Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraq's Yezidi Celebrate New Year

By Kamaran Najm
  • Hundreds of Yezidi gather at the sacred Lalish Temple in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan near the city of Mosul on April 14, as they wait for the sun to set to begin New Year's celebrations. The Yezidi, a religious minority found in northern Iraq, call their New Year celebration Chwar Shema Sur, or Red Wednesday. The Yezidi are the descendants of Zoroastrians, and have been often targeted in the past for their beliefs.
    Hundreds of Yezidi gather at the sacred Lalish Temple in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan near the city of Mosul on April 14, as they wait for the sun to set to begin New Year's celebrations. The Yezidi, a religious minority found in northern Iraq, call their New Year celebration Chwar Shema Sur, or Red Wednesday. The Yezidi are the descendants of Zoroastrians, and have been often targeted in the past for their beliefs.
  • Yezidi women sit in the cavernous Lalish Temple near a painting of a Yezidi woman praying to the Peacock Angel. The Peacock Angel, known as Melek Tawus, is the most sacred of the seven holy beings of the Yezidi faith.
    Yezidi women sit in the cavernous Lalish Temple near a painting of a Yezidi woman praying to the Peacock Angel. The Peacock Angel, known as Melek Tawus, is the most sacred of the seven holy beings of the Yezidi faith.
  • An elderly Yezidi man burns a sacred candle in the Lalish Temple. Yezidi believe in the purity of the four elements - earth, wind, fire and water - and lighting a torch or candle on New Year's day is done to welcome the upcoming year.
    An elderly Yezidi man burns a sacred candle in the Lalish Temple. Yezidi believe in the purity of the four elements - earth, wind, fire and water - and lighting a torch or candle on New Year's day is done to welcome the upcoming year.
  • A group of Yezidi stand in a sacred chamber inside Lalish Temple where oil is kept in ancient ceramic vases adorned with two handles called amphora. Yezidi believe they are the oldest religion in the world.
    A group of Yezidi stand in a sacred chamber inside Lalish Temple where oil is kept in ancient ceramic vases adorned with two handles called amphora. Yezidi believe they are the oldest religion in the world.
  • Men and women light candle wicks dipped in oil and throw them in a copper plate as part of the Yezidi New Year celebration on April 14 in Lalish Temple. Yezidi welcome the New Year by lighting candles and flames.
    Men and women light candle wicks dipped in oil and throw them in a copper plate as part of the Yezidi New Year celebration on April 14 in Lalish Temple. Yezidi welcome the New Year by lighting candles and flames.
  • A Yezidi woman lights an oil-soaked candle and places it along a ledge overlooking the holy Lalish Valley in Iraqi Kurdistan north of the city of Mosul. The Lalish Valley is home to the religion's most sacred temple and the tomb of the revered Sheikh Adi Ibn Musafir.
    A Yezidi woman lights an oil-soaked candle and places it along a ledge overlooking the holy Lalish Valley in Iraqi Kurdistan north of the city of Mosul. The Lalish Valley is home to the religion's most sacred temple and the tomb of the revered Sheikh Adi Ibn Musafir.
  • Yezidi hold aloft small oil-burning lamps at sunset on April 14, or Red Wednesday, as the ancient faith calls its New Year celebration. For Yezidi, the New Year is believed to be the start of a new life and a time to restore the spirit.
    Yezidi hold aloft small oil-burning lamps at sunset on April 14, or Red Wednesday, as the ancient faith calls its New Year celebration. For Yezidi, the New Year is believed to be the start of a new life and a time to restore the spirit.

The Yezidi of northern Iraq ushered in a New Year as the sun set on April 14. The ancient religion's Chwar Shema Sur, or Red Wednesday, celebration kicked off with traditional music, dancing and the colouring of eggs. An estimated 450,000 Yezidi live in the northern Iraq provinces of Duhok and Nineveh, according to the Yezidi Supreme Spiritual Council, and in the past they have faced fierce persecution for their beliefs.

An ancient admixture of Christianity, Islam and Zoroasterism, the Yezidi religion accepts no converts and looks down on marriage outside the faith. They believe in the purity of Earth's four elements - earth, wind, water and fire - and greet the New Year by lighting candles, torches and oil-burning lamps.