Yezidi Kurds-4-Meleke Tawus

The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds

The term “Yazidi” is often incorrectly confused with the Arabian name “Yazid“. The term is originally “Yazdi” derived from Iranic “Yazata” broadly meaning “Angels”, hence the prime Zoroastrian spiritual entity term “Ahura-Mazda“, terms for surviving Iranic cults in Kurdistan known as the “Yazdan” (lit. cult of Angels), and the surviving name of “Yazd” for the city of that name in Iran today. There are various mystical orders that have theological ties to the “Yazdi” or “Yazidi” such as the “Yar-esan” and the Qaderi clans of Western Iran. The Yazidis are an ancient community, concentrated in northwestern Iraq but also found in Iran, Syria and Turkey.

Yezidi Kurds-12-Youths 1950sYazdi or Yazidi youth in the 1950s in Lalesh (Saradistribution.com).

The holiest Yazidi or Yazdi site is the Temple of Lalesh, situated in a valley near Dohuk in Nineveh Province (roughly an hour and a half drive outside of Erbil in northern Iraq). This is an ancient cultural and theological site with strong ties to ancient Iranic religions such as Zoroastrianism and ancient cults such as Mithraism and Zurvanism. The movement however also features interesting ties to Christianity and Islam and welcomes their holy books into their theology.

 Yezidi Kurds-5-lales-piraEntrance portal to the Temple of the Yazdis or Yazidis at Lalesh (Saradistribution.com).

The Yazidi or Yazdi religion is believed to have its origins as late as the 11th century, however it is generally agreed that the faith has derived much of its theology from the ancient Zoroastrianism religion of pre-Islamic Iran. From what is known, the Yazidi or Yazdis do not have or write holy books like the Abrahamic faiths; they tend to pass on their traditions in an oral fashion with stories, poems and songs. Interestingly one cannot simply convert to the Yazidi or Yazdi religion; one can only enter this by having been born into the faith.

Yezidi Kurds-2-Yezidi-khatunExcellent depiction of a Khatoun at an ingress into the Temple in 1907 (Saradistribution.com). The term Khatoun in this cultural context designates a matriarch; ancient cults such as Mazdakism, Yazdanism, Yazdism as well as the ancient Zoroastrian faith, have often held men and women in equal regard, especially with regard to learning and leadership roles (for more see here).

The Yazidis are expected to engage in a six-day pilgrimage (minimum once a lifetime) to Lalesh to visit the tomb of Sheikh Adi and other holy sites. Sheikh Adi is the primary figure of the religion of the Yazidis.

Yezidi Kurds-8-plan of lalesDetailed architectural plan of the Mausoleum at the Temple at Lalesh (Saradistribution.com).

Yazidis also engage in a yearly pilgrimage for the local autumn Festival or “Feast of the Assembly“.

Yezidi Kurds-18-CeremonyThe Yazidi faithful engaging in their “Festival of Eid al-Jamma” (photo taken on 7 October, 2010 & displayed the International Business Times).

Note the image of a large black snake on the wall in the above photo. One legend narrates this as having been once alive, and causing havoc among the local residents of the sanctuary. Sheikh Adi then intervened and transformed that snake into its present solidified form as it tried to climb up the same wall it is now transfixed in. Yet another tradition narrates that it was Sheikh Adi’s companion, Sheikh Mend, who transformed himself from human form into this black snake. Sheikh Mend had done this to repel the Haweri Kurdish tribe who were attempting to force the Yazidis to convert to the Islamic faith.

Yezidi Kurds-15-CeremonyYazidis lighting candles outside the Lalesh temple in celebration of the Yazidi New Year (photo taken on April 17, 2007 & displayed the International Business Times). The Yazidis celebrate the ingress of light into the world.

The Yazidi theology of creation is of interest, especially given its parallels with Zoroastrianism and other ancient Iranic faiths. In the Yazidi version of creation, God created the universe and entrusted its welfare to seven angels. The prime angel or “Yazata” of the seven angels is “Malak Tawous” (Persian: Malek Tavoos), broadly translated as “Lord/king Peacock”. In Yazidism this is a Yazata that has been incarnated in the physical realm in the body of a peacock.

Yezidi Kurds-4-Meleke TawusMetalwork representing the spiritual entity Malak Tawous (Saradistribution.com).

The peacock has held a special significance among Iranian peoples since antiquity and is well represented in the arts during the pre-Islamic and post-Islamic periods.

Yezidi Kurds-16-Kurdish danceLocal Yezidis engage in the traditional Kurdish dance outside the Lalesh temple (photo displayed the International Business Times).

The Yazidis have had to contend with several persecutions in history. Their very existence has been threatened up to modern times, notably by the former Saddam Hussein regime and more recently by pan-Muslim ideologues.

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Professor Mary Boyce: Ādur-Gushnasp

The article below by the late Professor Mary Boyce on the ancient Ādur-Gushnasp Fire-Temple in Iran’s Azarbaijan province was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1983 and last updated on July 22, 2011.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the article below are from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006; Farrokh’s textbook  Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-) as well as venues such as the Civilization Fanatics Center and Ancientbattles.com.

Ādur-Gushnasp is an Ātash Bahrām, that is, a Zoroastrian sacred fire of the highest grade, held to be one of the three great fires of ancient Iran, existing since creation. Note that Bahram is the the God of War and Victory.

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ĀDUR GUŠNASP, an Ātaš (Atash) Bahrām (see Ātaš in Encyclopedia Iranica), that is, a Zoroastrian sacred fire of the highest grade, held to be one of the three great fires of ancient Iran, existing since creation (see further in Encyclopedia Iranica under Ādur Burzēn-Mihr). The name Gušnasp, presumed to be that of the fire’s unknown founder, means “Stallion.” The fire was installed somewhere in Media at an unknown date, presumably in the late Achaemenid or Parthian period.

Celebration-Azar Goshnasp[Click to Enlarge] -مراسم جشن آذرگشسب در اتشکده ای در آذربایجان- Celebration ceremonies at Ādur-Gushnasp in Iran’s Azarbaijan province (Photo forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com by Ms. Kimia Behzadi on November 23, 2013 – original photo by Sima Mehrazar). This is the Gahanbar ceremony in which the “Lork” has received holy Avestan prayers, and is now being distributed among the congregation. Iran’s pre-Islamic cultural traditions have endured across the centuries.

It was probably in early Sasanian times that the fire was first classified by Persian scholastics as that of the warrior estate, to which the kings themselves belonged. The priests of Ādur Gušnasp seem to have skillfully promoted the royal connection thus created for their fire and to have enhanced is dignity by fashioning legends which linked its founding with the earliest days of Zoroastrian tradition. This they probably did partly in rivalry to Ādur Burzēn-Mihr, the fire of conquered Parthia. Thus in Bd. 18.12 it is related that Ādur Gušnasp, like the other great fires, used once to move freely about, giving its protection to the world; but when Kay Ḵosrow the Kayanian was “destroying the image-shrine of Lake Čēčast, it settled on the mane of his horse, dispelling darkness and shadow, and shedding light, until he had destroyed the image-shrine. In that same place, upon Mt. Asnavand, he established fire-altars. For this reason it is called “Gušnasp,” because it settled upon the mane of his horse (asp).” It is plainly impossible to extract any precise historical facts from this legend; but it certainly suggests that at some time, possibly in the late Parthian period, a powerful iconoclast had the images of yazatas destroyed in some great Median shrine, and that Ādur Gušnasp was installed triumphantly in their stead. There is no means of knowing whether it was before or after this that the Median priests annexed the whole of the early Zoroastrian tradition, from the pagan Kayanians down to the prophet himself, for their own province, transferring it thus from northeast to northwest Iran. So Lake Čēčast (Av. Čaēčasta) was identified with Lake Ormīa (Bd. 12.3) and Mt. Asnavand (Av. Asnavant) too was said to be in Azerbaijan (Bd. 9.29), while Ādur Gušnasp was declared to be:

“…at the deep lake Čēčast of warm water which is opposed to the dēvs. Know that the Religion became manifest even there” (Zand ī Vahman Yašt, ed. B. T. Anklesaria, Bombay, 1957, 6.10).

At whatever epoch these identifications were made, they can hardly have found acceptance outside western Iran during the overlordship of the Parthians, who were the natural guardians of the traditions of the northeast.

Takhte-Suleiman-OverviewAn excellent overview of the site of the site of Ādur-Gushnasp or Shiz (modern-day Takhte Suleiman) (Picture Source: Iran Atlas). The Ādur-Gushnasp sacred fire was dedicated to the Arteshtaran (Elite warriors) of the Sassanian Spah (Modern Persian: Sepah = Army).  

It seems probable, therefore, that one should attribute to the Sasanian period—a time of western Iranian ascendancy—an extension of Ātaš nīāyeš 4 or possibly the creation of this whole section of the prayer. Its opening lines, with their invocation of “Fire, the son of Ahura Mazdā” and of Xvarənah, were understood by the Persian priests to be an invocation of their fire Ādur Farnbāg. There follows abruptly the invocation of Kavi Haosravah, the lake of Kavi Haosravah, Mt. Asnavant, and Lake Čaēčasta. The Medes and Persians, it is plain, almost never committed the sacrilege of adding anything new to the Avesta, so that to introduce the actual names of Ādur Farnbāg or Ādur Gušnasp into an Avestan prayer was impossible. Instead, it seems, these lines were put together from familiar Avestan elements, in such a way as to convey to all those conversant with their legends that these were invocations of the two great sacred fires. In the following section of the prayer a brief invocation of Mt. Raēvant is sufficient to include Ādur Burzēn-Mihr in a triple supplication. All this is made clear by glosses to the Pahlavi translation, in which each of the fires is explicitly named. Further, and still more audaciously, a commentator on Ātaš nīāyeš 4 adds that:

“…it was this Ādur Gušnasp which lamented and cried for help before Ohrmazd.”

Ādur Gušnasp appears to be thought of here as representing the totality of fires, which, like all else belonging to the invisible creation, must have been reluctant to be created again in the physical state and so be exposed to defilement and danger of extinction; and presumably Ādur Gušnasp was thus singled out because its name linked it with the creatures of Vahman, represented originally by the Uniquely-Created Bull, which wailed and complained before Ohrmazd (Y. 29).

Farrokh-Late-Sassanians-Magi-Shahrbaraz-Queen-Boran[Click to enlarge] A reconstruction of the late Sassanians at Ādur Gušnasp or Shiz (Takht e Suleiman in Azarbaijan, northwest Iran) by Kaveh Farrokh (painting by the late Angus Mcbride) in Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-. To the left rides a chief Mobed (a top-ranking Zoroastrain priest or Magus), General Shahrbaraz (lit. “Boar of the realm”) is situated in the center and Queen Boran (Poorandokht) leads to the right.

Of the actual history of Ādur Gušnasp more is known than of the other two great fires, for two reasons: First, its temple in Azerbaijan was not far from the western frontier of Iran and so attracted the notice of a number of foreign visitors. Second, the Sasanian kings accorded it favor from the early 5th century onward; as a result, it won frequent mention in the latter part of the royal chronicle (the Xwadāy-nāmag) and in the Šāh-nāma (where it is also called Āḏar Ābādagān). Where Ādur Gušnasp was first installed is uncertain; but some time before A.D. 400, it seems, it was transferred to a site in Azerbaijan of exceptional beauty and fittingness, known in Islamic times as Taḵt-e Solaymān, but presumably named by the Median priests Mt. Asnavand. This is a hill formed by mineral deposits from a spring which wells up within it, so that its flat top holds a lovely lake high above the level of the surrounding countryside. Here a new temple was built for Ādur Gušnasp; and the royal connection of the fire was so successfully fostered that it became the custom in the later Sasanian period for each king to make a pilgrimage there on foot after his coronation (though the accounts in the Šāh-nāma suggest that the monarch walked only from the base of the hill itself, in token of deep reverence). Royal gifts were lavished on the shrine; and the legend was naturally evolved that the first monarch to enrich it was Kay Ḵosrow himself, coming to pray there with his grandfather Kāvūs for help against Afrāsīāb (see Šāh-nāma, ed. Borūḵīm, V, p. 1386.2228-37).

Takhte-Suleiman-10[Click to Enlarge] An excellent view of the edge of the lake at Ādur-Gushnasp (Photo Source: Public Domain).

There are several references in the epic to visits to the fire by Bahrām V (A.D. 421-39), who is said to have spent the feasts of Nowrūz and Sada there (Šāh-nāma, ed. Borūḵīm, VII, p. 2205.1599-1602) and, on another occasion, to have entrusted to its high priest an Indian princess, his bride, to be converted to the faith (ibid., VII, pp. 2249-50.2385-91). Ṯaʿālebī (Ḡorar, pp. 559-60) relates how, when Bahrām returned from his campaign against the Turks, he bestowed the ḵāqān’s crown on the shrine and gave his wife and her slaves to it as servitors. Subsequently Ḵosrow Anōšīravān is said to have visited Āḏar Gošnasp before setting out on a campaign (Šāh-nāma, ed. Borūḵīm, VIII, p. 2339.500-09), and later he bestowed on the fire-temple a vast amount of treasure out of tribute received from Byzantium (ibid., VIII, p. 2446.2379-86). His namesake Ḵosrow Parvēz also prayed at Āḏar Gošnasp for success in battle (ibid., IX, p. 2768.1634-41 ) and later gave a rich share of spoils to the sanctuary (ibid., IX, p. 2797.2160-67). Nor, plainly, was it only kings who made their petitions and offerings there, for in the Ṣaddar Bondaheš 44, which is concerned with: “praying for one’s wants,” it is prescribed that when praying for the restoration of eyesight, one should vow “I shall make an eye of gold and send it to Āḏar Gošasp” (44.18; ed. D. N. Dhabhar, Bombay, 1909); or, if one wishes a child to be intelligent and wise, “I shall send a present to Āḏar Gošasp” (par. 21).

Takhte-Suleiman-3[Click to Enlarge]One of the structures at Takhte Suleiman (Picture Source: World Historia).

It is in keeping with the literary records that the ruins of Ādur Gušnasp should be the most impressive to survive of any Zoroastrian place of worship. To make the sanctuary inviolable the whole hilltop was enclosed by an enormously thick wall of mud-brick; and later (probably towards the end of the Sasanian period) another stone wall was built along the very rim of the hill, 50 feet high and 10 feet thick, with thirty-eight towers strung out along it, each within bowshot of the next.

3-Azargoshnasp-Gahanbar ceremony in Azargoshasb Fire Temple–Mobed Sohrab Hengami -Mobed Mehrab Vahidi-Avesta[Click to Enlarge] The ancient Gahanbar ceremony at the Azargoshasb Fire Temple – Zoroastrian Mobads Sohrab Hengami and Mehrab Vahidi are engaged in the recitation of the Holy Avesta (Photo Source: Sima Mehrazar).

The temple precinct itself was enclosed on three sides by yet another wall, being open on the south side to the lake; and excavation has revealed much of the groundplan of the great complex. The approach from the north brought one into a large courtyard, fit for the reception of many pilgrims; and from this a processional way led toward the lake. This included a square, domed room open to north and south, which was richly appointed, and may possibly have been used for prayer and ceremonial ablutions. It ended in a large open portico looking out over the waters. A covered way then led along the front of the building to an impressive series of pillared halls and antechambers, running south to north on the west side of the processional way; and at the northernmost end of these, it seems, was the sanctuary of Ādur Gušnasp itself, at first a flat-roofed, pillared structure of mud-brick, which was later replaced by a stone one with a domed roof. The walls of this sanctuary were adorned with a stucco frieze in high relief; and beneath the dome was found the three-stepped pedestal of a great fire-altar, and the base of its rounded, pillar-like shaft. Fragments of lesser altars and of ritual vessels have been unearthed in and near the pillared halls which led to the sanctuary, in which there was doubtless a constant activity of devotion, with offerings, prayers, and religious ceremonies.

4-Azargoshnasp-Gahanbar ceremony[Click to Enlarge] The Gahanbar ceremony at the Azargoshasb Fire Temple. After the prayers are concluded, a “Damavaz” (a ceremony participants) holds aloft the censer containing fire and incense in his hand to pass around the congregation. As this is done, the Damavaz repeats the Avesta term “Hamazour” (translation: Let us unite in good deeds). Participants first move their hands over the fire and then over their faces: this symbolizes their ambition to unite in good works and the spread of righteousness (Photo Source: Sima Mehrazar).

The great temple complex held numerous other rooms, including lesser shrines and the temple treasury, which must have housed many priceless gifts. No clearly datable objects have been found in the ruins earlier than the reign of Pērōz (A.D. 457-84); but a room by the main entrance yielded a store of over 200 clay sealings, among which were eighteen that bore the words:

“…high-priest of the house of the fire of Gušnasp” (mowbed ī xānag ī Ādur ī Gušnasp).

Takhte-Suleiman-Round Columns[Click to Enlarge] Round columns at Takhte Suleiman (Photo Source: Novice View).

In A.D. 623 the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, during his wars against Ḵosrow Parvēz, sacked the temple of Ādur Gušnasp, casting down its altars, setting fire to the building; and slaying every living creature there. The great fire itself was evidently carried off to safety, however, and later reinstalled. There may well be a memory of the destruction of Ādur Gušnasp’s shrine in the pseudo-prophecy contained in the Persian Zand ī Vahman Yašt (see Dhabhar, Rivayats, pp. 467, 469):

They will remove Ādur Gušasp from its place . . . on account of (the devastation of) these armies, Ādur Gušasp will be carried to Padašxwārgar.”

 5-Azargoshnasp-Gahanbar ceremony[Click to Enlarge] One of the participants at the Gahanbar ceremony at the Azargoshasb Fire Temple (Photo Source: Sima Mehrazar).

Once enthroned again in its temple on the hill, Ādur Gušnasp continued to burn there for many generations after the coming of Islam; but harassment grew, and the great fire had probably been extinguished by the end of the 10th or, at the latest, the early 11th century A.D. The ruins of its temple were subsequently quarried to build a palace on the hilltop for a local Muslim ruler.

Takhte-Suleiman-2[Click to Enlarge] One of the archways at Ādur-Gushnasp (Picture Source: World Historia).

Bibliography

See the bibliog. for Ādur Burzēn-Mihr. Add: M. N. Dhalla, The Nyaishes or Zoroastrian Litanies, New York, 1908.

The Persian version of Zand ī Vahman Yašt, ed. M. R. Unvala, Darab Hormazyar’s Rivayat II, Bombay, 1922, pp. 407-21; tr. B. N. Dhabhar The Persian Rivayats of Hormazyar Framarz and Others, Bombay, 1932, pp. 457-81.

For classical and Arabic references to Ādur Gušnasp, and the bibliog. of the excavations there up to 1969, see: K. Schippmann, Die iranischen Feuerheiligtümer, Berlin and New York, 1971, pp. 309-57.

R. Naumann and D. Huff, “Takht-i Suleiman,” Bastan Chenassi va Honar-e Iran 9-10, December, 1972, pp. 7-25.

R. Schneider, “Takht-i Suleiman, Bericht über die Ausgrabung 1965-1975,” Artibus Asiae 1975, pp. 109-204.

M. Boyce, “Iconoclasm among the Zoroastrians,” Studies for Morton Smith at Sixty, ed. J. Neusner, Part IV, Leiden, 1975, pp. 93-111.

D. Huff, “Recherches archéologiques à Takht-i Suleiman,” Comptes rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 1978, pp. 774-89.

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Christopher I. Beckwith: Empires of the Silk Road

Readers are introduced to Professor Christopher I. Beckwith’s text: “Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Asia from the Bronze Age to the Present” (available on Amazon.com):

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  • Author: Christopher I. Beckwith
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Date: Reprinted in 2011
  • ISBN-10: 0691150346; ISBN-13: 978-0691150345

This book is recommended reading for Kaveh Farrokh’s Fall 2014 course “The Silk Route Origins and History“. Readers interested in the history of the Silk Route are also referred to the “Soghdian-Turkish Relations Symposium” (21-23 November, 2014) being held in Istanbul, Turkey (for brochure of conference, list of participants, etc., kindly click on images below to enlarge): Sogut_Program

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Christopher I. Beckwith’s text provides a comprehensive history of Central Eurasia from antiquity to the current era. This is an excellent text that provides a critical analysis of the Empires of the Silk Road by analyzing the true origins and history of this critical region of Eurasia.

ForeignerWithWineskin-Earthenware-TangDynasty-ROM-May8-08

Statue of a foreigner holding a wineskin, Tang Dynasty (618-907) (Photo source: Public Domain).

Beckwith examines the history of the great and forgotten Central Eurasian empires, notably those of the Iranic peoples such as the Scythians, the Hsiang-Nou peoples (e.g. Attila the Hun, Turks, Mongols, etc.) and their interaction with China, Tibet and Persia.

Pamir_Mountains,_Tajikistan,_06-04-2008

One of the critical land bridges of the Silk Route: the Pamir Mountains which as a 2-way gigantic connector between the civilizations of the east and West (Photo source: Public Domain).

Beckwith outlines the scientific, artistic and economic impacts of Central Asia upon world civilization. Beckwith also tabulates the history of the Indo-European migrations out of Central Eurasia, and their admixture with several settled peoples, resulting in the great (Indo-European) civilizations of India, Persia, Greece and Rome. The impact of these peoples upon China is also examined.

 Mid15thCenturyPotteryNorthernItaly

Italian pottery of the 1450s influenced by Chinese ceramic arts; housed at the Louvre Museum, Paris (Photo source: Public Domain).

This is a book that has been long overdue: Empires of the Silk Road places Central Eurasia within the major framework of world history and civilization. It is perhaps this quote by Beckwith which demonstrates his acumen on the subject:

The dynamic, restless Proto-Indo-Europeans whose culture was born there [Eurasia] migrated across and discovered the Old World, mixing with the local peoples and founding the Classical civilizations of the Greeks and Romans, Iranians, Indians, and ChineseCentral Eurasians - not the Egyptians, Sumerians, and so on- are our ancestors. Central Eurasia is our homeland, the place where our civilization started” (2009, p.319).

BegramGladiator

Second century CE Kushan ceramic vase from Begram with a “Western” motif: a Greco-Roman gladiator (Photo source: Public Domain). The Silk Route challenges the fallacy of a so-called “Clash of Civilizations” – to the contrary, East and West have had extensive adaptive contacts since the dawn of history.

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New Course: The Silk Route-Origins and History

A new course by Kaveh Farrokh entitled “The Silk Route-Origins and History” is being offered at the University of British Columbia (final lecture on December 16, 2014):

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The lectures will be delivered at the Tapestry Center in the University of British Columbia’s Wesbrook Village. For information on registration, etc., kindly contact the University of British Columbia-Continuing Studies Division.

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Tajik girls celebrate the Iranian Nowruz (New Year) on March 21, 2014 in Dushanbe, Tajikestan.

Below is a synopsis of the course as delivered in the Class syllabus:

The origins and history of the east-west Silk Route that connected the empires of Asia, Central Asia, Persia and the Romano-Byzantine West, as well as the lesser-known north-south route that connected Persia, the Caucasus and East- Central Europe. Emphasis will be placed on the development and transfer of the arts, music, culture, mythology, cuisine, and militaria. The peoples of the Silk Route from China across Eurasia, Central Asia, Persia to Europe are also examined

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The curriculum and impetus of this course is the direct outcome of meetings with the Cultural Diplomacy’s Department of Traditions & Cultural History of the WAALM Academy based in London, England. WAALM is affiliated with the Academic Council On The United Nations System (ACUNS) and The International Peace Bureau. WAALM was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Kaveh Farrokh has been featured in WAALM’s Tribune Magazine (click here…).

silk painting

Chinese painting of Leizu (Xi Ling Shi) the ancient Chinese empress credited with inventing silk in c. 2700 BCE; she was the teenage wife of the Yellow Emperor Huangdi.

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The “Shir Dar” (Lion Gate/doorway) of the Islamic college at Samarkand built originally in 1627 (Nafīsī, 1949, p. 62). The sun motif is characterized by Kriwaczek (2002, picture Plate 1) as ”…the image of Mithra, the rising and unconquered sun, Zoroastrian intercessor between God and Humanity” (Courtesy of Kriwaczek, 2002).

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Chinese women produce silk in the 12th century CE.

Kyrgiz MusiciansKyrgyz musicians performing with traditional instruments. Hsiang-Nou races replaced Iranian speaking peoples of Central Asia; Despite this: These greatly assimilated the cultural and mythological traditions of their Iranic predecessors.

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One of ancient founding peoples of the Silk Route? Mummies bearing Caucasoid features uncovered in modern northwest China; these were either Iranic-speaking or fellow Indo-European Tocharian (proto-Celtic?). Archaeologists have found burials with similar Caucasoid peoples in ancient Eastern Europe. Much of the colors and clothing of the above mummies bear striking resemblance to the ancient dress of pre-Islamic Persia/Iran and modern-day Iranian speaking tribal and nomadic peoples seen among Kurds, Lurs, Persians, etc.  (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) – Diagram is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh). For more on this topic, see also here…

Archaeologists uncover Zoroastrian Links in Northwest China

The article below entitled “Excavation ‘very likely’ to redefine the Zoroastrianism’s origin” was published on August 12, 2014 by China’s CCTV network.

Three important notes the CCTV article fails to mention that:

  1. Iranian-speaking Persians, Medes, Saggarthians, Parthians, etc. themselves came onto the Iranian plateau from the Central Asian steppes, areas adjacent to the Pamir and northwest China regions. Those regions themselves were inhabited with Iranian speaking and fellow Indo-European Tocharian (or possibly proto-Celtic) peoples. These peoples were to be largely displaced by the later arrival of proto-Turkic and Hunnic peoples.
  2. It has been speculated for decades that proto-Zoroastrianism may have originated in the Central Asian regions and then bought to the Iranian plateau by Iranian speakers over 2500 years ago. Thus the title of the report “Excavation ‘very likely’ to redefine the Zoroastrianism’s origin” is somewhat sensationalist (if not misleading) as ancient Persia was itself part of a larger Iranic-civilization connected to Central Asia and much of Eastern Europe (through the Iranic-speaking Scythians and later Sarmatians).
  3. Several well-preserved mummies bearing Caucasoid features have been uncovered in northwest China (see pictures below) dated to the timelines of 2500 years past and older. The mummies bear clothing, headgear consistent with the dress of the ancient Medes, Persians, Parthians and Scythians-Saka (of Central Asia and ancient Russia-Ukraine).

Kindly note:

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Zoroastrianism was the state religion of the ancient Persian Empire. Its founder, Zoroaster, or Zarathustra, is thought to have been born in what is now Northeast Iran or Southwest Afghanistan. A 2004 survey by the Zoroastrian Associations of North America put the estimated number of believers worldwide at between 124,000 and 190,000.

UBC-Migrations-1Basic diagram outlining arrival of Iranian speaking peoples (Medes, Persians, Saggarthians) onto the Iranian plateau before the formation of the first Medo-Persian or Achaemenid Empire in 550-330 BCE. The red elliptical markings provide approximate areas where Iranian speaking peoples were located thousands of years ago. The diagram does not show the arrival of several other Iranian peoples such as the Parthians and other Saka peoples from Central Asia or the subsequent arrival of the Alans into northwest Iran in 75 CE (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) – Diagram is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh).

Now, archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. This unravelling is leading to startling controversial speculation about the religion’s origin.

On China’s sparsely populated Pamir Plateau, ancient people lived and battled, and created a marvelous civilization. These massive tombs, now being excavated, are the world’s earliest traces of the religion of Zoroastrianism found so far.

Zoroastrianism took form even before the rise of Persian Empire, which later adopted it as the state religion. The sun and fire are central to the religion, and the signs are found everywhere in the tombs.

Zarathustra-Tomb-China-2Archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. (Caption and Photo Source: Chinanews.com). As noted in the China News report: “This is a typical wooden brazier found in the tombs. Zoroastrians would bury a burning brazier with the dead to show their worship of fire. The culture is unique to Zoroastrianism…This polished stoneware found in the tombs is an eyebrow pencil used by ordinary ladies. It does not just show the sophistication of craftsmanship here over 2,500 years ago, but also demonstrates the ancestors’ pursuit of beauty, creativity and better life, not just survival. It shows this place used to be highly civilized”.

Today, most of the ancient glories lie in ruins. But the dig now offers a glimpse of what life here looked like over 25 centuries ago.

UBC-2-MigrationsMummies bearing Caucasoid features uncovered in modern northwest China; these were either Iranic-speaking or fellow Indo-European Tocharian (proto-Celtic?). Archaeologists have found burials with similar Caucasoid peoples in ancient Eastern Europe. Much of the colors and clothing of the above mummies bear striking resemblance to the ancient dress of pre-Islamic Persia/Iran and modern-day Iranian speaking tribal and nomadic peoples seen among Kurds, Lurs, Persians, etc.  (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) – Diagram is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh).

This is the biggest excavation of the tombs of Zoroastrianism here in Xinjiang’s history. Some archaeologists say the excavation is likely to prove that this religion is originated from the Pamir Plateau, right here beneath of our feet.

Zarathustra-Tomb-China-1Archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. (Caption and Photo Source: Chinanews.com). As noted in the China News report: All the evidence leads to one conclusion: Zoroastrianism originated in the east on China’s Pamir Plateau. To this day, archaeologists are still arguing over where the religion originated, but here, we have found the earliest and the largest scale of Zoroastrian ruins, with all the typical symbols of this religion. Of course, there’s the possibility that there are other undiscovered ruins elsewhere in the world. But at this moment, it’s a logical conclusion that the origin of the religion is here, not in Persia.” said Wu Xinhua, Xinjiang Director, Archaeological Inst., Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Logical, perhaps. Startling and controversial, certainly. And as the excavation continues, the Pamir Plateau is bound to yield more amazing discoveries.