ZAKHO, Kurdistan Region –The Armenians who have sought refuge in the Kurdish city of Zakho on the Turkish border commemorated the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
They fled their places of origin, and were scattered around the then Turkish empire, with some heading south of the border with what is now the Kurdistan Region.
There are now 200 Armenian families in the city, some 200 km northwest of the Kurdish capital of Erbil.
“There are just a few of us in Kurdistan. But thanks to God, we have been given most of our rights,” Ishkhan Milko, an Armenian member of the Duhok Provincial Council, told Rudaw, “We have a seat in the Kurdistan parliament as well as a seat in the Duhok Provincial Council.”
They arrived in Zakho following the genocide that started on April 24, 1915.
“The Armenians immigrated from [their areas], in Bitlis, Erzurum, Van, Mush, and many other locations in Northern [Turkish] Kurdistan,” Dr. Hogir Mohammed, a Kurdish researcher in Armenian genocide said as he made reference to Turkish cities located east and southeast of Turkey, “They took many different routes, some went towards the Syrian desert, of whom some stayed in Syria, and others went as far as Jordan and Egypt. Some of them came to Iraqi Kurdistan as well where their main entrance route was Zakho. “
There is a school that teaches the Armenians in their own language. A board on the entrance reads that it was founded in 1969.
“Many Muslims received schooling in the Church. We were studying with the Armenians and then afterwards, they came here,” Fahmi Ahmad, the head of the Armenian school said while pointing to the school behind him, “and this time around the Armenians were studying alongside the Muslims. We were being taught about Islam and them about Christianity.”
The Armenian genocide is a contentious historical event not universally recognized.
Historians estimate that 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks and today Armenians are one of the world’s most dispersed people. It is estimated that more than half of Armenians live outside of Armenia.
Many nations have recognized the mass killings as genocide. Others, including the United States, resist such acknowledgement. Turkey denies that the killings constituted genocide and says that the figures are exaggerated and estimates the total killed to be 300,000.
Every year on April 24th, the day when the attacks against Armenians in the Ottoman Empire began, Armenians remember the Medz Yeghern, or the ‘great catastrophe’. A stone cenotaph on a hill in the Armenian capital Yerevan, featuring an eternal flame, is a center point of the commemorations.