Yves Gellie

A visit to the Yezidis in 1996 and 2017

Yves Gellie (16 September 1953) is a French photographer. He began his photojournalism career in 1981, and visited the Yezidis for the first time in 1996. 

Some of the photographs Yves Gellie took during his visits are published on the Yezidi Photo Archive with the kind permission of Yves Gellie.

In 1996, while reporting on the minorities in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Yves Gellie stumbled upon the Yezidi people and ended up visiting Mount Sinjar [Shingal], their ancestral stronghold. He then discovered and photographed the children of a small traditional school, who wore very long braids, characteristic of the Yezidi culture.

In August 2014, the Yezidis became victims of repeated attacks by the Islamic State. The usually so little noticed people are from then on on the news, because they became victims of an ongoing genocide. From then on, it seemed unavoidable for Gellie to go back. In the spring of 2017, he travels to Iraq with his photographic prints with the idea of giving them as a gift. During his new trip, Gellie wanted to find the children he had photographed in 1996. The search for the children was very complicated, but Gellie was able to find them. And they were still wearing their famous braids.

Yves Gellie learns that these same children from 1996 are now soldiers. They are part of the rare independent Yezidi battalions (not belonging to any militia) which, with archaic pistols and rifles, faced the jihadists. Along with 500 other Yezidis, they were among those who defended the temple of Sherfedin, the most important one in Shingal.

Portraits of Yezidis in Borek and at Quba Sherfedin ←

Borek is a so-called “model village” and was founded between 1965 and the 1970s. In 1965, the Iraqi government at that time decided to destroy the Yezidi villages of Jabal Sinjar and to force the inhabitants to resettle. The Baath regime called these forced resettlement measures modernization projects.

Bring these words to the people with the long hair
Let them grow their black braids
Sherfedin is the Prince of the Adawis

Sherfedin was the head of the Yezidis in the middle of the 13th century and lived in Shingal (Sinjar), where his sanctuary is located. Under his rule, the Yezidi religion was canonized, which is why he became the personification of the religion.

Xeber biden wan poriye
Bile berden reş guliye
Şerfedîn mîrê edewiya

Şerfedîn di nîveka sedsala 13 mîrê êzîdiya bû û li Şingalê jiyan bû. Heta îro quba Şerfedîn li Şingalê ye. Di bin hukima wî dînê êzîdiya hate “canone” kirin û ji ber ku êzîdî heta niha dibêjin: Şerfedîne dînê mine.

Bringt diese Worte zu den Menschen mit den langen Haaren
Lasst ihnen ihre schwarzen Zöpfe wachsen
Sherfedin ist der Prinz der Adawis

Sherfedin war in der Mitte des 13. Jahrhunderts das Oberhaupt der Jesiden und lebte in Shingal (Sinjar), wo sich seine Heiligstätte befindet. Unter seiner Herrschaft wurde die jesidische Religion kanonisiert, weshalb er zur Personifizierung der Religion wurde.

In the photos the prayer is performed around three black stones placed in balance one on top of the other.

According to Yezidi tradition, Sherfedin wore long black braids, which is why it became a tradition for Yezidi boys and men in Shingal, where Sherfedin lived. However, it is known that this tradition also spread beyond Shingal’s borders; for example, there have been reports of Yezidis wearing braids in Birecik, Mardin and Redwan.

Auf den Fotos wird das Gebet um drei schwarze Steine ausgeführt, die in der Balance übereinander gelegt werden.

Nach jesidischer Überlieferungen trug Sherfedin lange schwarze Zöpfe, weshalb es in Shingal, wo Sherfedin lebte und wirkte, zur Tradition für jesidische Jungen und Männer wurde. Doch es ist bekannt, dass diese Tradition sich auch über die Grenzen Shingals verbreitete; so wurden beispielsweise über Jesiden mit Zöpfen in Birecik, Mardin und Redwan berichtet.

In these photos one can see the annual festival “Tiwaf” in the village of Khatare. The Tiwaf festivals are annual round trips of the Qewals, who bring the Sinjaks to the Yezidi villages, where they celebrate at each sanctuary. In the photos the villagers are gathered for dancing, Yezidi musicians play music. Khatare is still the largest Yezidi village in Iraq and became sadly famous when the Kurdish prince of Soran attacked the village on March 9, 1832 and almost exterminated Khatare. This event is part of the village’s permanent memory.

Auf diesen Fotos ist das jährliche Fest “Tiwaf” im Dorf Khatare zu sehen. Die Tiwaf-Feste sind jährliche Rundreisen der Qewals, welche die Sinjaks in die jesidischen Dörfer bringen, wo dann an jeder Heiligstätte gefeiert wird. Die Dorfbewohner sind zum Tanz versammelt, jesidische Musiker spielen Musik. Khatare ist bis heute das größte jesidische Dorf im Irak. Traurige Bekanntheit erlangte Khatare als der kurdische Fürst von Soran am 9. März 1832 das Dorf angriff und Khatare beinahe ausgerottet hatte. Dieses Ereignis gehört zur festen Erinnerung des Dorfes.

Bashiq, with its “twin village” Bahzan, is one of the world’s most important centres of the Yezidi religion. In these two villages the Yezidis speak an Arabic dialect which is also called Bashiq/Bahzan dialect or Yezidi-Arabic dialect as their mother tongue. Here the Qewals, the important reciters of the sacred texts, have their residence. The most important tribes from which the Qewals descend are the ancient Yezidi tribes of Dumili, Hakkari and Mamusan. During the genocidal campaign of the Kurdish prince of Soran in 1832, the communities in Bashiq and Bahzan were massacred and enslaved. During the genocide of the Islamic State against the Yezidis, the two villages were occupied for several years, their sanctuary was destroyed and the village was devastated. But in both cases the Yezidis were able to rebuild their villages and restore their sanctuary.

Bashiq gehört mit seinem “Zwillingsdorf” Bahzan zu den weltweit bedeutendsten Zentralstellen der jesidischen Religion. In diesen zwei Dörfern sprechen die Jesiden als Muttersprache einen für sie markanten arabischen Dialekt, der auch als Bashiq/Bahzan-Dialekt oder auch jesidisch-arabischer Dialekt bezeichnet wird. Hier haben die Qewals, die bedeutenden Rezitatoren der sakralen Texte, ihren Sitz. Die bedeutendsten Stämme, aus denen die Qewals abstammen, sind die antiken jesidschen Stämme Dumili, Hakkari und Mamusan. Während dem genozidalen Feldzug des kurdischen Fürsten von Soran im Jahr 1832 wurden die Gemeinden in Bashiq und Bahzan massakriert und versklavt. Während des Genozids des Islamischen Staates an den Jesiden wurden die beiden Dörfer für mehrere Jahre besetzt, ihre Heiligstätte zerstört und das Dorf verwüstet. Doch in beiden Fällen konnten die Jesiden ihre Dörfer erneut aufbauen und ihre Heiligstätte restaurieren.

Photos from 2017

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