Armenian Deputy Minister of Culture Nazeni Gharibyan speaks during a panel discussion at the Duhok International Film Festival on Thursday. Photo: DIFF
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – Armenians and Kurds both know what it means to suffer. There is a “deep interconnection” in their history and culture, said Nazeni Gharibyan, Armenia’s deputy minister of culture and special guest at the Duhok International Film Festival (DIFF) this week.
"Culturally, Armenians and Kurds share a lot of things," Gharibyan told Rudaw on Friday. "Kurdish people and Armenian people lived on this land for more than 3,000 years and are neighbors. There is a deep interconnection in both cultures."
She said that there are also language similarities between the two groups.
"There are Kurdish words we continue to use and also Kurds use some Armenian words in their language," she explained, adding that there are also similar physical characteristics and traditional clothing.
Kurds have lived in Armenia for 100 years, since the Armenian genocide of 1915. They share a good relationship despite past hardships. Some Kurdish groups have recognized their ancestors' participation in the genocide.
"We have a good relationship between Kurdish and Yezidi Kurdish communities and Armenians. Even though they study and work in Armenian, the Kurdish people continue to keep their traditions and language," she added, which she believes is very important to keep their identity.
Gharibyan also mentioned that her grandfather was a survivor of the Armenian genocide through his close relationship to Kurds.
"When the soldiers came to take him, he said 'I am Kurdish.'"
When asked to prove it, her grandfather sang a traditional Kurdish folk song and was freed.
The Kurdish community in Armenia is an oral-based one, she explained, and language is imperative in keeping culture alive for both groups.
"They didn't develop scripture or literature in the Kurdish language. But they know they are Kurdish and very proud to be Kurdish," she added, saying that the Ministry of Culture sometimes funds Kurdish cultural activities.
This is Gharibyan's first visit to Kurdistan and she said it wasn't what she expected, having lived in a nation under Soviet rule in the past which only gained their independence in 1991.
"For me this is a real discovery," she explained, "I had never even heard of the city called Duhok or the festival.
"When I was coming, I was wondering what kind of place I would discover,” she continued. “I discovered a wonderful place, a wonderful city. The architecture is very special. I recognized Hellenistic elements in the houses in the villas. It's very different from Armenian houses."
Gharibyan was also surprised that many Kurds don’t know Arabic despite being part of Iraq.
"One thing is good is that the Kurdish people already has its autonomy," she said. "Okay, it's inside of Iraq, but they have some type of autonomy."
She explained that when Armenia was under Soviet rule, they were required to learn Russian and study in Russian universities and even gain approval from Moscow to construct buildings.
"The Russians were very present in Armenia."
"But the situation is not like this here. It is very free and they are really in their land. From this to total independence, there is just a pass," she added.
Gharibyan also spoke on the continuing growth of Kurdistan.
"I'm really warmly surprised to observe that there is a movement here," she said, noting the mix of both traditional and modern construction in Duhok and Erbil.
"I wish the Kurdish nation continues with this but to also go ahead and look in the future and to take all of the opportunities to modernize the society, the civil society and women's conditions," she said. "It's very important. If you want to develop, you have to work together with the world.
"But the traditions are very important, using the traditions to develop in the future."
Gharibyan, who is an Armenian art historian with a PhD in Art and Theology in Armenia from Paris, said she worked with the Armenian democratic movement for many years before they gained full independence in 1991.
Having taught Armenian fine arts, art history and research methods in Armenia, France, Belgium and Italy, she was just recently assigned to the post of Deputy Minister of Culture in spring of this year.
"It's a new Armenia and I'm proud to participate in that."
She wants to continue to see growth in both Kurdistan and Armenia, noting cultural diversity and freedom in both nations.
"In the Armenian Republic we are more relaxed and free," she added. "It's the same as the Kurdish community."
"It's important for the Republic to take care of the diversity of the nation, different people, different ethnic groups," she explained. "It's richness to have different thinking and different traditions."
"This is the basis of democracy for me. I believe in that and am fighting for that."
The country of Armenia was a focus of the DIFF this year. The festival runs through Saturday, ending with a red carpet event and awards ceremony.
Rudaw is a media partner.