- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
March 5, 2004

Tradition in Decline: Yezidis struggle to sustain their village life

Those who visit Ferik village in Armavir region must necessarily sojourn at Khdr Dukoyan's house.
Hospitable Khanuma, mother of seven children.

Khdr's family is not big. It consists of his mother, wife and three children which is quite strange for Yezidis who are used to having many children.

“If conditions had been good I would have made a 'football team' but today it's very hard to maintain a family,” says Khdr.

His mother, 72-year-old Khanuma, gave birth to seven children. She is dressed in a style characteristic for Yezidis: colored stockings, a long skirt with small pleats in vivid green that immediately captures the attention, a woolen shawl wrapped around her waist, and golden earrings shining in her ears.

Even if you had no idea where you were, Khanuma offers a clue that you are in a Yezidi home.

Khdr says that together with several other Yezidi families their ancestors came to Ferik village from Artashat in 1927. Before then, Turks used to live here but they had left before the Yezidie arrived.

Norair Hairapetyan has worked here as a veterinarian for 21 years. Although he is Armenian and not Yezidi, the community chose him six years ago to be the head of their village, a position he occupies today.

“In the beginning the village's name was Kiurakand, which means village of fire in Yezidi. They are pagans and worship the fire and the sun,” explains Hairapetyan.

The village got its new identity in 1978, taken from the name of a Yezidi revolutionary, Ferik Poladbekov.

The head of the village says that there were 720 residents until 1990, but people began to leave after the collapse of the Soviet Union . Today, only 240 people live in Ferik in 110 households.

“In the beginning men were leaving the village, then they would return to take their families with them. Those who left this place have put paid to this village,” says Khdr.

Only Yezidies live in Ferik. Although it is only 30 kilometers from Yerevan, life surprisingly stands still there.

There is only one tap in the village from where villagers can collect water. Women return with buckets hung on shoulder yokes.

There are no telephones in Ferik and TV is the only connection to the outside world.

Khdr's 33-year-old wife Almast washes dishes outside even though it is winter. She talks without stopping her work.

“I don't like our village. How can I like it if there is nothing here? I wish there were a kindergarten so that my children could attend it. We don't even have a cultural center,” she says.

The former cultural center, now the office of the head of the village is in a poor state of repair. In better days, Ferik's national folk ensemble used to perform there.

During Soviet times, villagers were employed in arable farming and breeding of cattle and sheep. There is a saying that “if you have no sheep you are not Yezidi” but these days this activity has disappeared from the villagers' lives.

Some 30 thousand Yezids live in villages like Ferik.

Sharo Mamoyan says: “We used to drive our sheep towards Alagiaz Mountain as there are wonderful pastures there. But now we have to pay and we cannot afford it.”

Today wheat, potatoes and some vegetable crops are the main source of income for the Yezidis of Ferik. Each household also has from 1-3 cows.

Khdr grows tarragon herb in the greenhouse of his garden. Almast says: “Many villagers grow tarragon. Soon we will take it to market. We just sell it to retailers for 25-30 drams (about 5-6 cents) and return home.”

The head of the village says he applied many times to the authorities in Armavir region to help with their problems, particularly over drinking water, with little success. A ditch was dug in 2002 to resolve the problem of irrigation water.

The village's raises a budget from property taxes of 2.3 million drams annually (about $4,100), plus it receives 1 million drams (about $1,800) in government subsidies.

“What can we do for the village with this money? Nothing,” complains Hairapetyan.

Children are seldom born in Ferik. In 2000 there were no births at all and in recent years only two or three children have been born.

But the sound of the school bell is heard in the center of the village and noisy children immediately enliven its muddy streets filled with winter silence. The number of pupils in the eight-grade school has shrunk over the years, however, from 160 to just 56.

Third former Giuly runs ahead of everyone, her long black locks streaming in the wind. Her black eyes smile under eyebrows that join each other like a flock of birds.

“I so very much want them to teach us Yezidi language in school,” she says courageously and runs away.

Levon Poghosyan, the director of the school, explains: “We have no specialist of Yezidi language because this subject is an additional one in the curriculum. Before, if children didn't understand anything in Armenian then the teacher would explain it in Yezidi. Pupils' understanding was improving.”

Villagers say that their children don't know Armenian until they start school and don't study the Yezidi language when they are in it. The lack of pupils means children are taught in mixed-age classes to rationalize teaching resources.

Khdr says: “Such teaching doesn't work well. The pupils' progress is declining. There should be an individual approach in villages like ours. Otherwise, why do they call us national minorities?”

The head of the village says many Yezidis went voluntarily to fight during the years of war. Jasm Kalashyan was one of them.

“We participated in the war to protect our homeland. There is no difference. This is our homeland too. And if it is necessary we will fight again,” he says.

Village routine.

When Yezidis gather round the table for dinner the first toast is to Shams (the Sun God). Their community has both spiritual and secular leaders. Sheik Zurba, 58, (his title is hereditary) is the spiritual head of the village.

“We also have ‘pirahs' and ‘mrids'. I myself am a pirah of the Isebia family tree,” says Sharo Mamoyan. “The children of sheiks and pirahs marry children of sheiks and pirahs who are related to them by ancestral descent.”

The title of 'sheik' is higher than that of a 'pirah', while mrids are third in the hierarchy. Yezidis baptize only boys.

Mamoyan explains: “We call baptism 'bzk'. The sheik cuts a lock of the boy's hair and takes it to his house. There are several sacks full of hair in our sheik's home.”

People in Ferik live in harmony with their national traditions. They are preparing to celebrate the Yezidi New Year on March 21, which is called ‘klotch'.

At Khdr's home they drink to Armenian-Yezidi relationship. General Andranik and Jhangir Agha are portrayed on the carpet hung on the wall of the sitting room. They struggled together in 1918-1920, in particular in the Battle of Bash-Aparan.

According to census figures from the National Statistical Service, there are 40,620 Yezidis residing in Armenia today. Of those, 7,413 live in cities and 33,207 live in villages like the people of Ferik.

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