Armenian News Network / Groong September 13, 2004 By Onnik Krikorian Heydar Ali is the Caucasus Representative of the People's Congress of Kurdistan (Kongra-Gel). This interview was conducted at the office of the Kurdistan Committee in Yerevan on 24 August 2004 and is part of a follow-up series of interviews to work on the division within the Yezidi minority in Armenia conducted during June 1998. Translation from Armenian to Kurmanji Kurdish and vice-versa was provided by the Yezidi Head of the Kurdistan Committee, Charkaze Rash-Mstoyan. YEREVAN, ARMENIA ONNIK KRIKORIAN: What is the Kurdistan Committee and when was it established? HEYDAR ALI: The Kurdistan Committee was established as an organization in Yerevan during 1992. One of its main aims is to introduce Armenian society to the Kurdish National Liberation Movement in the Middle and Near East as well as to provide the local Kurdish community with information on the movement. The second aim is connected with social and economic issues in Armenia and the Caucasus and to integrate the Kurds of the region into the National Liberation Movement so that they can act as one, united force. This means that the Kurdistan Committee supports and provides assistance to local Kurdish communities whose problems are mainly those related to human rights and cultural issues. OK: Can you give me an example of human rights or cultural concerns? HA: The state of the local Kurdish community is very bad but we are not differentiating between Armenian and Kurd by saying this because Armenians are also living in a very miserable situation. However, I would like to mention education. There is nothing in the law that obstructs the education of the Kurds in Armenia but in practice there are many obstacles. OK: Are these obstacles mainly financial? HA: There are of course financial problems but there is also the very unfortunate division of the community. Now, some Yezidi speaking Kurdish say that it is instead a separate Yezidi language and the artificial situation h as been created where some Yezidi say that they are not Kurds. It is only in Armenia where this artificial division exists and there are two reasons for this. The first is ignorance. The local community is largely uneducated and too steeped in tradition so hasn't had the opportunity to develop their minds. The second reason for this division lies with the Armenian mass media and officials who are conducting an official policy that is unacceptable to us and which seeks to distort the historical truth. Certain circles and officials are using this artificial division in the community for their own interests and to line their own pockets. Religious representatives such as the Sheiks are also using this division to maintain their own positions despite the fact that in South Kurdistan, among hundreds of thousands of Kurds in Iraq, the Yezidi say that they are Kurds. In Armenia, the language of the Kurds is Kurmanji [a dialect of Kurdish] but there is now an attempt to call it the "Yezidi language" and to deny the fact that the Yezidi are Kurds. In fact, the Yezidi religion is the original faith practiced by the Kurds before most were converted to Islam -- just as Armenians were pagan before most converted to Christianity and some adopted Islam. My two colleagues in this room are Yezidi and are involved with the Kurdistan Committee. There are few Moslem Kurds left in Armenia. When 10,000 people went on to the streets of Yerevan in support of Abdullah Ocalan, they were Yezidi and not Moslem Kurds. The Yezidi and the Kurds are the same nation and because they are citizens of the Republic of Armenia, the Government as well as the Intelligentsia must reveal the historical truth in order to heal this division. However, certain circles are instead contributing to this split. It is impossible to build a democratic state based on the ignorance of such people. This artificial division can not contribute to the democratic development of this country. Of course, it is possible that when the Moslem Kurds and Azeris left Armenia at the beginning of the Karabagh conflict that some Yezidi hid their Kurdish identity because they were frightened but it is also possible that certain political circles had an interest in this. On this point, I would like to say that the Kurdistan Committee is not pressurizing anyone with regards to their beliefs and whether they want to be called Moslem, Yezidi, Christian or Jew. Unfortunately, there are also Kurds in Armenia that are also joining the sects such as the Jehovah Witnesses. OK: What happened in the 2001 Census? In an interview I held with Vladimir Chadoyev, Chairman of the National Union of Minorities, in June 1998, he said that there were plans to ask the question "Are you Yezidi or Yezidi-Kurd?" HA: They artificially created this division and came up with the figure of 41,000 Yezidi and 1,519 Kurds, stating that these two groups spoke different languages. This was such a shameful event that has never happened anywhere else in the world. Religion is not mentioned -- only that there are this many Yezidi and that many Kurds in Armenia. If they are giving this figure of 1,519 Kurds then it should be pointed out that there are definitely not this many Moslem Kurds in Armenia. At most, there are 500-600 so this means that the remainder must be Yezidi-Kurds. The Kurdish community did not know that the officials that came around asking questions were conducting a census and that the results would be used to officially divide the community. They didn't understand what objective this process had. It was also confusing and unintelligible for us and when the shameful results of the census were published we distributed 5,000 questionnaires in the community. Every one of them was returned stating that those who filled in the forms were Kurdish by ethnicity, Yezidi by religion and that they spoke Kurdish. In the census, they instead asked "are you Yezidi" and did not ask about ethnicity or religion. If you ask my colleague, Charkaze Rash-Mstoyan, the head of the Kurdistan Committee and Editor of the Mesopotamia newspaper if he is Yezidi he will say yes. If you then ask him, however, if he is a Kurd he will also say yes. This is a very sensitive issue that was used at an official state level. We don't have any concrete information on what question they asked to determine language but I repeat again that certain circles and officials are exploiting the situation for their own interests. Despite this, in a general sense, the attitude of Armenian society to Kurdish issues is otherwise positive because Armenians and Kurds have lived together for centuries and from a political perspective, we have some common interests. We can't say that there is a dark and hidden nationalist agenda among Armenian intellectuals because it is also true that there is a positive approach to Kurdish issues from some Armenian political forces such as the Dashnaks. OK: Isn't the problem that the term "Kurd" can also be considered a political statement? HA: In what sense? OK: To say that you're a Kurd can be considered a political statement and especially in a country such as Armenia which borders Turkey. At the same time, because of the variety of religions and dialects that divide the Kurdish nation, the term "Kurd" also represents an attempt to break down those divisions in a nation that is otherwise estimated at anywhere between 20-45 million people. HA: In that sense, Armenia's position is more favorable towards the Kurds because 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the Genocide. However, to deny the Kurdish identity in Armenia is a violation of international human rights obligations but yes, you are right. It is well known that throughout history, Kurdistan and the Kurds have been divided and that this is a special policy conducted by very powerful countries in the world to weaken us. The division between Kurds and Yezidi is another manifestation of this. Our National Liberation Movement is uniting Kurds and helping them recognize their own national interests. In this sense, the Kurdish National Liberation Movement represents a new era in Kurdish history. In the Near East, Kurdish society is forming and is now so well established that it can not be ignored for any longer. -- Other interviews conducted with representatives of the Yezidi community in Armenia as well as political and academic figures were also published through the Armenian News Network / Groong in June 1998 and can be found online at: http://www.oneworld.am/journalism/yezidi/ or http://www.groong.org/orig/yezidi-index.html
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