Simon Crook asked: ‘Any info on Baba Yadgar’s shrine (main holy site of Ahl-e Haqq sect)? This [YPG Bim] tweet doesn’t look good [though it may have been misattributed]’. The photo is real, but of a different site at a different time, and at some point someone knew that, because it was an official Islamic State photograph. Someone removed the Islamic State caption that identified it.
[Update: Do not use this. The reference to Suleymaniyah was a false lead. The Shrine of Baba Yadgar is in Tel Leben – and there is no evidence that it has been destroyed there, either.]
On the 23rd of August, (Syrian Kurdish paramilitary) YPG News had reported, ‘ISIS blew up the holy pilgrimage site/shrine of Mohammed’s descendant Baba Yadgar[/Yadegar/Yadigar] [Işid Kakayî’lerin kutsal mekanı olan Seyid Baba Yadgar Ziyaretini patlayıcılarla havaya uçurdu]’. As I will show, Turkish news had reported it the day before.
The pass of Zardah
Crook said in an apologetic tone that the ‘[o]nly other (very old) info’ he had was ‘that Sir H. Rawlinson said the shrine was in “the pass of Zardah“‘. But that was the key piece of information.
Wadi Kali Zardah (1) is ‘a valley or ravine, bounded by relatively steep banks’ in Sulaimaniya/Sulaymaniyah.
[Update (10th September 2014): The ever-attentive Simone Muehl has got in touch. ‘The position of the Zardah mentioned by Rawlinson is in Iran not in Sulaymaniyah province. There is no shrine in that pass which is now flooded by the Darband-i Khan Dam, also not on the mountains above. The feature described by Rawlinson also is not a shrine, but a fortress.’]
The pass itself does not appear on Google Maps, but Jabal Zahrdah does, and it is in Sulaymaniyah. Panoramio, too, places Zardah in Suleymaniyah, so I believe that it is the same place. To be precise, it is south-east of Sulaymaniyah, north-west of Halabja, north-east of Darbandikhan/Derbendîxan and south-west of Khurmal. As far as I know, it is not in Islamic State territory and never has been.
The abode of Elias in Suleymaniyah or the shrine of Khider al-Elias in Ninawa?
So, how was this false information produced? When I found Zardah, I found this: ‘The tomb of Bábá Yádgár, in the pass of Zardah, is their holy place; and this, at the time of the Arab invasion of Persia, was regarded as the abode of Elias.’ The Shia shrine of Khider al-Elias in Tal Afar, which is also venerated by Christians and Yezidis, was destroyed on the 25th of June. Tal Afar is in Ninawa/Nineveh. It’s a long way away.
Have people misunderstood or manipulated those reports? Have they mixed up the name, Yezidi veneration and other material to produce a new claim of destruction? It is very convoluted, but it seems like the only way to explain the claim that somewhere deep in Kurdish territory had been destroyed by the Islamic State. The ultimate source of the propaganda photo may corroborate that process.
The shrine of Khider al-Elias or the shrine of Arnaout/ar-Mamout?
As Jones showed in his translation and analysis, the Islamic State’s promotional brochure from that time also advertised the destruction of the Shrine of Arnaout/ar-Mamout. That is the site in the Islamic State’s photos that has been mistaken for, or misrepresented as, the shrine of Baba Yadgar.
Corroboration of the process of the corruption of evidence
Likewise, the evidence of the destruction of the Mosque of Imam Saad bin Aqeel in Tal Afar, which came from the same Islamic State advertising campaign, was repurposed as evidence that the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham has blown up the shrine of Baba Yadgar [Irak Şam İslam Devleti… Baba Yadigar’ın türbesini havaya uçurdu]’.
From propaganda to propaganda
Indeed, these processes of manipulation had begun immediately. Within a day, the paired photos had been shorn of their boastful notes and repurposed as incitements to the defence of holy places.
As Crook concluded, ‘I now understand why various reports [start] with “It has not been confirmed that x has been blown up…”‘
1: Wadi Kali Zardah is also known as Cham-e Kand Zard, Cham-e Kand-e Zard, Cham-ē Kand-ē Zard, Wadi Kali Zardah, Wādī Kalī Zardah, chm knd zrd, wady kly zrdh, وادي كلي زرده, چم کند زرد.