Armenian News Network / Groong September 16, 2004 By Onnik Krikorian Aziz Tamoyan is the President of the National Union of Yezidi in the Republic of Armenia. This interview was held at the Union's office in Yerevan on 13 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. ONNIK KRIKORIAN: Perhaps you could start by introducing yourself... AZIZ TAMOYAN: Mr. Krikorian, this is the Yezidi newspaper [opens page to show census figures]... OK: I'd like to talk about that later but perhaps it would be best if you could first introduce yourself and your position... AT: Everything you want to know is in here [shows paper]. It shows how many national minorities live in each region and it says that there are 40,620 Yezidi and 1, 519 Kurds living in Armenia. This 1,519 are Yezidi that became Kurds. These are the official figures from the census and this should be all that you need to know. OK: I already know the census figures. AT: The Yezidi have no connection with the Kurds. OK: We will speak about this later but for the purpose of this interview it would be helpful if you could introduce yourself. AT: I am the President of all the Yezidi in the world as well as the President of the National Union of Yezidi in Armenia. I am also the Director and editor of this newspaper, "Yezdikhana" [formerly "Voice of Yezidi"] but there is also another editor. This is my book [shows book] and there are sections on the Yezidi and the Kurds. There is also more information about myself. [shows introduction page stating that he is a National Hero, a PhD Professor of Theology and History as well as the President of the Yezidi in the world as well as in Armenia] OK: Why is your newspaper published in the Armenian language? AT: The Yezidi mainly read in Armenian and I also want Armenians to become acquainted with our history. OK: You made an interesting statement. You said that the Yezidi have no connection with the Kurds which is very confusing for me because, for example, we know that the Yezidi speak the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish. AT: There is no connection. The Yezidi speak Yezideren. You read English, don't you? [Shows paragraph in letter from the Secretariat General of the Council of Europe dated 25 August 2004 and signed by Philip Blair which reads: "Armenia ratified the Charter on 25 January 2002. The Charter entered into force for Armenia on 1 May 2002. At the time of ratification, the Assyrian, Yezidi, Greek, Russian and Kurdish languages were identified by the Armenian authorities as the regional or minority languages to be covered under Part Three of the Charter. The instrument of ratification with the applicable provisions chosen is enclosed with this letter."] OK: According to this, because the Armenian Government has recognized the official languages of the Republic of Armenia as being Assyrian, Yezidi, Russian, Greek and Kurdish, the Council of Europe has also recognized them as such and that Yezidi exists as a separate language. AT: Of course. OK: But, according to the Kurdistan Committee, after the results of the census, they distributed 5,000 questionnaires to Yezidi villages and they say that all the respondents stated that they were Kurdish by ethnicity, Yezidi by religion and that they spoke Kurdish. AT: This is propaganda. They [the Kurdistan Committee] are receiving money from Iraqi Kurds to assimilate all national minorities such as the Greeks and Assyrians and turn them into Kurds. If you don't believe me you can go into the community and speak to Yezidi. OK: This is what you offered me when I was here in June 1998 and I visited Hoktemberian [Armavir] with your driver who introduced me to Yezidi who said that they weren't Kurds. More recently, I have also met Yezidi families in Kharberd and Oshagan who say the same but, for example, I've also met others around Alagyaz and Riya Taza that say that they're Yezidi by religion but Kurdish by ethnicity. AT: Amarik [Sardarian] is from Alagyaz and these 846 people have also become Kurds. OK: But they also say that they're Yezidi by religion. AT: [Points to sign above his desk and reads it] My nationality is Yezidi, my languages is Yezideren and my religion is Sharfadin. Sultan Yezid was our ancestor and Sharfadin established our religion. In 680 AD, Sultan Yezid was a King. OK: Of where? AT: Because you don't know the history, you wouldn't understand. OK: So now you are saying that it is wrong to say that Yezidi is a religion? AT: Yezid is our King and Sharfadin is our religion. OK: I'm confused now. You are saying that your nationality is Yezidi, your language is Yezideren and your religion is Sharfadin? AT: Yes, one hundred percent. OK: So if someone asks you what religion you are, you say Sharfadin? AT: We don't have any other religion. OK: I've spoken to Amarik Sardarian [Editor of the Riya Taza newspaper] about this issue and the census. According to him, it's not just the identification of 40,620 Yezidi and 1,519 Kurds but it's also this issue of identifying Yezidi as a separate language. Correct me if I'm wrong, but every time I come across information about the Yezidi on the Internet, it always says that the Yezidi speak a dialect of Kurdish. AT: This is incorrect information. The Kurdish language did not exist until recently. It is a newly formed language. OK: So are you admitting that the language spoken by the Yezidi and Kurmanji Kurdish are the same? AT: No. These are different languages. We don't understand each other. There is Sorani, Gorani, Kurmanji... OK: So you don't understand Kurmanji Kurdish? AT: When you speak about Kurmanji you are speaking about Yezidi that became Kurds. OK: For example, there is a large website in Germany [http://www.yezidi.org/] by an organization that publishes a magazine called "Dengê Êzîdiyan" and the three language options for the site are listed as English, German and Kurdish. They actually use the word "Kurdish." AT: We also had a website but I think that it now doesn't work [reads URL from newspaper but typos in printing mean it is inaccessible even if it does still exist -- http://www.spyur.am/rekeng/3651a.hpm]. [shows book] This is the Yezidi alphabet that was used 1,000 years ago. There were 33 letters in the alphabet. OK: The argument that the Kurds that I've spoken to in Armenia use, and I've also seen this mentioned elsewhere, is that the Yezidi are the "original Kurds." They say that all Kurds were Yezidi, or Zoroastrian, in the past and that the majority later adopted Islam. AT: This is a misunderstanding. According to their [the Kurds] Koran, they must always assimilate national minorities. OK: Amarik Sardarian is a Yezidi. AT: He is a Yezidi but because the Kurds give him money to publish his newspaper he is calling himself a Kurd. OK: Then it would appear that they're not paying him very well because he complains that he does not have enough money to publish his newspaper. AT: He's lying because the Armenian Government is giving him money and I am signing the documents. OK: Why are you signing the documents [for Amarik Sardarian]? AT: Because I am also getting money for my newspaper. OK: I know that you say that there is no division but Hranush Kharatyan [Head of the Department of National Minorities and Religious Affairs in the Armenian Government] sounds quite concerned by this problem although she also says that she will not interfere. However, even forgetting the issue of whether the Yezidi are Kurds or not and the fact that it is the right of every individual to define their own identity, the language issue strikes me as very confusing because Armenia seems to be the only country in the world where the Yezidi and [Kurmanji] Kurdish languages are considered different. AT: In the eleventh century we had 33 letters in our alphabet, we had literature and the Kurds didn't even exist. OK: Hranush Kharatyan says that she held various meetings with representatives from both the Yezidi and Kurdish communities in Armenia and there were threats from both sides. She says that emotions ran very high, especially when it came to the question of language. I know that you say that the languages are not the same but I got the impression that at some point, she considered that they were. She said that she had suggested calling the language Kurmanji but had received many complaints. AT: Who is she to decide the language? OK: Actually, she said the same. AT: The National Assembly has ratified that we are Yezidi and whoever wants to be called Kurd, let them be called Kurd. The National Assembly has ratified everything and nobody can change a thing. OK: She says that she will not interfere but she also says that you have made complaints to the German Immigration Service that the rights of Yezidi are being violated in Armenia. She says that you send photographs of Yezidi demonstrations to the German Immigration Service. AT: We have held demonstrations. In Yeghvard, I stood for election as an MP but there was pressure and I withdrew my candidacy. There were also some Yezidi living in the suburbs who once had land and homes but they were kicked out so they held demonstrations. Hranush Kharatyan also attended these demonstrations. The Yezidi graze their cattle on the mountains and some of them were evicted and have now left the country. This is why there were demonstrations. Armenians are brothers with the Yezidi but there are some officials who don't like us. OK: I've heard that a replica of Lalesh [the spiritual center of the Yezidi in Iraq] has been built in Armenia and that there will be a pilgrimage to the temple this month. Amarik Sardarian will be going, but will you? AT: [Points to photograph of Lalesh] This is in Iraq and the new Lalesh that has been built in Armenia is for Zoroastrians and not the Yezidi which is why I will not be attending. Our [religious] law does not allow us to build a second temple. OK: Many Kurdish groups in Europe refer to the Yezidi minority in Armenia as Yezidi-Kurds. You must be very upset by this? AT: There are Yezidi that became Kurds. This is a very bad thing. Nobody has the right to say such things. If we are Kurds why were we massacred during the Genocide when 1.5 million Armenians and 300,000 Yezidi were killed? If we are Kurds why were they [the Kurds as well as Turks] killing us? I am a Professor and I am writing about history so I know what happened. [Takes me to window to show Turkey in the distance] We [the Yezidi] have twenty villages there [in Turkey] and we were deported. If we were Kurds why did they deport us? The Kurds are the enemies of both Armenians and Yezidi. OK: There have also been a number of articles published in English-language publications dealing with Armenia that when referring to the Yezidi, always describe them as a Kurdish minority living in the Republic. AT: These people are uneducated and do not know history. If someone in Armenia says that they are Yezidi, that their language is Yezideren and that their religion is Sharfadin, who has the right to say that this is not so? I know who my father and mother are. OK: So, as far as you are concerned, there is no division within the Yezidi community in Armenia? AT: There is no problem at all. A few people in Alagyaz say that they are Kurds but if anyone were to call us [the Yezidi] Kurds, they would be killed. There is no question of that. It is accepted that nobody would say anything like that. OK: One problem that we know does exist is that the Union of Armenian Aryans has recently called for the expulsion of Yezidi, Kurds and Jews from Armenia. Do you consider this an alarming development? AT: The Yezidi community is applying to me, saying that they are worried but we have spoken to some of the people from this Union [of Armenian Aryans] and they have said that they will not continue to call for the expulsion of Yezidi from Armenia although I do not know whether they feel the same about the Kurds and Jews. I have also spoken to an advisor to the [Armenian] President [Robert Kocharian] about this and he has criticized these statements. I have been on TV to say that nobody should have the right to give so much exposure to these statements saying that national minorities are endangering the Armenian State. Usually, Armenians and Yezidi are very friendly towards each other. OK: In 1998, I came to Armenia to look at the Yezidi minority in Armenia and I returned to England with the understanding that there were a certain number of Yezidi that said that they were Kurds and a certain number that said that they weren't. However, I'm not exactly sure whether the census has clarified anything since then. AT: Of course the census has clarified the situation because it is an official document that has been ratified. OK: Is there anything you would like to add? AT: I would just like to say that there are Yezidi living abroad who say that they are Kurdish because they are afraid of the Kurds. The Kurds are very bad and dirty people. [shows Armenian census figures] There is no reference to the Kurdish language in Armenia in the census. OK: So what do the Moslem Kurds speak? The Kurdistan Committee says that there are maybe 500 Moslem Kurds in Armenia. AT: There are no Moslem Kurds in Armenia. The 1,519 Kurds mentioned are Yezidi who became Kurds. Whoever becomes Kurd, let them be Kurd. OK: There is a section in the census for "other languages." AT: If there were Kurds in Armenia there would be a section for the Kurdish language. Nobody speaks Kurdish. © Copyright 2004, Armenian News Network / Groong All Rights Reserved. -- 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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