Yezidis in ancient India, or Indians in ancient Mesopotamia?: Re-imagining Ancient Yezidi Origins

Mija A Sanders


Members and leaders of the Kurdish speaking Yezidi diaspora in Phoenix, Arizona—and transnationally—are in dialogue with members of the Indian diaspora about their common historical connections. “Are Yezidis from ancient India, or are Indians from ancient Mesopotamia?” Both of these claims and hypotheses situate Yezidis on the outside of a historical Muslim world, and have material effects. They add validity to non-Muslim traditions, by imagining a historical cultural root structure between India and Mesopotamia. They also help both Hindu nationalists and Yezidis to displace historical Muslim culture and dominance to somewhere else while reinforcing tropes of Islam synonymous with the “war on terror.” By de-historicising Islam and its presence in the Middle East and in India, Hindu and Yezidi community leaders co-imagine a pan-polytheism with roots in ancient Persian (Kurdish) Yezidi culture and language. The symbols that can be recognized today that span both traditions— the peacock, the peacock statue (sanjak), and the use of fire in places of worship—give testament to that imagined past. The contradictions of that historical narrative point to the limits of this historical work in the two communities, and find limits in modern identity articulations of Yezidi identity and Hindu identity alike. Material effects of the historical narrative include Indian imagery on the wall of Lalish, online circulating images and articles equating Yezidis to Hindus, and common activism, fundraising, and humanitarianism between Yezidi and Hindu communities in Phoenix, India, and in the Middle East.


Yezidis, Kurdish diasporas, USA, RSS

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