- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 March 21, 2003 

Border War: Kurds in Armenia watch fighting in Iraq with special interest

Sardar is editor of a Kurdish newspaper in YerevanThere are an estimated 30,000 Kurds living in Armenia in some 21 villages, mostly in the Aragatsotn region about 20 miles northwest of Yerevan.

If, as expected, the war in Iraq reaches the northern part of the country, it is likely that the number of Kurds in Armenia will increase, as residents from the towns and villages could flee across Turkey and into the more peaceful existence of life in the Kurdish community here.

The Kurds in Armenia are largely segregated from common society. Some say they are persecuted by Armenians who don't understand their culture. Most, though, say they are simply left alone, if not ignored.

Kurds in Armenia have their own newspaper "Rya Taza" (New Way), published in Kurdish, using a Latin font.

There are different positions of the Armenian Kurdish community on the war in Iraq. Most opinions center around the national interest linked to the main sacred place of their community, Lalesh, in the part of Iraq known as Kurdistan.

Two years ago the newspaper's editor Amarike Sardar who is also chairman of the Union of Kurdish Intelligentsia visited Iraqi Kurdistan (which has been out of the control of Saddam Hussein since 1991) at the invitation of Secretary General of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Jalal Talabani.

"There, at every step, we were shown places where thousands of Kurds murdered by Saddam shed their blood," Sardar says. "As a human being I'm against bloodshed, but Saddam's regime is a malicious regime, which must be abolished. It would be good if it happened in a peaceful way, however, it is impossible."

The Kurds in Armenia are Yezidi, a religious minority that speaks the same language as Mohammedan Kurds, but with a different religion. They are primarily shepherds, who in summer live in tents while minding flocks along the hillsides near Mount Aragats.

Yezidism, with roots originating from Zoroastrianism, is a religion of Sun-worship. Communities of Yezidi believers live in a caste system.

Paintings and posters of Abdullah Ocalan are common among Armenian KurdsAccording to the Union of Kurdish Intelligentsia in Yerevan, there are about 500,000 Yezidis worldwide. The majority live in Iraqi Kurdistan and some part of them live in other territories of Iraq. Some left Iraq for Europe.

The first Yezidi Kurds came to Eastern Armenia from Turkey together with Armenian emigrants in 1828 after the Russian-Turkish War (aimed at ridding the region of Moslems).

During the years of the Armenian Genocide, about 7,000 came here from Turkey.

During the 1930s-40s there was a Kurdish State Theatre and Caucasian Kurdish Technical School operating in Yerevan. It was also during that time (1930) that the newspaper was founded. Even today there is a Department of Kurdish Linguistics at the Academy of Sciences and also a division of Kurdish writers at the Union of Writers.

During Soviet times, one Kurdish deputy was necessarily in the Supreme Soviet (Parliament) of Armenia; one of the members of Supreme Court was necessarily a Kurd.

In Independent Armenia, however, there are no Kurdish officials.

"We are not persecuted but nobody pays any attention to us," says Amarike Sardar.

According to the last official census report, in 1989 there were 56,127 Yezidis and Kurds living in Armenia, 51,976 of them were Yezidis and 4,151 - Mohammedan Kurds.

Between 1988-1990, as the Karabakh conflict mounted, the Mohammedan Kurds left Armenia along with (Moslem) Azerbaijanis.

When Armenia became independent, serious discord spread in the Kurdish community here over national belonging. Some of the community's representatives regarded Yezidis as a separate nation called Yezidi and others regarded themselves as Kurds professing Yezidism.

Yezidis who consider themselves to be Kurds, have three non-governmental organizations and those who regard themselves as Yezidis, have two non-governmental organizations.

The Union of Kurdish Intelligentsia is more neutral concerning external policy, it believes that Kurds of Armenia must be concerned with internal issues of the community most of all. That organization has relations with the community of Iraqi Kurds.

"Talabani has warm relation to Armenia. He told that whatever they do they wouldn't be able to come near to merits of Kurds of Armenia," Sardar recalled of his trip.

Tamoyan: "Some solutions have to be found . . ."Sardar believes the war in Iraq is advantageous for Kurds as it holds out a hope that with the assistance of the United States Iraq will become a federative country, one of which three full-fledged members will be Iraqi Kurdistan.

On the other hand, he has apprehensions that Turkey will bring troops into northern Iraq and there will be clashes between Turks and Kurds.

"The Kurds have an army of 80,000 and can resist the Turks," he says. "But in any case the clashes are dangerous. If the USA restrains the Turks then the war will be useful."

"Kurdistan Committee" non-governmental organization leads the policy of KADEK (former Kurdish Labor Party headed by Abdullah Ocalan who is in prison in Turkey) illegally functioning in Turkey and "Kurdistan Committee" can be considered as its branch. It publishes "Mijagetk" (Mesopotamia) and the editor in Armenia Charkiaze Rash is also a member of that Party.

"In this war neither countries of Middle East nor USA's coalition represent interests of local nations, so neither Saddam nor the war launched by USA will solve problems of the Kurds," says Trans-Caucasus representative of KADEK from Kurdish Community of Turkey Yeliaz Shiar (who also represents the viewpoint of "Kurdistan Committee").

"Sooner or later Kurdish interests in Iraq will be restored. We agree to have it later but without war. In the 21st century national problems must be resolved by solidarity, mutual understanding, and peaceful ways."

Hasan Tamoyan, a member of the National Union of Yezidis, National Minority Council affiliated with the Armenian President, and head of Yezidi language programs on public radio says he is worried about the security of Yezidis in this war and that Yezidi settlements are not bombed.

"If that country is the center of danger, some solutions have to be found. I cannot remain indifferent towards that war, as the majority of our nation resides in Iraq," he says.


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  Photo of the week
  Minor Protest
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Minor Protest

Members of "Mister and Miss Armenia", an organization that produces children's pageants and contests held a beauty protest outside the United States Embassy in Yerevan Thursday. The kids recently were in Iraq, and wanted to demonstrate their feelings to the US presence here.



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