Awat Hussamaddin Tayib, the chief of the followers of the Zoroastrians in the Kurdistan Region—she calls it Bashur, Southern Kurdistan, in Kurdish—told Rudaw English that dozens of Kurdish people are returning to Zoroastrianism, but that some keep it secret out of fear.
Zoroastrianism was a dominant religion in the region that was largely lost following two major historical military campaigns, Tayib explained, one during the time of Alexander the Great and the other during the Islamic campaign which brought much of present-day Middle East under Islamic rule in the seventh century.
Today, some followers of Zoroastrianism are afraid to publicly practice their religion.
The war against the Islamic State, Tayib said, is on the Kurdistan border. She fears that some Islamists might not be happy about the rise of her religion.
The Zoroastrians opened their first temple in the Kurdish city of Suleimani on Wednesday. They lit a fire and played the frame drum or daf to celebrate the occasion, two elements of their rituals.
Tayib takes pride in her religion because she can, like her male counterpart, run the affairs of her fellow Zoroastrians “without any gender discrimination.” In our religion, she explained, we only talk about human beings, and humans by nature do not recognize gender roles.
Tayib, who was living in Europe until four years ago, is the representative of the Zoroastrians at the Kurdistan Region’s ministry of religious affairs. She assumed the position after Zoroastrians received official recognition in 2015.
Zoroastrianism is an ancient religion which grew to popularity in present-day Iran and some parts of Iraq and then spread to the rest of the world.
Zoroastrians are best known by their religious motto “Good Thoughts, Good Acts, and Good Deeds”. They believe in one God, that the world is divided between the good, represented by fire or light in their rituals, and the devil, and a day of judgement.
Many of its adherents in Kurdistan believe the founder of the religion, Zoroaster or Zardasht as it is called in Kurdish, was a Kurd and he spoke a variation of Kurdish language called Avesta.
Kurdish Zoroastrians believe that the Kurdish dialect of Hawrami, still widely spoken in Kurdish areas in Iran and Iraq, has many similarities to the ancient language.
Hawramis believe that the language has remained largely intact due to the limited contact they had with the outside world. Their mountainous areas kept them safe from foreign rule for much of their history.
Tayib said Avesta language is faced with extinction. She does not speak the language but, in an effort to preserve the language, she and members of her congregation are studying it.
Tayib could not give an exact number of Zoroastrians in the Kurdistan Region as some followers do so only secret for “their own safety or social considerations,” but she estimated it could be in the hundreds of thousands.
A 2006 report by the New York Times put the number of Zoroastrians worldwide at 190,000 at the most.
More photos from Sartip Osman of Wednesday’s opening celebration can be seen here.