John S Guest
The 150,000 members of the Yezidi religious group are spread out over Iraq, Turkey, Syria and the USSR - and have, despite persecutions and discrimination, retained their identity for over 500 years. The author of this first proper history of the Yezidis traces the origin of their religion, describes the discovery of the people by Western travellers in the early 19th century and details the Yezidi community’s traumatic recent history and its present status. The Yezidis believe that Lucifer, the fallen angel, has been forgiven by God and reinstated as chief angel: their history is, like their faith, characterised by dignity and survival in the face of great odds — and fascinating to the Western reader.
The discovery of the Yezidis by Western travellers and missionaries led to close friendships in the 1840s between Yezidi leaders and the British archaeologist Sir Henry Layard. The British ambassador Stratford Canning helped them obtain civil rights: a hitherto unpublished letter of thanks from the Yezidi leaders appears as an appendix.
Chapters also cover Sultan Abdul Hamid’s cruel but vain efforts to force the Yezidis to embrace Islam, leading to the emergence of Mayan Khatun, a strong-willed Yezidi princess who ruled the community from 1913 to 1958. They include a vivid account, based pardy on interviews with living witnesses, of her rivalry with her brother Ismail and the ill-fated marriage between her son and his daughter culminating in a shooting incident in 1939. The narrative ends in 1958 and a supplement reviews the present status of the Yezidi community. The final chapter describes the Yezidi community in Soviet Armenia and Georgia which has survived the Bolshevik revolution and its aftermath.
John S. Guest was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and the Harvard Business School. He was born an Englishman but later took American citizenship. From 1941 to 1946 he served in the British army in the Middle East, Italy and Germany. He has been since 1946 a merchant banker in New York. He has visited the Yezidi communities in Eastern Turkey and West Germany on frequent occasions and has spent many years researching this first ever history of the Yezidis.