Armenian News Network / Groong October 9, 2006 By Onnik Krikorian YEREVAN, ARMENIA Hasan Tamoyan is Deputy President of the National Union of Yezidis, member of the National Minority Council, and Head of Yezidi language programs on Armenian Public Radio. ONNIK KRIKORIAN: Perhaps we could start with introducing yourself? HASSAN TAMOYAN: Everyone knows me. Just represent me as Hasan Tamoyan, but if you want I can tell you my title. OK: Please. HT: So, I am an Honored Journalist of the Republic of Armenia, Head of the Yezidi Programme on Public Radio, Editor of the Yezidikhana newspaper, in the President's Office I represent the Yezidi Community on the Coordinating Council for National Minorities, and I am Aziz Tamoyan's Deputy in the National Union of Yezidis. OK: What is the circulation of your newspaper? HT: We publish 500 copies once a month. Because of financial problems, however, it is published irregularly. The Government helps with a certain amount of money and we want to publish it more frequently as well as increase its circulation. OK: As I said yesterday, the main issue that I want to cover is the division within the Yezidi community regarding ethnic identity. My understanding is that there are those Yezidis that say they are ethnic Kurds and there are those that say they are not. What is your opinion on this matter? HT: This is not an opinion, this is a fact. If someone is a Yezidi there is no division. I have never seen any division among Yezidis. OK: But, for example, I can go to Yezidi villages and meet some Yezidis who say they are Kurds as well. Of course, I am not saying that this is all Yezidis. HT: If they are Kurds what connection do they have with Yezidis? OK: According to academic sources outside of Armenia, Yezidis are ethnic Kurds who speak the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish but practice the Yezidi religion. HT: I don't know anything like that. I only know that my ethnicity is Yezidi, my religion is Sharfadin, and my language is the Yezidi language which we call Ezidiki. There is so much distorted material published about Yezidis so this is the reason that our meeting started with my questions to you. I consider this matter [about the division of Yezidis in Armenia] not relevant to this interview. That's also why I asked you for your previous interviews on this matter so that I can have them translated to estimate them. I don't want to sound rude, but I have met many of these academics and I know very well what aims they have. OK: And what aims do they have? HT: The only aim is to assimilate and use us. Thank God they've failed, but we are not the only nation to be treated like this. Armenians have also been treated like this. I need to know who I am and I don't want someone else telling me that. OK: Do the majority of Yezidis in Armenia feel the same? HT: Not the majority, but ALL of them. OK: Amarik Sardar, Editor of Riya Taza [the oldest surviving Kurdish newspaper in the world], is a Yezidi though, right? Yet he also considers himself a Kurd. HT: I've never asked him. OK: He's a Yezidi. HT: I am thinking like the majority [of Yezidi]. OK: Yet you said that all the Yezidis in Armenia feel that way. HT: That's right. All. OK: We have Yezidi villages in Aragatsotn such as Alagyaz and Riya Taza? HT: Yes. OK: But there's also a very strong Kurdish identity there as well. HT: I have no information about this. OK: I've been there, and from my experience there is a division within the community although I could not say how many Yezidis consider themselves to be Kurds and how many do not. HT: I can say, and I can give you facts. OK: But I've been to many Yezidi villages where they say they are Yezidi, but also identify themselves as ethnic Kurds. HT: How can they substantiate that? Instead, I can give you evidence that they're not. OK: They say so. HT: Allow me to say what I think. Earlier you said that you've seen the results of the 2001 Census, and so you should have seen that there are over 40,000 people identified themselves as Yezidis and only 1,500 identified themselves as Kurds. What does this say? This is not my opinion. This is the opinion of the community. Are you inclined to believe in some personal cases, or to believe official data? OK: I understand that, but yesterday I met another Yezidi representative who said he was Yezidi, that his religion was Yezidi, but that he spoke the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish. HT: That's his right. OK: And recently I've been with a [Moslem] Kurdish academic from England who visited Yezidi villages and was able to communicate with people in Kurmanji. I've also seen PKK activists from Turkey and Syria do the same. HT: What villages? OK: Alagyaz, for example. HT: There have been PKK representatives in Armenia? I'd like to record this conversation to pass on to the Government. Will you be responsible for your statement because I will take the recording to the Special Forces because the Republic of Armenia says there are no PKK representatives here. OK: The Kurdistan Committee speaks very openly as representatives of the PKK in Armenia. HT: You are avoiding my question. OK: Sure, record me and take it to the Government because I've interviewed many PKK representatives here quite openly when they've visited Armenia. In 1998 I interviewed Mahir Welat, Russia and CIS Representative for the PKK, when he visited Yezidi villages in Armenia, and in 2004, I interviewed Heydar Ali, Caucasus Representative of Kongra Gel. I'm not scared. HT: The Armenian Government very clearly states that there have been no representatives of the PKK here. Of course, if a citizen of Armenia is a member of the PKK that's another matter. OK: There are also cases of Yezidis from Armenia going to fight with the PKK in Turkey. HT: Don't avoid the question. Name the villages where you have met PKK representatives from Turkey. OK: They've been coming quite openly. HT: You are avoiding my question. OK: Ask the question again, then. HT: Name the village where you have seen members of the PKK visit. OK: Well, I've seen PKK members from Turkey and Syria sing pro-PKK songs at a Yezidi wedding in the Armavir region, and they were even singing songs about being Yezidis and following the Sharfadin religion, but also about being Kurds. HT: You met PKK representatives from abroad? OK: Yes, and I also know that Yezidis from Armenia have been fighting with the PKK in Turkey. Yusuf Avdoyan, for example, was a Yezidi from Armavir who was killed fighting with the PKK last year in Batman, Turkey. Now his sister is reportedly with the PKK. HT: I don't know anything about this, and I would like you to introduce me to this family. If you don't I will be greatly offended. OK: I haven't met this family. I've only seen his portrait on the wall of the Kurdistan Committee in Armavir and found information about his death on the internet. HT: So if I say my sister is going to fight with the PKK you'll believe me? OK: The first thing I did when I heard the name Yusuf Avdoyan was search on the Internet and all the information is there. HT: So you believe in the Internet? OK: No, I believe in sources of information that I believe are reliable. HT: Earlier you said that Western journalism is on a high level and your country says that Armenia is not supporting terrorist organizations. OK: Who's saying the Armenian Government is supporting terrorist organizations? HT: Doesn't the Government know that there are PKK members visiting Armenia? How is that you know whereas the Government doesn't? OK: There's an office that openly supports the PKK in Yerevan, and in Shamiram two years ago, the Caucasus Representative of the PKK shared the stage with Hranush Kharatyan quite openly. HT: This is news for me, and I will definitely talk to Mrs. Kharatyan about this. OK: I'm not saying she knew who she was sharing the stage with, but that's what happened. HT: Now you're saying that Mrs. Kharatyan didn't know he was PKK? How did YOU know he was PKK? OK: Because I interviewed him a few days before. Anyway, isn't it right that Aziz Tamoyan accuses the PKK of kidnapping Yezidis from Armenia to fight for them in Turkey? HT: You've given me a lot of information. OK: Listen, it's going to be in the article and it's been in past articles and interviews. And I know that the Government knows because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has read all my interviews. HT: So, I will talk to Mrs. Kharatyan and say that you knew this man was PKK. You [English] and the Americans are allies and are fighting terrorism. OK: Our Governments may be allies. I'm just a citizen and a journalist. HT: Your Government has a list of terrorist organizations which includes the PKK. OK: And in my last article I mentioned that a representative of the PKK was in Shamiram and that it was considered a terrorist organization. I also included a lot of quotes from people as diverse as Aziz Tamoyan, Garnik Asatrian and Amarik Sardarian. HT: So the main news for me is that you have met PKK representatives. OK: Sure, but I don't believe there are PKK training camps in Armenia. I have seen no evidence of that although I've seen about 7 members of the PKK here. You've never been to London, obviously, because there are probably hundreds there. HT: You say that you have seen PKK members here and you are responsible for your statement. OK: I've written that. HT: Thank you for that. OK: So what about Aziz Tamoyan's allegations that the PKK have kidnapped Yezidis from Armenia? HT: I wasn't present for that. OK: I've seen press reports. HT: I also want to see those reports. When are you going to write this article? OK: On Thursday. HT: I want to see that article, and you will write that you've met PKK members? OK: I will be quoting one PKK member. HT: I am waiting for Thursday and I will tell the Special Bodies of the Armenian Government that you are announcing that there have been PKK members in Armenia. OK: Do what you want. HT: It is interesting for me that the Government of the Republic of Armenia can't find out if there are PKK members visiting Armenia, but Onnik Krikorian can. OK: Listen, this isn't an issue. I've even been at pro-PKK events attended by figures from Dashnaksutiun, part of the Armenian Government. HT: Are you going to write about that? OK: No, because it's not relevant to this article. None of this is secret, and it's all been written before. I'll also say again that I have seen no evidence of there being any training camps in Armenia as Turkey alleges. HT: Turkey has sent and is sending notes to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying that Armenia was and still is supporting the PKK. It's not news, and it's not news what the Government answered. OK: Sure. Anyway, we're getting off the point. Yesterday I met Torgom Khudoyan (another representative of the Yezidi community in Armenia) and he said that he was Yezidi, didn't consider himself to be ethnically Kurdish, but that he spoke the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish. Do you not accept that the language spoken by the same by Yezidis is at least similar to, if not the same as, the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish? HT: I said at the beginning that I am Yezidi, my religion is Sharfadin, and my language is Ezidiki. OK: But it's the same language or not? HT: No. OK: Okay, so there's another issue regarding the new textbooks that are going to [Yezidi] schools. There have been some reports that villages in the Aragatsotn region are refusing to accept them because they are in [Ezidiki] Cyrillic script whereas they believe they should have books in the [Kurmanji] Latin script. UNICEF and Hranush Kharatyan have also heard these reports. HT: You named someone who said they spoke Kurmanji Kurdish. That's his right to say what he wants, but in the Census is Kurmanji included there as a language? There is no Kurdish language even mentioned. There is only the Yezidi language [Yezideren ` Ezidiki]. OK: So why are these villages reportedly refusing to accept these books? HT: This is the first I've heard about it. OK: Hranush Kharatyan and UNICEF have heard about it and says that the Government will set up monitoring for these books. HT: Let's speak about facts. OK: Yezidis in various villages say the same. Have you heard these reports? HT: It's nonsense. OK: Why are the books in Cyrillic script? HT: For nearly 70 years we used this script, and for nearly 200 years we have been under the influence of Russia. It has been only recently that Latin has become widespread so it's easier and more appropriate to use Russian. OK: Doesn't this create a problem in so much that Yezidis in Iraq and Germany are not using Cyrillic? HT: No, it's not like that. Apart from Turkey, in Arab countries they use Arabic script. Only the ones from Turkey use Latin. Your information is wrong. Yezidis living in Mohammedan countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Iraq use Arabic, but the Yezidis from former Soviet Republics use Cyrillic. OK: Then shouldn't Yezidis use the same alphabet as those living outside of Armenia? HT: We do not live in one united territory so we use the script of the country we live in. Because we don't have our national schools, we receive education in Armenia in the Armenian language, and in the majority of places where Yezidi children go to school they don't even receive [a few] hours of teaching in our language. Only in perhaps one percent of places are there Yezidi language classes because we didn't have schools and we don't have schools. It's not surprising therefore that it was only in 2005 that our alphabet was published. OK: What do you mean your alphabet? The Yezidi alphabet that Aziz Tamoyan says is 1,000 years old and which he said he wanted to reintroduce? HT: We used to have an alphabet 1,000 years ago which isn't used now which is why we've created our alphabet? OK: You've created your own alphabet? HT: Yes, with Cyrillic letters. OK: [picks up copy of Ezidiki school textbook] This is one of the new school textbooks? HT: Yes, and it's authors are myself and Aziz Tamoyan. OK: It's a nice book. There are two others? HT: Yes, there are three. OK: What do they cover? HT: One is alphabet, one is language, and the other is literature. OK: It's a nice book. Nicely printed and very colourful. HT: It is only in this country that we have a Yezidi radio programme, and only in this country that we feel ourselves free as Yezidis. It's not coincidental that we consider Armenia to be our homeland. Armenia is just a light for the whole Yezidi world. This is why we are grateful to the Armenian nation. I am not trying to make this personal, and I tell this to all foreign journalists, but in your country you do not do anything for Yezidis. OK: I don't think we have many Yezidis in England. They're more in Germany. HT: Recently a journalist came from Germany who was interested in our political and social position, but I told her that in Europe you only speak about Yezidis but you don't do anything. In Germany it's very bad for Yezidis. There are approximately 300,000 Yezidis in Germany, but do they have a radio programme? Do they have textbooks like this there? OK: Well, in Germany all the Yezidi materials I've seen are in Kurmanji and the Latin script. [takes a magazine, Lalish, from Hasan Tamoyan's desk]. I'm interested in this. It's called Lalish [Yezidi spiritual center in Iraq] in Latin, right? HT: Yes, because it's published in Germany. OK: So in Germany, Yezidis use the Latin script? [flicks through magazine] There also seems to be a lot of references to the PKK and Kurdistan in here as well. HT: This is a PKK journal. They also use the Arabic script. Whichever country something is published in they use that alphabet. OK: But they're using both here. HT: We are only grateful to the Armenian nation. Maybe it's rude, but no other nation has given us these kinds of possibilities. They only have empty promises about democracy. Europe has only tried to create confrontation between us [Yezidis] and Armenians, but they won't succeed. Do we have textbooks in every country? Do we have radio? This is not our homeland, but they [Armenians] gave us this opportunity. Why isn't Europe doing this? OK: I don't know, but the point is that minority communities in Europe watch a lot of programs in their native language on satellite or cable TV. HT: We don't even apply for it [textbooks and radio]. Armenian officials are telling us we should have it. OK: I'm very happy for you, and I'm happy that you have such good quality textbooks. I'm also glad that the Government has opened a Cultural Center for national minorities. HT: This is a divine nation. When you mention the PKK they have only one aim which is to create confrontation between Yezidis and Armenians. If there are Armenians who think they will gain something through collaboration with the PKK they are mistaken. History tells very clearly who is who. -- Onnik Krikorian is a freelance journalist from the United Kingdom living and working in the Republic of Armenia for various international and local organizations and publications. He has a blog from Armenia http://oneworld.blogsome.com.
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