By Deniz Serinci
YEREVAN, Armenia,— In the small Caucasian country Armenia there is a dispute over the identity of the area’s Yazidis, a religious minority found only among the Kurds, thorough history mistakenly believed to be “devil worshippers” and persecuted for some of their beliefs.
Last week Yazidis in Armenia held a protest in front of the UN Office in Yerevan against the recent attacks on Yazidis in Iraq. The protest was led by The Yezidi Union in Armenia, which are known for sharing the view that Yazidis have no connections to Kurds. The approximately 40,000 Yazidis came to Armenia as refugees from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century and are the largest minority group in the mainly Christian country.
During a visit, Aziz Tamoyan, the director of the Yezidi Union in Armenia, told Rudaw:
“We are not Kurds. They speak Kurdish, we speak Ezdiki. They come from the Middle East, Yazidis come from the ancient Babylonians.”
Tamoyan showed the Union’s newspaper “Yezidikhaya” which on the front page write “My nation is Yezidi, my language is Ezdiki and my religion is Sharfadin”, a term for the belief. In 2002 the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia at the request of a group of Yazidis of Armenia, headed by Tamoyan have recognized Yazidis as a separate ethnicity and their language as Ezdiki. This is now taught in Armenian universities, where ‘Kurdish’ and ‘Ezdiki’ are taught as different languages.
In addition they have their own flag, consisting of a white and red color, and a yellow sun. The flag is similar to the Kurdish flag, but missing the green color, as this color in their opinion symbolizes Islam.
“Yazidis and Kurds are completely different ethnic identities. Language is not a decisive criterion, some people in Africa speak English, but has nothing to do with British,” Asatrian told Rudaw.
However, the Yezidikhaya project is not, condoned by academic specialists on Yazidis outside of Armenia, who say that Yazidis speak Kurmanji Kurdish and belong essentially to Kurdish culture.
Philip G. Kreyenbroek is professor and director of Iranian Studies at University of Göttingen and told Rudaw:
“Obviously the Yazidis are Kurds. Their common language, including that of their sacred texts, is Kurmanji Kurdish, and they originate in the Lalish area in Northern Iraq.”
He says the denying of being Kurdish is due to the Armenian genocide in 1915 during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, in which the Kurdish Hamidiyye regiments played an important role in killing Armenians.
Barzoo Eliassi, researcher at University of Oxford, agrees with Kreyenbroek.
“There are no doubt Yazidis are Kurds. Kurdishness is not a homogenous category. Turks and some Kurds were involved in genocidal acts against the Armenians in 1915. So for Yazidis, to avoid being Muslim and Kurd, mean avoiding double stigmatization in the Armenian context,” he told Rudaw.
Matthias Bjornlund, a Danish historian and author to books about Armenia, believes Yazidis in Armenia feel a need to distance themselves from Non-Yezidi Kurds, some of which helped to carry out the genocidewAgainst Against Armenian in 1915. After the Nagorno-Karabakh war 1991-94 between the Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis Yazidis once more felt pressure to appear loyal.
Titale Kerem is editor of the newspaper Riya Taze, the world’s longest-lived Kurdish newspaper, founded in Armenia in 1932. He describes himself as a “Kurd by ethnicity and Yezidi by religion”.
“Of course we are Kurds. We speak Kurdish. However many Yazidis hold grudges due to past massacres against them by non-Yezidi Kurds and therefore will not be associated with them,” he told Rudaw.
Aziz Gerdenzeri is a Yezidi Book Author, theater writer and doctor, born in Georgia, but lived for many years in Armenia and Central Asia. He believes that some Yazidi groups after political events have begun to consider the word “Kurd” as synonymous with “Muslim” and therefore reject a relationship with the Kurds.
“Yezidi and Kurds are one and the same nation. We have the same language, history and traditions. But due to historical massacres against Yazidis, people perceive the word ‘Kurd’ as ‘Muslim’,” he told Rudaw.
Outside Armenia most Yezidi associations do not share their views of their co-religionists in the Caucasian country. Chairman of Ezidi Culture Association in Denmark, Yilmaz Yildiz is questioning why generations of Yazidis have fought side by side with Muslim Kurds as Kurdish partisans, Peshmergas in Iraq, Turkey and Syria if they themselves were not Kurds.
“The Yezidi are and have been part of the Kurdish resistance movement throughout Kurdistan, simply because they consider themselves indigenous Kurds and are part of the Kurdish community. When Saddam Hussein killed Yazidis during Anfal, it was because of their Kurdish identity and not because they were Yazidis. When he burned their houses and gave their land and villages to the Arabs, it was because they were Kurds,” Yildiz told Rudaw.
“If they Yazidis are not Kurds, why do we talk the same language as all other Kurds? Why do we not have our own common language?” he added.
Deniz B. Serinci, a freelance Danish professional journalist. You can visit his official website at: www.serinci.dk.