ANKARA: Kurds, Yezidis In Armenia And Turkey Debate Identity


Hurriyet Daily News
Aug 13 2010

In a battle over political identity, Kurds and Yezidis in Armenia
have become engaged in a discursive debate over the two groups’
relationship to each other. Some Kurds argue Yezidizm is a religion
and that Yezidis are a branch of the Kurds; some Yezidis agree with
this definition, but others claim they form a different nation. The
chief editors of Kurdish and Yezidi newspapers in Armenia, as well
as a Yezidi in Turkey evaluated the situation for the Daily News

Hurriyet photo

In a debate over taxonomy largely rooted in identity politics between
state and society, Kurds and Yezidis in Armenia are increasingly
struggling over definitions of their communal boundaries.

There are many Kurds in the country where religious Yezidism is
practiced and where Yezidis are a Kurdish people. While many Yezidis
tolerate this situation, others do not, arguing the Yezidis constitute
a people separate from the Kurds.

Complicating the debate, the Yezidi community in Turkey, which numbers
about 400, define themselves as Kurds.

“If you ask me what my religion is, I would tell you that I am a Yezidi
but I am Kurdish,” said GriÅ~_ae Meme-Chatoian, chief editor of the
Kurdish-language R’ya T’eze newspaper, which has been published in
Yerevan since 1930.

Yezidism, moreover, is the oldest religious belief for Kurds,
according the Meme-Chatoian, who added that the notion of separate
Kurdish and Yezidi communities stemmed from USSR-era policies that
sought to create a conflict between the two groups.

Yezidi is the most common term applied to the community in English,
although members of the group refer to themselves as “Ezidi” in Kurdish
since they believe Yezidi or “Yazidi” carries with it pejorative
notions of devil-worship.

“Unlike the Kurds in Turkey, we are living in extremely comfortable
conditions in Armenia,” he said. “Our only problem is the separation
on the matter of Kurds and Yezidis. Armenian historians have a great
responsibility in [discussing] this.”

‘Yezidis are separate people’

Kheder Hajoian, chief editor for the monthly Yezidixhana, which is
published in a dialect of Kurdish used by Yezidis, disagreed with
Meme-Chatoian, saying Yezidis constitute a separate people.

“The Kurds are trying to assimilate us. Yezidism is not a religion;
it is a nation,” he said.

“The reason Kurds are making noise wherever they are is them wanting
a country [for themselves] – that is the whole reason,” he said. “They
want to make their population look larger that it is. They are trying
to claim Yezidism because they do not have a history or culture,
but it is a futile attempt.”

According to an Armenian population census from Feb. 21, 2001, the
country is home to roughly 40,000 Yezidis and approximately 1,500
Kurds. Together, the two groups generally live in 25 villages or in
the country’s major population centers.

‘Yezidis in Turkey perceive themselves as Kurds’

Journalist Eyup Burc, a Yezidi from a large clan centered in a village
in the ViranÅ~_ehir district of the Southeast Anatolian province of
Å~^anlıurfa, with members in Armenia as well, said he was following
the debates in Armenia closely.

Agreeing with Meme-Chatoian, he blamed Armenia for the debate over
communal boundaries.

“The concept of a Yezidi nation was brought forward to divide the
Kurds. That is why a great conflict is being experienced,” he said.

Yezidism is among the oldest belief systems of the Kurds, he said,
adding that most of the Kurds who believe Yezidism is a religion
reside in Iraq, where a similar discussion over self-definitions of
identity were also occurring in Mosul.

“Yezidis are considered Arab in population records. The basic goal
here is to portray the population of the Kurds as being as low as
possible,” Burc said.

‘I did not believe in the Kurdish initiative’

Meme-Chatoian said he is closely following the developments on Kurds
in Turkey, but added that he never believed in the Kurdish initiative
brought to the agenda last year by the ruling Justice and Development
Party, or AKP. Moreover, he said, broadcasting by TRT Å~^eÅ~_, the
state-owned Kurdish-language TV channel was insufficient.

Instead, many Kurds living in eastern Turkey listen to Kurdish radio
coming from Armenia, Meme-Chatoian said.

From: A. Papazian

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