Accepted Paper:

Deported and Exiled Peacock Angels - Yezidi holy objects between concealment and orientalism  


Maria Six-Hohenbalken (Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

Yezidis experienced persecutions and violent expulsions from their original settlement areas in the last decades. Sacred places were destroyed, holy objects hidden for decades or taken to exile. European museums and collections possess Peacock figurines, assuming to symbolize the Divinity.

Paper long abstract:

Yezidism is a monotheist religion based on Old Iranian religious thoughts with connections to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The religious practice is characterized by oral transmission and orthopraxy.

Because of violent persecutions in the original settlement areas in the East of the Ottoman Empire and forced conversions, Yezidis were enforced to practice their religion in disguise. In the Yezidi religion the Peacock Angel is the most important manifestation of God and the leading character of the Yezidi Trinity. At the end of the 19th century, seven Peacock Figurines were circulating in the Yezidi community, but some were lost due to violent expulsions. During WWI Yezidi experienced genocidal persecution, which is until today hardly documented. Refugees who could save themselves brought also one figurine to Armenia. Due to the Soviet regime, these holy objects were kept in secrecy for over decades.

Within the Orientalist approaches, Yezidis were one of the most exotified religious communities in the Middle East. Figurines depicting a peacock gained special attention of travelers and scholars, arguing that these are THE Yezidi Peacocks, representing the Divine. During my research about the persecutions of the Yezidis a century ago, I came across a private collection comprising two Yezidi Peacock Angels. An Austrian soldier, was inserted in the Ottoman Empire during World War I brought these figurines to Vienna. This private collection reflects that Austrian soldiers in the Ottoman Empire during WWI were bystanders in conflict and had knowledge about the Yezidi persecution, although it is silenced in official documents.

Panel P015
Breaking the Silence: Heritage Objects and Cultural Memory