The Sanjak of the Peacock Angel
Sanjak: The most important sacred object is the image, or as they call it the sanjak, of Tawusi Melek, that is, the Peacock Angel, fashioned in bronze or copper. (It is also often referred to as Tawus or Tawis.) The Peacock Angel is simultaneously the head of the Angels, the viceroy of God on earth, and the special protector angel of the Yezidis.
According to the tradition there used to be seven sanjaks, which were fashioned by the Peacock Angel himself, after his own image, and these images may be called the holy symbol not only of the Peacock Angel, but of the Yezidi communal identity in general. The seven peacock sanjaks corresponded to the seven Yezidi districts, also known as sanjaks (this is expression used by the Ottoman administration to denote a province.) There seems to be some disagreement as to the original identity of these seven geographical sanjaks, but they covered all the territories where Yezidis lived, from Aleppo to Iran and from Iraq to the Moscovy sanjak (the Caucasian mountains.)
Parading of the Peacock: The sanjaks used to be kept in Lalish, the sacred valley of the Yezidis near Mosul, or at other times in the house of the Yezidi Prince at Baadra, also near Mosul. At regular intervals the sanjaks were taken on a tour to visit the Yezidi villages, each one in its own district.
This was called the Parading of the Peacock. The importance of this institution cannot be overvalued. Yezidi faith is an oral religion, it has no books or written texts, and religious lore is transmitted orally from father to son. This transmission, however, is constricted in its nature. Traditionally memorising and reciting the religious texts, hymns and myths, was the task of a special class, the so called qewwals, or singers (reciters) of the sacred texts.
These singers, on the other hand, traditionally resided in the twin villages of Beshiqe-Behzani, yet again near Mosul. Thus the access of an average Yezidi commoner to religious knowledge, or even to religion itself, was very limited. The Parading of the Peacock provided one of the rare opportunities when common Yezidis could get some form of religious instruction.
During such tours, when the village community assembled to pay their respect (and money) to the peacock, the qewels sang hymns and recited mishabets, that is, sermons, explaining Yezidi myths and religious concepts. Thus the Peacock Sanjak used to play, and in some places still plays, a central part in the perpetuation of the Yezidi faith and in maintaining its unity.
The Peacock Sanjak and the Central Power: The sanjaks play an important function in the political structure of the Yezidis as well. Yezidi Mirs, or Princes residing in the Iraqi Sheikhan district, the spiritual centre of the Yezidi world, have consistently maintained their spiritual legitimacy as representatives of the Peacock Angel on the earth. The sanjaks are in their possession, and consequently the alms, offered by the faithful to the sanjaks during the Parading of the Peacock, belong to them, making up a considerable part of the princely revenues.
Just as importantly, the ceremonies which accompany the parading of the Peacock in the Yezidi villages emphasize the prince’s links with the supernatural power of the Peacock Angel, thus strengthening his authority vis-à-vis the believers. Furthermore these tours provide an opportunity to the Prince and Princely family for intervening in the life of the Yezidi communities far from the centre through the intermediary of the qewwals and other dignitaries accompanying the Peacock, who were appointed by the Prince. The choice of the qewwals was very important since they were the main link through which the Prince maintained and strengthened his religious-political authority and popularity among those Yezidi communities settled outside the Sheikhan, on the periphery. The qewwals, in possession of the sanjak, not only reinforced the cult of the Peacock Angel and Yezidi religion in general, but carried out propaganda in favour of the Prince.
Today modern Yezidi communities, especially in the Diaspora, seem to be embracing the image of the peacock as a symbol of Yezidi identity, religion and culture, of “Yezidiness” in one word. Many Yezidi publications in the Diaspora, and most Yezidi websites now carry the image of the peacock.
Armenia: In Armenia a sanjak hitherto believed lost, was recovered at the beginning of the Millenium. This sanjak is said to have been left behind with a Yezidi sheikh when the I. WW broke out and then carried to safety in Armenia, where it was hidden for long decades. Now it is displayed again and Armenian Yezidis make pilgrimages to venerate it.
Bibliography on the Yezidis