THE YEZIDI MOVEMENT IN ARMENIA


    Following yesterday's Interview with Karlene Chachani by Onnik Krikorian,
    where reference was made to an article by Jackie Abrahamian, we felt
    it would be useful to bring this article to the reader's attention.

Armenian News Network / Groong
The Yezidi movement in Armenia
by Jackie Abrahamian

First published in "Kurdistan Report", September 1992


Since 1828 when the Kurds first immigrated to Armenia (fleeing the
Russo-Turkish wars) Kurdish culture has flourished rapidly in the
smallest of the former Soviet republics which in 1991 gained
independence. The relative socio-economic freedom in Armenia gave the
Kurdish community, which soon grew to 75,000, an ample opportunity to
fully preserve its cultural heritage, becoming an inspirational source
to the Kurdish diaspora.

Various Kurdish cultural and intellectual institutions, established
and founded by Armenian intellectuals, were instrumental in the
preservation of the Kurdish culture in Armenia. It was in Armenia that
the Shams (sun) alphabet textbook was created in 1921, by Armenian
scholar, Hagop "Lazo" Ghazarian. In 1930 the first Kurdish newspaper,
Ria Taza (New Path) was established by Armenian writers Hratchia
Kochar and Harutuin Mkertchian (its first editors) to report (in
Kurmanji) Kurdish news from around the world as well as publish
literary works of Kurdish writers and intellectuals. During the same
year a Kurdish Children's School opened to serve all the Soviet Kurds,
and later in 1955 the one-and- a-half-hour-long daily Kurdish
(Kurmanji) Radio Hour broadcast its first programme, and continues to
go on the air daily to this day.

In 1948 the first Kurdish State Theatre, later renamed Alagyaz
People's Theatre was formed. In addition, more than a dozen Kurdish
musical groups originating throughout Armenia, preserve the rich
Kurdish musical heritage. By 1934 the Armenian Writer's Union
established a Kurdish Writer's branch, which until 1965 was directed
by Kurdish writer and intellectual Hadji Jendi, and has since been
directed by writer Dr. Karlene Chachani. More than 50,000 books on all
aspects of Kurdish culture were published in Armenia, in Kurdish,
Armenian and Russian and distributed throughout Kurdistan, as well as
the North American and European Kurdish communities. In 1969 the
Armenian Academy of Sciences founded a Kurdish Studies Department to
document and research all aspects of Kurdish culture,as well as to
study Armeno-Kurdish relations. In the 1970's the State University of
Yerevan established a Kurdish Studies Department which due to lack of
attendance, was later closed down. Today the independent David
Haghtanagi University of Yerevan, offers a Kurdish Studies programme
under the direction of Kurdish scholar Charkaz Mesdoian.

Since the start of the 1988 uprisings in Armenia, the decades old
harmonious relations betwen the Kurds and Armenians have been
severed. More than 15,000 Moslem Kurds, some intermarried with Azeris
living in Armenia, fled Armenia as Armeno-Azeri relations intensified
over the disputed are of Nagorno Karabakh in Azerbaijan.  Today, the
65,000 strong Kurdish population in Armenia is, for the most part,
concentrated in the agrarian region of Hoktemberian, where
approximately 20,000 Kurds live as farmers and herders.  Within the
northern Aragatz region, there are 11 Kurdish villages with a
population of 7,000; in the Talinn region there are six Kurdish
villages with a 5,000 population. The purely Kurdish villages in
Armenia are Shamiram village in Ashdarak and Ferik (named after a
Kurdish revolutionary) in the Etchmiadzin region. Approximately 12,000
Kurds live in Armenia's capital, Yerevan.

Simultaneously with the 1988 Armenian uprisings, a strong Yezidi
movement began in Armenia, lead by four Yezidi religious and lay
leaders: Azize' Amar, Karame' Salon, and Sheikhs Hasane Mahmood
Tamoian, and Hasane Hasanian. The goal of the Yezidi movement is to
separate the Yezidis from the rest of the Moslem Kurdish population,
establishing Yezidis as a separate nation.

Who are the Yezidis?

There are approximately one million Yezidi Kurds in the world.  Many
of the Yezidis who arrived in Armenia following the Ottoman Empire's
1915 massacres, emphasized their Yezidi religion and were thus marked
as "Yezidis" in their passports rather than Kurds.

The word Yezidi is derived from the Farsi word of Yazdan (sun)
attesting to the Yezidi's sun worshipping and Zoroastrian religious
beliefs. the Yezidi Kurds defied the Islamic movement in the 7th
century choosing to preserve their "pagan Zoroastrian" way of life.

"Yezidi Kurds have various traditions which are very close to that of
Christians," explains Dr Karlen Chachani.

With traces of the Islamic, Christian and Zoroastrian religious
influences, the Yezidi religion is ruled by Sheikhs, who are
descendants of the Arab Moslem Sheikhs who were sent to the Kurdish
villages to propogate Islam, but were converted to Yezidism. This is
why many Yezidi Sheikhs are of Arab origin. The Yezidi holy bible,
Kitabi-Jalwa, is dedicated to Malek Tavous (Grand Peacock), and the
Yezidi religious hierarchy separates into four distinct positions of
Mires, Sheikhs, Pires (believed to be descendants of Malek Tavous) and
Merides.

The Sheikhdom tradition, passed on from brother to brother, or from
father to son, discourages followers from education, which they
believe takes them away from "the Yezidi traditions". Customarily
Sheikhs only marry into other Sheikh families, and in the event that
there are no available women to marry, the Sheikhs wait for the
availabilty of a widowed woman. The Sheikhs deeply influence their
followers, and are thus generously compensated for their religious
services with donations of such currently scarce goods as gold, money,
dairy products and livestock.

The six sects of Yezidi Sheikhdom are Sheik Rash (arch Sheikh of
Sanjar, Iraq, where the seat of Yezidi religion sits); Sheikh Shamsa;
Sheikh Sheikesan; Sheikh Obeker; Sheiikh Biske (taking its name from
the Yezidi tradition of baptizing a child by cutting the child's hair
for good luck) and Sheikhs Sadjadin or Nasardin.

In an interview with Sheikh Hasane' (AIM May 1992) he emphasised how
some Yezidi intellectuals "consider it advantageous" to be part of the
20 million Kurdish nation. However, he stated that Yezidis are a
separate nation as "Yezidism cannot be considered the name of the
religion only, because no nation in the world is named after its
religion". He further claimed that the "Yezidi alphabet is the
alphabet of the Yezidi people", as there are no religious alphabets.

Dr Karlene Chachani, himself a Yezidi, argues that "Kurds are one
people, who speak one language, and have one Kurdistan> There is no
such thing as a Yezidi nation, or a Yezidistan. This new movement goes
against all the political and social convictions of 30 million Kurdish
people. It goes against all that Armenia has created and given to the
Kurdish people. We can't forget that Armenia has been the centre of
Kurdish culture."

In their effort to create a separatist movement the Yezidi movement
leaders have established themselves within the newly formed Armenian
government. Sheikh Hasan Hasanian appointed himself archbishop of the
Yezidis and as a member of the Armenian Parliament, often voices
anti-Kurdish, pro-Yezidi sentiments.  Supporters of the Yezidi
movement often resort to violence and intimidation to silence the
Kurdish intellectuals, who although Yezidis themselves, oppose such a
separation. These violent actions have been reported to the government
officials, but no legal actions have been taken. To further expand
their movement, the Yezidi movement leaders established in 1991, the
bi-weekly Dinge Yezdisa (Yezidi Voice) newspaper, edited by Sheikh
Hasane, who is a former staff member of the Kurdish radio programme,
who in 1990, opened the first Kurdish school in Yerevan. The Yezidi
Voice is published in Armenian, which Sheikh Hasane explains is done
to "introduce Yezidis to our Armenian brothers". In addition the
Yezidis now have a 30 minute Yezidi Radio Programme. While the Yezdi
programs receive financial support from the Armenian government, the
Riya Taza, and the Kurdish Radio Programme suffer from severe
financial problems, which have halted Riya Taza's publications for the
last six months of 1992.

"Sixty two years of Communism supported the publication of Riya Taza,"
says Teimur Muradov, a veteran Kurdish journalist of Riya Taza and the
Kurdish Radio Programme since 1977. "And democracy in Armenia caused
its closure. Meanwhile in Turkey, the worst offender against Kurdish
rights, three new Kurdish newspapers have been established."

A group of Kurdish intellectuals in Armenia, who are themselves
Yezidis, recently formed the Kurdish Intellectual Advisory
Committee. During the committee's second conference, held in early
May, 1992, in Yerevan, they focused primarily on the detrimental
effects of the Yezidi movement in Armenia, and its aims to destroy
Kurdish unity. Supporters of the Yezidi movement had threatened to
blow up the building in which the conference was to be held, but
forces from Armenia's Interior Ministry were assigned to guard the
building against such violence.

"This convinces me that we have an internal enemy - both the Armenians
and the Kurds. They are trying to create an ethnic problem in Armenia
to threaten Armenia's independence. There has never been an ethnic
problem in Armenia between the Kurds and the Armenians, and there
won't be one now," explains Dr Chachani.

Their opposers consider the Yezidi movement "absurd" and designed to
take the Yezidis back to the "dark ages" as conservative religious
Sheikhs practice power plays. Dr Karlen Chachani and Kurdish scholar
and corresponding member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, Shakhro
Mehoyan, Charkaz Mesdoian, as well as a score of other Kurdish
intellectuals who are Yezidi, argue that the Yezidi separatist
movement has the full support of the Armenian government.

"Even in Baku, Azerbaijan - where Kurds have been forcibly assimilated
- Kurds are gaining power, while in Armenia, the centre of Kurdish
cultural life, we're lagging behind, losing our Kurdish language
schools, newspaper and other cultural instituions," argues Riya Taza
editor Amarik Sardar(ian), another opponent of the Yezidi movement.

Meanwhile the leaders of the Yezidi movement insist that Armenia has
given them nothing and that they are now simply regaining their power
and establishingthemselves as a separate nation. In the 21 December
issue of Yezidi Voice, the editorial message insisted that Yezidis
"must reinstate our national feasts, traditions and show the entire
world that the Yezidi are truely a unique and rich culture and
nation." It emphasised how Yezidi traditions, lost for 70 years in
Armenia, must not be reposeessed. the January 1991 issue of Yezidi
Voice has a photo of Sheikh Hasane with the Armenian Catholicos Vazken
I, proving the Armenian Church's solidarity with the Yezidi
movement. Meanwhile Hasan Hasanian's message urges all Yezidis to
unite, and contribute money to the Yezidi Cultural Fund by sending
their contributions to a numbered account in Yerevan.

"One million Yezidi Kurds around the world are amazed at this division
of Yezidis in Armenia," says Teimur Muradov. "Their propoganda is
absurd. Two days' expense of Yezidi Radio Hour's operating cost can
cover one month's publishing cost of Riya Taza.  The anti-Armenia news
the Yezidi movement leaders publish and broadcast is beamed into
Turkey... making Armenia look very bad."

Hoping that the newly formed government in Armenia "understands the
Kurds' scholar Shakhro Mehoyan explains that "what the Kurds have
gained intellectually in Armenia is indebted to the support of the
Armenian intelligentsia throughout our history. Now only time and
patience will test the goals and intentions of the Yezidi movement in
Armenia."


--
Jackie Abrahamian is a journalist and Public Relations Consultant
living in Boston. She has written prolifically on Kurdish and
Armenian issues, especially around the areas where Armenian and
Kurdish histories overlap. Her first book "Conversations with
Contemporary Armenian Artists" was dedicated to Yilmaz Guney, one
of the founders of the Kurdish Institute in Paris.
Redistribution of Groong articles, such as this one, to any other media, including but not limited to other mailing lists and Usenet bulletin boards, is strictly prohibited without prior written consent from Groong's Administrator.
Copyright 1998 Armenian News Network/Groong. All Rights Reserved.

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