Day 3 Ain Sifni, Yazidi Lalish, the Bavian Canal & Amedi
Our taxis took us to Ain Sifni, a 40 minute drive through the mountains. As we walked around the Yezidi shrine located above the village, a chicken sacrifice was in progress and we all retreated to give the women some privacy. They had a small female child (about 3 years old?) with them and they were piercing her ears. The chicken blood will bring her good luck.
The Yezidis are a fascinating people. They believe that a peacock rules the divine kingdom, the colour blue is forbidden (as is lettuce, pumpkin, broad beans and olives) and that Satan repented and was re-established as a chief angel. Because of this, some Muslims view them as devil worshipers. The minority religion have been heavily persecuted and we saw several heavily armed militia checkpoints as we moved through the mountain villages.
At Lalish we removed our shoes in the car park before we entered the Yezidi hilltop village. Normally we’d have been expected to take our socks off as well but the 98 degree heat would definitely have burnt our soles, so we were treated as honored guests and allowed a small modicum of protection.
The local “educator” guided us around the temple complex and we were given tea, photographed and D &F were interviewed for the local press. We sat and chatted about how the village is surviving with most of their followers living abroad. During the main festival in October over 200,000 Yezidis return from abroad and stay free of charge. How they all fit into such a small settlement is beyond me.
This holy complex is amazing. Some of the architecture dates from 500 BC and the caves storing the vital olive oil for the 365 niche lamps are probably Neolithic. The main temple is virtually bare, only decorated with swathes of 7 different coloured cloths, representing the 7 archangels, and oil lamps. It’s incredibly atmospheric and I wish we could have spent more time here.
Our next stop was the Bavian Canal to see the Assyrian reliefs, cut high into the rocks.
They are a poor shadow of what they used to be, as wind, rain and vandalism has caused tremendous damage and now only 3 are identifiable. The wonderful British Museum has spoilt us. Normally I’m a strong supporter for items to stay in situ and be seen by local people but this place emphasises what happens when countries suffer war, do not have the money or inclination to protect its heritage.
We were the only visitors, though we are told that the site has become a popular picnic spot at the weekends. There were a few meager educational notices for what should be a celebrated heritage.
We drove higher into the spectacular mountains to Amedi (Amadiya), founded by the Assyrians in the 25th century BC and built on a flat top mountain. The village sits above the River Zaib over a fearsome gorge and the small town is very picturesque when viewed from the opposite side. However G was disappointed that there were few remains of the original fortress walls, apart from a glimpse of a gate. He’s never been able to get here before (a sign that Kurdistan is gradually opening up to tourists).
We are welcomed in to look around the mosque in the centre of the village. It’s obviously ancient, far older than its 15th century minaret, and the way it is carved out of the rock face suggests that it may have been something else before it was converted. There’s no one around who we can ask, so it remains a mystery.
We then returned to the holiday town overlooking the gorge and become a source of curiosity for the Iraqi tourists while we ate our grilled chicken and salad overlooking that wonderful view.