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People & Places

The Yezidis of Armenia Face Identity Crisis over Kurdish Ethnicity

By Deniz Serinci 28/5/2014
Aziz Tamoyan: ‘We are not Kurds.’ Photo: Deniz Serinci
Aziz Tamoyan: ‘We are not Kurds.’ Photo: Deniz Serinci
 YEREVAN, Armenia – The Yezidi community in Armenia is angry: First, over attacks on their religious kin in Iraq, and the other over being identified as Kurds.

Last week, Yezidis in Armenia held a demonstration outside the UN Office in Yerevan, protesting recent attacks on Yezidis in Iraq.

The protest was led by the Yezidi Union in Armenia, which is known for sharing the view that Yezidis have no connections to Kurds.

“We are not Kurds,” insisted Aziz Tamoyan, director of the Yezidi Union in Armenia. “They speak Kurdish, we speak Ezdiki. They come from the Middle East, Yezidis come from the ancient Babylonians.”

Armenia’s approximately 40,000 Yezidis, who arrived there as refugees from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, are the largest minority group in the mainly Christian country. The community is mostly composed of Yezidis from Turkey who settled in the Transcaucasus, mainly Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

For Tamoyan it is a matter of importance that the Yezidis have their own identity, separate from Kurds, although his is a minority view not shared by most academics or historians.

The Yezidis are largely regarded as a religious minority inside the Kurdish nation.  But unlike the majority of Kurds, who are Muslims, the Yezidis have their own controversial religious beliefs, leaving them open to attacks, especially by Islamic insurgents in Iraq.

Tamoyan pointed to the front page of the Yezidi Union’s newspaper, “Yezidikhaya.” A front-page headline declared: “My nation is Yezidi, my language is Ezdiki and my religion is Sharfadin,” a term the Yezidis use to identify themselves.

In 2002, at the request of a group of Yezidis led by Tamoyan, the Armenian parliament recognized the Yezidis as a separate ethnicity, and their language as Ezdiki.

At Armenian universities, Kurdish and Ezdiki are taught as different languages.

The Yezidis also have their own red-and-white flag with a yellow sun. It is similar to the Kurdish flag, but does not contain the green color, which the Yezidis equate with the color of Islam.

Kurdologist Garnik Asatrian from Yerevan State University supports the Yezidikhaya project’s denial of being Kurdish.

“Yezidis 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 said.

But there are disagreeing voices, noting that Ezdiki sounds just like the Kurdish Kurmanji dialect.

“Obviously the Yezidis are Kurds,” said Philip G. Kreyenbroek, professor and director of Iranian Studies at the University of Gottingen in Germany. “Their common language, including that of their sacred texts, is Kurmanji Kurdish, and they originate in the Lalish area in northern Iraq,” he added.

Barzoo Eliassi, researcher at the University of Oxford in the UK, agrees with Kreyenbroek.

“There are no doubts Yezidis are Kurds. Kurdishness is not a homogenous category. Turks and some Kurds were involved in genocidal acts against the Armenians in 1915. So for Yezidis, to avoid being Muslim and Kurd, mean avoiding double stigmatization in the Armenian context,” he said.

Matthias Bjornlund, a Danish historian and author of books about Armenia, says there was added pressure on the Yezidis to distance themselves from the predominantly Muslim Kurds after the 1991-94 Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and predominantly-Muslim Azerbaijan.

Titale Kerem, editor of Riya Taze, the world's longest-lived Kurdish newspaper that was founded in Armenia in 1932, described himself as a “Kurd by ethnicity and Yezidi by religion.”

"Of course we are Kurds. We speak Kurdish. However, many Yezidis hold grudges due to past massacres against them by non-Yezidi Kurds and therefore will not be associated with them," he said.

Aziz Gerdenzeri, an author, playwright and doctor who was born in Georgia but lived for many years in Armenia and Central Asia, said there was pressure on the Yezidis to distance themselves from mainstream Muslim Kurds due to political events.

"Yezidi and Kurds are one and the same nation. We share language, history and traditions. But due to historical reasons, people perceive the word ‘Kurd’ as ‘Muslim’,” he said.

Outside Armenia most Yezidi associations do not share their views of their co-religionists in the Caucasian country.

The chairman of the Ezidi Culture Association in Denmark, Yilmaz Yildiz, questioned why generations of Yezidis 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," Yildiz said.



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rojin | 28/5/2014
yes..the yezidis are mountain kurds..
Amed | 28/5/2014
Shame to Rudaw to publish the propaganda of our enemies. This article should be in the joke saction. The funniest part of the article is where this jas said that they speak Ezdiki and come from the Babylonians, he gives the Kurdish language that he speaks a new name, but still it is the same language that the Kurds in Bakur speak. And Yezidis have nothing to do with Babylonians, they came from Kurdistan like all Kurds just their religion is different. I am sure that the Armenian state made this propaganda, so the KRG should call the armenians in Kurdistan christian Kurds.
Takoneman | 28/5/2014
Mr. Tamoyan, come to Lalesh, it seems that you have found a very clever way to get attension, by making a jack ASS out of your self. Where do you think you are going with your rotten idea? Although you free to think, in Kurdish we call people like you SHASH, NEZAN, XOLISERE WONDABOY
Muraz Adzhoev | 28/5/2014
As soon as the author decided to raise this issue, he should have disclosed its very real essence. The problem is that the state authorities of Armenia encourage provocations against the unity of the Kurdish people, continuing well-known strategy of the radical Armenian nationalist party "Dashnaktsutyun", which actively participated in terrorist attacks against the innocent Kurdish population, mainly women and children, in the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now they have nothing in the disposal, but to use the schizophrenic and mentally disable person Aziz Tamoyan for their dirty "dealings". 99.99% of Yezidis were, are and will always be the Kurds in their national and ethno-cultural identity. This miserable person, apparently according to "recommendations" of his Armenian "doctors", often mentions the name of the very famous leader of the Yezidi Kurds the deceased Jangir-axa Hatib Mandiki-Zukuri to give those provocative actions some historical sequence. As one of the representatives and relatives of the family of Jangir-axa, certainly, it is my duty to declare that our centuries-old Mandiki-Zukuri Tribal Union, so as all ancient Yazidis, has always been Kurdish to marrows of our bones and last drops of our blood.
Hersh | 28/5/2014
"some people in Africa speak English, but has nothing to do with Btitish" is this guy a complete idiot?, Mr. traitor Yezidies come from the heart of Kurdistan! you speak bloody Kurmanji! what the hell is "Ezidiki" if it's 99% Kurmanji? you eat Kurdish food! your traditional dances are Kurdish! you traditional clothes are Kurdish! the only difference is you're not muslim. We understand that some are bitter about past cruelties which we acknowledge but these latest attacks on Yezidies have been by Arabs NOT muslim Kurds! Kurdish forces were dispatched to protect yezidi Kurds. Taking money from the Armenian government to denounce your identity because it is politically convenient is really rotten, you sir are a filthy traitor!
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