World’s largest Yezidi temple opens in Armenia

The world’s largest Yezidi temple was opened Sunday in Armenia, where the ethnoreligious group is the largest minority, in a ceremony attended by the deputy prime minister and other Yerevan officials.

Located in Aknalich, 35 kilometers west of the capital city of Yerevan, Quba Mere Diwane consists of seven domes surrounding a central, arched roof, and houses a prayer hall, a seminary, and a museum.

First deputy Prime Minister of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan used the occasion to draw comparisons between the tragic recent histories of Yezidis and Armenians.

“Unfortunately, in their modern history, Yezidis like Armenians have also fallen victim to genocide,” Mirzoyan said in a Sunday statement.

“It is symbolic and logical that the largest Yezidi temple in the world is in Armenia. Armenia is home to the Yezidi people. The children of the Yezidi people have been alongside their Armenian brothers for many fatal and heroic moments,” he added.

Quba Mere Diwane was built just a few meters away from Ziarat, Armenia’s first Yezidi temple established in 2012. Funded by Armenian-born, Russia-based Yezidi businessman Mirza Sloian, the new, 25 meter-tall temple towers over its humble predecessor.

Yezidi communities traditionally resided in the Kurdish-majority areas of modern day northern Iraq and eastern Turkey. A sizeable Yezidi community was established in what is now Armenia in the 1820s, formed by those who fled the Ottoman Empire’s persecution of non-Muslim minority groups. Armenia’s last census, held in 2011, put the number of Yezidis in the country at over 35,000, making the ethnoreligious group Armenia’s largest minority.

Persecution and the pursuit of refuge have continued to haunt Yezidis, most recently at the hands of Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria.

Considered heretics by ISIS because of their faith, the community was subjected to particular violence by the militant group. Men were abducted and killed en masse, while women were trafficked and forced into sexual slavery. Thousands of Yezidis remain missing.

Of Iraq’s once 500,000-strong Yezidi community, some 100,000 have fled the country entirely – with a small number of them seeking refuge in Armenia – while 360,000 remain internally displaced.

Yezidi genocide in Iraq was recognized by Armenia’s parliament in January 2018.

Yezidi figures and advocacy groups have said temples like Quba Mere Diwane and the holy site of Lalish, which is currently undergoing restoration, act as sites of permanence amidst waves of displacement and help protect the group’s distinct cultural and religious practices from destruction.