AN INTERVIEW WITH AMARIK SARDAR, EDITOR OF RIYA TAZA NEWSPAPER

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
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.
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