REVIEW: Fire and Passion in the Russian Theatre

The Twentieth Anniversary of the Kurdish National Liberation Movement
(29 November 1998)
Armenian News Network / Groong
By Onnik Krikorian
November 30, 1998


YEREVAN, Armenia -- Sunday morning started with an Armenian coffee at
a cafe on Abovian, allowing me to relax and pass the time before
attending what I had been told was simply a Kurdish event at the
Russian Theatre further on up the road. I knew I had the right day
when a large group of both young and old people walked by - the women
wearing the Kurdish colours of red, green and yellow. I felt like
saying "Rojbash" as they walked by, but decided against it - fashion
in Yerevan can be a confusing and fickle affair.

However, there was no mistaking the darker-skinned people that were
congregating outside the Theatre as I approached it. Vans parked
alongside the road had PKK and ERNK flags adorning them, and about
twelve Armenian policemen stood to their side, pleasantly chatting
among themselves. As I approached the entrance I could hear new
arrivals greet each other with "Rojbash". They were definitely
speaking Kurmanji, and this was definitely a PKK [Kurdistan Workers
Party] affair.

The marshall on the door - a young man of about twenty-five - bore an
ERNK [National Liberation Front of Kurdistan - the political wing of
the PKK] identification tag, and after I introduced myself he proudly
declared that he had been to Turkey to fight with the guerillas. The
mimicking of firing a rifle as he murmured "partisan" was a nice
touch, I thought.  He did however look confused when I asked him if he
was Yezidi. He was definitely Kurdish he declared, but did admit that
he was a follower of the Yezidi religion in Armenia.

A bus from Talinn arrived, and about twenty children departed and
neatly assembled as they unfurled their PKK and ERNK flags, and held
high photographs of fallen PKK martyrs and of Abdullah Ocalan,
President of the Kurdistan Workers Party.  After a steadying of nerves
they marched along the street to the entrance of the Theatre,
screaming "Biji Apo, Biji PKK, Biji Kurdistan" [Long Live Abdullah
Ocalan, Long Live the PKK, Long Live Kurdistan] and making the sign of
victory.

Only thing - the door was locked. After a few giggles, they regained
their composure and ventured to the side door - kind of cute, I
thought.

The event inside was about to start. There must have been about two
thousand or more Yezidi of all ages, and from all over Armenia
chanting yet more pro-PKK slogans, and while dancing in time to the
recorded Kurdish revolutionary songs that were playing as final
preparations were being made. On stage, the instruments of some of the
many bands about to play were being set up, and a stern looking young
woman - I would say definitely a Turkish Kurd [She appeared to speak
only Kurdish] - readied herself with her Armenian translator standing
by.

With a passion and a fire that I have not experienced since journeying
to southeast Turkey last year, she screamed her support for Ocalan,
proudly gazing upon the overpowering portrait of her leader with an
unmistakable look of admiration and allegiance. The recorded message
from Ocalan to the audience was delivered in a manner befitting a true
and irrefutable leader.

Film crews from Armenian television recorded her very expressions of
resistance before turning to record the fervor that had by now
overtaken the entire audience. When the first band appeared the
audience went wild. Old Yezidi women dressed in Kurdish colours to
beautiful young Yerevan-chic Yezidi girls all linked fingers and
danced in a manner typifying every Kurdish event from London to
Diyarbakir. Hundreds of Yezidi danced in circles through every aisle
in the auditorium, and small children appeared on stage waving PKK
flags twice or three times their size. The front row of the audience
consisting of representatives from Dashnaktsutiune, the Communist
Party, the Armenian media and the Greek Community looked on with both
delight and respect.

Even after the music had died down, rousing speeches of support for
the Kurdish national liberation movement from Sergey Badalyan - leader
of the Communists - and Gegham Manukyan - representing Dashnaktsutiune
- brought the audience back to their chanting. Manukyan's message in
Kurdish for the success of the PKK in liberating Kurdistan was
particularly appreciated - it turns out that his imprisonment during
the Ter-Petrossian years, and his sharing of a cell with three Kurdish
asylum seekers, gave him an excellent opportunity to learn Kurmanji.

Passion eventually gave way to a small group of Greek children singing
a song about farmyard animals. The audience didn't understand the
lyrics, but found the animal noises particularly funny and
touching. Later one of the girls - about five - danced with some
Yezidi children in amongst a sea of passion personified. As if from
nowhere, the number of ERNK and PKK flags seemed to double, and even
outside the auditorium, three Armenian policemen were nodding in
approval to the PKK literature and magazines made available for all to
read. Inside, an Armenian operatic singer was now delighting the
audience with a rendition of Shoregh-jahn before the Theatre once more
resonated with the fast tempo of Saz and Zorna, and the beautiful
sight and sound of Yezidi women - dressed in traditional costume -
singing contemporary Kurdish dance music as only Kurdish women
can. Rabiz and Rai music have nothing on this...

When the event was over, and as I left, I could not help but think
about the fact that to most Armenians, since the migration of
Armenia's Moslem Kurdish population almost a decade ago, Armenia was
devoid of all Kurds. As the last buses rolled away to Talinn and
Hoktemberian, and as Yerevan's Yezidi proudly marched back to their
homes, there was no doubting that the Kurdish national liberation
movement had come to Armenia. The transformation of Armenia's Yezidi,
and the re-awakening of their national and political aspirations was
now complete.


--
Onnik Krikorian is a journalist, photojournalist and new media
consultant who has spent over three years working on projects
surrounding the Kurds in Turkey and the Caucasus. He currently
lives and works in Armenia. His work on the Kurds can be seen
online at:  http://www.freespeech.org/oneworld/photo/
His photographs of the Kurds in Turkey and Armenia are to be
published toward the end of December in the next edition of
"Armenian Forum".
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