[Kurdish Life] Editor's Note

Kurdish Life (No. 10, Spring 1994) featured a report titled "You, too, Armenia" dealing with the fate of the Kurds who lived in Nagomo Karabagh in a region once known as "Red Kurdistan." The following report derived from interviews deals with subsequent developments afflicting Kurds within the Republic of Armenia. Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Armenia was one of numerous republics within the Soviet orbit. At that time, the tiny population of Kurds in Armenia was used by the Soviets as a showcase to exhibit to millions of deprived Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Iraq in conjunction with the Kremlin 's larger political agenda in tl~e region. Since the establishment of Armenia as an independent republic, the fate of its Kurdish residents has altered signif cantly, as the report indicates. It was first published in the September 1994 bulletin of the Kurdish Institute in Brussels. We are grateful for permission to reprint an edited version.


KURDS IN ARMENIA

For over half a century from the 1930's into the 1980's, Armenia was a place where the small community of resident Kurds were provided with substantial state-sponsored cultural support despite the fact that their numbers were small. A Kurdish broadcast emanated from Yerevan. The newspaper Riya Teze was published. Dance and theatre groups flourished. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, under which the rights of minorities such as the Kurds were protected, the situation changed dramatically to more closely reflect Armenian sentiments towards the Kurds. Armenia subsequently declared its sovereignty. But with that change the status ot the Kurdish minority has come under increasing threat.

In 1988 when Armenia became involved in the issue of the Karabagh and its independence from Azerbaijan, Azeris under duress left the new state. Thereafter the single remaining obstacle to the creation of a homogenous Armenia was the presence on Armenian soil of about 60,000 Yezidi and Muslim Kurds. In an effort to deal with the problem, Armenian nationalists initially set these two groups of Kurds against each other. Newspapers reported that Yezidi Kurds were not Kurds; but a completely distinct people. This brought loud protests from Kurdish intellectuals, among them S. Kotsyoy, candidate in Law Sciences, who made these statements whic-h appeared in the newspaper, Voice of Kurds: "Whether deliberately or not, actions in Armenia are designed to set Yezidi Kurds against Muslim Kurds. Despite this, Yezidis consider themselves Kurds and one must take that sentiment into account...During the 1989 census, suddenly the Yezidis were discovered, as if they were a people formerly unknown. The word 'Yezidi' was used to qualify the nationality of many Yezidi Kurds, although the government refused to change their passports. This of course causes many international difficulties. Almost all Yezidis and their intelligentsia consider themselves Kurds and reject the artificial division of the nation. I raised the issue of the unfair separation of Yezidis from the Kurdish tree because it is a total absurdity."

Furthermore, Armenian nationalists created the newspaper, Punik as a vehicle for the generation of anti-Kurdish propaganda in the country. Typical of the rhetoric that appears are these claims: "Yezidis think it outrageous to be called Kurds. Kurds themselves see Yezidis and Armenians as impious people and will not accept even a glass of water from their hands." The newspaper also plays up the participation of Muslim Kurds in the Armenian genocide that occurred in Turkey between 1915 and 1918. (It is a fact that some fanatic religious Kurds did participate in the genocide, but it is also true that Kurds hid and actually saved Armenians from the massacres.) Are such claims anything less than incitement to racial hatred?

Punik purports to speak for Yezidi Kurds without their consent. Moreover, the newspaper criticizes Yezidis who consider themselves Kurds. Take this statement for example: "If they believe they are Kurds, that's their problem. We know Yezidis as Yezidis because the classical literature we know makes a clear distinction between Kurds and Yezidis. Furthermore, all our friends among them are Yezidis." Armenian nationalists refuse to acknowledge that the single distinction between Yezidi and Muslim Kurds is one of religious belieú

Such a nationalistic atmosphere claiming that Kurds are enemies of Armenians and Yezidis may well set the stage for real "pogroms." The journal Report-Kurdistan disclosed that about 20,000 Muslim Kurds were obliged to leave their homes and flee Armenia. The aim of nationalist Armenians is apparently the forced exile of all Muslim Kurds.

Now it is the Yezidi Kurds under threat. Punik accuses the Yezidi intelligentsia of taking a pro-Azerbaijan position. Take this statement for example: "Once upon a time we had a small group of friends among the intellectuals and semi-intellectuals of Yezidi-Kurdish circles. Since then it has clearly appeared that during all these years the Yezidi aristocracy has joined local parties associatmg with "rokde" elements who openly support Azerbaijan along with anti-Armenian foreign Kurds." Following attacks of this sort it is not surprising that the Kurdish intelligentsia in Armenia feels threatened.

But this is not all. According to Punik, "one can expect no other reaction than anger when some Kurdish politicians invited to Armenia for lectures, for example the director of the Paris Kurdish Institute, Kendal Nezan, encourage anti-Armenian feelings by spreading the myth of a forced migration of 20,000 Muslim Kurds and slavery of the remaining 50,000 Yezidi Kurds. Furthermore, representatives of the Yezidi Kurds have not opposed these speeches and instead make balanced comments." Kendal Nezan did write a carefully crafted letter to the president of Armenia calling for curbs on attacks against the Kurds and the Kurdish intelligentsia. Following Punik's publication of Nezan's letter, a group of Armenian nationalists attacked the department of Kurdology in Yerevan. Finding no-one there, they destroyed the sign that read "Section Kurdology" on the door.

Over the past several years since these attacks, about 80% of the Kurdish intelligentsia in Armenia have withdrawn from the public scene. Some Kurdish political and social civil servants have been killedbypaid murderers. But the crimes have not been investigated as politically motivated, they are treated as the work of common criminals.

Journalists from the newspaper Voice of Kurds visited Krasnodar and Stavropol where many Kurds fled. They reported that "The Kurds are complaining about their situation, and with reason. Until now they have not been registered in the welcoming communes, which renders them ineligible to find fixed work, tickets for food and other basic necessities. We have lost all our civil rights and we became second class citizens, they say with bitterness."

The Voice of Kurdistan has also published letters from Kurdish refugees pleading for help. They speak of having been driven from one place to another and charge that they are continually told that "Registration of non-Russians is forbidden." They ask, "What is the meaning of nationality in a civilized state? The important thing is to be a good people! Why does the government refuse to register us? This is contrary to UN standards regarding human rights." According to Voice reports, children are "the first victims. Having been poorly educated in Armenia, they barely speak Russian and are unable to continue their studies at the same level as other young people of the same age. Some teachers advise the Kurdish refugees to keep their children out of school insomuch as they do not understand anything and will have to leave shortly anyway." One article dlsclosed that during a celebration in an area populated by the majority of these refugees, a group of locai inhabitants attacked the Kurds with stones and destroyed some of their homes. They told the Kurds they must leave "before it is too late." Tragically, similar incidents have become commonplace and are likely to continue.

Kurdish Life, Spring 1995

Note: The 1995 Factbook on Armenia produced by the Of fice of Research and Analysis of the Armenian Assembly of America lists the following minorities in the country: "Russians, Kurds, Yezidis, Greeks, Jews and Assyrians." This deliberate categorization of Kurds into linguistic and religious groups brings to mind the old Roman maxim, divide and conquer.



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