Armenian News Network / Groong June 9, 1998 By Onnik Krikorian Dr. Karlene Chachani is a Yezidi living in Yerevan, Armenia. He is President of the Department of the Kurdish Writers of the Writers' Union of Armenia, and Chief Editor of "Friendship" - an Armenian-Kurdish political Journal. This interview was conducted by Onnik Krikorian during research undertaken in June for the Kurdish Human Rights Project investigating the situation of the Yezidi minority within the Republic of Armenia. As such, it forms part of a series of interviews with Yezidi, Kurdish and Armenian representatives. A report on the situation of minorities within the Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan, with a focus on the Kurds, will be published this year by the Kurdish Human Rights Project. OK: I would just like to say that the Yezidi community in Armenia is culturally fascinating, which is one of the areas I would like to focus on, but it was Jackie Abrahamian's essays on the Yezidi in Armenia that made me aware of what you consider an important issue - that is, the definition of Yezidi or Yezidi-Kurd. I would very much like your opinion on that, especially having already interviewed Garnik Asatrian yesterday, and having listened to his opinion that the Yezidi are in fact a separate nation. KC: Garnik Asatrian is one of my best friends, and to celebrate his 45th birthday I published an article on his life and work in my journal ["Friendship"] but especially on Yezidi issues - on the ideology - and on many scientific issues we are in disagreement. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new Armenian Government, headed by the All-Armenian Movement Party, co-operated with other political forces to initiate a policy - a movement - to declare the existence of the Yezidi as a separate minority within Armenia. The movement included individuals such as Aziz Tamoyan and Sheik Hassan and others. They became "volunteer" leaders of this new movement; a movement which has no scientific basis, and which is fascilitated by anti-scientific ideas. They tried to prove that the Yezidi are a separate nationality. As far as I am aware, Garnik Asatrian has changed his opinion on this matter. Now he has joined another Party - Dashnakutuune - and has been a member for two years already. Garnik Asatrian has opened a special group in Yerevan State University, Twenty to twenty-five young Armenian students are studying Kurdish language, Kurdish history and Kurdish issues. I welcome Garnik Asatrian's initiative. He also has plans to open a degree course - a Masters - in Kurdology. Garnik Asatrian speaks of the strategic and political development in the study of the Kurdish question in Armenia at a University level, but there is not even one word on Yezidi issues. This is my personal opinion on this problem. The Kurds as an ethnic group have diversities in terms of worship. Some are Moslem, some are Zaza, and some are Yezidi. They are ethnically Kurdish, but have different worship groups. To make a worship group into a separate nation has no scientific basis. There is no "Yezdistan" as a country, no Yezdi language - there is "Kurdistan" and the Kurdish language with all of its dialects. The Kurds are fighting a national liberation struggle in Turkey, as you know, headed by Apo - Abdullah Ocalan [Chairman of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)]. All layers of Kurdish ethnic nationality are included, Yezidis as well. There is a Kurdish Parliament functioning outside of our geographical motherland that is considered to be the most democratic Parliament in the world. The members of the Parliament are all Kurds but belong to different worship groups. There are Yezidi parliamentarians. OK: What do you feel is the motivation behind the promotion of a separate Yezidi identity? KC: The collapse of the Soviet Union promoted revolution - this was a revolution. During all revolutions, people and interested groups are promoted that are trying to defend some causes for the sake of their own benefit, and for the sake of their own interests. In the words of an Armenian proverb, these people were "trying to catch fish in dirty water". This cause was created on a false basis, and the people interested in the promotion of the Yezidi issue were false nationalists. This was not done in the interests of Armenians, in the interests of Armenia, or in the interests of the Kurds. This was just a falsely created cause to create a so-called national minority issue in Armenia. I also think we can already see the involvement of external forces, mainly from Iraq and Turkey where Kurdish problems are very acute, in the interest of creating a Yezidi issue in Armenia to provoke two groups of the same ethnic nationality, Yezidi and Kurds, against each other. To see the reason why some of those of Kurdish ethnicity declared themselves as a separate Yezidi ethnicity, we have to see the roots in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabagh. When the conflict started, refugees appeared - Azerbaijanis left from Armenia, and Armenians left from Azerbaijan as a result of inter-ethnic conflict. Azerbaijanis are Moslem, and amongst them there were mixed marriages with Moslem Kurds, actually who are Yezidi. These people left Armenia, not because of persecution from Armenians because they were Kurds, but because they were married to Azerbaijanis. Those that did not want to leave Armenia, but wanted to stay here, were afraid. They were fearful that Armenians might remember 1915 - the Armenian Genocide - when, together with the Turkish Army, Kurds participated in the genocide of Armenians, and that there might be attempts to take revenge on the Kurdish population here. Instead, many declared themselves a separate ethnic identity that had always had close ties with Armenians, and who always defended the Armenian cause, fighting besides Armenians for liberation. During this revolutionary period, many representatives of Kurdish nationalities and many Armenian scientists spoke through the mass media, trying to show people that this was a falsely created problem, and trying to show people that they should not give way to fear, and that this was provoked by some interest groups. We managed to calm down people, and there are Moslem Kurds in Armenia who live in peace with the Armenians, and they are very happy with the conditions that the Armenian government has created here. There is no discrimination at all. They live better than in some layers within Armenian society. OK: How many Moslem Kurds are left in Armenia? KC: About 5,000. OK: And what extent of Armenia's 50,000 Yezidi community consider themselves to be Kurdish, and what extent feel themselves to be a separate ethnic identity? KC: I have said already that this is an artificial problem raised by some interest groups. However, this artificial movement has already received some followers. I am a scientist following this issue. I have a PhD degree, and based on scientific research I want to assert that in Armenia we do not have Yezidi as a separate nationality. We have Yezidi-Kurd. OK: But I have spoken to one Yezidi family in Armenia who categorically state that they are in no way related to the Kurds, and actually - and they used the word - feel hatred towards the Kurds. They certainly considered themselves part of a separate Yezidi nationality. KC: I want to assure you again and again that this is an artificial problem, Those people that assert that they are not Yezidi-Kurds, but are Yezidi as an ethnic group, are trying to dance under the pipe of some musician. You have a chance to visit eleven Yezidi villages in Alagatz, and you will see that everyone from a child to an elderly person will assert that they are Yezidi-Kurd. OK: The Yezidi family I met that felt itself to be part of a separate Yezidi nation showed me the newspaper "Voice of Yezidi". In it there were photographs of Yezidi fedayi from Armenia that fought alongside Armenians in Karabagh, and I have heard that it was the Yezidi that were ferocious in the attempts to clear the Moslem Kurds from Kelbajar and Lachin during 1992-3. KC: I do not reject what you say. It is true, but this side by side strugle in Karabagh was not undertaken by Yezidi as a separate nation, but by Armenians and Yezidi-Kurds. The struggle against Azerbaijan is a recent movement, but it also dates back many centuries. It goes back to many years ago when Armenians and Kurds initiated a sustainable movement against Turkey, and this movement has continued until today. It also culminated in the liberation of Kelbajar. Also, during the Armenian Genocide, many progressive-minded Kurds saved Armenians. About 60,000 Armenians were saved, and so there are many different movements if we uncover the pages of history. We see different liberation movements with Armenians and Kurds fighting side by side. I am a Yezidi-Kurd, and all the intellectuals here are Yezidi-Kurd. When Lachin was liberated Yezidi-Kurds went to Lachin in twelve cars to celebrate the liberation of Lachin and Kelbajar. We went there with our pipes, with davul, and we celebrated with Armenians the liberation of Lachin. I am a writer, and at the same time a journalist, and I have published a number of articles on Armenian Kurdish relations and our friendship during the development of historical events. I have undertaken a lot of research, starting since the time I defended my thesis for my Bachelor degree and my Masters degree, and all the topics were on Armenian Kurdish relations. OK: Last year a US State Department Report on the human rights situation in Armenia expressed concerns over cases of discrimination against the Yezidi in Armenia. Given that the debate over Yezidi and Yezidi-Kurdish identity is a political one, is there a danger that such cases of discrimination may increase, and may even be influenced by the issue of identity? KC: This is a very good and reasonable question, but please accept my answer not as a journalist, but as a human being who has universally accepted moral principles and who bases his opinions on those moral principles. If you publish this interview you must print word for word my response. What I am about to say is very important. The answer to this question will be very long. I have written a monograph of about 200 pages based on scientific research around this issue. For now though, I want to be brief. When Soviet power was established in Armenia there were 8,560 Yezidi Kurds in Armenia. At that same time the policy of the Communists was the same in Armenia as that in Azerbaijan and in Georgia. From official information, in Azerbaijan there were about 50,000 Kurds, but unofficially the numbers were betwen 200-300,000 Azeri Moslem Kurds. After 1920 based upon population census figures the number of Kurds in Armenia [OK note: Azerbaijan?] increased up to 260,000. From 1979 census figures in Azerbaijan implied that there was not even one Kurd - all had been assimilated. In the 1930s Azerbaijan abolished the autonomous region of "Red Kurdistan" between Karabagh and Armenia. In terms of discrimination against the Yezidi in Armenia, calling them illiterate, this is true, but was true for the 1920's, and periodically the Armenian Government, the Central Communist Party, and the Ministry of Education, passed resolutions according to which a campaign was started to educate the Kurds. Kurdish schools were opened in order to raise the educational standard and literacy of the Kurds. We should not try to deceive ourselves. The policy of the Communist Party was the same in all of the Caucasian republics, but the approaches and the results were different. In Armenia, the attitude towards the Kurds was based on the friendship between two nations, and the government had a great contribution in the development of the Kurds. Progressive minded Armenian intellectuals were fighting for the Kurdish cause. These progressive minded intellectuals tried to raise the status of the Kurds, and to bring a greater literacy. Before 1930s there was not one Kurdish intellectual. Afterwards, we managed to develop a layer of Kurdish intellectuals, but only because of this involvement by Armenian intellectuals. Kurds as intellectuals appeared. "Riya Taza" was first published in the 1930s, A Kurdish transcaucasian college was opened in Yerevan, Kurdish schools were opened in all the villages, text books and literature were published in Kurdish. In 1934, a branch of Kurdish Writers was founded in the Writers Union of Armenia. I have been the head of this branch for 32 years. I think that in Armenia, Kurdish cultural autonomy exists already. Armenia is the only country in the world where Kurds can realise their intellectual, physical and cultural potential. We have a theatre, a radio programme, and indeed, every kind of cultural autonomy has been realised. Any problems that we have faced have been the same problems that Armenia as a whole has faced as a result of the economic collapse. OK: You publish a magazine "Friendship". What is the circulation, the ethnic background of the contributors, and what is your hope for the magazine's future? KC: The journal has been published since last year. There is an association of Armenian-Kurdish friendship and this is the magazine of that association. The main objective of the journal is to strengthen the links between the Armenian and Kurdish communities. The circulation is 750 and there is a great demand in the magazine. In the first issue many prominent Armenian scientists such as the President of the National Academy wrote articles in which they welcomed the appearance of this journal. The journal relates not only the issue of friendship beetwen Kurd and Armenian in the territory of Armenia, but also we are trying to do a study of the extent of relations between Kurd and Armenian in other countries. We have just returned from Russia and Kazakstan studying this issue. For the future, I hope I may be able to study the links between Armenian and Kurds in the diaspora, in Europe, and in other countires of the world. OK: The Kurdish issue is very sensitive, and Garnik Asatrian believes that one of the major reasons for promoting the Yezidi-Kurdish identity is in order to link Armenians with the global Kurdish struggle, and in particular with the struggle in progress within the Republic of Turkey - a country that is already accusing Armenia of harbouring Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases and of supplying weapoms to the Kurdish guerillas. KC: MED-TV, the Kurdish Satellite Television station, has had a number of programmes about Kurdish Armenian relations, and I have appeared on these programmes along with many other Kurdish and Armenian scientists, and senior figures from the PKK have referred to these programmes. We are unanimous in one thing. That the Yezidi-Kurd problem is an artificial problem created by our enemies in order to force two nations against each other - Armenians and the Kurds. Our friendship dates back centuries. As for the issues you have just raised, this is just the dirty policy of Turkey, their illusions. They even declare that Apo [Abdullah Ocalan, Chairman of the Kurdistan Workers Party - PKK] is Armenian. It is a lie to declare that Armenia supplies weapons to Kurdish guerillas. We all know about the policy of the Turkish government, about the articles that appear in their media. Some of these articles are so absurd that you can not help but laugh at them. A journalist from a major Turkish newspaper, the name of which I can not remember,came to Armenia and visited the eleven Yezidi-Kurdish villages inAlagyaz region. He interviewed people there, and saw them in their routine life, but when he returned to Turkey he wrote an article stating that he instead found eleven PKK military bases in Armenia. This is absurd - they are just villages inhabited by peaceful people. You can go there and see it for yourself with your own eyes. However, one thing should be kept in mind. All the Kurds living within the territory of the former Soviet Union, not only in Armenia but also in Russia, in Kazakstan and everywhere, support the PKK, and on their own voluntary initiative want to join the Kurdish national liberation movement. Many Kurds from different parts of the Soviet Union have left their homes - eighteen year olds, twenty, twent-four year olds - and have joined the movement and are fighting for the cause of national liberation. Fifty Kurds from Kazakstan went, and recently a Russian television station interviewed Kurds from Russia who were also fighting for their PKK. Of course, Kurds from Armenia have also gone. We know that we already have one victim from Armenia that has died there [in Turkey] in the struggle, and in all of the houses of the Kurds in Armenia you can see Apo's picture on the wall. I also have his picture in my house. All the Kurds in Armenia support the national liberation movement. OK: Your response must surely make the Armenian Government very concerned, especially given that it has taken every opportunity to prove that there is no support, or involvement amongst its citizens, for the PKK. KC: The Armenian Governent in no way supports the PKK - politically, militarily, financially, no support at all. However, lets not confuse governmental policy with the motivation of the hearts of the Kurds living in Armenia. If they wish to join the movement, governmental policy has nothing to do with it. Recently there was a programme on Russian television that focussed on a Kurd from Georgia. He travelled to Germany, joined the PKK movement and is now fighting in Turkey. the same is true for the Kurds living in Armenia. I am a patriot and am driven by my patriotism, and I might one day decide to go and join the movement for the cause of national liberation. I will go secretly and find the means to join secretly, and this is what people are already doing. When Turkish journalists come here and visit Kurdish villages they enter Kurdish houses and see the picture of PKK leaders on the wall, and the photographs of maryred sons who went, fought and died in Turkey. This is something we do not hide, but it has nothing to do with the policy of the Armenian Government. The common people are driven by their patriotism and fight. In our journal we are not afraid to openly print the names of those Kurds from Armenia who joined the movement. Lets not confuse government and subjects. OK: I also notice that on the front cover of your journal you have the words "Biji Newroz" [Newroz - New Year - is celebrated by Kurds throughout the world, and is a significant event in the Kurdish calendar. Until 1995 Newroz was illegal in Turkey]. KC: We celebrate Newroz in Armenia every year on March 21. This year's celebration was unique - very big. We celebrated in the Russian theatre, so our patriotic feelings are very obvious. Our demonstrations, our political meetings, organised here outside the embassies, and outside the UN, against the violations of human rights in Turkey, and against US military and financial assistance to Turkey, is a minority rights struggle of the Kurds living in Armenia and to show our patriotic feelings. OK: Is this a matter of minority rights? KC: There is no conflict between Yezidi and Kurds. In Armenia there is one nationality - the Kurds - which have different worship groups, and one of these worship groups is Yezidi. Among us we're unanimous. We defend the Karabagh movement, we defend the Armenian cause, we consider ourselves to be citizens of Armenia with all kinds of freedoms as a national minority. There is no national minority issue in Armenia, and we do not want to create one. OK: But what about representation in Parliament? KC: All the Kurds are citizens of Armenia, and we enjoy all the rights that every citizen of Armenia has. We actively participate in the political life of the Republic of Armenia, we have the right to vote, and for the next parliamentary elections the Kurdish community wants to put forward Kurdish candidates. During Soviet times, Kurds were represented in the Soviet Parliament - at least two Kurds from Armenia. At the moment we have no Kurdish representative, but we have applied to the government to take part in the next elections. The way it is arranged in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is that communities are represented in Parliament - not based on elections, but as mandatory representation. For example, in Iran the Armenian community has a representative that is not elected, but instead represents that community. This is what we want to use a model for representation in Armenia. OK: In Robert Kocharian's inaugaral address he stressed the importance of Armenia's national minorities feeling that Armenia is their home. KC: Yes, and the majority of Kurds voted for Kocharian. I am sure he will promote the cause of giving more and more freedoms to those minorites within Armenia, and the first thing the new President did for the Kurdish community was to recognise the importance of Newroz, which was widely celebrated in Armenia. I have had face to face meetings with Kocharian, and I have congratulated him on his election. OK: How do you feel about Aziz Tamoyan in his role as the spokesperson for the Yezidi in Armenia, and one of the major exponents of promoting the Yezidi as a separate ethnic minority? KC: Aziz Tamoyan's activities are anti-Kurdish. He elected himself, he voted for himself as the President of the Yezidi living in Armenia without taking into consideration the opinion of the Kurds living in this country. He even made a gold medal, pasted his own photograph on that gold medal and made himself President of the Yezidi. I consider him to be an ignorant person, but the word ignorant is really a mild word to describe what I really think of him. Perhaps better to say he is a foolish person who has had several years education in primary school, and has absolutely no knowledge of history, or of the development of Yezidi affairs. He is just dancing under the pipes of our enemies. Aziz Tamoyan plays on patriotic feelings in order to earn money for his own interests. I can prove that Aziz Tamoyan went to Turkey, visited Kurdish villages, and in all of the houses he enetered declared that he was one of the purest Kurds living in Armenia. Recently, Aziz Tamoyan went to Germany and organised a protest by Yezidi. He collected around him about 10 Yezidi-Kurds who wanted to get German citizenship. He planted within them the idea that their human rights were under attack and had faced discrimination in Armenia. This is why they had fled to Germany. Actually, these Yezidi Kurds wanted to get German citizenship which is why they made such allegations. My Association received a letter from a human rights association in Germany asking whether there were human rights violations against the Kurds within the Republic of Armenia. I was very offended by this, and wrote an angry reply stating that the human rights of the Kurds in Armenia are not violated, and that this was a false problem created by our enemies or by foolish individuals such as Tamoyan trying to get foreign citizenship for his friends and his relatives. I invited the Germans to send a delegation to Armenia to research this issue themselves. OK: And Yerevan is still considered a centre for Kurdish Culture? KC: It's even better, and it is getting better and better. Every day there are radio programmes in Kurdish, in the Academy of National Sciences there is a Kurdish Department which studies and researches Kurdish history and linguistics. We have a newspaper - Riya Taza - and in Yerevan State University there is a branch that studies Kurdish history - and in a private university there is a department of Kurdish studies. In the Department of Kurdish Writers in the Writer's Union of Armenia we have regular meetings where we discuss the important Kurdish issues, and in Alagatz region in the Armenian schools Kurdish language is taught up until the eighth form. There is a committee called "Kurdistan" and a society of Kurdish intellectuals. Armenia provides all the possibilities for the Kurds to develop their culture. © Copyright Onnik Krikorian. All rights reserved. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited. -- Onnik Krikorian is a photojournalist, journalist and communications consultant in London. He has travelled to Turkey to cover stories on media censorship and human rights abuses for 'The Scotsman on Saturday', "New Internationalist', and 'The Journalist' magazines. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Photographs of the Kurds and Yezidi in Turkey and Armenia are available directly, or through the London-based Panos Pictures photo agency.
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