Interview with Amarik
OK: When Armen Sarkissian was Ambassador to London, and at the time of the reports of the clearance of Kurds from Kelbajar and Lachin during the Karabagh conflict, he stated that there were no Kurds in Armenia, only Yezidi. If you can see a political motivation in the definition of Kurds in Turkey as "Mountain Turks", is there a similar political motivation in defining the Kurds in Armenia as Yezidi?
AS: We are greatly concerned by this issue. Both Yezidi Kurd and Moslem Kurd are two branches of the same nation. Apart from a religious distinction, there is no other distinction between these two sections. Yezidis worship the sun; Moslem Kurds, Mohammed and the Koran. In the southern part of Kurdistan, Kurds speak Sorani, and in all other parts Kurmanji. Yezidi speak Kurmanji too. There is absolutely no difference between the language spoken by Moslem Kurds speaking Kurmanji, and Yezidi Kurds.
Spiritual, cultural is absolutely the same, and in scientific circles everyone agrees that Yezidi Kurds and Moslem Kurds are the same, but because of religious differences they call themselves Yezidi in the same way that amongst Russians there is a section different from Orthodox Russians that call themselves "Molokans". It is the same amongst us with just a few subtle differences.
Because of the delicate issue of human rights, if someone calls himself a Yezidi then Armenian officials say that if this person wishes to be called a Yezidi I have no moral right to call him a Kurd. This has historical roots of course. the Yezidi were periodically massacred by Moslem Kurds because of their different religion. This conflict between two segments of the Kurdish nation was mainly on this religious basis. We have a special saying in Kurdish - Dooshmar - which means "enemy by religion".
I have a great respect for Armen Sarkissian, and when he stated that there were no Kurds in Armenia he based his assumption in the census of 1989 where Yezidi were identified as a separate national identity, and the source of these statistics was the Central Committee of the Communist Party. In those days during censuses they would use a special list where minorities were listed, and in that list there were the words "Kurd" and in parenthesis "including Yezidi". The Chairman of the Ideological Department in the Central Committee of the Communist Party sent a written order to the administrator of statistics in Armenia requesting them to consider the Yezidi as a separate nationality, and the snowball started to roll after that. This is why Armen Sarkissian and other officials declared that there were no Kurds in Armenia, only Yezidi.
In Armenia we have twenty-one purely Yezidi villages, eleven in the region of Alagyaz, eight in Talin, one in Ashterak, and one in Etchmiadzin. If the head of this Yezidi movement goes to any of these villages I am sure they will be beaten, perhaps even killed. The whole population of these villages are unanimous in ascerting that they are Kurds, and that their worship is Yezidi.
OK: How do you feel about individuals such as Garnik Asatrian who are energetic in their attempts to deny any links between the Yezidi and the Kurds.
AS: I have a great respect for Garnik Asatrian as a scientist, but I do not share his opinions. Garnik Asatrian proves that Yezidi are not Kurds, but all the members of the Yezidi communty say that they are Kurds. Garnik Asatrian, being an Armenian, states that Yezidi are not Kurds. this is very strange. There may be some reason for trying to do this but I am not aware of what that might be. However, Some years ago there was a scientist who put into circulation the term "pan-Kurdish". Poor Kurds! They are scattered in three or four countries, and they are all severely persecuted there, and this scientist uses the term "pan-Kurdish".
In our dispute with Garnik Asatrian I tell him that if he is ascerting that the Yezidi are not Kurds then please tell us what differences we have in our language. If there is a historical nation called the Yezidi then it has had to come from somewhere. Where did it come from? So, the language is the same, but our religious centre is in Lalish in Iraqi Kurdistan. Recently another absurdity has been introduced - that Yezidi originate from northern India, and that there are Yezidi tribes living in northern India today. This is perhaps one of the greatest discoveries of the twentieth century!
I completely disagree with Garnik Asatrian, and Garnik Asatrian changes his opinions depending on the direction the wind blows. Ten years ago he stated that Yezidi were Kurds living in Armenia, and now he is ascerting that Yezidi are not Kurds.
OK: Garnik Asatrian also states that there are external forces trying to promote the Yezidi as Kurds in the interest of involving the Yezidi in the Kurdish struggle. If the Yezidi can be defined as Kurds then it substantiates the accusations coming from Turkey that Armenia is supporting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and that it is providing bases for the PKK, and giving help in the form of financial and military assistance. At a Yezidi village yesterday I was not expecting to meet an official representative from the PKK itself, or to see so many ERNK and PKK flags displayed. This is a very sensitive issue for the Armenian Government.
AS: Putting the question this way is not valid. When I received my passport in 1954 there was a line for nationality. On that line my nationality was shown as Kurd. In those days, Aziz Tamoyan, Garnik Asatrian and the PKK did not exist. The village where I was born and grew up was called "Kurdi Pump" but Yezidi lived there. Next to that village was another village where Armenians lived called "Hyegagan [Armenian] Pump" . In those days everyone understood that Yezidi were Kurds, and to differentiate the two villages they were called "Kurdi" and "Hyegagan".
As for PKK representatives visiting us, we do not make a secret of this, but I can not agree that becaise of the existence of Kurds in Armenia and the PKK in Turkey there will be a problem between Yezidi and the Armenian Government. Yezidi Kurds do not go to Turkey, and do not fight against the Turks, but we morally support the Kurds in Turkey. the existence of the Kurdish question and the PKK in Turkey has had no influence on the relationship between Yezidi and Armenians. We know the Turkish ideology that accuses all of its neighbours of supporting the PKK. It accuses Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Cyprus and Greece.
They accuse everybody because they are unable to supress the movement. They even say that Abdullah Ocalan is Armenian, and that the majority of the guerillas are Armenian. They even go so far as to study the genitals of their victims in order to see if they are circumsided in order to prove that they are Armenians. Some try to prove that because of the Yezidi in Armenia, relations between Armenia and Turkey will become very tense. Turkey is making it tense already with its ideology. Our moral support has nothing to do with the relations between Turkey and Armenia. From the information that we have, through the Azerbaijani territory of Nakhichevan, weapons have been transferred to the Kurdish guerillas in Turkey, but not one gun has passed through Armenia.
Being citizens of the Republic of Armenia we are very loyal to this country, and I am speaking on behalf of the whole Kurdish community. It is not in our interest to do anything that might damage our relationship with the country in which we live.
OK: In the village I visited yesterday, I held my interview with the representative of the PKK in a house that had on a wall a large picture of a young teenager, perhaps about eighteen years old. It had been his house and he was killed fighting with the PKK in south east Turkey. I was also told that another from the region had been killed with the PKK, and when I asked how many had joined the movement the villagers would not say. So, this is a very sensitive issue, and I certainly believe that it is very sensitive for the Armenian Government.
AS: Which village?
OK: Near Jarjaris in the Aragatsotn region, and even Karlene Chachani has even admitted that Yezidi have left to fight with the PKK.
Maybe some individuals have gone, but on their own initiative. It's not organised, and they go through other countries rather than straight from Armenia. There were rumours that someone from Yerevan had gone there, driven by their heart, and if I had the wish to go I would fight too, It is very obvious that people driven by their patriotic feelings go, and maybe they are killed there, but it is beyond our control. As for a PKK representative visiting Armenia, he has come here to spread the ideology of the movement among the Kurdish people, and to clarify the nature of this movement, its objectives and its goals. They go to the villages, they speak to the people, and they try to raise their awareness of these national issues. It is all just of an informative nature, informing people as to what is occurring within the PKK.
Unfortunately, there is no official information. Only through the official Russian NTV Channel, and not everyone has a television set at home. So, there is no information and these PKK visits represent a first hand information source for them. There are three or four satellite antennae in the Aragatsotn region to allow people to watch MED-TV [Kurdish Satellite Television broadcast from Belgium] and people are interested in getting information about the PKK.
OK: How useful is MED-TV for helping the Yezidi in Armenia with regards to culture, language and education.
I am an atheist, but I highly appreciate the programmes on Yezidi religion broadcast on MED-TV. On these programmes, Yezidi Sheiks speak and explain the Yezidi religion. It is very useful. There are also numerous programmes on Armenian Yezidi, and MED-TV has interviewed me on many occasions.
OK: Given that Kocharian has stressed the importance of Armenia's national minorities are there signs that the situation of minorities within Armenia will improve still further.
AS: With regards to the situation of "Riya Taza" there have been no signs yet, but I can see some positive tendencies. Recently I was invited by Vahan Hovanissian, a consultant to the President. He wanted to know what unsolved problems and difficulties the community faced. We spoke about our concerns, and not least our desire to have representation in Parliament. During the first Republic, the Kurds had such representation, and until 1990. At present we have no representative in Parliament.
Kurdish language is taught in Kurdish schools twice a week, but no text book has been published for ten years. Whatever was published has been worn out, the books are old, and it is impossible to use them now. Whatever exists is outdated and do not correspond to the demands of the present time. A lot of what remains is Communist ideology, so we spoke to the government about our concerns.
The next issue of concern is the training of Kurdish teachers for working in Kurdish schools. We raised the issue of accepting two or three representatives a year from the Kurdish community in teacher training schools, but on a non-competitive basis and even though Armenian students are accepted on a competive one.
Eight or nine Kurdish villages are in the earthquake disaster regions. School buildings, especially in the mountainous regions, are in a very bad way. In the winter there is no way to heat the classrooms, and so Kurdish Community representatives spoke on this issue in the presence of government officials. Three villages in Talin region, and one village in Aragatsotn region, have no drinking water.
These are the problems we raised, and the government has promised to solve them shortly. We understand that this is due to the economic crisis in the country and leaving problems unsolved is not typical for the Armenian nation. Armenia has always been very sensitive towards the Kurds and has always attempted to create a stable environment for the Kurds to live in.