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Processes of transformation among Kurdish Yezidis in Germany

Project leader: Prof Karl-Heinz Kohl; academic researchers: Dr Andreas Ackermann (until March 2007), Norbert Busch M.A. (from January 2008)

Supported by the DFG

Period of research: 1 May 2004 to 30 June 2008 

The Yezidis are a religious minority, persecuted for hundreds of years, and settled in the Kurdish areas of Irak, Syria, Turkey and the Caucasus. Since the 1980s they have increasingly migrated to Europe, especially to Germany, where some 30,000 Yezidis now live. This has caused fundamental changes to their way of life. While in their homeland they would have to conceal essential aspects of their culture and religion, in exile they can express them openly for the first time. As a result the undogmatic character of their religion that has been maintained up to now, and whose contents have been handed down orally, have become a problem in the course of the collective building of their identity under the conditions of living in the diaspora. On the one hand, essential elements of the Yezidi belief system can only be transmitted with difficulty within a secular society, including to their own second generation. On the other hand, with the breach in the chain of transmission, essential aspects of Yezidi religion risk being lost. The Yezidi community in Germany therefore finds itself in a situation of transition, at a threshold, in which a new orientation is not only possible but essential. This is a matter of transformation processes of Yezidi culture and religion being systematically elevated and interpreted with reference to the concept of diaspora. In this way, traditional ethnographic methods and theoretical reflections developed from within cultural anthropological migration research, which up to now have only been pursued provisionally, can be useful in the empirical description and analysis of changes in Yezidi identity.

Because of the political developments in Iraq, in which the central Yezidi settlement area lies, this already long planned research project has acquired an additional contemporary aspect. Theoretically the Iraqi Yezidis are now able to return freely to their homeland following the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussain. Research into the individual and collective reactions to this possibility promises valuable insights into the dynamics and future development of diaspora groups.