Armenian News Network / Groong October 11, 2006 These interviews form part of research on the division within Armenia's Yezidi community regarding identity and reports that some Yezidi schools are refusing to accept new school text books printed in Cyrillic and a language recognized by the Armenian Government as `Yezideren' or `Ezdiki.' ONNIK KRIKORIAN YEREVAN ARMENIA Hasan Tamoyan, Deputy President, National Union of Yezidis, member of the National Minority Council, and Head of Yezidi language programs on Armenian Public Radio. ONNIK KRIKORIAN: What is your opinion on the division within the Yezidi community? Some Yezidis say they are Kurds while others say they're not. HASAN TAMOYAN: This is not something that can be discussed in five minutes. If you really want the answer to this question we can meet to discuss this in more detail. OK: I've been working on this issue for eight years and have already interviewed many people on both sides of the debate from Aziz Tamoyan and Garnik Asatrian to Amarik Sardar and Karlene Chachani so I know what the background is. What I want to do now is ask two very specific questions. HT: I don't think you know [about the background to this issue], and if you have been touching this issue for eight years is it difficult for you to come to meet with us? OK: A little as I have a deadline and I've met and interviewed Aziz Tamoyan [Hasan Tamoyan's President] twice before. Besides, there is really only one specific issue that I want to raise with you. That is, there are reports that new textbooks written in `Ezdiki' and Cyrillic are being refused by schools in some Yezidi villages. HT: I want to repeat that if you really want to find out about this problem you will find the time to come and meet with me. OK: Is it possible to do this over this weekend? HT: Tomorrow? OK: Okay. * * * * * Knyaz Hassanov, Head of Kurdish Community in Armenia, member of the National Minority Council and Kurdistan Committee. ONNIK KRIKORIAN: You're a Moslem Kurd? KNYAZ HASSANOV: Yes. OK: But you represent both Moslem Kurds and Yezidis living in Armenia? KH: Yes. OK: What is your opinion on the fact that some Yezidis consider themselves [ethnic] Kurds while others do not? KH: The overwhelming majority consider themselves [ethnic] Kurds. This issue is one of concern to us, but it is not so worrying as the number of Yezidis who don't consider themselves Kurds is quite small. All over the world the Yezidis consider themselves as Kurds, so if 1-2,000 Yezidis [in Armenia] do not consider themselves as such it's not significant enough of an issue. It's also their human right. OK: I was recently in Tbilisi and spoke to Rostom Atashov, representative of many of the Yezidis in Georgia. There doesn't seem to be any such division there so Why is there one in Armenia? KH: Yezidism is a religion and because of this some Yezidis they are from a different nation. However, it's just a religion. OK: From speaking to some visiting academics researching Yezidis in Armenia as well as hearing reports from some [Yezidi] villages, it would appear that some [Yezidi] schools are refusing to accept textbooks supplied the Armenian Government written in `Ezdiki.' Have you also heard about this? KH: Not some, but many. Out of 12 [Yezidi] villages in Aragatsotn, only 1 has accepted these textbooks. The rest are not using them and nor do they accept them. OK: I'm right in thinking that these books are written in the Cyrillic script? KH: The books are in Cyrillic with some changes. OK: What about content? KH: Because I don't accept those books I have not read them, and nor do I want to see them again. OK: I spoke to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) about these books today and they don't appear to be concerned because no complaint has been made about them. If they are such a problem why haven't you raised the issue with them? KH: Because that side of the Yezidi community in Armenia has applied for these books and we have decided to publish our own. Therefore, these books do not concern us. They are not important. * * * * * Hranush Kharatyan, Head of the Department of National Minority & Religious Affairs in the Armenian Government. ONNIK KRIKORIAN: I know that UNICEF and the Armenian Government have prepared a study on National Minority Education. When will the report be ready? HRANUSH KHARATYAN: That report is ready and it should be available in electronic format on the Armenian Government web site. [Groong Note: Despite searching on http://www.gov.am/, the report appears to be unavailable] OK: On the matter of education, there have been reports that a number of Yezidi villages are refusing to accept school textbooks written in `Ezdiki' and the Cyrillic script. Have you received any complaints regarding this, and are these reports true? HK: I haven't received any complaints, but I have also heard these reports and we are planning to introduce monitoring of the introduction of these books. However, I have also heard rumors as to who is organizing the refusal of these books. OK: Who is that? HK: Charkaze Mstoyan. OK: So, the Kurdistan Committee? HK: I think so. OK: We know that there is a division in the Yezidi community regarding whether they are Kurds or not, but we don't know how many Yezidis support one side or the other. Isn't it time for the Armenian Government to closely examine this issue or do you think still that there should be no interference? HK: Our department is already researching this issue, but the Government is convinced that the State should not interfere with regards to the issue of ethnic identity. There are problems within the Yezidi and Kurdish communities, and there are problems in every community. OK: But how do you define the Kurdish community? For example, I've been told that many of the 1,519 Kurds identified in the 2001 census were Moslem Kurds. At the same time, there were people who identified themselves first as Yezidis, but who also consider themselves ethnic Kurds, included in the 40,621 Yezidis identified by the 2001 census. Therefore, when you talk of the Kurdish community in Armenia, what exactly do you mean, and who are you referring to? HK: The census did not use the term Moslem Kurds and people who consider themselves Kurds in Armenia also follow the Yezidi religion. Maybe they feel more Kurdish and it's their right to do so. When I talk about the Kurdish community I mean first of all the Kurdistan Committee and their supporters, or those people who during our research as well as the census identified themselves as Kurds. OK: Yet, I was recently in Armavir and went to a Yezidi wedding where there must have been about 300 or 400 [Yezidi] guests. Representatives of the Kurdistan Committee, including four members of the PKK from Turkey and Syria, were also there. They were singing pro-Kurdistan and pro-Ocalan songs and all of the Yezidis, who identify themselves first as Yezidis but also acknowledge their Kurdish roots, were dancing quite passionately to this music. When you use the term `Yezidi' doesn't this ignore the fact that there are those who identify themselves as such, but who also consider themselves to be Kurds. HK: That's their right. OK: Aren't the results of the 2001 census being used to prove that Yezidis are a separate ethnic minority? Isn't this a problem? HK: Even Armenians sing songs about Ocalan. During the census people were asked about their ethnicity and they answered either `Yezidi' or `Kurd.' That's what was counted. I don't consider it possible to culturally consider someone's ethnicity. * * * * * Torgom Khudoyan, Vice-President of National Committee of Yezidi of Armenia. ONNIK KRIKORIAN: How long has your organization been in existence? TORKOM KHUDOYAN: Eight years. OK: And where do most of the Yezidis you represent live? TK: In the Aragatsotn and Armavir regions as well as Artashat and other places. OK: Which villages in the Aragatsotn region? Alagyaz, Riya Taza... TK: Alagyaz is a little Kurdish-orientated, but these are also our people and our nation. They explain that their religion is Yezidi, but their ethnicity is Kurdish. We say our religion is Yezidi, but we are also Yezidi by ethnicity. However, we are same nation. OK: And what do you say about language? TK: It's the same language. OK: It's Kurmanji Kurdish? TK: It's the same language. OK: What about the issue of school textbooks written in `Ezdiki,' which most people consider to be Kurmanji, and the fact that it's written in Cyrillic script? Are you happy about that? TK: Aziz Tamoyan did this for money. It's a shame. It's a shame. It's a shame. OK: So what is your organization going to do about it? Are you concerned that there are now [Yezidi] schools without new textbooks because of this? TK: These books are a shame and we don't want to have this rubbish. OK: So what script do you believe Kurmanji should be written in? TK: Latin. It's easier to express in Latin. However, we publish a newspaper, Lalish, once a month in Armenian. OK: Do you have links with Yezidis in Georgia? TK: No, but they used to call themselves Kurds until Ocalan was captured and now they call themselves Yezidis. OK: When I spoke to Yezidis in Georgia they said they have very close links with the Regional Government in Iraqi Kurdistan. Given that the Yezidi spiritual center is in Lalish, do you also have links? TK: No, but we have links with Yezidis there. * * * * * PKK Member from Turkey working for the Kurdistan Committee in Armavir who wished to remain anonymous to safeguard her family [in Turkey]. Q: When was this center established? A: Two years ago. Q: And you've been in charge of it since then? A: Yes. I'm Director of the [Kurdistan Committe] Office in Hoktemberian [Armavir]. Q: There are about 40 villages inhabited by Yezidis in this region? A: Approximately, yes. Q: What sort of activities does this center engage in? A: We're mainly here for cultural activities and raising awareness among people. Of course, we're not the only ones visiting villages and talking to people. Aziz Tamoyan does as well, but our main interest is in bringing people together regardless of what they believe and whether they think they're Yezidis or Kurds. It's a small community so we should all stay together and support each other. Because many Yezidis go to Armenian shcools [in jointly populated villages] there are no Kurdish language classes or anything about their culture so they can come to us instead. We teach them about their background, their history, their ancestors, their culture, and their language. Q: When you first arrived in Armenia what were your first impressions regarding the Yezidi-Kurdish division? A: When my colleagues first arrived and came to this region they said that it was quite difficult at first. However, now it's easier, but the main problem is instead one of migration. Most people are leaving and now its mainly old people and children that remain. Anyway, even those people who say they are not Kurds but Yezidis are sympathetic to the PKK. Whenever you mention Abdullah Ocalan... Q: It seems a bit strange not to recognize their Kurdish identity, but to support Ocalan and the PKK. A: Some people might not say they are Kurds for whatever reason - some don't want to say while others don't believe they are - but when it comes to Abdullah Ocalan they are very enthusiastic. Maybe it's because of his struggle against the Turkish Government because nobody likes the Turks here. Remember, many Yezidis here ran away from persecution and inhuman acts in [Ottoman] Turkey. However, the main reason for this division is that most people refer to themselves by their religion and not by their identity. However, when you talk to them about their history and their origins they have the same opinion as Moslem Kurds. I've only met three or four people in the past two years who have said they are Yezidis, their our religion is Sharfadin, and that they have nothing to do with the Kurds. The majority believe that they are Kurds. Q: Yesterday's wedding was an example of that, perhaps. There were songs about Yezidis and Sharfadin, but the Kurdistan Committee was invited and [Moslem] Kurds [from Turkey and Syria] sang pro-PKK and pro-Ocalan songs in Kurmanji. A: And the Yezidis themselves sung songs about Kurdistan and Abdullah Ocalan. Besides, Sharfadin is not something new and the first song sung by the PKK on Roj TV was about it. This is also sung by our members [PKK] and Yezidikhana has two connotations. One is Yezidism and the other is `Home of Yezidis.' This doesn't mean that these people don't consider themselves to be Kurds. They do consider themselves to be Kurds, but their religion is also very important to them. Sharfadin means a religion honoured by God. Q: This portrait of Yusuf Avdoyan [on the wall] is very interesting. Can you briefly tell me who he was? A: He was a Yezidi from the Arazap village in the Armavir region, and one of his sisters is also a PKK member in Turkey. Seven PKK members were killed by chemical weapons in Batman last year, and Yusuf Avdoyan was one of them. -- Onnik Krikorian is a freelance journalist from the United Kingdom living and working in the Republic of Armenia for various international and local organizations and publications. He has a blog from Armenia http://oneworld.blogsome.com.
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