AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. KARLENE CHACHANI

Armenian News Network / Groong
June 9, 1998
By Onnik Krikorian


    Dr. Karlene Chachani is a Yezidi living in Yerevan, Armenia. He is
    President of the Department of the Kurdish Writers of the Writers'
    Union of Armenia, and Chief Editor of "Friendship" - an
    Armenian-Kurdish political Journal.

    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:	I would just like to say that the Yezidi community in Armenia
is culturally fascinating, which is one of the areas I would like to
focus on, but it was Jackie Abrahamian's essays on the Yezidi in
Armenia that made me aware of what you consider an important issue -
that is, the definition of Yezidi or Yezidi-Kurd. I would very much
like your opinion on that, especially having already interviewed
Garnik Asatrian yesterday, and having listened to his opinion that the
Yezidi are in fact a separate nation.

KC:	Garnik Asatrian is one of my best friends, and to celebrate his
45th birthday I published an article on his life and work in my
journal ["Friendship"] but especially on Yezidi issues - on the
ideology - and on many scientific issues we are in disagreement.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new Armenian Government,
headed by the All-Armenian Movement Party, co-operated with other
political forces to initiate a policy - a movement - to declare the
existence of the Yezidi as a separate minority within Armenia. The
movement included individuals such as Aziz Tamoyan and Sheik Hassan
and others. They became "volunteer" leaders of this new movement; a
movement which has no scientific basis, and which is fascilitated by
anti-scientific ideas. They tried to prove that the Yezidi are a
separate nationality.

As far as I am aware, Garnik Asatrian has changed his opinion on this
matter. Now he has joined another Party - Dashnakutuune - and has been
a member for two years already. Garnik Asatrian has opened a special
group in Yerevan State University, Twenty to twenty-five young
Armenian students are studying Kurdish language, Kurdish history and
Kurdish issues. I welcome Garnik Asatrian's initiative. He also has
plans to open a degree course - a Masters - in Kurdology. Garnik
Asatrian speaks of the strategic and political development in the
study of the Kurdish question in Armenia at a University level, but
there is not even one word on Yezidi issues.

This is my personal opinion on this problem. The Kurds as an ethnic
group have diversities in terms of worship. Some are Moslem, some are
Zaza, and some are Yezidi. They are ethnically Kurdish, but have
different worship groups. To make a worship group into a separate
nation has no scientific basis. There is no "Yezdistan" as a country,
no Yezdi language - there is "Kurdistan" and the Kurdish language with
all of its dialects. The Kurds are fighting a national liberation
struggle in Turkey, as you know, headed by Apo - Abdullah Ocalan
[Chairman of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)]. All layers of Kurdish
ethnic nationality are included, Yezidis as well. There is a Kurdish
Parliament functioning outside of our geographical motherland that is
considered to be the most democratic Parliament in the world. The
members of the Parliament are all Kurds but belong to different
worship groups. There are Yezidi parliamentarians.



OK:	What do you feel is the motivation behind the promotion of a
separate Yezidi identity?

KC:	The collapse of the Soviet Union promoted revolution - this
was a revolution. During all revolutions, people and interested groups
are promoted that are trying to defend some causes for the sake of
their own benefit, and for the sake of their own interests. In the
words of an Armenian proverb, these people were "trying to catch fish
in dirty water".  This cause was created on a false basis, and the
people interested in the promotion of the Yezidi issue were false
nationalists. This was not done in the interests of Armenians, in the
interests of Armenia, or in the interests of the Kurds. This was just
a falsely created cause to create a so-called national minority issue
in Armenia. I also think we can already see the involvement of
external forces, mainly from Iraq and Turkey where Kurdish problems
are very acute, in the interest of creating a Yezidi issue in Armenia
to provoke two groups of the same ethnic nationality, Yezidi and
Kurds, against each other.

To see the reason why some of those of Kurdish ethnicity declared
themselves as a separate Yezidi ethnicity, we have to see the roots in
the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabagh.
When the conflict started, refugees appeared - Azerbaijanis left from
Armenia, and Armenians left from Azerbaijan as a result of
inter-ethnic conflict.  Azerbaijanis are Moslem, and amongst them
there were mixed marriages with Moslem Kurds, actually who are
Yezidi. These people left Armenia, not because of persecution from
Armenians because they were Kurds, but because they were married to
Azerbaijanis. Those that did not want to leave Armenia, but wanted to
stay here, were afraid. They were fearful that Armenians might
remember 1915 - the Armenian Genocide - when, together with the
Turkish Army, Kurds participated in the genocide of Armenians, and
that there might be attempts to take revenge on the Kurdish population
here. Instead, many declared themselves a separate ethnic identity
that had always had close ties with Armenians, and who always defended
the Armenian cause, fighting besides Armenians for liberation.

During this revolutionary period, many representatives of Kurdish
nationalities and many Armenian scientists spoke through the mass
media, trying to show people that this was a falsely created problem,
and trying to show people that they should not give way to fear, and
that this was provoked by some interest groups. We managed to calm
down people, and there are Moslem Kurds in Armenia who live in peace
with the Armenians, and they are very happy with the conditions that
the Armenian government has created here. There is no discrimination
at all. They live better than in some layers within Armenian society.



OK:	How many Moslem Kurds are left in Armenia?

KC:	About 5,000.



OK:	And what extent of Armenia's 50,000 Yezidi community consider
themselves to be Kurdish, and what extent feel themselves to be a
separate ethnic identity?

KC:	I have said already that this is an artificial problem raised by
some interest groups. However, this artificial movement has already
received some followers. I am a scientist following this issue. I have
a PhD degree, and based on scientific research I want to assert that
in Armenia we do not have Yezidi as a separate nationality. We have
Yezidi-Kurd.



OK:	But I have spoken to one Yezidi family in Armenia who
categorically state that they are in no way related to the Kurds, and
actually - and they used the word - feel hatred towards the Kurds.
They certainly considered themselves part of a separate Yezidi
nationality.

KC:	I want to assure you again and again that this is an artificial
problem, Those people that assert that they are not Yezidi-Kurds, but
are Yezidi as an ethnic group, are trying to dance under the pipe of
some musician. You have a chance to visit eleven Yezidi villages in
Alagatz, and you will see that everyone from a child to an elderly
person will assert that they are Yezidi-Kurd.



OK:	The Yezidi family I met that felt itself to be part of a separate
Yezidi nation showed me the newspaper "Voice of Yezidi". In it there
were photographs of Yezidi fedayi from Armenia that fought alongside
Armenians in Karabagh, and I have heard that it was the Yezidi that
were ferocious in the attempts to clear the Moslem Kurds from Kelbajar
and Lachin during 1992-3.

KC:	I do not reject what you say. It is true, but this side by side
strugle in Karabagh was not undertaken by Yezidi as a separate nation,
but by Armenians and Yezidi-Kurds. The struggle against Azerbaijan is
a recent movement, but it also dates back many centuries. It goes back
to many years ago when Armenians and Kurds initiated a sustainable
movement against Turkey, and this movement has continued until
today. It also culminated in the liberation of Kelbajar. Also, during
the Armenian Genocide, many progressive-minded Kurds saved Armenians.
About 60,000 Armenians were saved, and so there are many different
movements if we uncover the pages of history. We see different
liberation movements with Armenians and Kurds fighting side by side.

I am a Yezidi-Kurd, and all the intellectuals here are
Yezidi-Kurd. When Lachin was liberated Yezidi-Kurds went to Lachin in
twelve cars to celebrate the liberation of Lachin and Kelbajar. We
went there with our pipes, with davul, and we celebrated with
Armenians the liberation of Lachin. I am a writer, and at the same
time a journalist, and I have published a number of articles on
Armenian Kurdish relations and our friendship during the development
of historical events. I have undertaken a lot of research, starting
since the time I defended my thesis for my Bachelor degree and my
Masters degree, and all the topics were on Armenian Kurdish relations.



OK:	Last year a US State Department Report on the human rights
situation in Armenia expressed concerns over cases of discrimination
against the Yezidi in Armenia. Given that the debate over Yezidi and
Yezidi-Kurdish identity is a political one, is there a danger that
such cases of discrimination may increase, and may even be influenced
by the issue of identity?

KC:	This is a very good and reasonable question, but please accept
my answer not as a journalist, but as a human being who has universally
accepted moral principles and who bases his opinions on those moral
principles. If you publish this interview you must print word for word
my response.  What I am about to say is very important.

The answer to this question will be very long. I have written a
monograph of about 200 pages based on scientific research around this
issue. For now though, I want to be brief. When Soviet power was
established in Armenia there were 8,560 Yezidi Kurds in Armenia. At
that same time the policy of the Communists was the same in Armenia as
that in Azerbaijan and in Georgia. From official information, in
Azerbaijan there were about 50,000 Kurds, but unofficially the numbers
were betwen 200-300,000 Azeri Moslem Kurds.

After 1920 based upon population census figures the number of Kurds in
Armenia [OK note: Azerbaijan?] increased up to 260,000. From 1979
census figures in Azerbaijan implied that there was not even one Kurd
- all had been assimilated. In the 1930s Azerbaijan abolished the
autonomous region of "Red Kurdistan" between Karabagh and Armenia. In
terms of discrimination against the Yezidi in Armenia, calling them
illiterate, this is true, but was true for the 1920's, and periodically
the Armenian Government, the Central Communist Party, and the Ministry
of Education, passed resolutions according to which a campaign was
started to educate the Kurds. Kurdish schools were opened in order to
raise the educational standard and literacy of the Kurds.

We should not try to deceive ourselves. The policy of the Communist
Party was the same in all of the Caucasian republics, but the
approaches and the results were different. In Armenia, the attitude
towards the Kurds was based on the friendship between two nations, and
the government had a great contribution in the development of the
Kurds. Progressive minded Armenian intellectuals were fighting for the
Kurdish cause. These progressive minded intellectuals tried to raise
the status of the Kurds, and to bring a greater literacy.

Before 1930s there was not one Kurdish intellectual. Afterwards, we
managed to develop a layer of Kurdish intellectuals, but only because
of this involvement by Armenian intellectuals. Kurds as intellectuals
appeared. "Riya Taza" was first published in the 1930s, A Kurdish
transcaucasian college was opened in Yerevan, Kurdish schools were
opened in all the villages, text books and literature were published
in Kurdish. In 1934, a branch of Kurdish Writers was founded in the
Writers Union of Armenia. I have been the head of this branch for 32
years.  I think that in Armenia, Kurdish cultural autonomy exists
already. Armenia is the only country in the world where Kurds can
realise their intellectual, physical and cultural potential. We have a
theatre, a radio programme, and indeed, every kind of cultural
autonomy has been realised. Any problems that we have faced have been
the same problems that Armenia as a whole has faced as a result of the
economic collapse.



OK:	You publish a magazine "Friendship". What is the circulation, the
ethnic background of the contributors, and what is your hope for the
magazine's future?

KC:	The journal has been published since last year. There is an
association of Armenian-Kurdish friendship and this is the magazine of
that association.  The main objective of the journal is to strengthen
the links between the Armenian and Kurdish communities. The
circulation is 750 and there is a great demand in the magazine. In the
first issue many prominent Armenian scientists such as the President
of the National Academy wrote articles in which they welcomed the
appearance of this journal. The journal relates not only the issue of
friendship beetwen Kurd and Armenian in the territory of Armenia, but
also we are trying to do a study of the extent of relations between
Kurd and Armenian in other countries. We have just returned from
Russia and Kazakstan studying this issue. For the future, I hope I may
be able to study the links between Armenian and Kurds in the diaspora,
in Europe, and in other countires of the world.



OK:	The Kurdish issue is very sensitive, and Garnik Asatrian believes
that one of the major reasons for promoting the Yezidi-Kurdish
identity is in order to link Armenians with the global Kurdish
struggle, and in particular with the struggle in progress within the
Republic of Turkey - a country that is already accusing Armenia of
harbouring Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases and of supplying
weapoms to the Kurdish guerillas.

KC:	MED-TV, the Kurdish Satellite Television station, has had a number
of programmes about Kurdish Armenian relations, and I have appeared on
these programmes along with many other Kurdish and Armenian
scientists, and senior figures from the PKK have referred to these
programmes. We are unanimous in one thing. That the Yezidi-Kurd
problem is an artificial problem created by our enemies in order to
force two nations against each other - Armenians and the Kurds. Our
friendship dates back centuries.

As for the issues you have just raised, this is just the dirty policy
of Turkey, their illusions. They even declare that Apo [Abdullah
Ocalan, Chairman of the Kurdistan Workers Party - PKK] is Armenian. It
is a lie to declare that Armenia supplies weapons to Kurdish
guerillas. We all know about the policy of the Turkish government,
about the articles that appear in their media. Some of these articles
are so absurd that you can not help but laugh at them.

A journalist from a major Turkish newspaper, the name of which I can
not remember,came to Armenia and visited the eleven Yezidi-Kurdish
villages inAlagyaz region. He interviewed people there, and saw them
in their routine life, but when he returned to Turkey he wrote an
article stating that he instead found eleven PKK military bases in
Armenia. This is absurd - they are just villages inhabited by peaceful
people. You can go there and see it for yourself with your own eyes.

However, one thing should be kept in mind. All the Kurds living within
the territory of the former Soviet Union, not only in Armenia but also
in Russia, in Kazakstan and everywhere, support the PKK, and on their
own voluntary initiative want to join the Kurdish national liberation
movement.  Many Kurds from different parts of the Soviet Union have
left their homes - eighteen year olds, twenty, twent-four year olds -
and have joined the movement and are fighting for the cause of
national liberation. Fifty Kurds from Kazakstan went, and recently a
Russian television station interviewed Kurds from Russia who were also
fighting for their PKK. Of course, Kurds from Armenia have also
gone. We know that we already have one victim from Armenia that has
died there [in Turkey] in the struggle, and in all of the houses of
the Kurds in Armenia you can see Apo's picture on the wall. I also
have his picture in my house. All the Kurds in Armenia support the
national liberation movement.



OK:	Your response must surely make the Armenian Government very
concerned, especially given that it has taken every opportunity to
prove that there is no support, or involvement amongst its citizens,
for the PKK.

KC:	The Armenian Governent in no way supports the PKK - politically,
militarily, financially, no support at all. However, lets not confuse
governmental policy with the motivation of the hearts of the Kurds
living in Armenia. If they wish to join the movement, governmental
policy has nothing to do with it. Recently there was a programme on
Russian television that focussed on a Kurd from Georgia. He travelled
to Germany, joined the PKK movement and is now fighting in Turkey. the
same is true for the Kurds living in Armenia. I am a patriot and am
driven by my patriotism, and I might one day decide to go and join the
movement for the cause of national liberation. I will go secretly and
find the means to join secretly, and this is what people are already
doing.

When Turkish journalists come here and visit Kurdish villages they
enter Kurdish houses and see the picture of PKK leaders on the wall,
and the photographs of maryred sons who went, fought and died in
Turkey. This is something we do not hide, but it has nothing to do
with the policy of the Armenian Government. The common people are
driven by their patriotism and fight. In our journal we are not afraid
to openly print the names of those Kurds from Armenia who joined the
movement. Lets not confuse government and subjects.



OK:	I also notice that on the front cover of your journal you have the
words "Biji Newroz" [Newroz - New Year - is celebrated by Kurds
throughout the world, and is a significant event in the Kurdish
calendar. Until 1995 Newroz was illegal in Turkey].

KC:	We celebrate Newroz in Armenia every year on March 21. This
year's celebration was unique - very big. We celebrated in the
Russian theatre, so our patriotic feelings are very obvious. Our
demonstrations, our political meetings, organised here outside the
embassies, and outside the UN, against the violations of human rights
in Turkey, and against US military and financial assistance to Turkey,
is a minority rights struggle of the Kurds living in Armenia and to
show our patriotic feelings.



OK:	Is this a matter of minority rights?

KC:	There is no conflict between Yezidi and Kurds. In Armenia
there is one nationality - the Kurds - which have different worship
groups, and one of these worship groups is Yezidi. Among us we're
unanimous. We defend the Karabagh movement, we defend the Armenian
cause, we consider ourselves to be citizens of Armenia with all kinds
of freedoms as a national minority. There is no national minority
issue in Armenia, and we do not want to create one.



OK:	But what about representation in Parliament?

KC:	All the Kurds are citizens of Armenia, and we enjoy all the rights
that every citizen of Armenia has. We actively participate in the
political life of the Republic of Armenia, we have the right to vote,
and for the next parliamentary elections the Kurdish community wants
to put forward Kurdish candidates. During Soviet times, Kurds were
represented in the Soviet Parliament - at least two Kurds from
Armenia. At the moment we have no Kurdish representative, but we have
applied to the government to take part in the next elections. The way
it is arranged in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is that communities
are represented in Parliament - not based on elections, but as
mandatory representation. For example, in Iran the Armenian community
has a representative that is not elected, but instead represents that
community. This is what we want to use a model for representation in
Armenia.



OK:	In Robert Kocharian's inaugaral address he stressed the
importance of Armenia's national minorities feeling that Armenia is
their home.

KC:	Yes, and the majority of Kurds voted for Kocharian. I am sure he
will promote the cause of giving more and more freedoms to those
minorites within Armenia, and the first thing the new President did
for the Kurdish community was to recognise the importance of Newroz,
which was widely celebrated in Armenia. I have had face to face
meetings with Kocharian, and I have congratulated him on his election.



OK:	How do you feel about Aziz Tamoyan in his role as the spokesperson
for the Yezidi in Armenia, and one of the major exponents of promoting
the Yezidi as a separate ethnic minority?

KC:	Aziz Tamoyan's activities are anti-Kurdish. He elected himself,
he voted for himself as the President of the Yezidi living in Armenia
without taking into consideration the opinion of the Kurds living in
this country. He even made a gold medal, pasted his own photograph on
that gold medal and made himself President of the Yezidi. I consider
him to be an ignorant person, but the word ignorant is really a mild
word to describe what I really think of him. Perhaps better to say he
is a foolish person who has had several years education in primary
school, and has absolutely no knowledge of history, or of the
development of Yezidi affairs. He is just dancing under the pipes of
our enemies.

Aziz Tamoyan plays on patriotic feelings in order to earn money for
his own interests. I can prove that Aziz Tamoyan went to Turkey,
visited Kurdish villages, and in all of the houses he enetered
declared that he was one of the purest Kurds living in Armenia.
Recently, Aziz Tamoyan went to Germany and organised a protest by
Yezidi. He collected around him about 10 Yezidi-Kurds who wanted to
get German citizenship. He planted within them the idea that their
human rights were under attack and had faced discrimination in
Armenia. This is why they had fled to Germany.  Actually, these Yezidi
Kurds wanted to get German citizenship which is why they made such
allegations. My Association received a letter from a human rights
association in Germany asking whether there were human rights
violations against the Kurds within the Republic of Armenia. I was
very offended by this, and wrote an angry reply stating that the human
rights of the Kurds in Armenia are not violated, and that this was a
false problem created by our enemies or by foolish individuals such as
Tamoyan trying to get foreign citizenship for his friends and his
relatives. I invited the Germans to send a delegation to Armenia to
research this issue themselves.



OK:	And Yerevan is still considered a centre for Kurdish Culture?

KC:	It's even better, and it is getting better and better. Every
day there are radio programmes in Kurdish, in the Academy of National
Sciences there is a Kurdish Department which studies and researches
Kurdish history and linguistics. We have a newspaper - Riya Taza - and
in Yerevan State University there is a branch that studies Kurdish
history - and in a private university there is a department of Kurdish
studies. In the Department of Kurdish Writers in the Writer's Union
of Armenia we have regular meetings where we discuss the important
Kurdish issues, and in Alagatz region in the Armenian schools Kurdish
language is taught up until the eighth form. There is a committee
called "Kurdistan" and a society of Kurdish intellectuals. Armenia
provides all the possibilities for the Kurds to develop their culture.



 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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