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.


 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 onnik@clicks.co.uk. His Photographs of the Kurds
and Yezidi in Turkey and Armenia are available directly, or through
the London-based Panos Pictures photo agency.
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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