The Yazidis are of Kurdish stock but are distinguished by their unique religious fusion of elements of paganism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam. They live in small and isolated groups, mostly in the Sinjar Mountains west of Mosul. They are impoverished cultivators and herdsmen who have a strictly graded religiopolitical hierarchy and tend to maintain a more closed community than other ethnic or religious groups. Historically, they have been subject to sharp persecution owing to their heretical beliefs and practices.
The Turkomans, who are believed to constitute somewhat less than 2 percent of the population, are village dwellers in the northeast living along the border between the Kurdish and Arab regions. A number of Turkomans live in the city of Irbil. The Turkomans, who speak a Turkish dialect, have preserved their language but are no longer tribally organized. Most are Sunnis who were brought in by the Ottomans to repel tribal raids. These early Turkomans were settled at the entrances of the valleys that gave access to the Kurdish areas. This historic pacification role has led to strained relations with the Kurds. By 1986 the Turkomans numbered somewhere around 222,000 and were being rapidly assimilated into the general population.
The Assyrians are considered to be the third largest ethnic minority in Iraq. Although official Iraqi statistics do not refer to them as an ethnic group, they are believed to represent about 133,000 persons or less than 1 percent of the population. Descendants of ancient Mesopotamian peoples, they speak Aramaic. The Assyrians live mainly in the major cities and in the rural areas of northeastern Iraq where they tend to be professionals and businessmen or independent farmers. They are Christians, belonging to one of four churches: the Chaldean (Uniate), Nestorian, Jacobite or Syrian Orthodox, and the Syrian Catholic.
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