The Yazidi sultan ezid mausoleum in Mahad

The Yazidi mausoleum Sultan Ezid is located at 36°38’49.33″N 43°24’41.72″E and 376 metres altitude in the Nineveh plain. Mahad is at the centre of an agglomeration composed of 13 surrounding Yazidi villages.

The Yazidi mausoleum Sultan Ezid in Mahad is no doubt extremely ancient. The Yazidi masters indicate that the primitive mausoleum is around 1,000 years old. There are no ancient sources, but we do know with certainty that it was restored in 1990.

The Sultan Ezid mausoleum in Mahad is a monument which is characteristic of Yazidi sacred art. The museum has a square floor plan. Above this is a large conical radiating dome, with a bronze spire with two spheres around which are knotted sacred fabrics in red and yellow.

Picture : Yazidi cemetery and mausoleum Sultan Ézid in Mahad. June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

About this file

The content of this file has been drafted by Dr. Birgül Açıkyıldız-Şengül, art historian, specialised in Yazidi heritage and culture. Dr. Birgül Açıkyıldız-Şengül is an associate researcher at the University Paul Valéry Montpellier III and the IFEA Istanbul, and is the author of a doctoral thesis: “Yazidi heritage: Funeral architecture and sculptures in Iraq, Turkey and Armenia” presented in 2006 at the University Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne (department of Islamic art and archaeology). This thesis contains a documented inventory of 88 monuments (sanctuaries, mausoleums, baptistries, oratories, caravanserai, bridges and caves) and 60 funeral sculptures (in the shape of horses, rams, sheep or lions) in northern Iraq, Turkey and Armenia.  Thesis published by I.B.Tauris (London, New York), 2010. The text has been enriched with the observations and interviews of the Mesopotamia team (Pascal Maguesyan, Shahad al Khouri, Sibylle Delaître (KTO)) with support from Mero Khudeada.


The Yazidi mausoleum Sultan Ezid in Mahad is located at 36°38’49.33″N 43°24’41.72″E and 376 metres altitude.

In the north of the Nineveh province, 25 kilometres from the southern border of the Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous region, Mahad is a plain city.

Mahad is located 45 kilometres north-east of Mosul, 22 kilometres south-east of Lalish and 13 kilometres south-east of Aïn Sifni (Shekhan).

City of Mahad, mountains and Yazidi cultural and social centre.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

About the Yazidi in Iraq

Mainly settled in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Nineveh plain, their geographic birthplace, there are also Yazidi in Turkey, Syria, and the Caucasus in particular in Armenia and Georgia. Generally considered as non-Islamic Kurds, which is at the very a least a simplistic if not inaccurate statement given their mythological origins, often demonised due to their religious practices, the Yazidi are a community whose historical origins and number are difficult to estimate.

Marginalized to the extreme in Iraq under various regimes, their existence was practically denied. Prior to 2003, Baghdad officially only recognised a few thousand whereas in reality there were no doubt closer to hundreds of thousands.

The conditions for an attempted genocide were already in place even before the ISIS jihadis started to massacre and kidnap Yazidi in the Sinjar mountains and province of Nineveh in August 2014.

Although the Iraqi forces and the coalition of resistance groups took back Sinjar in November 2015, the majority of the 500,000 – 600,000 Iraqi Yazidi are still displaced. The persecution they have suffered makes them fear for the future despite the constitutional guarantees afforded to them in 2005.

Map of the Yazidi regions, cities and villages in the north and Iraqi Kurdistan
© Dr. Birgül Açikyildiz-Şengül, universities of Oxford and Montpellier III.

The territorial roots of Yazidism

Yazidism was founded in a mountainous territory where its inhabitants were protected by the slopes, peaks and caves. Considered sacred by the Yazidi, this territory roughly divides into two distinct regions, east and west of the Tigris, the key Mesopotamian river. To the west is Sinjar: the city, surrounding villages and the mountain range. To the east is the spiritual centre of Lalish, and the key sectors of Shekhan, Bozan, Bashiqa and Bahzani. The vast majority of the Yazidi population (including clergy) are from these regions although there are some scattered Yazidi communities outside of these areas.

For centuries, the Yazidi have preserved their customs and traditions in this region, this territory. This preservation of the past was cruelly undermined to the west of the Tigris in the Sinjar region by the devastating ISIS offensive in August 2014. The extent of the destruction and severity of the genocidal crimes committed severely weakened the Yazidi communities in the Sinjar mountains who previously formed the core of the Iraqi Yazidi population.

Yazidi cultural and social centre in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

Territory, history and heritage

It is in this region, either side of the Tigris, that the Yazidi were able to preserve and develop the characteristic architectural features of their religious buildings which are the main places of worship for the Yazidi faithful.

These buildings are mostly dedicated to the first disciples of the 12th century Yazidi reformer, Sheikh ‘Adî, members of the Chamsani families and families such as Hasan Maman, Memê Rech and Cerwan, as well as the community’s first religious leaders, descendants of Sheikh ‘Adî (members of the Adani family) and certain important Sufi mystics who influenced Sheikh ‘Adî’s teachings, namely Abd al-Qadîr al-Jilani, al-Hallaj et Qedib al-Ban (Qadî Bilban).

However, it would be wrong to conclude that Yazidism is a medieval religion. The paucity of the theological and historical sources available is compensated for by the ancient tradition and mythology which are omnipresent and constantly developing. The Yazidi consider Noah to be one of their most ancient and most illustrious patriarchs. They even claim that he lived in Iraqi Mesopotamia, in Ain Sifni (Shekhan) where he built his ark. The Yazidi historians claim that “the Yazidi religion is very ancient. It goes back to 3,500 years BC.”[1]

The Yazidi have a wide diversity of places of worship and prayer, including cemeteries, mausoleums (mazar) some of which are larger than others (khas / mêr), fire oratories (nîshan), the houses of Sheikhor Pîr, trees, bushes, olive groves, bridges, arches, caves, sacred stones (kevir), springs etc. These monuments, structure and sites dedicated to the Yazidi “saints” constitute a large proportion of the cultural setting of the Yazidi communities and are the tangible, physical manifestation of the Yazidi belief system as a whole.

There is however, one fundamental place which all Yazidi turn to, including the diaspora: the Lalish valley in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is the most sacred place in Yazidism. It is the location of the sanctuary of Sheikh ‘Adî, the great reformer of Yazidism in the 12th century. This valley, its mausoleums and its environment are the centre of gravity of Yazidi spiritual life.

The Yazidi buildings were built at different times. The lack of inscriptions and historical sources make it difficult to date them accurately. The poor quality of some of the more recent restorations makes this analysis even more complex. Furthermore, there do not seem to be specific architectural styles associated with specific periods of Yazidi history which could help to date these buildings. In addition, the same style, derived from a specific model has been used at several times over the centuries and is still in vogue.


[1] Chamo Kassem, inspector of Yazidi schools, specialist in Yazidi religion and culture, Head of Culture and Media, at the Lalish Cultural and Social Centre in Dohuk-Nohadra.

Ancient Yazidi tombs in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

Fragments of Yazidi spirituality and theology

Yazidism is a religion based on tradition and oral history that is both simple and complex at the same time. Simple, because it is not regulated by a constraining liturgy or dogma. Complex, because there is no fundamental theological document underpinning it such as the Torah, the Gospels or the Koran. The Yazidi have two sacred books: the book of revelation “Kitêb-i Cilvê “, and the black book “Mishefa Reş”.

Yazidism is a strictly community-based religion (national). One is born Yazidi, you cannot become Yazidi. There is no evangelizing, inculturation or proselytizing.  That said, Yazidism is not sectarian. Quite the opposite, altruism is considered to be a cardinal virtue, a spiritual and theological foundation. Any researchers interested in studying Yazidism are therefore warmly welcomed by the community and its clergy.[1]

Yazidism is a monotheism. God is singular and unique. He is the creator of the cosmos and of life.  In this, Yazidism shares the same belief as the three main monotheist religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As well as Zoroastrianism.[2]

God is light. He is like the sun which shines on the Earth. That is why the Yazidi systematically face the sun to pray. This is something Yazidism shares with Mesopotamian and Persian Zoroastrianism.

God is good, infinitely good. This is why the Yazidi encourage altriusm and always pray firstly for the world and then for themselves.

God is everything and is everywhere. Yazidism is physically and spiritually one with the whole of Creation: cosmic, human, animal, vegetal, and mineral. That is why olive trees whose oil is used for the sacred fire are considered sacred by the Yazidi. Similarly, the angel peacock (tawûsê melek) is the most important of the seven angels (melek) which represent God on earth.

Yazidism believes in the judgement of souls and the last judgement. However, it differs from Christianity in its belief in reincarnation. The dead are buried. Their souls are judged according to the good and evil they have done. Pure souls become beings of light. Impure souls are reincarnated in devalued or bellicose human or animal forms.


[1] « Jean-Paul Roux, who passed away in 2009, former CNRS researcher and head of the Islamic art section of the École du Louvre, considered Yazidism as “a standout religion, an obvious syncretism of popular tradition and reminiscences of the dogma of the major religions’’. La Croix, Claire Lesegretain, 26 April 2010.

[2]Born in Persia, founded by Zarathustra (Zoroaster) in the first millenium Before Christ, Zoroastrianism is monotheist and recognises Ahura Mazdâ as the only God. In this sense Zoroastrianism is fundamentally different from the Mazdaism it is derived from. Mazdaism  is polytheist, considering Ahura Mazdâ as the main, but not the only, God.  This Persian religion spread as far as India in the form of Vedism.

Yazidi cemetery and mausoleum Sultan Ézid in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

Yazidi worship

Yazidi worship is not governed by a strict liturgy but constitutes a set of traditional rites and votive practices passed on orally from generation to generation.

The Yazidi generally pray individually, but also gather together as a community at their temples and sanctuaries to listen to qawals, who are both musicians and the gatekeepers and guardians of the Yazidi religion, whose knowledge and practices are passed on from father to son.

The daily prayer, facing the sun, the light of God (Khoda), is not an obligation nor is it required to show you are a “good” Yazidi. However, pious, elderly people pray regularly, up to five times a day.

Kissing sacred places and the hands of saintly figures, offering gifts to consecrated persons, sacrificing animals, knotting and unknotting fabric on wish trees, are all signs of respect and devotion.

Wednesday is the most important day in the week. It is like Sunday for Christians, Saturday for Jews and Friday for Muslims. The main weekly services during which the Yazidi monks light the sacred fire in the mausoleums are held on Wednesdays.

Four major annual festivals are held during the Yazidi religious year. The first is the New Year (ser sal) celebrated on the first Wednesday of the month of April. This festival symbolises the creation of life out of the initial chaos and the coming of tawûsê melek. Eggs, a symbol of the original lifeless earth, are boiled and dyed as part of the celebrations. Some of these eggs are smashed above the doors of houses and mausoleums, mixed in with small red flowers.

Another major annual festival is the Spring festival (towaf), which is held on a date between 12th – 20th April. Finally, the pilgrimage to the tomb of Sheikh Adî, in the Lalish sanctuary (djamaiya) takes place on 6th October.

Pir Khalat Elias Djaffo, head of cultural activities at the Lalish Yazidi cultural centre in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Mahdi Hassan Murad, head of the Lalish Yazidi cultural centre in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

The mausoleum with a conical dome: characteristic Yazidi architecture

Mausoleums with a conical, striped dome are emblematic of Yazidi sacred art. Extremely sober in terms of its architecture and decoration, this type of building is built on a cube structure which contains the tomb or cenotaph, covered by a slab with a drum, above which stands a conical dome composed of multiple crests. This vault symbolises the sun’s rays which light up the earth and humanity.

The pinnacle of the dome is systematically fitted with a bronze spire formed of one or more spheres, mounted with a ring, a crescent moon, and a celestial body or hand, around which swathes of coloured fabric are knotted.  The spire represents the cosmos, the planets, the sun and the stars created by God.  The coloured fabrics represented the colours of the rainbow. [1]

The interior of a Yazidi mausoleum is often composed of a separate chamber containing a sarcophagus covered in silk fabrics. There are also often several niches carved into the walls to burn incense and light the sacred fire. These often also contain knotted fabrics placed there by pilgrims making wishes.

The sacred space in any Yazidi mausoleum includes the slab in front and around it. That is why any visitor or pilgrim must remove their shoes.


 [1]This interpretation can vary from one community to another.

Yazidi mausoleum Sultan Ézid in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

Yazidi history and demographics in Mahad

In 1975, Saddam Hussein made Mahad an exclusively Yazidi city as part of his project to Arabize the region. He grouped together the inhabitants from 13 Yazidi villages from the surrounding area where thousands of Arab colonizers settled.

From 1975 to 2003 these colonizers destroyed most of the Yazidi mausoleums in the occupied villages.

With the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, the Yazidi removed to Mahad returned to their home villages and the Arab colonizers left. The Yazidi mausoleums were rebuilt and large numbers of Yazidi brought their dead, buried in Mahad, back to their villages.

Before 1975, there were only around one hundred inhabitants in Mahad. After the Arabisation of the region in 1975, the population increased to 5,000 inhabitants.

On 6th August 2014, with the impending jihadist threat, the 10,000 inhabitants of Mahad fled the city and sought refuge in Kurdistan, in Zakho, Amadia and Dohuk-Nohadra. Ten days later., when the danger had passed, these displaced persons returned to Mahad

In 2015, Mahad and the 13 villages in the agglomeration still had 9,210 inhabitants, all Yazidi. Three years later, in 2018, the agglomeration had almost 11,000 inhabitants. [1]


[1]Data collected by Mesopotamia’s representatives in Shexka, on 6th June 2018.


Yazidi cemetery and mausoleum Sultan Ézid in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

The Sultan Ezid Mausoleum in Mahad

The Sultan Ezid mausoleum in Mahad bears the name of a key figure in Yazidi history which some historians identify as the caliph Yazid I at the end of the 7th century.

This mausoleum is situated in the midst of a very ancient cemetery. Yazidi oral tradition recounts that this cemetery already existed at the time of the great reformer of Yazidism, Sheikh Adî, in the 12thcentury. The tradition also recalls that this cemetery existed at the time of the patriarch Noah.

The Yazidi mausoleum Sultan Ezid in Mahad is also no doubt extremely ancient. The Yazidi masters indicate that the primitive mausoleum is around 1,000 years old. There are no ancient sources. We do know with certainty that it was restored in 1990.

The Sultan Ezid mausoleum in Mahad is a monument built of jointed stones.

Its sacred architecture is typical of Yazidi monumental art. The museum has a square floor plan. Inside, four altars are fitted in the four corners, symbols of the seasons, in front which the clerics light the sacred fire, light of the world.

Above the cenotaph is a large octagonal then circular drum, mounted with a conical crested dome, at the pinnacle of which is a bronze spire with two spheres around which sacred fabric in red and yellow is knotted.

The exterior corners of the building are also mounted with miniature reproductions of Yazidi mausoleums. At the foot of the mausoleum, to the right of the entrance door, a small niche is used to burn incense as an expression of devotion.

Yazidi cemetery and mausoleum Sultan Ézid in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Entrance under the covered courtyard of the Yazidi mausoleum Sultan Ézid in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Dedication after the restoration of the Yazidi mausoleum Sultan Ézid in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Drum, dome, spire and fabrics at the Yazidi mausoleum Sultan Ézid in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Dome, spire and fabrics at the Yazidi mausoleum Sultan Ézid in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Spire and fabrics at the Yazidi mausoleum Sultan Ézid in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Yazidi mausoleum Sultan Ézid in Mahad.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

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