Interview with Karlene Chachani
Interview conducted by Onnik Krikorian, June 1998

OK: You publish a magazine "Friendship". What is the circulation, the ethnic background of the contributors, and what is your hope for the magazine's future?

KC: The journal has been published since last year. There is an association of Armenian-Kurdish friendship and this is the magazine of that association. The main objective of the journal is to strengthen the links between the Armenian and Kurdish communities. The circulation is 750 and there is a great demand in the magazine. In the first issue many prominent Armenian scientists such as the President of the National Academy wrote articles in which they welcomed the appearance of this journal. The journal relates not only the issue of friendship beetwen Kurd and Armenian in the territory of Armenia, but also we are trying to do a study of the extent of relations between Kurd and Armenian in other countries. We have just returned from Russia and Kazakstan studying this issue. For the future, I hope I may be able to study the links between Armenian and Kurds in the diaspora, in Europe, and in other countires of the world.

OK: The Kurdish issue is very sensitive, and Garnik Asatrian believes that one of the major reasons for promoting the Yezidi-Kurdish identity is in order to link Armenians with the global Kurdish struggle, and in particular with the struggle in progress within the Republic of Turkey - a country that is already accusing Armenia of harbouring Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases and of supplying weapoms to the Kurdish guerillas.

KC: MED-TV, the Kurdish Satellite Television station, has had a number of programmes about Kurdish Armenian relations, and I have appeared on these programmes along with many other Kurdish and Armenian scientists, and senior figures from the PKK have referred to these programmes. We are unanimous in one thing. That the Yezidi-Kurd problem is an artificial problem created by our enemies in order to force two nations against each other - Armenians and the Kurds. Our friendship dates back centuries.

As for the issues you have just raised, this is just the dirty policy of Turkey, their illusions. They even declare that Apo [Abdullah Ocalan, Chairman of the Kurdistan Workers Party - PKK] is Armenian. It is a lie to declare that Armenia supplies weapons to Kurdish guerillas. We all know about the policy of the Turkish government, about the articles that appear in their media. Some of these articles are so absurd that you can not help but laugh at them.

A journalist from a major Turkish newspaper, the name of which I can not remember,came to Armenia and visited the eleven Yezidi-Kurdish villages inAlagyaz region. He interviewed people there, and saw them in their routine life, but when he returned to Turkey he wrote an article stating that he instead found eleven PKK military bases in Armenia. This is absurd - they are just villages inhabited by peaceful people. You can go there and see it for yourself with your own eyes.

However, one thing should be kept in mind. All the Kurds living within the territory of the former Soviet Union, not only in Armenia but also in Russia, in Kazakstan and everywhere, support the PKK, and on their own voluntary initiative want to join the Kurdish national liberation movement. Many Kurds from different parts of the Soviet Union have left their homes - eighteen year olds, twenty, twent-four year olds - and have joined the movement and are fighting for the cause of national liberation. Fifty Kurds from Kazakstan went, and recently a Russian television station interviewed Kurds from Russia who were also fighting for their PKK. Of course, Kurds from Armenia have also gone. We know that we already have one victim from Armenia that has died there [in Turkey] in the struggle, and in all of the houses of the Kurds in Armenia you can see Apo's picture on the wall. I also have his picture in my house. All the Kurds in Armenia support the national liberation movement.

OK: Your response must surely make the Armenian Government very concerned, especially given that it has taken every opportunity to prove that there is no support, or involvement amongst its citizens, for the PKK.

KC: The Armenian Governent in no way supports the PKK - politically, militarily, financially, no support at all. However, lets not confuse governmental policy with the motivation of the hearts of the Kurds living in Armenia. If they wish to join the movement, governmental policy has nothing to do with it. Recently there was a programme on Russian television that focussed on a Kurd from Georgia. He travelled to Germany, joined the PKK movement and is now fighting in Turkey. the same is true for the Kurds living in Armenia. I am a patriot and am driven by my patriotism, and I might one day decide to go and join the movement for the cause of national liberation. I will go secretly and find the means to join secretly, and this is what people are already doing.

When Turkish journalists come here and visit Kurdish villages they enter Kurdish houses and see the picture of PKK leaders on the wall, and the photographs of maryred sons who went, fought and died in Turkey. This is something we do not hide, but it has nothing to do with the policy of the Armenian Government. The common people are driven by their patriotism and fight. In our journal we are not afraid to openly print the names of those Kurds from Armenia who joined the movement. Lets not confuse government and subjects.

OK: I also notice that on the front cover of your journal you have the words "Biji Newroz" [Newroz - New Year - is celebrated by Kurds throughout the world, and is a significant event in the Kurdish calendar. Until 1995 Newroz was illegal in Turkey].

KC: We celebrate Newroz in Armenia every year on March 21. This year's celebration was unique - very big. We celebrated in the Russian theatre, so our patriotic feelings are very obvious. Our demonstrations, our political meetings, organised here outside the embassies, and outside the UN, against the violations of human rights in Turkey, and against US military and financial assistance to Turkey, is a minority rights struggle of the Kurds living in Armenia and to show our patriotic feelings.

OK: Is this a matter of minority rights?

KC: There is no conflict between Yezidi and Kurds. In Armenia there is one nationality - the Kurds - which have different worship groups, and one of these worship groups is Yezidi. Among us we're unanimous. We defend the Karabagh movement, we defend the Armenian cause, we consider ourselves to be citizens of Armenia with all kinds of freedoms as a national minority. There is no national minority issue in Armenia, and we do not want to create one.

OK: But what about representation in Parliament?

KC: All the Kurds are citizens of Armenia, and we enjoy all the rights that every citizen of Armenia has. We actively participate in the political life of the Republic of Armenia, we have the right to vote, and for the next parliamentary elections the Kurdish community wants to put forward Kurdish candidates. During Soviet times, Kurds were represented in the Soviet Parliament - at least two Kurds from Armenia. At the moment we have no Kurdish representative, but we have applied to the government to take part in the next elections. The way it is arranged in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is that communities are represented in Parliament - not based on elections, but as mandatory representation. For example, in Iran the Armenian community has a representative that is not elected, but instead represents that community. This is what we want to use a model for representation in Armenia.

OK: In Robert Kocharian's inaugaral address he stressed the importance of Armenia's national minorities feeling that Armenia is their home.

KC: Yes, and the majority of Kurds voted for Kocharian. I am sure he will promote the cause of giving more and more freedoms to those minorites within Armenia, and the first thing the new President did for the Kurdish community was to recognise the importance of Newroz, which was widely celebrated in Armenia. I have had face to face meetings with Kocharian, and I have congratulated him on his election.

OK: How do you feel about Aziz Tamoyan in his role as the spokesperson for the Yezidi in Armenia, and one of the major exponents of promoting the Yezidi as a separate ethnic minority?

KC: Aziz Tamoyan's activities are anti-Kurdish. He elected himself, he voted for himself as the President of the Yezidi living in Armenia without taking into consideration the opinion of the Kurds living in this country. He even made a gold medal, pasted his own photograph on that gold medal and made himself President of the Yezidi. I consider him to be an ignorant person, but the word ignorant is really a mild word to describe what I really think of him. Perhaps better to say he is a foolish person who has had several years education in primary school, and has absolutely no knowledge of history, or of the development of Yezidi affairs. He is just dancing under the pipes of our enemies.

Aziz Tamoyan plays on patriotic feelings in order to earn money for his own interests. I can prove that Aziz Tamoyan went to Turkey, visited Kurdish villages, and in all of the houses he enetered declared that he was one of the purest Kurds living in Armenia. Recently, Aziz Tamoyan went to Germany and organised a protest by Yezidi. He collected around him about 10 Yezidi-Kurds who wanted to get German citizenship. He planted within them the idea that their human rights were under attack and had faced discrimination in Armenia. This is why they had fled to Germany. Actually, these Yezidi Kurds wanted to get German citizenship which is why they made such allegations. My Association received a letter from a human rights association in Germany asking whether there were human rights violations against the Kurds within the Republic of Armenia. I was very offended by this, and wrote an angry reply stating that the human rights of the Kurds in Armenia are not violated, and that this was a false problem created by our enemies or by foolish individuals such as Tamoyan trying to get foreign citizenship for his friends and his relatives. I invited the Germans to send a delegation to Armenia to research this issue themselves.

OK: And Yerevan is still considered a centre for Kurdish Culture?

KC: It's even better, and it is getting better and better. Every day there are radio programmes in Kurdish, in the Academy of National Sciences there is a Kurdish Department which studies and researches Kurdish history and linguistics. We have a newspaper - Riya Taza - and in Yerevan State University there is a branch that studies Kurdish history - and in a private university there is a department of Kurdish studies. In the Department of Kurdish Writers in the Writer's Union of Armenia we have regular meetings where we discuss the important Kurdish issues, and in Alagatz region in the Armenian schools Kurdish language is taught up until the eighth form. There is a committee called "Kurdistan" and a society of Kurdish intellectuals. Armenia provides all the possibilities for the Kurds to develop their culture.