, and are written with this orthography. Thus the Anglo-Saxon sceap, scyp, sco, scine, and sceam, are spoken by us as sheep, ship, shoe, shine, and shame.

Whether the sh was the original sound of those words, which, by a sort of conventional orthography, were written as sc by our ancestors, to distinguish their sound of sh from the proximate one of s, or whether it became changed by one of those gradual alterations of pronunciation which occur in all languages from various causes, we cannot now decide; but the Persian has some analogous terms with the sh, instead of the sc, as

sea, excellent
shadbash, excellent
seama, shame, bashfulnes
sharm, shame, bashfulness
shama, naked
sceaming, confusion
shamidan, to be confounded
sceaphan, to shape, to put in order
shaplidan, to smooth
sceaft, a shaft, an arrow
shaftu, a quiver
sceaft, a point
shafar, the edge
sceawian, to see
shuwaz, the eye.

The other resemblances which I have remarked between these two languages are:

faegan, glad
farghan, gladness
faeran, to go
feridan, to walk
faroth, a journey
faraz, progress
fyr, fire
faroz, inflaming
ferhth, the mind
farzah, wisdom, knowledge
ferht, fear, fright
farasha, dread, trembling

The congruities which I have perceived in the few specimens that have been published of the Zend with the Anglo-Saxon are the following:

beran, to bear
bereete, to bear
ba, both
betim, the second
the, thee
te, thee
eahta, eight
aschte, eight
dochter, daughter
dogde, daughter
dohte, he did
daschte, he did
steorran, stars
staranm, stars
frend, a friend
frem, a friend
feder, a father
feder, a father
mid, with
mad, with
meder, mother
mediehe, mother
medo, mead
medo, wine
me, me
man, me
metan, to measure
meete, measure
med, a recompense
mejdem, a recompense
maest, chief
meze, meso, great
micle, much
mesche, much
mecg, a man
meschio, a man
mal more
mae, great
na, not
noued, not
nafel, the navel
nafo, the navel
we, an oak
hekhte, an acorn
hera, a lord.
heretoge, a chief
herete, a chief
paeth, a path
petho, a way
purl pure
peratche, pure
uppa, above.
upper, above
opero, above
threo, three
thre, three
thrydde, the third
thretim, the third
thu, thou
thvanin, thou
bane, a floor, a board
baenthro, a floor, a board
rot, splendid.
rof, illustrious
erode, illustrious
astandan, to subsist
asteouao, existence
beoth, they are
beouad, he is
beo, be it
boiad, be it
theof, a thief
teio, a great thief
dreori, dreary
drezre, a desert
daeth, death
dajed, he is no more
rewa, order
reso, he puts in order
reswian, to reason
razann, intelligent
froe, a lord
frethem, greatness
guast, the spirit
gueie, the soul
mxnde, he mentioned
manthre, words
midda, middle
meiao, middle
morth, death
mrete, mortal
merran, to mar
merekhsch, to destroy
gear, year
yare, year
earmth, poverty
armete, humility
starian, to look at
astriete, he sees
ba, both
bee, two
singan, to say
senghan, a word
scir, sheer, pure
srere, pure
snid, a cut
snees, he strikes
seon, to see
sodern, to see
gnad, he bruised
ghnad, he strikes
athe, easy
achiato, easy
scina, shina, brilliant
scheeto, brilliant.

I will now only trouble the Society with the few coincidences that I have found in looking over Mr. Anquetil’s short vocabulary of the Pehlvi, as he has printed it from his old manuscripts.

bonda, one bound
bandeh, a slave
nam-cutha, famous
nameh, famous
starian, to look at
astared, he sees
halig, holy
halae, pure
eahta, eight
ascht, eight
sare, troublesome
sareh, wicked
morth, death
marg, mortal
a-marg, immortal
thu, thou
tou, thou
sex, six
sese, six
bysmor, opprobrium
besche, wicked
suht, languor
satoun, weak
dom, legal judgment
din, law
reasan, to attach
resch, a wound
secgan, to say
sokhan, a word
gaf, loquacious
goft, he said
ofer, over, above
avvar, above
dem, slaughter
damma, blood
med, recompense
mozd, recompense
cneou, knee
djanouh, knee
steorran, stars
setaran, stars
setnian, to be in ambush
sater, war
sceacan, shakan, to shake, to pluck
schekest, he breaks
athe, easy
asaneh, easy
cu, cow
gao, ox or cow
ma, more
meh, great
bar, bare
barhene, naked
morth, death
mourd, he dies
mourdeh, mortal
meder, mother
amider, mother
nafel, the navel
naf, the navel
na, no
na, not
bog, a branch
barg, a leaf
purl, pure
partan, pure
agytan, to understand
agah, understanding
ac, an oak
akht, an acorn
brader, brother
berour, brother
bye, a habitation
bita, a house
secg, a little sword
saex, a knife
sakina, a knife
clypian, to call out
cald, called
kala, crying out
mare, greater
mar, great
necan, to kill
naksounan, I kill
band, a joining
banda, a band
raed, a road
raeh, a way
eortha, earth
arta, earth.

From what I have seen of the three languages of ancient and modern Persia which I have inspected, I think that by a more elaborate investigation of all their analogies with the Anglo-Saxon, a greater number of satisfactory congruities might be traced.

But the preceding specimens will perhaps be sufficient to support the probability of the geographical derivation of our ancestors from the vicinity of the Caspian and of Persia; and we are now too many centuries removed from the actual period of the migration, to have any stronger evidence upon it than that of warrantable inference and reasonable probability.

I have the honour to be,

32, Red Lion Square
22nd March, 1827.

N.B. – Since this letter was written, I have found several affinities of Anglo-Saxon words with others in the Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Sanskrit, Japanese, Coptic, Laplandish, Georgian, Tongo, Malay, and Susov, which are printed in the fifth edition of the Anglo-Saxon History [The History of the Anglo-Saxons].

These present a range of similitude, amid general dissimilarity, which corroborates the principle formerly stated – of the original unity of the primeval language, and of its subsequent abruption on the compulsory dispersion of mankind.

But these affinities are not, in each language, near so numerous as the preceding collections from the Persian and its cognate dialects; and therefore do not lessen the weight of the argument, that so many Persian correspondences with the Anglo-Saxon, favour the derivation of the latter nation from the ancient Sakasani, who inhabited the regions near the Kur.