Yazidis in Armenia
|35,272 (2011, census)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Armavir, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Kotayk provinces and Yerevan|
|Yazidism or Sharfadin|
Yazidis in Armenia (Armenian: Եզդիները Հայաստանում, Kurdish: Êzîdiyên Ermenistanê) are Yazidis who live in Armenia, where they form the largest minority. Recognized as an ethnic group in Armenia, majority of the Yazidis came to the country in 19th and early 20th centuries following the religious persecutions they were experiencing by the Ottoman Turks and the Sunni Kurds. According to the 2011 census around 35,000 Yazidis live in Armenia.
The Election Code of Armenia guarantees one seat in the National Assembly to the Yazidi minority. Several religious Yazidi temples exist in Armenia, including the world's largest temple Quba Mere Diwane in Aknalich, which was opened in 2020. In 2021, the national theater of Yazidis was also opened in Vagharshapat.
Early 20th century
Many Yazidis came to the Russian Empire (now the territory of Armenia and Georgia) under their leader Temur Agha during the 19th and his grandson Usuv Beg in late 19th and early 20th centuries to escape religious persecution, as they were oppressed by the Ottoman Turks and the Sunni Kurds who tried to convert them to Islam. The Yazidis were massacred alongside the Armenians during the Armenian genocide, causing many to flee to Russian-held parts of Armenia. In a letter from Usuv Beg to the Emperor of Russia from the Romanov dynasty, Usuv Beg expressed gratitude to the Romanovs for sheltering Yezidis, who had fled from Turkey 60 years previously, under the leadership of his grandfather, Temur Agha. In addition, he writes that his people are Yezidi Kurds. He indicates his nationality as Kurdish, but specifies that they are Yezidi by religion:
"I am happy on behalf of 3,000 Families of Yezidi-Kurds, Who 60 years ago, led by my Grandfather Temur Agha, left Turkey and sought refuge in Russia[.] I would like to express my gratitude and wish success to you and your family[.] We live very well on earth and under your rule."
The first Yazidi school in Armenia was opened in 1920.
The Yezidi movement erupting in Armenia in 1988 appealed to the 3rd All-Armenian Yezidi Assembly convened on 30 September 1989 (the two previous Assemblies occurred at the dawn of the Armenian SSR's history, in 1921 and 1923) to challenge the Government for the official recognition of their identity. As a result, the Yezidis were presented as a separate minority in the USSR population census of 1989. According to this very census, the total count of Yezidis in Armenia was 52,700. Also need to note that in Karabakh war participated more than 500 Yezidis by ethnicity, they have a detachment "Jangir Agha" headed by Aziz Tamoyan.
Yazidi intellectuals played a crucial role in fostering a secularized idea of Kurdish nationalism that would bridge across the religious divide which had historically separated Yazidi communities from their fellow Kurdish-speaking Muslims. These vanguards of Soviet Kurdish culture consisted of Yazidis such as the linguist Arab Shamilov who published the first novel in Kurmancî by the title of Şivanê Kurmanca. It also included many other famous intellectuals such as Qanatê Kurdo, Casimê Celîl, Emînê Evdal, Ferîkê Ûsiv, Celîlê Celîl, Ordîxanê Celîl, Hecîyê Cindî and the poet Shikoye Hasan. The years 1932-1938 are considered the golden period for the development of Kurdish culture in Soviet Armenia. In 1934, a conference was held in Yerevan between the Kurdish writers about writing in Kurdish where topics such as the creation of Kurdish neologisms for new technical devices and concepts were discussed.
In 1922, a Kurdish alphabet based on the Armenian script was created in Yerevan. Five years later, the first Kurdish alphabet based on the Latin script was created in 1927 by the Yezidi intellectual Arab Shamilov and the Assyrian intellectual Îshak Margulov. Another Kurdish alphabet based on the Cyrillic script was created in 1945.
From 1929 onwards, the amount of printed books in the Kurdish language increased rapidly in Armenia, and in 1932, a branch within "Armenian Authors’ Union" was founded for Kurdish authors who were strongly influenced by Armenian and Russian literature.
The Kurdish-Yezidi intellectuals Emînê Avdal, Heciyê Cindî and Casimê Celîl published their works in the famous Kurdish newspaper Riya Teze (The New Way), which began its publication in Yerevan in 1930.
The first theatre piece "Qitiya du dermana" (The Medicine Box, 1932) was written by Heciyê Cindî, who dedicated his life to collecting material related to Kurdish folklore and publishing them. Wezirê Nadir wrote a second theatre piece, titled Reva Jin (The Abduction) in 1935. A few years later, Wezîrê also wrote a long poem titled "Nado û Gulizer", which narrated a heroic story about a young Kurd and his fiancée during the war.
The most famous Kurdish novelist of this period was Arab Shamilov, who in 1929 published the "Şivanê Kurmanca" (The Kurdish/Kurmanji Shepherd), this is considered to be the first novel in Kurmancî to ever be written. In this novel, Shamilov writes about his early life living as a shepherd and describes how he joined the Communist movement and participated in the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Cinema, Theatre and Radio
The first Kurdish film was titled Zare (Zerê) and it was produced in Soviet Armenia by Arme-Kino in 1926. It was a silent and black-and-white movie which was 72-minutes long and was directed by Hamo Beknazarian. This film is about 1915 love story between a Yezidi couple, the young and beautiful Zare, and the shepherd Saydo. In line with the communist ideology which dominated in the 1920s, the film shows how the administration of the tsar takes advantage of the ignorance of Kurds to exploit them with the help of spiritual and tribal leaders.
In 1933, another film about Yezidi Kurds was produced in Armenia. It was titled "Krder-ezidner" (Kurds-Yezidis) and was also a silent film, it was 52-minute long and recorded in black-and-white. The director was Amasi Martirosyan. The film documented and exhibited the establishment of a kolkhoz in an Armenian Yezidi village
In 1937, Armenian Yezidis created the first and only state-supported Kurdish theater in the world. The theater was founded in the village of Alagyaz as "Kurdish Folk Theatre of Alagyaz". The theatre group consisted of young Kurds from Alagyaz district and it was managed by two directors, the Armenian Tsolak Nikoghosyan and the Kurd, Celatê Koto. This Kurdish Theatre launched its first production in November 1937 with Samson Kajoyan's Xuliqandina Rojê (The Sun Rises), a play dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution. The Kurdish Theatre was supported by numerous Armenian artists including the actor Mkrtich Djanan, director Amo Kharazyan and the playwrights including but not limited to Suren Ginosyan and Vardges Shogheryan. These theatre artists trained the young Kurdish actors who, within a few years, acquired a great reputation by participating in the national theatre festival and performing in other places such as in Georgia's capital city of Tbilisi.
During the ten years of its existence, the Kurdish Theatre of Alagyaz staged around thirty plays, some of which were written by famous Kurdish intellectuals such as Heciyê Cindî, Cerdoyê Genco and Celatê Koto. The theatre was also often supported by famous Kurdish intellectuals such as Emînê Evdal, Casimê Celîl, Usivê Beko, Semend Siyabendov and also the writer and editor-in-chief of the Kurdish newspaper Ria Taza, Mîroyê Esed.
During World War II, the theatre produced plays that displayed pro-Soviet propaganda and depicted the Soviet Kurds’ loyalty for their country. However, there were also plays related to Kurdish folklore and tradition. Such as Keça Mîrakê (The Girl from Mirak), Ker û Kulik (Kar and Kulik; based on an old Kurdish epic), Xecêzerê û Siyabend (Khaj and Siyaband), Ewledê Çiyayê Reş (The Son of Black Mountain) and Mêrxasê Bajarê Cizîrê (The Hero of the City of Jazira), all of which were produced by Suren Ginosyan. However, in 1947, due to financial problems, the theatre had to close down together with many other theatres across the country.
In the 1930s, Radio Yerevan had begun to broadcast programmes in Kurdish, but stopped in 1937 due to the Great Purge under Joseph Stalin. However, the broadcasts in Kurdish began again under Khrushchev when Casimê Celîl took on the position of being the Head of Radio Yerevan's Kurdish department in 1954, shortly before it officially began broadcasting on 1 January 1955. The Kurdish programs on the radio were broadcast 3 times weekly, 15 minutes per day, however the topics were directly regulated by the Communist government, thus, the programs mainly focused on culture, broadcasting music and radio plays rather than Kurdish nationalism and politics. In 1961, the Kurdish programs started being broadcast for 1,5 hours everyday, the broadcasts reached outside Armenia's borders in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria as well as several other regions within Soviet Union, the number of listeners started growing exponentially and the Radio's staff were able to establish contacts with other Kurdish communities across the Middle East and Soviet Union.
After Armenia's independence and the fall of Soviet Union in 1991, Radio Yerevan was not financed anymore due to the social and economic challenges the country was facing. Almost the entire staff of the Kurdish department lost their jobs and had to immigrate abroad due to the rampant unemployment plaguing the country. Keremê Seyad, one of the staff who remained, took over the position as the head and started implementing reforms in the department and thanks to the ideological restrictions being lifted by the fall of Soviet Union, he was able to broadcast a wider range of topics related to Kurds including news and political commentary alongside Kurdish history, culture and language. On Mondays, the radio broadcast a program called "Cultural Diary" where people could listen to radio plays and call the department to request music. Tuesdays and Wednesdays focused on Kurdish heritage, broadcasting topics related to Kurdish language, literature and history through the programs "Your Native Language" and "The History of Kurds and Kurdistan" programs. Keremê Seyad also established a program called "Looking for Relatives", where he was able to help in reuniting many Kurdish families from Turkey and Armenia who had been separated in the early 20th century.
Radio Yerevan significantly helped in preserving and raising self-awareness among many Kurdish communities across the Middle East, Europe and the former Soviet territories. Especially for Kurds in Turkey, where there was systemic suppression against Kurdish language and culture by the state. Because of the radio, Kurds in Turkey were able to have an opportunity to hear the Kurdish language on the radio as well as listen to material related to Kurdish culture, especially music. Today, there are approximately over 10,000 recordings of Kurdish folk songs and theatrical plays in the archives of Yerevan Radio.
According to the 2011 census, there are 35,272 Yazidis in Armenia. Ten years earlier, in the 2001 census, 40,620 Yazidis were registered in Armenia. Media have estimated the number of Yazidis in Armenia as between 30,000 and 50,000. Most of them are descendants of refugees to Armenia following the persecution during Ottoman rule, including during the Armenian genocide, when many Armenians found refuge in Yazidi villages. A minority of Yazidis in Armenia (around 3,600) converted to Christianity, but they are not accepted by the other Yazidis as Yazidis. Yazidis in Armenia are recognized as an ethnic group, which according to a report has been perceived as an attempt to promote a non-Kurdish identity and has angered many in the community. Sympathy for the Kurdistan Workers' Party is also widespread.
Ethnic Yazidis have a slightly younger population compared to ethnic Armenians. Almost 54 percent is under thirty years old, while 8 percent is aged sixty or more.
|Population (urban, rural) by Ethnicity, Sex and Age as of 2011 census|
|Ethnic group||Total||0 – 9||10 – 19||20 – 29||30 – 39||40 – 49||50 – 59||60+|
|Share per age group (%)||100.0||16.9||17.7||19.2||14.7||13.2||10.3||8.0|
Memorials and religious sites
As of 2016, the world's largest Yazidi temple is under construction in the small village of Aknalich. The temple named Quba Mere Diwane opened on 2 September 2019, and is dedicated to Melek Taus, one of seven angels in Yazidi theology.
Foreign evaluations of Yazidi rights
US reports on the relations between Yazidis and the Armenian government have been mixed. According to a 1998 United States Department of State, Yazidis were subjected to some harassment in Armenia. Attendance school rates among children in the Yezidi ethnic minority continued to be lower than average, partially due to economic reasons, a lack of Yezidi teachers and books, and the early removal of teenage girls from schools for marriage. In 2006 the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) supported the government's effort to publish textbooks for ethnic minorities, and in 2007 new Yezidi language textbooks appeared in some Yezidi schools around the country. The textbooks are Aziz. and Hasan Shex Mamude. Also through Armenian government support the first Yezidi newspaper was published named Ezdikhana (ex. name: Denge Ezdia or Yezidi Voice).
Armenia has been described as "the best country for their survival as a community" by the Yazidis. However, according to several reports, harassments against Yazidis exists in the country at non-state level. In an 2007 U.S. Department of State human rights report states that "as in previous years, Yezidi leaders did not complain that police and local authorities subjected their community to discrimination".
In August 2021, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement urging Armenian authorities to stop intimidating Sashik Sultanyan, the founder of the Yezidi Center for Human Rights. Sultanyan faces war crime charges for speaking up for Yazidi rights.
|Province (marz)||Yazidis||% of Yazidis in Armenia|
There are 19 Yazidi-inhabited villages in Aragatsotn Province.
|Aragats district||Talin district||Ashtarak district|
On 29 September 2012 Yazidis opened their first temple outside their Lalish homeland - the temple of "Ziarat" in Aknalich village in Armavir province of Armenia. In August 2015 an architectural design for a new temple in Aknalich was released; the temple is planned to be completed in 2017. This temple, the world's largest Yazidi temple, was built next to the Ziarat temple and has opened in September 2019, under the name "Quba Mere Diwane".
Kurds developed an own typical genetic profile called "Modal Kurdish Haplotype" (KMH or MKMH for Muslim Kurds) on subclade J2-M172 with the following loci: 14-15-23-10-11-12. The highest percentage of this haplotype has been measured so far in Yazidis in Armenia and in Muslim Kurds from Northern Iraq:
- Yezidis in Armenia: 11.9%,
- Muslim Kurds of Iraq: 9.5%,
- Armenians: Frc/Ø: 5.7%, max.: 7.4%,
- Sephardic Jews: 2.6%,
- Kurdish Jews: 2.0%,
- Palestinian Arabs: 1.4%,
- Ashkenazi Jews: 1.3%.
Notable Armenian-Yazidi people
- Aziz Tamoyan
- Amar Suloev
- Aziz Shavershian
- Roman Amoyan
- Zara Mgoyan
- Emerîkê Serdar
- Emînê Evdal
- Arab Shamilov
- Eskerê Boyîk
- Heciyê Cindî
- Têmûrê Xelîl
- Tosinê Reşîd
- Xelîlê Çaçan Mûradov
- Jalile Jalil
- Jangir Agha
- Ordîxanê Celîl
- Khanna Omarkhali, an academic born in Armenia but now residing in Germany
- Kyaram Sloyan
- Usuv Beg
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