Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms

The disappearing religions of the Middle East

A few months ago, most Americans had never heard of the Yazidi tribe in Iraq, a fact that would not have been surprising to the Yazidis themselves. An ethnic and religious minority in Iraq, they have been misunderstood for centuries. They number roughly 700,000 globally, with the majority living in northern Iraq. Ethnically they are mostly Kurdish, and religiously they are Christians who are known to worship Lucifer in the form of a peacock. And in August 2014, the world watched in horror as upwards of 40,000 Yazidis were trapped—and began dying of starvation and a lack of water—on top of Iraqi’s Mount Sinjar as they fled the Islamic State, a terrorist group who has been seizing parts of Iraq since June.

As demonstrated by this human rights crisis, the religious minorities of the Middle East are under threat today as never before. Yet most people are not even aware of their long and rich cultural existence. In his new book, HEIRS TO FORGOTTEN KINGDOMS: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East, Gerard Russell ventures to the remote regions where these mysterious religions—which represent the last vestiges of the magnificent ancient civilizations of Persia, Babylon, and Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs—still cling to survival. He sheds light on their fascinating past and ambiguous future, and in doing so, paints a exquisite portrait of cultures that have coexisted peacefully for millennia alongside the Muslim majorities in the Middle East.

Join New America for a discussion the current threats faced by minority groups in the Middle East.

Join the conversation online using #ForgottenHeirs and following @NatSecNAF.

forgottenheirs Copies of the book will be for available for sale at the event.


Gerard Russell
Author, HEIRS TO FORGOTTEN KINGDOMS: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East

Nadia Oweidat
Senior Fellow, New America


Peter Bergen
Director, International Security Program, New America