Content and structure
Scope and content (abstract)
This series consists of 44 recordings (30 video, 14 audio) of Yezidi laments recorded in the Kurdistan and Sinjar regions of Northern Iraq.
Content and structure
Scope and content (narrative)
The wider collection (series 437-1-10 through 437-1-19) consists of audio recordings and videos made by former CEU student and CEU visiting faculty member Eszter Spät between 2002 and 2017 during several field-research trips to the Yezidi communities (an ethno-religious, Kurdish-speaking minority) of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and of the Sinjar Region along the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Yezidis are a Kurdish speaking ethno-religious minority group, who follow their own, unique religion. There are approximately half a million Yezidis living in Northern Iraq: in the Kurdistan Region, and in the “disputed territories” of Sheikhan and Sinjar.
In the last few decades every single aspect of Yezidi culture has undergone radical transformation. During the Saddam era, Yezidis were forcibly removed from their villages into collective settlements, causing ruptures in their traditional way of life. At the same time, school education became available to ordinary Yezidis, and a middle-class began to emerge. The spread of general literacy not only transformed Yezidi society, but also its intangible culture, including Yezidi religion. Previously based exclusively on oral tradition and displaying many local variants, Yezidism is fast turning into a book-based, school-taught religion with canonized sacred texts and uniform traditions. The same literacy, and even more the appearance of television, and lately, of the internet (available on laptops and ubiquitous smartphones), as well as the general lifestyle changes also resulted in a decline of secular oral traditions (tales, song, music, etc.)
While the various factors described above have led to the transformation of the intangible culture of Yezidis, the existential threat faced by the community makes the totality of Yezidi cultural heritage in Iraq vulnerable to disappearance. Internal upheavals, lack of security, the rise of Islamist extremism, the dispute between Baghdad and Erbil over Yezidi territories, the economic difficulties and infrastructural neglect suffered in the disputed territories have all led to sizable waves of migration to Western countries.
The genocidal attack of the so-called Islamic State on Yezidis in 2014 resulted in the whole-scale displacement of the Sinjari Yezidi community. As of 2020, only a fraction of the displaced Yezidis has been able to move back to their ancestral land, while the majority of the Sinjari community is stuck in the refugee camps of the Kurdistan Region. At least a fifth of the Iraqi Yezidi community is estimated to have migrated to the West since 2014, with many others hoping to leave.
The recordings in this collection touch on various aspects of Yezidi culture. They were all made in the field, some of them at ritual events, others in family homes or at social gatherings. Many of them were ad hoc and unplanned. This spontaneity is often reflected in the quality of the recordings. At the same time, however, they reflect the original atmosphere of religious and other events as well as of the everyday life of Yezidis.
The forty-four items in this series are recordings of Yezidi laments. Laments (xerîbî /gheribi, dîrok) are songs of pain, loss and separation which are sung for and about the dead. Laments are an exclusively female genre, consequently they have received much less attention than sacred texts or secular songs. Laments used to be an important part of Yezidi oral tradition. They were sung at wakes (tazî), during ritual visits to the graves of the deceased and even at private social gatherings to relieve stress and pain in times of crisis. The genre has been declining in many parts of Kurdistan in the past few decades, with less and less women able to sing xerîbîs. However, it is still an integral part of Sinjari Yezidi culture, where no funeral can take place without women singing laments. If no one in the family is proficient at singing xerîbî, then a semi-professional singer will be invited. The vitality of this genre in Sinjar is reflected in the new laments composed and sung by Sinjari women, which detail the sufferings of Yezidis at the hands of ISIS.