AN INTERVIEW WITH HRANUSH KHARATYAN

Armenian News Network / Groong
September 15, 2004
By Onnik Krikorian


    Hranush Kharatyan is the Head of the Department of National
    Minorities and Religious Affairs in the Armenian Government. This
    interview was held in Yerevan on 6 September 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: Perhaps I could start by asking what role this
department has in relation to national minorities living in the
Republic of Armenia?

HRANUSH KHARATYAN: Even though Armenia had signed a Convention on the
protection of national minority rights there was still the need for a
state-body to define who are national minorities and what are their
problems. There was the need to formulate concepts and definitions as
well as to inform national minorities of their rights and issues
related to those rights.

In January, this government agency was formed and we immediately
attempted to identify what were the most urgent problems facing
national minorities living in the Republic of Armenia. However, to
understand what these problems are, we first needed to determine what
steps should be taken by the state. In March, the first report on the
Convention was published which included the opinion of experts from
the Council of Europe as well as individuals from Armenia. This is all
in one publication.

On 26 March we held a meeting with national minorities and other
organizations involved in this area to speak about the issues and
problems in general. We distributed this publication and formed
working groups. One group worked on the law on national minorities in
the Republic of Armenia while a second worked on compiling another
report on the Convention. A third working group concerned itself with
the creation of an official state web site that will deal with
national minorities and their problems. We will also receive a space
of 800 square meters from the government to establish a cultural
center for national minorities and a fourth working group is
preoccupied with this so that we can study and protect the culture of
national minorities.

In all these directions, work is now coming to an end. The report is
written and is under discussion, as is the law on national minorities,
and the work on the center will soon be complete -- the problem now is
in deciding how best to use it. Apart from issues related to the
teaching of national minority languages in schools and the printing of
text books, we are mainly concerned with social issues which, while
actually not part of our responsibility, we try to help out with
however we can.



OK:	I noticed you have a pen marked "Kurdish Institute of
Brussels" on your table. Do you have any connection with them?

HK:	Recently, they came to speak to us about this Kurd-Yezidi
issue. I can say that currently, this is the most actual problem that
exists among national minorities in the Republic of Armenia.



OK:	Which is why I came to speak to you today.

HK:	I had already supposed that...



OK:	Everyone has the right to determine their own
identity. However, this creates a problem if you have a minority such
as the Yezidi in Armenia who are divided as to whether they are
ethnically Kurdish or not. For example, one of the main issues that
individuals such as Amarik Sardarian and the Kurdistan Committee have
raised with me in recent weeks is that the language spoken by the
Yezidi minority in Armenia hasn't been identified as Kurmanji in the
recent census -- it was called "Yezideren."

HK:	Mr. Krikorian, these are Kurds saying that. Have you met
Yezidi?



OK:	Yes. After working for five years on Kurdish issues in Europe
and Turkey, I came to Armenia in 1998 to undertake research on the
Yezidi minority in Armenia which included interviewing people such as
Aziz Tamoyan as well as the Kurdish side of the community. However,
while you may call them Kurds, we know, for example, that Amarik
Sardarian is a Yezidi and so is Charkaze Rash-Mstoyan, the head of the
Kurdistan Committee. They call themselves Kurds but they are Yezidi by
religion and from speaking to academics outside of Armenia as well as
journalists who have experience of the Yezidi in Iraq and Germany, few
dispute the fact that the Yezidi are ethnic Kurds.

HK:	I want to repeat my question. Have you ever met people who
call themselves Yezidi and not Kurds?



OK:	Yes, I have already mentioned Aziz Tamoyan [President of the
National Union of Yezidi] who took me to some villages in Hoktemberian
[Armavir] where they said they were not Kurds and also, I have met
Yezidi in Kharberd and Oshagan who have said the same.

HK:	I want to go over some history and what I say should be
published in its entirety. It is important that any conclusion should
be left to your readers because there is so much false information
coming out of Armenia from people such as Amarik Sardarian and
Charkaze Rash-Mstoyan.

First, I will speak about the events of the past year and then look
into the history. When I started work in January, I called people from
both sides -- those that called themselves Yezidi and those that
called themselves Kurds -- because the Ministry of Education had
received an application from the Kurdish community to have their
textbooks published in Kurdish. The Yezidi community, however, had
requested that textbooks be published in the Yezidi language.



OK:	But it's the same language...

HK:	Please let me continue...



OK:	Okay.

HK:	Both Yezidi and Kurdish children are going to the same school
in the same village so I suggested that all the children should be able
to attend school to study in their mother tongue. Both sides were
arguing over the words "Kurdish" and "Yezidi" to refer to their
language and so I suggested that we call it Kurmanji. The Kurds went
away to think over this suggestion before returning and agreeing but
the Yezidi came back with complaints from their village heads saying
that they were being deprived of their mother tongue and also, their
identity.

I have complaints from seventeen villages saying that they want the
Yezidi language to be taught in their villages and when I was on
television and referred to people wanting to speak Kurmanji, I
received complaints from the Yezidi accusing me, as the head of the
Office of National Minorities, of trying to destroy the Yezidi
community using the same methods as the Communist regime.

I invited people such as Amarik Sardarian, Aziz Tamoyan and others to
talk face to face with them so that I could understand the issue but
all there was were different kinds of threats such as "we'll take you
to court" from both sides. Then I suggested that a group of five
people from both sides of the community come together to sit and
decide the issue in my presence but without any interference on my
part.

There was four hours of intense conversation and because the issue was
so sensitive I suggested that we record it so that afterwards we
didn't accuse each other. We recorded four ninety-minute cassettes and
I have transcribed all that was said. There was lots of emotion,
passion and even blackmail and threats recorded in this conversation
and accusations made by both sides against each other as well as
against the Government. The Kurdish side, for example, said they will
contact the international Kurdish community and that "they will show
us."

After that, I had separate conversations with both Kurdish and Yezidi
intellectuals but I would like to say that for ten years I worked in
the Institute of Oriental Studies. For ten years I heard from these
people how the soviet system was depriving them of their Yezidi
identity. Now, these same people come to me saying that the Republic
of Armenia is taking away their Kurdish identity.

As an ethnologist, I understand this process and that in both groups
-- Kurds and Yezidi -- there are people who very passionately and
genuinely believe in their national identity.  However, in both groups
there are also those who have political ambitions and who are only
interested in money and are acting "under orders."

Yet, despite the fact that I am an ethnologist and a scientist, and
despite the fact that I am a state official, I will call people with
the same name that they are calling themselves. As a scientist I
understand that during the establishment of a national identity that
this transformation brings with it some very difficult and serious
problems.

I don't know what will happen to both sides of the community -- both
Yezidi and Kurds -- but I do know that there are some people who are
trying to establish themselves. In the world, this is not the only
example. Right now, Croatians and Serbs are enemies even though
genetically, they are the same nation. However, there are no genetic
nations. Nations are social and from time to time, things change.

I feel sorry for people from both sides of the community with their
ideology and who call themselves Kurd or Yezidi. Because of this, I
have announced and still insist that the Government of the Republic of
Armenia -- and this state body -- will not interfere in this issue by
saying that someone is a Kurd or a Yezidi. As long as I am in this
position that will be the situation.



OK:	Could I just say that when I came to Armenia in 1998 to look
at the Yezidi community in Armenia and saw this division, I also felt
that it was not my right to stand in front of someone who says that
they're not Kurdish to tell them that they are. It's up to each
individual to define their own identity. However, the issue of
language appears to be a very serious problem. I agree with your
attempt at compromise by calling it Kurmanji which does exist as a
language whereas "Yezideren" does not. This strikes me as the only
compromise that can be made.

HK:	But Mr. Krikorian, there is Gorani, Sorani, Kurmanji...



OK:	Which are all considered dialects of Kurdish...

HK:	That's right. However, if there was one literary Kurdish
language then this problem would not be so complicated but each speaks
with their own dialect...



OK:	But I haven't suggested that you should to call it [the
language of the Yezidi in Armenia] Kurdish. I've suggested that it
would appear that the compromise would be to simply call it what it is
-- Kurmanji. I'm not even saying call it Kurmanji Kurdish, I'm asking
why doesn't the Government just call it Kurmanji?

HK:	We haven't ratified the name of the language of either side in
the curriculum or for textbooks.



OK:	An American who speaks a variation of English doesn't say lets
call this language "American" in case people think we're English, they
call it "American English."

HK:	That's very true but for example, there isn't such a language
as Croatian but now the world now acknowledges that this language
exists. It is not my fault that such processes occur in the
world. Sometimes they are beyond any sense of logic. There also isn't
such a language as Moldavian but the world acknowledges that there is
one.



OK:	But for example, we know that there are how many hundreds of
thousands of Yezidi in Germany and Iraq who say that they speak
Kurmanji and if some Yezidi in Armenia say they speak "Yezideren,"
doesn't this create a few problems?

HK:	Yezidi are holding demonstrations here and sending photographs
to Germany and the German Immigration Office to show how Armenians are
depriving them of their identity and rights. One of the people doing
this is Aziz Tamoyan.



OK:	I hadn't heard about these demonstrations from that
[non-Kurdish] side of the Yezidi community.

HK:	It's a continuing process. They always hold them.



OK:	This was a very sensitive issue even in 1998 and it seems as
though it's become even more so. However, one other aspect of this
division that makes it more sensitive is that the "Voice of Yezidi"
newspaper is published in Armenian and not even in "Yezideren," which
is actually Kurmanji or whatever. It's published in the Armenian
script and in the Armenian language.  Then, you have the Kurdistan
Committee publishing a pro-Kurdish National Liberation Movement
newspaper in Kurdish.

However, then you have someone like Amarik Sardarian, the editor of
the longest-running Kurdish language newspaper in the world --
something that I would have thought that Armenia would be very proud
of -- who's having problems printing his newspaper because he's stuck
in the middle to some extent. You have politics on both sides but from
the perspective of national minority languages, this is a huge
problem,

HK:	Both Kurds and Yezidi receive equal finance from the
Government. I know it's very little but it is the same.



OK:	Amarik Sardarian said that he doesn't receive anything from
the Government.

HK:	He is receiving a grant from the Government. Maybe it's too
little to cover all the costs for publishing his newspaper but he is
receiving something.



OK:	Going back to the political aspect of this division, the
allegation is that during the Levon Ter Petrosian years there was an
official policy to deny the Yezidi their Kurdish identity. You have
said that the Armenian Government will never say that someone is
Yezidi or Kurdish but during the Levon Ter Petrosian years these sorts
of statements were made. The Government would officially deny that
there were any Kurds at all in the Republic of Armenia.

HK:	So, we have the figures from the census and Armenia has signed
the European Charter which determines the official languages of the
Republic of Armenia such as Kurdish or Yezidi...



OK:	You mean the Yezidi language which doesn't exist as a separate
language.  This is still a problem, isn't it? The Yezidi language...

HK:	We are trying to find the one common language for their
textbooks.



OK:	In your opinion, can the Armenian Government do anything? For
example, the Kurds are suggesting holding an international conference.
Can the Government involve itself in this or is it up to the community
to determine its own identity?

HK:	Armenia has signed many international conventions in which it
states that a person is free to determine their own nationality and
their own ethnicity. There are some Armenians that are genetically
Armenian but call themselves, for example, Russian. Shall we arrange
an international conference to determine if they are Armenians or not?



OK:	If it creates a problem for their community, then yes.

HK:	So, now we have a draft law on national minorities and this
law outlines the rights of a citizen of the Republic of Armenia but
not everyone can be called an ethnic minority. There are some gray
areas and some criteria that these groups should meet before being
recognized as such. If there are certain groups that consider that
they have been overlooked then they can use the law.

Conferences can be organized with the participation of many
non-governmental organizations but I think that the Government of the
Republic of Armenia has no right to decide on this issue. You can
discuss this with non-governmental organizations working in this area.

The Government of the Republic of Armenia is not preventing people
from expressing their national identity and conferences and scientific
discussion can only help if they are based on a scientific and not a
political basis.


--
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.
Copyright 2004 Armenian News Network/Groong. All Rights Reserved.

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