“They called us Arabs, Kurds and tried to wipe out our identity globally. YNU changed all that”
“Through our religious prayers itself we relate to India”
Mr. Khdr Tamoyan is the grandson of Mr. Azize Tamoyan, the founder of the Yezidi National Union in Armenia. Yezidi National Union is the world’s first Yezidi organization. He recently visited India as part of the Yezidi delegation and interacted with the government to press for a homeland for the Yezidi people in Iraq. As part of the Sere Sal interview series Yezidi Post caught up with him in a freewheeling interview.
Yezidis trace their roots to Iraq, how and when did Yezidis first arrive in Armenia. What is the history of Yezidi migration to Armenia?
Yezidi people came to eastern Armenia during the great genocide of Armenians in 1915-1918 at the hands of Ottoman Empire where estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed. Need to note that at that time, Yezidis, Assyrians and Pontic Greeks were also subjected to the genocide. In that genocide 500,000 Yezidis were brutally killed by Ottomans and Kurds. The Yezidis then came to the Eastern Armenia and took shelter. Most of Yezidi population in the Caucuses are Yezidi refugees from Western Armenia who came at the time of the big genocide. That area is right now in the Turkish territory.
What is the contribution of the Yezidis to the Armenian history? Did Yezidis ever play a role in the government?
We Yezidis have excellent relations with the Armenian people. As I said before, Yezidis along with the Armenians came to eastern Armenia during genocide, now Republic of Armenia. At that time the Yezidis along with Armenians was fighting against Ottoman Turks and Kurds for salvation of their lives and for an Armenian homeland. In this endeavor the Yezidi people were headed by Yezidi national hero Jangir Aghee Khatif Agha who is a prominent military and social figure of Armenia in the 20th century. He was an ethnic Yezidi and a national hero of the Yezidis. He was born in Chibukhli village of Van province of western Armenia (currently in turkey). A number of songs was written on him by the Yezidis. During Armenian Turkish battle in 1918, he greatly helped in victory over the Turks and Kurds in the village of Molabalzet. Jahangr Agha participated in Bash Aparan battle with his Yezidi battalion of more than six thousand horsemen against Turkish army invading Aremenia. He also joined Armenians during the Anri revolt of Febuary 18 1921 and participated in battles for Yerevan Armenian. Need to note also about Usub Beg Temuri – the leader of the Yezidis in the Caucasus, and member of the heroic battles of May 1918. He was also a member of Parliament of the First Armenian Republic and a military, political and national figure. Usub Beg had good relations with the Armenian composer Komitas, who wrote 12 yezidi national merani songs. Also in 1923, when the first Armenian filmstudio Armen came up, the first film which was created by Hamo Beknazarian was about the yezidi people, name of that film is Zare.
Your organization Yezidi National Union is one of oldest Yezidi organizations not just in Armenia but around the world. Can you provide some details of the history of your organization and how it relates to Yezidis in Iraq and around the world?
Our organization is the first Yezidi Organization globally which started mobilizaton of Yezidi people worldwide. The organization was founded by Yezidis of Armenia, headed by Mr. Azize Amar Tamoyan in 1988. Before being officially recognized as an organization, Mr. Azize Tamoyan started the first Yezidi National movement in 1972 in Armenia. Mr. Azize Tamoyan has heroically dedicated his life to the Yezidi people. The name Yezidi was shunted and ignored internationally. This was the situation before this movement started. We were falsely called by unacceptable names such as Arabs, Turks, or Kurds and so on. The reason was the absence of any kind of homeland for the Yezidis. Due to heroic endeavors of Mr. Azize Tamoyan for the first time the Yezidi people were internationally recognized to belong to the ethnical group (Nation) of Yezidis. The name of our ancestor/patriarch Yezid after whom our people are named for thousand years had been shunted out internationally but in 1988 thanks to Mr. Azize Tamoyan and by the efforts of his followers, the original nation name was restored to Yezidis as well as our religion and Yezidi language (Ezdiki) was recognized. In 1988 together with his supporters having signatues of 15000 Yezidis living in Armenia he left for Moscow for 16 days. He went to central committee of CPSU and the presidium of Soviet Union, USSR with the petition to solve the question of nationality of Yezidis, since in those days the Yezidis was considered to be Kurds. The number of Yezidi according to censuses of Armenia is 35,308 in 2011. Moreover in the census of 2011 the religion of Yezidi people was nationally recognized. In 1990 in state radio a half hour long radio program was organized called program for Yezidis anchored by senior editor and department head Hasan Tamoyan. In 1990 a newspaper was started called the voice of the Yezidis and has been later renamed as Ezdikhana. It is presently headed by Khdr Hajoan Tamoyan. In 1997 the Yezidi National Union was formed and Mr. Azize Tomayan was elected its president. On May 1st 2002, the national assembly of Armenia nationally recognized the Yezidi language Ezdiki, afterwards on this basis it was recognized by council of Europe. In 2013 by resolution of the presidium of Yezidi National Union, May 1st became the day of unity of the Yezidi people worldwide.
Does Yezidi National Union run any Yezidi faith schools and has it published any Yezidi books for children in Armenia. If you can please elaborate.
According to 328 a/b 14 .052004 order of Ministry of Education and Science of Armenia, books of Yezidi language for classes 1-12 were published. Today in more than thirty villages the Yezidi language and literature are taught. Mr. Azize Tamoyan himself authored several books. In 2010 in the National Academy of Science of Armenia, a group was created for Yezidi studies.
Does the Armenian government recognize the Ottaman genocide against the Yezidis?
Yes. On April 28th 2012, under the supervision of the then prime minister of National Academy of Science Armenia , Mr. R Martirosyan and head of Institute of Armenian genocide, Mr. H Demoyan the massacres of the Yezidi people in Ottoman Turkey in 1915-1918 were qualified as genocide.
Post 2014, after the 74th genocide, what role has your organization played in helping the Yezidi refugees worldwide?
On August 2014 after genocide of the Yezidis in Northern Iraq the Yezidi National Union of Armenia headed by Mr. Azize Tamoyan organized donation from the Yezidi community of Armenia and different organizations of Armenia for Yezidis in Shinghal. We organized many demonstration and meetings with ambassadors and governors. We have 19 Yezidi refugees from Iraq whom our organization is giving help and support in every way. We are connected to the Armenian government because Yezidi National Union has representation in the Council of National Minorities of Armenia and the Armenian nation recognize our organization as the official representative of Yezidis in Armenian with Mr. Azize Tamoyan as a leader. On our request the Armenian government has given $1,00,000 dollars to UNHCR for helping Yezidis in and around Singhal in Northen Iraq
Is it true that Yezidis believe that they once stayed in India for many thousands of years during the last 7000 yrs of the Yezidi calendar? If you can please elaborate on it. Also is it true that there is a place near Mumbai which Yezidis hold as holy? Again if you can explain to the readers.
Mr Azize Tamoyan loves the Indian people and always talk to Yezidis about the Yezidi and the India connection quoting the Yezidi prayer (Jawe Dine Bimbaye bra qawim xwaykn kteba dine – translation- give the information to our people in Bombay, old name Mimba or Bimba to keep strong the religious book). Yezidis have legend that after the great flood, some say that the flood was not global and did not reach India, the Yezidis then fled to India to escape the flood and take shelter. Most likely it was 4000 yrs ago. Thus through our religious prayers itself we relate to India.