“The Turkish government knows we are here,” Aubrey protested.
“That may be just the problem,” she answered. “There are a lot of special interests in Turkey these days. Many want Assad of Syria to be deposed, and are helping the Syrian resistance. Others support the Assad regime for reasons of their own. Still others are sympathetic to the jihadists. And almost all the Turks hate the Kurds and resent their presence here. We don’t know which of these groups is coming and where its loyalty may lie. It may even be a Kurdish patrol, or a terror cell. We can’t take the risk. My people told me to provide you with every manner of support and cover, and that is what I intend to do.”
As she ushered them out of the office Angell whispered to Aubrey: “It’s a trap.”
“What do you mean?”
“The doctor. She told the man to warn Fahim, to get out of the camp and hide until we left.”
Aubrey raised an eyebrow. “She must know you speak Kurmanji.” Angell nodded. “She didn’t speak to him in Kurmanji, but in Farsi. The
Iranian language. No time to explain. If we want to find Fahim we have to
lose the doctor.”
They left the building, Aubrey following the doctor with two of his men, chatting loudly enough so that she thought they were all together. Instead, he made a signal to the driver and he and Angell split off from the rest and headed toward the Yezidi section of the camp where they saw the strange little man from before darting down a passageway.
The driver pointed in one direction and Angell went in the other, attempting to catch the little man in the middle. Angell jumped over a
puddle of foul-looking water that had been produced by a leaking water pump in the middle of the virtual street and almost slid in the mud before righting himself and turning a corner in the street of tents.
He heard a shout behind him, which was probably due to Doctor De Vries realizing that he had gone walkabout in her refugee camp. He kept running when he saw before him what had to be the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Maybe she wasn’t beautiful. Maybe it was only the juxtaposition of the squalor of a refugee camp and the unexpected bright, knowing blue eyes set within the angelic features of a Flemish painting with a half-smile that was pure Da Vinci, but nevertheless the vision was a shock. Distracted, he tripped on something and fell flat on his face in the mud.
He struggled to his feet, which is when he noticed that what he had tripped over was another man’s outstretched leg.
A voice spoke to him in Kurmanji.
“I am Fahim. I understand you are looking for me. Strange, for it is I who have been looking for you.”
They were all sitting in Fahim’s tent, on woven rugs that had been laid over plastic sheeting to keep out the damp. There was thick, hot coffee in tiny porcelain cups for which Angell was grateful since he had eaten little since leaving New York. He was also aware of the importance of this meeting, for it resembled a Diwan: a formal Yezidi community meeting. There were other men in attendance, sitting around the edges of the tent, silent and watchful. There were Kalashnikovs in evidence as well.
Once Angell had realized that the man who tripped him was the man he sought, he stood up and grasped his hand with his own. The others had come running and soon Angell and Fahim were surrounded by Aubrey and the security escort, as well as Doctor De Vries who was noticeably upset.
They sat and waited for the coffee to be poured, and then Fahim— seated farthest from the door as befitting his position—began to speak, first in Kurmanji for the benefit of the Yezidi elders and then in English for the benefit of his guests.
“You honor us with your visit, American friends. I am the mukhtar, the headman, of this community. I know the time is short, so I will dispense with formalities.” He looked around at his community and the men nodded, solemnly.
He then continued in English.
“We of the Daasin are an ancient people. We trace our origins to Sumer, a land that was older than Egypt, older than any other on the face of the Earth. Our capital was the city of Cutha or Kutu, the city of the Sumerian Underworld. Today that city is an archaeological site south of Baghdad.
“I worked at the Baghdad Museum at the time of the American invasion of 2003. I was one of the workers who rescued our priceless heritage by bringing artifacts to our homes and burying them where the soldiers and the rebels would not find them. Once the fighting stopped, we returned those artifacts to the museum. Many objects were lost. Those too big to carry off and some that simply didn’t survive the bombings.”
He was silent a moment, his eyes filled with sadness at the memory of ancient statues and cuneiform tablets turned to dust after having survived for more than four or five thousand years only to succumb to twenty-first century weaponry.
Aubrey was sitting a little behind Gregory Angell, and to the side. This was going to be Angell’s show for awhile, and Aubrey thought it best to sit it out and let the professor handle the questions. Doctor De Vries had joined the meeting initially, but decided the camp would be better served by her work elsewhere.
Outside Fahim’s tent the security detail stood guard.
“Our world is in danger of being destroyed, Professor. Not just the world of the Daasin, of the people you call the Yezidi, but the whole world. I was a curator at the Baghdad Museum. I was a student of history, like you. But what I see now is something very different. There is an uprising taking place throughout the Middle East, and its origin is in Mesopotamia.
“This is not a Muslim uprising, or a Kurdish uprising. It is not Sunni or Shi’a. It is not Yezidi or Nestorian or Assyrian or Alawi. Everyone is involved. Druze, Sufis, Samaritans, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Daesh, al-Nusra, the Peshmerga … these are groups that have serious differences with each other, separated by centuries of hatred and violence. Yet now they are united as one and no one in the West seems to understand that.”
Aubrey was paying very close attention to every word out of Fahim’s mouth. This was further confirmation of the chatter that had been detected the past several weeks or months. They were getting close to the truth, to
the source of the problem, and he wondered if the Yezidi leader would give it a name.
Angell, for his part, thought the old guy was half-mad. “What do you mean they are united as one?”
“I don’t mean they have buried their differences. No. That will never happen. What has taken place is something I have never seen before and which has only taken place once in our history, going back to the glorious days of Sumer and Babylon. No. What is happening now is that there is another group, a terror clan, operating underneath all of the others, inciting each one to greater and greater excesses of violence and bloodshed. These are not Muslims or Christians or any kind of religion or denomination we understand. They are more ancient than any of these, and yet perhaps the root of all. They glory in the torture and mutilation of women and children. In the execution of old men and young boys. They are idolaters and blasphemers.
“They are worshippers of the Lord of the Underworld, the Lord of the ancient city, Kutu.
“They are followers of the priest of the Underworld. In Arabic, his name is Al-Qhadhulu. In the old language: Kutulu.”
The spoken name hit the tent like a bomb. The old Yezidi men began murmuring among themselves as Aubrey sat back and breathed in the word like a confirmation of everything he and Monroe had been working on for decades.
Gregory Angell, however, was not amused.
“What the hell is this?” he asked Aubrey, turning to face him. “What
bullshit is this?”
Aubrey simply shook his head, a sad smile on his face like the memory of an old foe.
“It’s no bullshit. At least, not to the men sitting here. And not to the millions of people who are now on the verge of changing the whole world, pawns of this underground—underworld—cult.”
Fahim noticed Angell’s disbelief and apparent distress, and reached over to touch his arm.
“You are Professor Gregory Angell. Of Providence?” Angell nodded.
“You are of the same family as George Angell, also a professor, a century ago?”
“Yes, I am a member of the Angell family. I am a descendant of George Angell.”
Fahim bowed his head, and then looked up.
“George Angell knew my grandfather. They spoke together many times, in the old days. Before the Great War. Before I was born. He visited my family at Lalish. He was welcome.”
Fahim managed a smile, gesturing at his poor tent and shabby furnishings.
“And now you are welcome.”
“I didn’t know George Angell had visited your people. He would have been … what, in his seventies by then?”
“Oh, yes. He was here at the time of Woolley and Lawrence. My family helped them to find the old places, the buried cities of our ancestors. Carchemish is near here, near the town of Jarabulus, in Syria, which attracted many archaeologists in those days. Famous names, like Hogarth and Thompson. Your ancestor knew them all. But it was while he was at Ur with Woolley in 1922 that he learned of the existence of the Book.”
The Book. The reason he was there in the first place. Maybe he would find out what the old man knew and then he could get out of Turkey and back to his apartment in Red Hook. But what he had said just now did not ring true. If George Angell had visited Iraq in 1922, that would have made him eighty-eight years old, only four short years before his death. What was the old professor doing traveling around the world at that age?
As if sensing his guest’s disbelief, Fahim tried to explain.
“Your ancestor had been consulting for a police department in your country. There was a forbidden religious ceremony of some kind in your state of Louisiana. I believe this was before the Woolley expedition to Carchemish. There were artifacts found at the site of the ceremony, including an idol. George Angell recognized them as Mesopotamian in origin. The Sumerian tablets had been discovered not long before, and there was a great deal of excitement over them. Professor Angell was one of those who were involved in the translation efforts. He came to understand that there was a Sumerian connection to the idol and the other
artifacts from the Louisiana site. He knew we trace our origins to Sumer. He visited my grandfather to see what could be learned about that culture.”
Angell shook his head vigorously, as if trying to dislodge a mosquito or a bad dream.
“Do you mean to tell me that the people worshipping in the swamps outside New Orleans were Yezidis?”
Fahim looked startled at the suggestion.
“Oh, no. Of course not! That is what I am trying to explain. We of the Daasin are protectors of the ancient knowledge. We are guardians. We are servants of God. The others … those whom you seek … they are demoniacs. They worship the Lord of Death. Our people have guarded the entrance to the Underworld for thousands of years. To keep it sealed. Closed forever, until the Last Days when the dead will rise and smell the incense.”
He leaned forward, his forehead almost touching Angell’s own, as he whispered:
“The others want to open that entrance. They want to open the Gate.
That is why they want the Book.”
While the Yezidis had a reputation as devil-worshippers—an idea promoted by travelers to the region and, in the twentieth century, publicized by such adventure authors as William Seabrook in a book published in 1927 that claimed there was a chain of “seven towers of Satan” stretching across Kurdistan and as far as Tibet and Mongolia—the association was ill-founded. There were those who disagreed, of course, and who would see their reverence for a “Peacock Angel” as de facto evidence of idolatry or some other form of satanic practice. And then their shrines, with their bas-reliefs of a serpent rising up from the ground at the entranceways, gave rise to more speculation.
And then there was the Black Book.
The sacred scripture of the Yezidis has never been seen by those outside the sect. There are writers who have claimed to have seen it, and there have been several published versions of it, but it is generally understood today that none of these “sightings” and publications represent the actual Black Book.
What Fahim was talking about, however, had nothing to do with the Yezidi Black Book.
The Yezidis are divided into clans or tribes. Some of these are hostile to each other, reflecting old grievances. Others are more geographically- based, with some clans native to Turkey, others to Syria, Iraq, and even Armenia. The clan represented by Fahim was a group that was formerly based in Mosul, near Nineveh, but which now floated between Mosul, Baghdad, Lalish, and Sinjar. This focus on moving between the ancient sites is a key characteristic of Fahim’s clan, which is seen as an anomaly among the Yezidi tribes that have stronger ties to a specific place. The geography of Fahim’s clan was, in a sense, multi-dimensional. They represented a line of priesthood that extended back into the mists of history, back to the original Sumerian city-states, and their development was a response to a hideous threat that had the potential to destroy every human being on the planet.
The stories are hinted at in the Sumerian religious and historical corpus, those fragments that have survived. Texts like the Enuma Elish and the Atra Hasis: broken tablets in cuneiform, pieced together by myopic wizened researchers in the cramped basements of the world’s universities, texts missing beginnings, endings … the Epic of Gilgamesh with its humanoid hero and its battle with Humwawa … and muttered tales of the ponderous, monstrous being that desired nothing but the slaughter of innocents on the Earth, and especially of the priesthood that was created to deny it victory; the imprisonment of its agents in the Underworld: a cavern deep beneath the Sumerian city of Cutha…
… and the Book that was written by an apostate, a man who had divined the secrets of Cutha and of the Being that dwelled in the vastness beneath it. The spy from Yemen who found himself trapped in Mesopotamia when the armies under the Prophet arrived to destroy the temples and smash the idols. The Prophet, whose tribe had its origins itself in Cutha. The tribe that had been in charge of the temple complex in Mecca, the great stone Ka’aba: the tribe of the Quraish.