AN INTERVIEW WITH AMARIK SARDARIAN

Armenian News Network / Groong
June 12, 1998
by Onnik Krikorian


    Amarik Sardarian is the Yezidi editor of the Kurdish newspaper, "Riya
    Taza".  "Riya Taza" is one of the oldest Kurdish newspapers in the
    world and is based in Yerevan, 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 for your finding the time to conduct this interview.
Could you please introduce yourself.

AS:	Firstly, may I thank you for conducting research into the
situation of national minorities within the Republic of Armenia. My
name is Amarik Sardarian, and I am the chief editor of the newspaper,
"Riya Taza", and at the same time the Chairman of the Board of the
Kurdish Intelligentsia Council.

I am also a member of the Union of Journalists and Writers, and I have
a degree of Laureate and am a honourable member of the Union of
Writers. I have been in journalism for 40 years, and started my career
in radio in the Department of Kurdish Programmes. Since 1952 I have
been working at "Riya Taza". I started my work here as a translator,
then became a journalist, vice-chairman, chairman, vice-editor, and
now I am chief editor.



OK:	Can you tell me a little about "Riya Taza"? It has been said
that it was one of the first Kurdish newspapers, and I would also be
interested in hearing what its circulation is, and whether that
circulation has changed over time.

AS:	"Riya Taza" has been published since 1930, and it has been the
longest surviving of all Kurdish newspapers. It was the third or the
fourth Kurdish newspaper to come into existence in the world, but not
the first. The first Kurdish newspaper was called "Kurdistan" and
published in Cairo in 1898. After that some other newspapers and
journals were published abroad, but "Riya Taza" was the first Kurdish
newspaper to be published in the Soviet Union, and perhaps the only
one.

As for the circulation, before the collapse of the Soviet Union the
circulation was more than 5,000, with readers in other
Republics. After the collapse of the Soviet Union former ties with
other Republics also collapsed, and circulation has now fallen to
around 700. The newspaper used to be published twice a week during
Soviet times, but now it is twice a month. It consists of four pages,
so the size has decreased too.  The newspaper is now only read within
Armenia, and I would like to say why the number of readers within
Armenia has also decreased.

Firstly, the educational level in the community is not very high, and
secondly, the community is mainly scattered in mountainous regions far
from roads, and delivering the newspaper to those regions is very
difficult. We do not sell the newspaper at newspaper stands. We only
deliver the newspaper by subscription.

This is a completely de-politicised newspaper that does not favour any
political party, and the issues we address are mainly in the areas of
culture, science, and language. At present the newspaper survives
because of financial assistance from the Government of Armenia. This
financial assistance is hardly enough for our survival. We have three
members of staff, but nevertheless we are grateful to the Government
for its financial assistance otherwise we would be closed.

We are very much concerned by the attitude of rich Kurds -
millionaires - living abroad, and we would like to know that our voice
reaches them so that they know what a miserable situation our
newspaper is in. This newspaper is a chronicle for this community so
it is worth preserving it and taking care of it. Rich Kurds in the
diaspora should be concerned for its survival. It is worth pointing
out that we do not have a single computer, and that we are using an
old method of publication - Linotype. We have no fax machine, and our
correspondents have no way to hand in their articles but to visit the
office. In order not to finish on this sad note I am certain that in
the future we will prosper. We know that there are international
organisations that try to promote the development of free media and I
will be happy if they take us into consideration.



OK:	The first thing that I notice about "Riya Taza" is that it looks
as though it is published in Russian. I presume it is Kurmanji written
in cyrillic script, and that this was because Riya Taza was distributed
outside of Armenia in other Soviet Republics.

AS:	Yes, and one of the misfortunes of our nation is that we are using
three different scripts. Latin, Cyrillic and Arabic. In 1929, when an
alphabet was chosen for the Kurds in Armenia, the Latin alphabet was
chosen.  From 1929-1937 everything was published in Latin. In 1937
Stalin issued a decree that all those nationalities that before the
revolution did not have their own alphabet should transfer to the
Russian alphabet.  Armenians and Georgians had their own alphabets,
but the Kurds transferred to Russian [Cyrillic]. In 1937 the newspaper was 
closed and was only re-opened in 1954 because of the persecution in the
period of Stalin.  After that, the newspaper was published in Russian.
Changing the alphabet now from Russian [Cyrillic] to Latin creates great
problems - financially and educationally.



OK:	Are you Yezidi or Kurd?

AS:	I am a Yezidi, but unlike those people that confuse the question of
nationality with religion, I recognise the distinction. By religion I
am Yezidi, but I consider myself to be Kurdish by nationality. the
majority of Kurds in Armenia - perhaps 98% - are Yezidi Kurds, and the
percentage of Moslem Kurds is very insignificant.

During 1989-1990 the Moslem Kurds left Armenia. This issue very often
becomes politicised and a foundation for political debate. Some people
claim that Moslem Kurds were persecuted, and because of that they left
Armenia. The reality is that Moslem Kurds lived in the villages with
Azerbaijanis. Their children attended the same schools as the
Azerbaini children, and they were linked to the Azerbaijanis through
mixed marriages. When the Azerbaijanis left Armenia as a result of the
conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabagh, Moslem
Kurds left too. There was no persecution of the Moslem Kurds by
Armenians.

There are still Moslem Kurds in Armenia, but their numbers are
very insignificant. They live in the regions of Sevan and Dilijan and
they live very well. Not in terms of economy, a problem facing
Armenians as well, but in terms of human relations. There is no
discrimination, but there are some interest groups - our enemies -
that play on this issue.  



OK:	The debate between Yezidi and Yezidi-Kurd is very interesting, 
and it has been suggested that more money has been made available to those 
groups that encourage a separate Yezidi national identity. I think that 
"Riya Taza" was closed for six months in recent years whilst separate Yezidi 
newspapers seemed to flourish.

AS:	I want to apologise for repeating what I have already said. the
money that comes to "Riya Taza" comes only from the Government. As for
the "Voice of Yezidi" it is only published once or twice a year, and
this money too comes from the Government. I am on very bad terms with
Aziz Tamoyan, the National Chairman of the Union of Yezidi, I do not
have a very high opinion of him as a human being, but I can not go
against my conscience. They are in a very bad financial situation as
well.

I do however, want to express my gratitude towards the Soros
Foundation for the publication of a book, "Kurdistan: In the Shadow of
History" by Susan Meiselas.



OK:	In that book, the map of Kurdistan goes into Armenia and up to
Etchmiadzin.

AS:	Unfortunately, I know those maps, but in the book the map just
illustrates the distribution of the Kurds - where the Kurds live. Many
regions were also included, including Aragatz, and Western Armenia
[Eastern Turkey]. We do not mean to say that Western Armenia and these
other regions are Kurdistan, but that they are the areas where the
Kurds live.

Recently a lecture was held in the American University of Armenia by
an Armenian academic from the United States, Astarjian, who is the
head of the Centre of Armenian and Kurdish Friendship. The topic was
"Kurdish Revolution and the Armenian Cause". In his lecture he
mentioned that he had meetings with Kurdish Parliament members and
leaders of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and that certain
agreements were be taken into consideration.

Armenia was to be a separate country, and Kurdistan was to be a
separate country. According to these agreements the boundaries of
Armenia were set, and there was no overlap. Kurdistan started from
Lake Van. So, I do not exclude that there are people who have big dreams, 
and that may even claim that Kurdistan even extends up until the Urals. 
However, it is not real.



OK:	Can you give me more detailed overview of the content of "Riya
Taza"?  For example, does it just deal with issues indigenous to
Armenia, or does it deal with Kurdish issues in Turkey, Iran and Iraq?

AS:	Because "Riya Taza" is a newspaper sponsored by the Armenian
Government, we feel responsible for illustrating life in Armenia in
general, and not specifically the life of the Kurdish community
here. In the history of our culture, folklore plays a key role, and we
always deal with such issues in our newspaper. How it is of great
importance to Kurdish culture, and also because the main bearers of
Kurdish folklore are elderly people whose time on this earth is very
limited we hope to preserve that folklore through our newspaper for
future generations. At the same time we pay great attention to the
development of our literature, and developing a tradition of Kurdish
literary language. We also illustrate the life of the Kurds in Armenia
in our newspaper.

It would be illogical if the newspaper stayed neutral to what is
happening in Turkey but unfortunately we have no correspondents
abroad. We mainly use the news that appears in the Armenian and
Russian media. The interest of the Kurdish community in Armenia is
very strong with regards to the [global Kurdish] movement, and
articles on the situation in Turkey are demanded even. The ideology of
the movement is not vital, we are more interested in the national
trends of this movement in terms of the fact that it is directed
against Turkey and against the violation of human rights. And also in
terms of the fact that the Kurds have taken up arms to defend their
families, and their wives and children.

According to some sources the total Kurdish population within Turkey
is 20 million. However, the Turkish Government does not even want to
accept the existence of Kurds in Turkey. According to the last census
in Armenia in 1989 the number of Yezidi and Moslem Kurds was sixty
thousand, and in Armenia the Government has created the best
environment for the development of our culture, our schools, our
culture and our language. However, we only see persecution and
massacre in Turkey.



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.

AS:	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.

AS:	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.


 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.

| Home | Administrative | Introduction | Armenian News | World News | Feedback |