Armenia on brink of ethnic unrest: Yazidis say Yerevan’s negligence could lead to “vendetta”
Protracted court trial of Yazidi killings fuel dissatisfaction with the government
ANALYTICS 09 August 2022 - 16:56
Armenia may soon be embroiled in internal unrest given the rising dissatisfaction of the Yazidi ethnic minority with the government’s years-long negligence to address their appeal over a fatal incident that killed and wounded ethnic Yazidis.
The deadly event took place on August 1, 2017, when an armed unidentified man entered the funeral home of a cemetery at the Yazidi-populated Shamiram village of Armenia’s Aragatsotn Province to kill four and wound eight people inside.
The investigation into the incident has been going on for five years with no final results being provided to the relatives of the victims, who have recently staged a protest calling on the Armenian authorities to expedite the investigation. They have even threatened the government with armed riots if the conviction of the culprit continues to fail.
“We demand the authorities resolve our questions. Five years have passed. Have they been playing cat and mice with us? These people [Armenians] destroyed our houses, turned us into orphans, today we walk with our heads down,” one of the protesters said. “We also know how to use weapons. What do they want to achieve? Do they want us to start a war like in Karabakh? If justice doesn’t prevail, we will solve this issue in our own way.”
Another protester said the Armenian court has been instigating Yazidis to think about revenge for the indifference of the authorities toward the ethnic minority’s just calls.
“We have deep wounds on our souls. We are a small nation. How we will do further in this country? No one wants to listen to us, to help us. Even in Iraq, they would not do it, even Turks would not do the same to us,” the next protester complained about the Armenian government’s negligence.
As of 2019, Armenia was officially home to 35,000 Yazidis, while unofficial data claimed their number to be 50,000. The Kurdish-descent Yazidis are said to have been the largest ethnic minority living in Armenia since the early 19th century. The world’s largest Yazidi temple locates in the smallest country of the South Caucasus.
The world's largest Quba Mere Diwane Yazidi temple near Armenia's capital Yerevan
Armenia’s incumbent government led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has recognized Yazidis as an important portion of the country’s population of nearly three million people, of which 98 per cent are ethnically Armenian.
Yazidis have been striving to integrate into the Armenian community as they called the country “the best place for their survival as a community”. Even members of the "Mala Yazidi" Yazidi National Movement, a joint Armenian-Yazidi volunteer group, led by Ayser Isayan joined the Armenian army in the 44-day war with Azerbaijan in 2020 to prove their loyalty and convince the authorities to smooth their integration based on equal social conditions and human rights.
However, despite the positive tone of Yerevan about Yazidis and the ethnic minority’s attempts to win the heart of the authorities, Yazidis say their lives in Armenia are not as good as it is portrayed by the government.
The community has been facing a crisis of survival fueled by economic hardship and rural poverty amidst the growing disinterest of the government in their welfare and rights. Armenia’s lack of infrastructure in remote settlements is also among the main factors contributing to the community’s decline. The tragic event in Shamiram in 2017 was said to be the last but not least testimony of the indifference of the Armenian leadership to the existence of Yazidis within the country’s borders. Most of Yazidis have already lost hopes for a better future in Armenia and left the country to settle abroad, mainly in Russia.
In 2018, Yazidis living in Armenia claimed that they were subjected to oppression by the Pashinyan administration similar to what has been followed by his predecessor Serzh Sargsyan. They issued a statement protesting against the policy of Yerevan toward ethnic minorities.
“Right after the change of power following the Velvet Revolution in Armenia, thousands of people were appointed to positions in various settlements. Yazidis form the largest minority in Armenia have not been appointed to any position. Although there are many highly-educated Yazidi youngsters in Armenia, they leave the country,” said the appeal. They claimed that there is only one Kurdish family in Armenia and the Kurdish language is taught in five villages in Aragatsotn province; however, “Yazidi” is noted in Yazidi children's birth certificates.
The struggle for the rights of Yazidis in Armenia also got a severe backlash from the Armenian authorities. In 2021, the UN called on Yerevan to stop persecuting activist Sashik Sultanyan, founder of the Yezidi Center for Human Rights. Sultanyan was accused of inciting ethnic and religious hatred. The Armenian National Security Service opened a criminal case against him based on an interview he gave in 2020 to an online source. Sultanyan has been advocating support for the rights of the Yazidi community in Armenia.
“Raising concern about violations of the rights of minorities is not the same as inciting hatred or inciting violence,” the UN experts said. “And minorities like the Yazidis are not a threat to national security.”
The UN human rights activists called on the Armenian authorities to drop the criminal charges against Sultanyan, which, according to them, were an attempt to intimidate the activist and anyone who supports the rights of minorities.
“The government should directly discuss their grievances with Yezidis and other minorities…and not use trumped-up criminal charges to silence them,” the human rights activists said.
Meanwhile, the discrimination against Yazidis in Armenia again made headlines in February 2022, when mandatory serviceman Vle Feroyan, who willfully left the military unit in the Armenian city of Kapan, surrendered to the military police and was subjected to humiliation in the military unit because of his Yazidi ethnicity. Although the commandment of the military unit dismissed the allegations, the event caused outrage among the Yazidi community.
Today, the scandal between the Armenian authorities and the Yazidi community is reshaping dangerously as the ethnic minority is gradually out of patience. Will Yerevan take into account the rights of tens of thousands of Yazidis or keep watching how they prepare “vendetta”? Time will show.
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