The death of leading Yazidi figure Prince Tahseen Said Ali has left a void in the beleaguered community that no one can fill, members of the religious minority have said following his funeral in the holy town of Lalish in Iraq last week.
After Prince Tahseen died aged 85 in Germany last Monday following a lengthy illness, thousands of mourners descended on the mountain valley in northern Iraq that is home to the religion's most holy site to pay their respects to the man who led their community for over 75 years.
Men dressed in white accompanied the funeral cortege playing flutes and drums as burning incense filled the air. Afterwards mourners approached the grave one by one to lay a flower or kiss a portrait depicting the prince.
His death has left the community leaderless while it is still reeling from the sufferings inflicted on it by ISIS, Faris Keti told The National.
Mr Keti served as an adviser to Prince Tahseen and the Highest Yazidi Spiritual Council and said the prince left behind an indelible legacy, including ensuring the religion was enshrined in Iraq's 2005 constitution. “He gained respect by influencing and forcing the Iraqi government to build schools and support the education process in Yazidi areas," Mr Keti said.
A religious community of perhaps 850,000 adherents, many of whom historically lived around Sinjar mountain in northern Iraq, the Yazidi faith combines elements of various ancient Middle Eastern religions. Its followers pray facing the sun and worship seven angels – first among them Melek Taus, or Peacock Angel. They do not have a holy book.
Extremist group ISIS viewed the religion as heretical and when it overran large parts of Iraq in 2014 singled out Yazidis as apostates. Thousands of Yazidis were killed in what the UN commission described as a genocide against the group. According to authorities, more than 6,400 Yazidis were abducted by ISIS, only half of whom have subsequently escaped and returned home. The fate of the others remains unknown.
Prince Tahseen was born in 1933 in Iraq’s northwest Sheikhan district and was appointed head of the Yazidi community at age 11 after the death of his father.
Prince Tahseen, who lived for many years in Germany, home to a large Yazidi expatriate community, campaigned tirelessly for the persecution of his people by ISIS to be declared a genocide.
The community was centred in territories sandwiched between Arab and Kurdish areas, leading to frequent tensions. “The prince played a vital role in balancing the situation between the two sides of conflict,” Mr Keti said.
A significant step taken by Prince Tahseen was to declare that Yazidi women who were abducted and raped by ISIS fighters would not be excommunicated and any children born would be recognised as Yazidi.
“His response was magnificent, showing as it did the grandeur of his thinking and the practical nature of his life,” said Baroness Emma Nicholson, who chairs the AMAR International Charitable Association which has provided health and education support to the Yazidis.
“The great generosity of spirit was a golden thread throughout his lifetime of service to his beloved people,” Baroness Nicholson said.
He is survived by his son, Prince Hasim and grandson Prince Diar.