Armenian News Network / Groong September 14, 2004 By Onnik Krikorian Amarik Sardar is the Yezidi editor of Riya Taza, the oldest surviving Kurdish newspaper in the world. This interview was held in the Riya Taza office in Yerevan on 25 August 2004 and is part of a follow-up series of interviews to work on the division within the Yezidi minority in Armenia conducted during June 1998. YEREVAN, ARMENIA ONNIK KRIKORIAN: What is the present state of the Riya Taza newspaper? AMARIK SARDAR: Riya Taza is now published once a month. It used to be published regularly until 1991 but because of a lack of finance last year, we couldn't publish an edition for six months. Kurdish organizations and parties don't support us financially although from time to time some individuals give ten, twenty or even fifty dollars from their own pockets. Sometimes, our boys who now live and work in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and other countries send us money. OK: What about international organizations? Although Armenia has a very small number of national minorities within its borders, organizations such as the OSCE, United Nations and Council of Europe talk about minority rights. Don't they help support a minority publication? AS: Apart from Soros who provided some computers, we haven't received much assistance from international organizations at all. The French Embassy sponsored one issue of Riya Taza because one of our guys is a famous film director in France and UNDP sponsored another but it wasn't an easy experience for us because so much documentation was required. Apart from that there has been nothing. You know that this paper has been published since 1930 and is the longest-surviving Kurdish newspaper in the world but I don't know why there is this division between the Yezidi and the Kurds in Armenia. Both Yezidi and Kurds speak the same language that this newspaper is published in and we are the same nation with the same culture. The only difference is that the Yezidi didn't adopt Islam and still worship the sun. According to the last census in Armenia, there are approximately 45,000 Yezidi and Kurds in Armenia who are paying taxes in this country. The Government could at least provide just a little bit of money from these taxes that are collected to preserve our culture. However, we don't receive any assistance from the Government even though we are one of the oldest newspapers in Armenia. Yet, also according to the last census, there are somewhere between 800-1000 Ukrainians in the Republic of Armenia and most of them are members of Armenian families. Ukrainian girls marry Armenian men, for example, and for three or four years they have been able to publish a newspaper. Surprisingly, this newspaper receives assistance from the State. What kind of discrimination is this? You might think that with so many Yezidi villages, why aren't we able to support this newspaper ourselves but you have to realize that the situation is terrible. In a village that once had one hundred and fifty families, for example, there are now as few as thirteen or fifteen families left. Some villages don't even have drinking water. Neighboring villages transport water in tanks to sell although it's now mainly the case that water is bartered for goods. I want to talk about this division between Yezidi and Kurds. I have already said that the Yezidi are part of the Kurdish nation... OK: Before you do that, can we speak a little more about Riya Taza? AS: Please. OK: What is the operating budget for the newspaper? AS: There are three people working here and I almost feel ashamed to say that as Chief Editor, I receive 25,000 drams ($50) a month as salary and the other two employees receive 20,000 drams ($40). With publishing costs and other expenses such as rent and electricity as well as salaries, it comes to $6,000 a year. OK: Do you manage to raise that $6,000 a year? AS: No. If we have the money we publish but if we don't, we can't and we also don't receive our salaries. OK: When I interviewed you in 1998, Riya Taza was published in the Cyrillic alphabet. Is that still the case? AS: Since 2000, it has been published in the Latin script. OK: Is this a problem for readers in the villages? Can they read the Latin alphabet? AS: It's not a problem because they study foreign languages such as English and German at school so yes, they can read it. Until the beginning of 1938 we were using the Latin script but by the order of Stalin it was changed to Cyrillic. The Kurds in Europe, Turkey and Syria are using the Latin Script and even in Iran and Iraq, while they also use Arabic, it is also the same. That is why we decided to change back to Latin. However, there was some pressure from the Government on this issue. There is the Union of Kurdish Intellectuals who applied to the Government requesting that, in order to avoid being isolated from our nation, we should return to the situation before Stalin when Kurdish textbooks and newspapers were published in the Latin script. After three months of waiting for a response, we applied for a second time and then received an answer. They said that despite the Latin script being used by Kurds in Europe, Turkey and Syria, the alphabet couldn't accommodate the sounds that exist in the Kurdish language. I don't understand how the Latin alphabet can be used outside of Armenia for the Kurdish language but not here. Can you explain that to me? Let's speak quite plainly. There are certain officials and circles here that do not want to hear of the Kurds or Kurdistan. OK: There's also another newspaper, "Yezidi Voice," that was being published by that part of the Yezidi community that says that it has no connection with the Kurdish nation. Is that newspaper still being published? AS: Yes [shows copy], it's published in the Armenian language and in the Armenian alphabet. OK: Does the "Yezidi Voice" newspaper receive state assistance? AS: No, it doesn't. OK: Let's talk about the division that still exists within the Yezidi community in Armenia. I was at the Kurdistan Committee office yesterday and they told me that in the 2001 census it was recorded that there were something like 41,000 Yezidi in Armenia and 1,500 Kurds. It was also registered in the census that the Yezidi spoke a language called "Yezideren" even though most specialists outside of Armenia call it Kurmanji (a dialect of Kurdish). What is your opinion on that? AS: I can't believe these figures in the census because I was born in Armenia, live in the capital and am a citizen of the Republic of Armenia yet during the census no one came to count me. The Kurdistan Committee printed 5,000 questionnaires and distributed them in the villages and all of the respondents said that they were Kurds. OK: This division doesn't appear to exist in any other country where there are Yezidi. Why does it exist in Armenia? AS: It is very strange for me to consider that Armenia, with an intelligentsia that was once only behind that of Russia, can not understand the difference between religion and nationality. Levon Ter Petrosian was one of the best specialists in the Republic but when representatives of the Kurdish intelligentsia asked him why he was dividing the Yezidi in Armenia, he responded by saying "because that's how it is." Later, when he attended Turgut Ozal's funeral in Turkey, a Kurdish journalist asked him about the situation of the Kurds in Armenia but Ter Petrosian denied that there were any. There were only Yezidi, he said. OK: You're Yezidi by religion? AS: Yes. OK: But you also consider yourself a Kurd? AS: Of course. You are Armenian and a Christian but don't say that you are Christian by nationality because it is simply your belief. Certain individuals and officials in various circles are starting to use the term "Yezidi" in an attempt to prove that we have no connection with the Kurds. However, when referring to the Molokans this does not mean that they are not Russians. I am not saying everyone in government is doing this -- only certain officials and individuals. For example, Garnik Asatrian says that the Zaza, the Gorani and the others are not Kurds but these people consider themselves as such and are involved in the Kurdish National Liberation Movement. When there were demonstrations in support of Abdullah Ocalan in Yerevan, 10,000 Yezidi took part. If we are not the same nation, why did 10,000 Yezidi take to the streets in support of Ocalan? What is more worrying for me, however, is that the Union of Armenian Aryans recently said in an interview with the Aravot newspaper that the Yezidi, Kurds and Jews should be expelled from Armenia. OK: If something like that was published in England it would be considered as inciting people to racial hatred. Have you made a complaint to various international organizations or even the Human Rights Ombudsman, Larissa Alaverdian? AS: We went to Larissa Alaverdian but the problem with Armenia is that everybody is silent. Even the National Academy of Sciences insults our religion in their magazine and the former head of the Hunchak party, who was once an MP, wrote an article entitled "The Snakes Amongst Us." For two months, through the Hunchak Party newspaper, he published articles against the Yezidi, calling us traitors to Armenia but where is he now? He sold the building and the furniture that belonged to his party and went to live in Lebanon. There is so much pain that I don't know what to say. The Kurdish language broadcast on Public Radio used to be one hour but now it has been cut to thirty minutes. Since 1980, not a single textbook in the Kurdish language has been published and Riya Taza used to be published twice a week thanks to state sponsorship but now we can only publish once a month, and even that is with great difficulty. We are an independent newspaper and don't support the PKK or the other Kurdish political parties. We can write both positive and negative articles about the PKK or Barzani and Talibani [Kurdish leaders in Iraq]. More importantly, we are simply trying to serve our community. I want to say, however, that I am very proud to have been born in Armenia and that I live among Armenians because this is really a wonderful nation. However, although maybe this isn't relevant to the interview, I want to say that yesterday, a Yezidi family from Talinn came to this office. Their son had served for nine months in the Armenian army before he ran away. The military police searched for him and during this period when couldn't be found, he married. His wife gave birth to two children. Then, they caught him and he was sent back to the army to be stationed in Goris. The next day he was dead and despite the wounds all over his body, the military police and Gagik Jahangirian [the Chief Military Prosecutor] says that he died from a heart attack [shows photographs of corpse with severe bruising and signs of violent beating on virtually every inch of his body]. If it was a heart attack, what are these wounds? OK: I think it's worth pointing out that there are similar cases of Armenians dying under the same circumstances while serving in the military. AS: There are many such cases. -- Other interviews conducted with representatives of the Yezidi community in Armenia as well as political and academic figures were also published through the Armenian News Network / Groong in June 1998 and can be found online at: http://www.oneworld.am/journalism/yezidi/ or http://www.groong.org/orig/yezidi-index.html
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