Leo Matthias

a guest of said beg and ismail beg

„I had been a guest of the Yezidis - but not of a sect. It is an European arbitrariness to call this group of people a sect.“ 

Leo Lawrence Matthias (January 16, 1893– September 8, 1970) was a German journalist and travel writer. In 1931 he published his impressions of his trip through different countries in a book, including a report of his visit to the Yezidis. The Yezidi Photo Archive translated this report.


I knew very little about Yezidis before my trip. When I arrived in Ain Sifna almost the whole population gathered around my car. The women were unveiled. When I was asked where I was going, I said that I was going to Ba’adra to Said Beg.

Ba’adra is tiny. You can see the castle from a distance. It lies on a hill. We were led to an open hall that was at the end of a large courtyard, and then to a room that looked like a vault. It was very cold.

As everywhere, a relative of the landlord appeared first. It was the uncle of Said Beg. Fortunately, he also froze, despite his fur, so that he immediately had four large braziers brought in, two of them for us. He also provided hot tea and cigarettes and finally we had warmed up a bit, the conversation started with the expected question where I came from.

After about twenty minutes I knew that my visit was very welcome here. It was around eight o’clock in the evening when Said Beg visited us alone, without any announcement. If you looked at him, he tried to act as if he hadn’t noticed, and then his gaze turned inward, fled deeper and deeper, his head turned a little, and his eyes finally stuck to some object.

The conversation was meaningless for about thirty minutes. At least it seemed that way to me; I only learned that no German had come to this area for about forty-six years. The conversation revolved around distances, and that was partly quite funny. I should say, for example, how far it was from Ba’adra to Istanbul; or to Berlin. I had to tell them about Berlin and whether there were many libraries in Berlin. Did he intend to travel to Berlin? He said: You must know that we have one holy book, one: Meshaf-i-Resh. It has been stolen from us, and it is in the Prussian State Library in Berlin. An Englishman told me. Could you help us get a copy? I explained that I would talk to a director of the library.

The next morning, after breakfast, I was visited; Said Beg’s uncle inquired how I had slept. I held him down and asked a thousand questions concerning the religion and life of the Yezidis.

In the late afternoon I drove back to Mosul.

Much later I learned that the Prussian State Library did not own the sacred book of the Yezidis. It belonged to a library in Vienna.

And there was something else to mention, something very important even, a surprise that came out of the conversation with Said Beg’s uncle: I had been a guest of the Yezidis – but not of a sect. It is an European arbitrariness to call this group of people a sect.

You can not become Yezidi just as you can not become Chinese. So, one should actually say: they are a race. But they are not a race either, because the decisive factor for belonging to Yezidism is not some physical characteristic, but faith. So perhaps the Yezidis are most likely to be called a nation. But this also leads to misunderstandings, because among the Yezidis there is no difference between the God community and the national community. There are no members of this people who pray to other gods. Since there is no term in European language for what is more than a race, a religious community or a nation, and yet in itself one, the Yezidis are in fact “a humanity for itself”.

Griff in den Orient. Eine Reise und etwas mehr

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