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The Lost Sanjaq

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The seven sanjaqs, or sacred images of Malak Tawus, are the most concrete expression of Yezidism and considered the holiest of the holy ritual objects of that religion. Only a handful of non-Yezidis have ever seen one, and very little is known about them. The latter holds, in particular, true with regard to the so-called Moskovi-sanjaq. Before World War I it was sent to the Russian Empire (East Anatolia and the Transcaucasus) every year, but was reported lost in 1914.

Based on numerous interviews with Yezidis in Armenia, as well as on official correspondence between British, Iraqi, and Soviet authorities, the first part of the article reconstructs the odyssey of the Moskovi-sanjaq and the seven priests (qewwals) carrying it. It confirms that after 16 years of wandering through the Transcaucasus, five of the seven qewwals were eventually able to return via Odessa and London to the Yezidi heartland in Northern Iraq, but concludes that the Moskovi-sanjaq was ultimately lost in Georgia—confiscated by the Soviet authorities.

The second part of the paper describes the history of a second sanjaq, which the author discovered in a village near Yerevan, secretly kept and protected from the prying eyes of non-Yezidis by a sheikhly family. Although all tales and myths, explaining how this second sanjaq arrived in Armenia, are examined and analysed, the origin of that sacred image remains mysterious. The article further paints a detailed picture of the cult, which evolved around the sacred image in Armenia as well as of the—sometimes savage—fights over its possession and the struggle of the keepers of the sanjaq with the Soviet authorities. In addition to interviews with eyewitnesses, the author bases his findings on court decisions and minutes of the councils of Yezidi elders, as well as information found at Yezidi graveyards.

Affiliations: 1: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Tbilisi

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