Yazidis of Armenia in the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses

2023/11/52266-1700723151.jpg
Read: 705     15:30     22 Ноябрь 2023    

From the editors of the Website

The editorial staff of the website considers a number of provisions of the article controversial and does not agree with some of the data presented, but considers it important for the Yazidi community of Georgia and the whole Yazidi people to publicize this article. This article may cause discussion in the community and drawing conclusions necessary in the context of preserving the national identity of the Yazidi people. Despite a number of negative and even unpleasant theses presented by the author of the article, Yazidis can look at the Yazidi community through the eyes of some ethnographers and researchers who are full of stereotypes, which is very often found in the public and scientific environment.


Yazidis of Armenia in the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses

Among Yazidis, whose stable ethno-confessional identity was formed centuries ago, no cases of voluntary proselytism have been witnessed throughout history, with extremely rare exceptions.

However, over the past decade, there has been a steady trend in Armenia of Yazidis' conversion to non-Protestant denominations, in particular, to the sect of "Jehovah's Witnesses". The problem of modern transformations of the Yazidi identity and the emergence of new, complex forms of identity caused, in particular, by this process is a fairly new topic. Until recently, it has found extremely rare reflection in the press and in rare attempts at academic analysis of this phenomenon. Today, the situation has not changed in principle. The presented article, an attempt at a primary analysis of the motivation for Yazidis to join the Jehovah's Witnesses sect, is an intermediate result of a broad project to study the transformations of Yazidis' identity associated with the transition to other faiths. At the moment there is no exact data on the number of Yazidis among the "Jehovah's Witnesses" in Armenia. Presumably (according to the Yazidi sectarians themselves), about a hundred Yazidis attend meetings in Yerevan, Aparan, Abovyan, Ararat and Armavir. The sect's activities are active in terms of proselytism, including among Yazidis, and in organizational issues of an international format aimed at integrating converted Yazidis into the transnational field of the Jehovah's Witnesses sect. For example, from July 6 to 8 this year, an international congress of Yazidis converted to "Jehovah's Witnesses" was held in the village of Balaovit, Kotayk region, with the participation of adherents of the sect from Armenia, Georgia, and Russia. By itself, the holding of this event in Armenia, where the number of Yazidi sectarians is relatively small, suggests that since a certain time the sect has been considering Armenia as a springboard for further active proselytism. Back in 2014, Yazidis themselves expressed concern about this. It should be noted that preaching among Yazidis has become much more effective for the reason that a new generation of preachers addresses the Yazidis with a sermon in their native language, ezdiki (as Yazidis themselves call Kurmanji), while the first preachers were from among the Armenians. Armenian is certainly the native language of Yazidis of Armenia, who are mostly bilingual and sometimes trilingual (in addition to Kurmanji and Armenian, they also speak Russian). But still, the sermon on Kurmanji, as the adherents of the sect note, affects Yazidis to a greater extent. By the way, recently the sect has started to specially prepare Armenians for preaching in Kurmanji, who are specially studying the Yazidi language for this purpose. In this article, we will touch on several cases of Yazidis turning to "Jehovah's Witnesses" and try to give a primary analysis of the motivations of this step, based on several interviews taken during field work.

Ruzanna, 49 years old, from the Mrid family. He lives in the village of Sadunts in the Aparan district. Widow, has 2 daughters. Ruzanna and both daughters belong to the "Jehovah's Witnesses". Ruzanna says: "My husband died two years ago, he himself was categorically against the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses. In the Yazidi environment, a woman is not respected. My husband treated me very badly. I felt more like a servant than a wife and mistress of the house. Among the "Jehovah's Witnesses" I saw with what respect husbands treat their wives. I myself grew up in a not particularly religious family, where the laws of Yazidism were not strictly observed. The only thing that has always been paid attention to and that has been hammered into our heads is that you cannot marry an Armenian. We talked a lot with "Jehovah's Witnesses", especially with those who have been abroad. We really liked their cultural behavior, customs, upbringing… I didn't work on myself before and didn't comprehend my shortcomings. I liked to gossip, paid attention to rumors, could tell lies, etc. Now, when it occurs to me to say something about someone, I just step aside. And if there is a desire to lie, I stop myself, I tell myself: "The Lord will judge me!". I hated my husband: he oppressed me, but I thought that I did not deserve such an attitude… I tell my daughters that they may not get married at all — let them serve God and they will be rewarded."

A 48-year-old man from Aparan, mrid. "They came to me with a sermon back in 1994, but I refused to listen. Later, through his sister, he got acquainted with the teachings of the "Jehovah's Witnesses" and accepted it. I was engaged in sheep farming, and the main goal of my life was to raise sheep and sell them. I was quite happy with my life. Becoming a "Jehovah's Witness", I rethought my life. Despite the fact that I continue to do my job, this has ceased to be my main goal. The goal of my life was the unquestioning fulfillment of the Biblical commandments. According to the traditions of Yazidis, I kept my wife in a tight grip. But now a lot has changed in me, I began to treat my wife completely differently. We lived a closed life — exclusively by our traditions and laws, but now I have moved away from these complexes and can afford to live freely and easily."

Another example is a 27–year-old Yazidi woman from the Mrid caste. A woman with two young daughters lives in her mother's house in the state farm Proshyan. "After my father's death, I had to leave school after the 8th grade due to extreme poverty. I got married at the age of 18, but my husband said from the very beginning that he would register a relationship with me only after the birth of his son. We also had two daughters. From the very first day I was in my husband's family in the position of a servant: I did hard work, served my mother-in-law, father-in-law, husband. My husband worked in Russia for most of the year, and during the 3-4 months that he spent at home, he treated me extremely disdainfully. I was not even allowed to take elementary care of myself, for example, to clean up, wash my hair. My mental state was constantly deteriorating and became unbearable after the death of my 18-year-old brother. I became extremely irritable, treated the children rudely, and cried constantly. When my husband got tired of my psychological and mental state, he kicked me out of the house, and I began to live in my mother's house, where my sister and her husband also live. It's been two years since I became a "Jehovah's Witness".".

We have given here only three rather revealing of more than thirty interviews collected during summer fieldwork among Yazidi adherents of the Jehovah's Witnesses sect. They are indicative in the sense that, at least in part, they reveal the motivation for rejecting Yazidism. It should be noted that the majority of respondents initially do not place much emphasis on purely religious motivation — understanding the spiritual aspect of their step often comes later. Mainly social reasons (especially the intra-family situation) catch the eye, although some iconic religious motives are also noted by the interviewees. In a traditional Yazidi family, the bride comes to her husband's house after marriage and, living with his parents, is subordinate to the older generation. She has a lot of responsibilities, and her opinion, as a rule, is little considered. The house is run by the father-in-law and, in part, the mother-in-law, and after their death, the husband gets the right to make a decision. From the point of view of the interviewees themselves, the main problem of the traditional lifestyle of a conservative Yazidi family is the disadvantaged position of women in the family. Moreover, we are talking not only about low status in intra-family relations, but also about the absence of an emotional background. A woman cannot count on warm family relationships, on the opportunity to discuss daily pressing problems in an informal, human setting. Everything is reduced to tough decisions of the father-in-law or husband, designed to ensure the routine existence of the family. The daughter-in-law's communication with the outside world, with guests is also quite limited. According to the laws of traditional Yazidi society, children born to a Yazidi woman are exclusively part of her husband's clan. In a conservative environment, a Yazidi woman is limited in terms of raising her own children: the mother takes care of them, looks after them, but in fact has no rights to dispose of their fate. Thus, the intra-family relations of the new format, which women primarily pay attention to among the "Jehovah's Witnesses", are something fundamentally new and extremely attractive. A woman is considered, she is given a fairly high level of freedom to manage her time, giving a significant part of the day to "spiritual affairs", etc. There are no strict restrictions in terms of clothing and self-care. From the point of view of the Yazidi adherents of "Jehovah's Witnesses", intra-family relations between all family members after the departure from Yazidism become more open, warm, not formally conditioned by the conservative tradition of Yazidism. Among the converts, a significant number are women, especially girls from 16 to 30 years old.

In the traditional Yazidi environment, a girl is usually doomed to an early marriage arranged by her parents without taking into account her wishes. In this case, divorce is practically excluded, and if it happens, it is regarded in the community as a shameful phenomenon, and the girl has almost no chance to remarry. In the new environment, according to the interviewees, there is no place for such prejudices: young girls make their own decisions about marriage, and even if they do not marry, they do not consider themselves unhappy and deprived of life. Moreover, if belonging to the Yazidi community significantly narrowed the choice of a life partner as such (ethno-religiousness implies marriage only within the community, and in the case of Yazidis, caste is also taken into account), in the new environment ethnic and social factors practically do not matter, and caste barriers are erased. The absence of caste completely changes one's attitude to life and one's understanding of one's niche in the community. All the interviewees note this point, believing that, having moved away from Yazidism, they have become part of a community of equals and this equality helps them significantly from the psychological point of view. Many of the interviewees note unfriendly relations between relatives and neighbors within the traditional Yazidi community, the prevalence of such phenomena as gossip, slander and slander. It would be illogical to attribute these vices present in any community to the Yazidi community. But it is also understandable that Yazidis living a communal life correlate many negative aspects with the peculiarities of the Yazidi way of life and Yazidi mentality. In the environment of Jehovah's Witnesses, new adherents appreciate the fundamentally different atmosphere, which excludes the presence of such phenomena, emphasizing mutual assistance, brotherly relations between all. The interviewees also note that they have become much more demanding of themselves and try in every possible way to conform to the norms of the new community. Another important motive for abandoning Yazidism is the fact that the practice of numerous Yazidi rites and rituals is associated with serious financial costs, which not everyone can afford. As a result, people of small income have to deny themselves the most necessary things to comply with the canons of traditional Yazidi society. In general, all respondents noted a fundamentally new, incomparably higher level of freedom, both personal and social, which they received after leaving Yazidism and joining the Jehovah's Witnesses sect. As far as religious motives are concerned, two main points can be distinguished at this point. And these are precisely the elements that Jehovah's Witness preachers always emphasize. First, it is "the real possibility of seeing the resurrection of deceased loved ones" - this is how the interviewees formulate this idea. According to them, Yazidism does not give them such confidence in the resurrection of a person after death, as such an idea is not clearly formulated in Yazidism. Secondly, it is "a real opportunity to communicate with God", "an opportunity to address God with direct prayer in a difficult moment". This opportunity, according to the interviewees, is given to them by a deeper understanding of religion through group Bible studies, etc. In Yazidism there are almost no direct references to Huada (the one God of Yazidism), as he is represented in his hypostases (Yazidi triad), and different spheres of human life are domains of different deities and saints of Yazidism. Thus, the image of Huade is, as it were, detached and removed from Yazidi. And the spiritual ideal to be imitated, so necessary for any religious person, is absent altogether. At first glance, it may seem strange that preaching with reference to the Bible has an impact on representatives of ethno-confessional environment, whose syncretic religious tradition has nothing in common with Christianity. However, it should be noted that in general Yazidis treat Christianity with respect, as it is in the Christian environment that the Yazidi community found protection from constant persecution by Muslims. So, Christianity, unlike Islam, does not cause rejection among Yazidis. Moreover, many note that they have always treated the Bible with great reverence, even though they were not familiar with it.

Jehovah's Witnesses preachers, speaking about the benefits of their faith, often compare the lives of adherents before and after conversion, and give examples of Yazidis whose lives have changed radically in terms of outlook. Special emphasis is placed on helping people to overcome difficult life situations - people who find themselves in them are more amenable to the sermon, the main message of which is the following: "Alone you are nobody, you can do nothing. Become a Jehovah's Witness and turn to Jehovah every time. Without his help you can do nothing." Thus, the success of the preaching of "Jehovah's Witnesses" can be explained, on the one hand, by the crisis of Yazidism as a doctrine, by the crisis within the Yazidi community, where the conservative communal consciousness is in sharp contradiction with modern realities, as well as by the general processes of globalization, as a result of which the activities of various kinds of sects and non-traditional confessions have intensified in many countries.

This article is only the first attempt to analyze the extensive material we have collected. It represents a small segment of a broad research on this topic, the results of which will be reflected in a series of articles examining various aspects of the new process - the emergence of Yazidis from the ethno-confessional state and the formation of new identities in their environment.

Fatemi Seyedekhnasim

Russian-Armenian (Slavic) University, Yerevan





Tags: #yazidisinfo   #newsyazidis   #yazidisofcaucasus   #yazidisofarmenia  



Yazidis of Armenia in the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses

2023/11/52266-1700723151.jpg
Read: 706     15:30     22 Ноябрь 2023    

From the editors of the Website

The editorial staff of the website considers a number of provisions of the article controversial and does not agree with some of the data presented, but considers it important for the Yazidi community of Georgia and the whole Yazidi people to publicize this article. This article may cause discussion in the community and drawing conclusions necessary in the context of preserving the national identity of the Yazidi people. Despite a number of negative and even unpleasant theses presented by the author of the article, Yazidis can look at the Yazidi community through the eyes of some ethnographers and researchers who are full of stereotypes, which is very often found in the public and scientific environment.


Yazidis of Armenia in the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses

Among Yazidis, whose stable ethno-confessional identity was formed centuries ago, no cases of voluntary proselytism have been witnessed throughout history, with extremely rare exceptions.

However, over the past decade, there has been a steady trend in Armenia of Yazidis' conversion to non-Protestant denominations, in particular, to the sect of "Jehovah's Witnesses". The problem of modern transformations of the Yazidi identity and the emergence of new, complex forms of identity caused, in particular, by this process is a fairly new topic. Until recently, it has found extremely rare reflection in the press and in rare attempts at academic analysis of this phenomenon. Today, the situation has not changed in principle. The presented article, an attempt at a primary analysis of the motivation for Yazidis to join the Jehovah's Witnesses sect, is an intermediate result of a broad project to study the transformations of Yazidis' identity associated with the transition to other faiths. At the moment there is no exact data on the number of Yazidis among the "Jehovah's Witnesses" in Armenia. Presumably (according to the Yazidi sectarians themselves), about a hundred Yazidis attend meetings in Yerevan, Aparan, Abovyan, Ararat and Armavir. The sect's activities are active in terms of proselytism, including among Yazidis, and in organizational issues of an international format aimed at integrating converted Yazidis into the transnational field of the Jehovah's Witnesses sect. For example, from July 6 to 8 this year, an international congress of Yazidis converted to "Jehovah's Witnesses" was held in the village of Balaovit, Kotayk region, with the participation of adherents of the sect from Armenia, Georgia, and Russia. By itself, the holding of this event in Armenia, where the number of Yazidi sectarians is relatively small, suggests that since a certain time the sect has been considering Armenia as a springboard for further active proselytism. Back in 2014, Yazidis themselves expressed concern about this. It should be noted that preaching among Yazidis has become much more effective for the reason that a new generation of preachers addresses the Yazidis with a sermon in their native language, ezdiki (as Yazidis themselves call Kurmanji), while the first preachers were from among the Armenians. Armenian is certainly the native language of Yazidis of Armenia, who are mostly bilingual and sometimes trilingual (in addition to Kurmanji and Armenian, they also speak Russian). But still, the sermon on Kurmanji, as the adherents of the sect note, affects Yazidis to a greater extent. By the way, recently the sect has started to specially prepare Armenians for preaching in Kurmanji, who are specially studying the Yazidi language for this purpose. In this article, we will touch on several cases of Yazidis turning to "Jehovah's Witnesses" and try to give a primary analysis of the motivations of this step, based on several interviews taken during field work.

Ruzanna, 49 years old, from the Mrid family. He lives in the village of Sadunts in the Aparan district. Widow, has 2 daughters. Ruzanna and both daughters belong to the "Jehovah's Witnesses". Ruzanna says: "My husband died two years ago, he himself was categorically against the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses. In the Yazidi environment, a woman is not respected. My husband treated me very badly. I felt more like a servant than a wife and mistress of the house. Among the "Jehovah's Witnesses" I saw with what respect husbands treat their wives. I myself grew up in a not particularly religious family, where the laws of Yazidism were not strictly observed. The only thing that has always been paid attention to and that has been hammered into our heads is that you cannot marry an Armenian. We talked a lot with "Jehovah's Witnesses", especially with those who have been abroad. We really liked their cultural behavior, customs, upbringing… I didn't work on myself before and didn't comprehend my shortcomings. I liked to gossip, paid attention to rumors, could tell lies, etc. Now, when it occurs to me to say something about someone, I just step aside. And if there is a desire to lie, I stop myself, I tell myself: "The Lord will judge me!". I hated my husband: he oppressed me, but I thought that I did not deserve such an attitude… I tell my daughters that they may not get married at all — let them serve God and they will be rewarded."

A 48-year-old man from Aparan, mrid. "They came to me with a sermon back in 1994, but I refused to listen. Later, through his sister, he got acquainted with the teachings of the "Jehovah's Witnesses" and accepted it. I was engaged in sheep farming, and the main goal of my life was to raise sheep and sell them. I was quite happy with my life. Becoming a "Jehovah's Witness", I rethought my life. Despite the fact that I continue to do my job, this has ceased to be my main goal. The goal of my life was the unquestioning fulfillment of the Biblical commandments. According to the traditions of Yazidis, I kept my wife in a tight grip. But now a lot has changed in me, I began to treat my wife completely differently. We lived a closed life — exclusively by our traditions and laws, but now I have moved away from these complexes and can afford to live freely and easily."

Another example is a 27–year-old Yazidi woman from the Mrid caste. A woman with two young daughters lives in her mother's house in the state farm Proshyan. "After my father's death, I had to leave school after the 8th grade due to extreme poverty. I got married at the age of 18, but my husband said from the very beginning that he would register a relationship with me only after the birth of his son. We also had two daughters. From the very first day I was in my husband's family in the position of a servant: I did hard work, served my mother-in-law, father-in-law, husband. My husband worked in Russia for most of the year, and during the 3-4 months that he spent at home, he treated me extremely disdainfully. I was not even allowed to take elementary care of myself, for example, to clean up, wash my hair. My mental state was constantly deteriorating and became unbearable after the death of my 18-year-old brother. I became extremely irritable, treated the children rudely, and cried constantly. When my husband got tired of my psychological and mental state, he kicked me out of the house, and I began to live in my mother's house, where my sister and her husband also live. It's been two years since I became a "Jehovah's Witness".".

We have given here only three rather revealing of more than thirty interviews collected during summer fieldwork among Yazidi adherents of the Jehovah's Witnesses sect. They are indicative in the sense that, at least in part, they reveal the motivation for rejecting Yazidism. It should be noted that the majority of respondents initially do not place much emphasis on purely religious motivation — understanding the spiritual aspect of their step often comes later. Mainly social reasons (especially the intra-family situation) catch the eye, although some iconic religious motives are also noted by the interviewees. In a traditional Yazidi family, the bride comes to her husband's house after marriage and, living with his parents, is subordinate to the older generation. She has a lot of responsibilities, and her opinion, as a rule, is little considered. The house is run by the father-in-law and, in part, the mother-in-law, and after their death, the husband gets the right to make a decision. From the point of view of the interviewees themselves, the main problem of the traditional lifestyle of a conservative Yazidi family is the disadvantaged position of women in the family. Moreover, we are talking not only about low status in intra-family relations, but also about the absence of an emotional background. A woman cannot count on warm family relationships, on the opportunity to discuss daily pressing problems in an informal, human setting. Everything is reduced to tough decisions of the father-in-law or husband, designed to ensure the routine existence of the family. The daughter-in-law's communication with the outside world, with guests is also quite limited. According to the laws of traditional Yazidi society, children born to a Yazidi woman are exclusively part of her husband's clan. In a conservative environment, a Yazidi woman is limited in terms of raising her own children: the mother takes care of them, looks after them, but in fact has no rights to dispose of their fate. Thus, the intra-family relations of the new format, which women primarily pay attention to among the "Jehovah's Witnesses", are something fundamentally new and extremely attractive. A woman is considered, she is given a fairly high level of freedom to manage her time, giving a significant part of the day to "spiritual affairs", etc. There are no strict restrictions in terms of clothing and self-care. From the point of view of the Yazidi adherents of "Jehovah's Witnesses", intra-family relations between all family members after the departure from Yazidism become more open, warm, not formally conditioned by the conservative tradition of Yazidism. Among the converts, a significant number are women, especially girls from 16 to 30 years old.

In the traditional Yazidi environment, a girl is usually doomed to an early marriage arranged by her parents without taking into account her wishes. In this case, divorce is practically excluded, and if it happens, it is regarded in the community as a shameful phenomenon, and the girl has almost no chance to remarry. In the new environment, according to the interviewees, there is no place for such prejudices: young girls make their own decisions about marriage, and even if they do not marry, they do not consider themselves unhappy and deprived of life. Moreover, if belonging to the Yazidi community significantly narrowed the choice of a life partner as such (ethno-religiousness implies marriage only within the community, and in the case of Yazidis, caste is also taken into account), in the new environment ethnic and social factors practically do not matter, and caste barriers are erased. The absence of caste completely changes one's attitude to life and one's understanding of one's niche in the community. All the interviewees note this point, believing that, having moved away from Yazidism, they have become part of a community of equals and this equality helps them significantly from the psychological point of view. Many of the interviewees note unfriendly relations between relatives and neighbors within the traditional Yazidi community, the prevalence of such phenomena as gossip, slander and slander. It would be illogical to attribute these vices present in any community to the Yazidi community. But it is also understandable that Yazidis living a communal life correlate many negative aspects with the peculiarities of the Yazidi way of life and Yazidi mentality. In the environment of Jehovah's Witnesses, new adherents appreciate the fundamentally different atmosphere, which excludes the presence of such phenomena, emphasizing mutual assistance, brotherly relations between all. The interviewees also note that they have become much more demanding of themselves and try in every possible way to conform to the norms of the new community. Another important motive for abandoning Yazidism is the fact that the practice of numerous Yazidi rites and rituals is associated with serious financial costs, which not everyone can afford. As a result, people of small income have to deny themselves the most necessary things to comply with the canons of traditional Yazidi society. In general, all respondents noted a fundamentally new, incomparably higher level of freedom, both personal and social, which they received after leaving Yazidism and joining the Jehovah's Witnesses sect. As far as religious motives are concerned, two main points can be distinguished at this point. And these are precisely the elements that Jehovah's Witness preachers always emphasize. First, it is "the real possibility of seeing the resurrection of deceased loved ones" - this is how the interviewees formulate this idea. According to them, Yazidism does not give them such confidence in the resurrection of a person after death, as such an idea is not clearly formulated in Yazidism. Secondly, it is "a real opportunity to communicate with God", "an opportunity to address God with direct prayer in a difficult moment". This opportunity, according to the interviewees, is given to them by a deeper understanding of religion through group Bible studies, etc. In Yazidism there are almost no direct references to Huada (the one God of Yazidism), as he is represented in his hypostases (Yazidi triad), and different spheres of human life are domains of different deities and saints of Yazidism. Thus, the image of Huade is, as it were, detached and removed from Yazidi. And the spiritual ideal to be imitated, so necessary for any religious person, is absent altogether. At first glance, it may seem strange that preaching with reference to the Bible has an impact on representatives of ethno-confessional environment, whose syncretic religious tradition has nothing in common with Christianity. However, it should be noted that in general Yazidis treat Christianity with respect, as it is in the Christian environment that the Yazidi community found protection from constant persecution by Muslims. So, Christianity, unlike Islam, does not cause rejection among Yazidis. Moreover, many note that they have always treated the Bible with great reverence, even though they were not familiar with it.

Jehovah's Witnesses preachers, speaking about the benefits of their faith, often compare the lives of adherents before and after conversion, and give examples of Yazidis whose lives have changed radically in terms of outlook. Special emphasis is placed on helping people to overcome difficult life situations - people who find themselves in them are more amenable to the sermon, the main message of which is the following: "Alone you are nobody, you can do nothing. Become a Jehovah's Witness and turn to Jehovah every time. Without his help you can do nothing." Thus, the success of the preaching of "Jehovah's Witnesses" can be explained, on the one hand, by the crisis of Yazidism as a doctrine, by the crisis within the Yazidi community, where the conservative communal consciousness is in sharp contradiction with modern realities, as well as by the general processes of globalization, as a result of which the activities of various kinds of sects and non-traditional confessions have intensified in many countries.

This article is only the first attempt to analyze the extensive material we have collected. It represents a small segment of a broad research on this topic, the results of which will be reflected in a series of articles examining various aspects of the new process - the emergence of Yazidis from the ethno-confessional state and the formation of new identities in their environment.

Fatemi Seyedekhnasim

Russian-Armenian (Slavic) University, Yerevan





Tags: #yazidisinfo   #newsyazidis   #yazidisofcaucasus   #yazidisofarmenia