YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Responding to appeals from leaders of Armenia’s Yezidi community, the Armenian government has decided to provide humanitarian assistance to their ethnic kin in northern Iraq that have been forced to flee for their lives in the face of advancing Islamist militants.
One of those leaders said on Wednesday that the government will allocate food aid worth $50,000. The Armenian Foreign Ministry confirmed this information.
“That is likely to be done through an international organization as there are serious problems connected with delivering aid to people there today. Right now we are in negotiations with a relevant international organization,” Tigran Balayan, the ministry spokesman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
Hundreds and possibly thousands of Yezidis are believed to have been killed by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) since the fall of Sinjar, the main Yezidi-populated town in the country’s north. Tens of thousands of Sinjar residents fled the town after being told to convert to Islam or face death. Most of them still remain trapped on a nearby barren mountain, facing starvation.
In conversations with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am), two Yerevan-based Yezidi leaders, Boris Murazi and Sashik Sultanian, said they are in constant touch with their co-ethnics in Iraq. They spoke of an ongoing genocide of Iraqi Yezidis perpetrated by Sunni jihadists that have declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.
“These are people who didn’t have time to flee the region. They get brutally murdered, mainly decapitated, as is required by the Koran,” claimed Murazi, who heads the National Union of Sinjar Yezidis.
Iraq is home to at least 600,000 Yezidis. Most of them live in the northern province of Shangal, which has seen a major ISIS onslaught in recent weeks. About half a million Yezidis became refugees, fleeing their homes and moving to neighboring countries.
Some 50,000 Yezidis live in Armenia at present, making them the country’s single largest ethnic and religious minority. Scores of them have staged protests in front of the main government building in Yerevan, as well as foreign diplomatic missions, including the Iraqi and the U.S. embassies, in recent days.
Murazi and Sultanian, who is the head of the National Yezidi Committee of Armenia, compared what is happening to the Yezidis in Iraq today to the 1915 Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire. They accused the authorities in Yerevan of being indifferent to the plight of the Iraqi Yezidis. According to them, many Iraqi Yezidis would like to take refuge in Armenia, but the Armenian government is doing little to facilitate their immigration.
“There is no state through which the Yezidis could speak about their problems. We think that Armenia should become this state as an independent state of a people that went through genocide and a country where Yezidis have lived for more than 300 years and have proved to be worthy citizens,” said Sultanian.
The community leaders also argued that their ancestors also fought alongside Armenians for their independence in 1918 and that Yezidis from Russia and Iraq provided financial assistance to the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians during their 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan.
Angry Yezidis threatened to block traffic in central Yerevan during a protest outside Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian’s office earlier this week. Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgian agreed to meet with their representatives.
Murazi said they were astonished to hear that Gevorgian knows nothing about the problem. “He said he is hearing about it for the first time and we said that our demand was primarily for humanitarian aid and assistance in raising the matter with international bodies through diplomatic channels. An hour later we received a telephone call in which we were told that the government of Armenia had expressed its readiness to provide food aid worth $50,000,” the Yezidi leader said.
Zaruhi Postanjian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage), called for such aid and asked the government to grant asylum to some of the Iraqi Yezidis in a letter to Prime Minister Abrahamian sent on Friday. Postanjian and two other senior members of Zharangutyun met with Yezidi leaders on Monday.
The community representatives were also received by Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian on Friday. A Foreign Ministry statement said Kocharian assured them that the Armenian government shares their concerns and will demand in the international arena an end to violence against “ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East.”