AN INTERVIEW WITH AZIZ TAMOYAN
Armenian News Network / Groong 11 June 1998 by Onnik Krikorian
Aziz Tamoyan is the President of the National Union of Yezidi in Armenia.
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: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to hold this interview. Could you please start by introducing yourself.
AT: This is my certificate. It is the ninth month that I am considered to be the President of Yezidi all over the world. I was elected President of the yezidi abroad, and my organisation is registered in Armenia in the Ministry of Justice.
OK: Why Armenia? Given that the spiritual centre for the Yezidi is in Iraq, why is the President of the Yezidi throughout the world based in a small Republic in the Caucasus?
AT: When I was elected the President, because I was a citizen of Armenia the centre had to be registered in the country where I hold my citizenship. If I were a citizen of Iraq then the centre would be there.
OK: There are around 50,000 Yezidi in Armenia?
AT: Yes. I am a writing a book on the origin of the Yezidi. It is called "Who the Yezidi are." This is the manuscript of my book. I want to sort out what the origins of the Yezidi are. I want to show you the information. This is the result of the census in the Soviet Union, and the results of other censuses.
This is the census in Armenia, the results of the Central Satistical Administration. Armenians, Turks, Tartars, Russians, Yezidis, the figures. Here we see what is the number of the population. Here we see the information about the population, and the diversification in nationality in the transcaucasian area.
1926-30: Kurds 52,150, Yezidi: 114,552
In all the censuses within the Soviet Union, the Yezidi were seperated from the Kurds, and their numbers are represented seperately, and so on.
This is an article about the alphabet of the Yezidi. One thousand years ago we had 32 letters in the alphabet. Let me show the letters of the alphabet, one thousand years ago. If a nation had an alphabet one thousand years ago, how can we say that it is not a nation now.
The Yezidi are one of the most ancient nations of the world. Our language belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of languages. We came from India, from Bombay, 5,000 years ago. In my book I scientifically prove this. In those days in India we were considered to be Malek Tavous [The Grand Peacock] people. The Peacock is considered to be a sign of beauty, and it is the same in India. We have castes in our nation, and the same is true in India.
The Yezidi emigrated from India to Afghanistan, and from Afghanistan into Iran and, lived in Iraq, and in Syria. In Iraq we started to call ourselves "Yezidi". Before then we were "the people of Malek Tavous". Yezidi history dates back 5,000 years. the Kurds began to form as a nation only in the 10th or 12th century. The Kurds are nomadic people living in mountainous regions.
We came to this region of the world for the same reason as Armenians came. Moslems wanted to wipe Christians from the face of the earth, and they would constantly attack Yezidi and Armenians. They would try to kill some, and convert the others to Islam.
Yezidi did not want to convert and because of that 300,000 Yezidi were killed. the same thing happened to Armenians, and a million and a half were killed. In 1918 Yezidi left their homes in Western Armenia [Eastern Turkey] and came here to Armenia [present day Republic of Armenia]. We live side by side with Armenians.
OK: What sort of work does your organisation undertake, and what is your perception of the situation of the Yezidi in the Republic of Armenia?
AT: We have a programme that was adopted by the Congress of all the Yezidi living in Armenia. We are mainly concerned with the future of our nation, cultural development, and we are engaged in activities concerned with the preservation of our nation, our religion, our language, national traditions and customs, and the programmes are conducted outside as well as within the Republic.
All over the world there were seven million Yezidi, but from our own information there are now only two million because we are becoming quickly assimilated. This Association was created mainly with the objective to help Yezidi all over the world to preserve our language, our culture, our traditions, and to prevent the assimilation of our nation.
OK: Am I right in thinking that the original Yezidi alphabet may be re-adopted?
AT: We wanted to do this, but our council decided to leave it the way it is, and to use the Russian alphabet. The Yezidi have four different types of alphabet, one from 1,000 years ago, in 922 we adopted the Armenian alphabet, since 1937 the Latin alphabet, and since 1954 we adopted the Russian alphabet. So we use this alphabet, but in our language. How this will develop we do not know yet, but we will discuss this issue all over the world with our spiritual leaders, and other leaders of the Community. At the moment though, we use the Russian alphabet in Armenia.
OK: And as for the problems facing the Yezidi in Armenia?
AT: We help people with applications concerning problems that they may have. We take these complaints to the relevent official bodies, and try to help them solve these problems. We also have our newspaper "The Voice of Yezidi".
This is our newspaper, and this is our flag.
Every day, on Armenian radio the Yezidi have half an hour. In the past we had Yezidi schools in Armenia that functioned very well. At the present they are not functioning. Now we are trying to promote yezidi schools in those villages where Yezidi children live, and which are inhabited by Yezidi populations. We are publishing books, and this is our calendar. These are photographs [on the calendar] of 35 who died in the Karabagh conflict.
We have appointed a committee to publish books that will promote our culture, tradition, our language and that will preserve our nation, although financially we are in a tight situation. However, we resolve to do our best.
When people come here and complain we try to solve those problems.
OK: The problems that a Yezidi may face are the same as those facing an Armenian citizen? I ask this because a US State Department Report last year suggests that there was discrimination against the Yezidi in Armenia.
AT: Yezidi are living unprotected. This is how we feel. Maybe 50% of Yezidi have migrated from Armenia. There is a Committee of Human Rights in the Government and we are closely working with that Committee. We hope that with the help of this Committee we will solve many of our problems.
OK: One thing that every Yezidi seems to desire is some form of political representation in Parliament. Is this something you are involved with?
AT: This is our goal, and we have been requesting this for years and years, but this has never been fulfilled, and we do not have Yezidi as high level government officials.
OK: Is this a criticism of the Ter-Petrossian Government, or is it the same under the new Kocharian Presidency?
AT: This was a concern under the former Government. Kocharian is relatively new, and we do hope that he will improve the situation.
OK: Have you had any dealings with representatives of the new Government?
AT: I have had dealings with Paruir Hairikian and Vahan Hovanissian. I brought up issues such as human rights violations. For example, recently 35 Yezidi girls were raped, and only three people were accused of this crime. there are many cases of such occurances, but I do not want to take up your time describing all these examples. However, I have been to the official representatives of the government dealing with human rights issues and they promised me that they will do something. There are cases of robbery, arson, and the government has told me to present a written report on these matters and that they will deal with these issues.
OK: Are these cases racially motivated?
AT: I do not want to say that Armenians are doing these things in an organised way against the Yezidi minority, but for the criminal it should not matter what nationality that criminal is. The nationality of the criminal should not be taken into account.
OK: Are these attacks specifically against the Yezidi, or do they occur against the other citizens of the Republic?
AT: The point is that these crimes are directed against the Yezidi because the criminal knows that the Yezidi are not protected under law in this society. The criminal knows that when the police find out that the victim is Yezidi, the criminals will just be fined. Yezidi are very unprotected.
OK: I get the impression that there is not a high regard for the Yezidi in Armenia. What does the futre hold for the Yezidi?
AT: The mentality amongst those in the upper levels of govenment towards the Yezidi needs to change. If they continue this policy of leaving the Yezidi unprotected against crime the Yezidi will leave this country. The law should be the same for all people.
OK: Are the attacks happening in Yerevan, or everywhere in Armenia?
AT: Everywhere. About 150 families in different areas, for example Abovian, have been uprooted and left to their own fate. Armenians have been moved into their houses. The Government knows about this. What are the Yezidi in Armenia? Thirty five died in the conflict in Karabagh, and in 1918 750 Yezidi horsemen fought against the Kurds and the Turks. We helped Armenia in its liberation struggle. Yezidi are mainly nomadic, and farm the lands, bringing produce to the market. This is how we live. Some of us are in farming, and this is very important for Armenia. Sheep, wool, wheat, milk, butter. Go to the markets and see that the Yezidi are very important for Armenia. We should be protected in this country.
Armenians are our friends, and they will be our friends, I do not want to say anything against Armenians, I am speaking against governmental policy. There is no protection and we do not feel we are protected in this country. If this does not change, Yezidi will gradually leave Armenia.
OK: I read a report that eighteen Yezidi entered the US Embassy in Bonn, poured petrol over themselves, and threatened to set themselves alight if they were sent back to Armenia.
AT: I was there at that time. Last year in April I was in Germany, and on the decision of the German Government these families had to leave Germany, and these refugees were reluctant to return to Armenia. So they threatened to burn themselves if they were to be deported. I had arguments with these Yezidi that they should have pursued their complaints in a more civilised manner, and not through threats. They came to this office and they were in a very bad way. they had no jobs and no homes, and they had to leave this country. they went to Georgia, and then on to elsewhere.
OK: One thing that is very evident and also confusing is that the Yezidi community in Armenia is split. No-one can tell me, however, to what extent is the community split. I am talking about the split between those Yezidi that consider themselves a separate ethnic identity and those that consider themselves Kurd. With such a confusion within the Yezidi community itself, this must create a major obstacle to the resolution of any of the problems facing the Yezidi minority as a whole.
AT: In my book I explain the origins of the Yezidi, and I have shown you the figures that show the Kurds represented individually. During the Soviet regime, the Yezidi were artificially unified with the Kurds. On birth certificates and in passports the Yezidi were identified as "Yezidi", but in the census they were grouped with the Kurds. That was a Stalinist policy towards the minorities.
In 1926 two hundred nations were officially registered in the Soviet Union, and in the census of 1979 the number of nations was one hundred and one, so as a result of governmental policy ninety-nine nations were assimilated somehow. One of these nations was the Yezidi. During the Karabagh movement Yezidi raised their voices and declared that no-one had the moral right to consider them as Kurds. We fought side by side with Armenians for liberation.
The Kurdish intelligentsia number very few - Karlene Chachani, and Amarik Sardarian, and a few others. They are financed by the PKK in Kurdistan, and they want to say that 50,000 Yezidi living in Armenia are Kurds. Why? For what reason? It is the official policy of the Kurds. If Yezidi are Kurds, then all areas where Yezidi live can be included within Kurdistan. They want to take territory from Armenians because Kurds live here - in Aragatz, in Etchmiadzin. But in reality, they are not Kurds, they are Yezidi. This is a special policy, and I recently discovered that a German writer has included these areas, and claims that they belong to the Kurds. This is a falsification, this is a great shame, and this is dishonesty. I wrote about this in a newspaper, proving that this is not Kurdish territory. It is Armenian territory, and that Armenians and Yezidi live side by side as brothers.
OK: This is very confusing. Some Yezidi in Europe and in Armenia consider themselves Kurds, and some Yezidi in Armenia do not consider themselves Kurd. When I went to one region there was a PKK representative speaking to the villages. The villages were pro-PKK and the villagers felt themselves to be Kurds. To what extent does this political argument represent a major problem for the future of the Yezidi as a minority living within the Republic of Armenia?
AT: I wrote about this issue to President Levon Ter-Petrossian, and other bodies in the government. There is a danger here, a great danger, because it is a very dangerous policy. In Aragatsotn region there are eleven villages inhabited by 1,500 Kurds. This is a special policy from members of the Kurdish Intelligentsia Society. These people are not Yezidi, they are Yezidi-Kurds, they celebrate Newroz. They are Moslem Kurds actually, and they identify themselves with Kurds. The danger in this is that the Kurds hope to get some autonomy in Turkey, and when this happens the Yezidi Kurds in Armenia will claim autonomy too in order to get united with Turkey.
The Yezidi have always been oppressed by the Kurds. the Kurds have physically tried to wipe out Armenians and Yezidi, and this continues today in Armenia. Yezidi are oppressed by Kurds, and many Yezidi are being converted into Yezidi-Kurd, into Moslems, with the promise of positions in a future government, and they want to claim Armenian territory too. I am greatly suprised at the indifference of the Armenian Government that is so short-sighted it can not see the danger.
The Yezidi do not want any land from Armenia, and there are 50,000 Yezidi that live side by side with Armenians. We have shared the same fate, and we have been oppressed, killed and massacred just as the Armenians have. These people have sold their souls to the PKK. The Kurdistan Committee supports them financially, and this is pure propoganda among the common people.
There are of course cases of human rights violations in Armenia against the Yezidi. However, this is an internal affair between ourselves and the government, and we will do our best to try to settle these problems. What we need from the outside world is financial help in order to publish our newspaper, to produce text books, and this will be very beneficial for our nation.
As for the Kurds, we are greatly oppressed by the Kurds. We do not think that there are Kurds in Armenia. There are a number of interest groups trying to promote the ideology of a Kurdish struggle in Armenia, and are trying to convert Yezidi into Kurd. Actually, there are only Yezidi here.
Please bear in mind that Yezidi are not Kurd. We are different not only in our religion, but we are also different in our language, tradition and folklore. This is a different ethnic group. This is a different nationality. We are very indignant towards this artificial term "Yezidi-Kurd". Is it a horse or a donkey, or an animal that is both a horse and a donkey. Of course not. We are either Yezidi or Kurds. There are Yezidi in Armenia. For those Yezidi that consider themselves Kurds, this is an organised campaign organised by a number of people and this is a policy that comes from the PKK, and a very dangerous policy for Armenia.
The Yezidi-Kurd is a Donkey-Horse, and I would be humiliated if someone called me a Kurd - I am a Yezidi. It was a policy of the Soviet Government, and they were trying to assimilate the Yezidi into Kurd. Yezidi are a different ethnic group, different from the Kurds.