Please note that on our website we use cookies to enhance your experience, and for analytics purposes. To learn more about our cookies, please read our privacy policy. By clicking ‘Allow cookies’, you agree to our use of cookies. By clicking ‘Decline’, you don’t agree to our Privacy Policy.

No translations available

Yezidis in Armenia

  • The 2022 Census registered 31,079 Yezidis, who belong to a culturally distinct minority and practice their own religion. According to Yezidi community leaders, the official statistics are not reliable, and the population of Yezidis in Armenia could be more than 50,000 people.

    The Yezidi faith traces its origins back 4,000 years. It is a dualist and syncretic religion, containing traces of Islam, Christianity, Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism. Yezidis believe in a Creator God and Malak Ta’us (the Peacock Angel), who is preeminent among seven holy beings representing the expression of divine will. Historically, they have been subjected to severe persecution owing to their beliefs and practices.

    Yezidi communities have long been present across the wider region, with their religious centre and focus of pilgrimage being the tomb of Sheikh ‘Adi ibn Musafir, located in Lalish, Iraq. Most Yezidis pursue nomadic lives, tending livestock and moving their animals between mountain pastures. In Armenia, a small number have settled in urban areas such as Yerevan. The Yezidi community in Armenia suffers from a lack of sufficient resources or state support in preserving and developing their ethnic, religious and cultural identity.  Although the Yezidi language is taught at primary and secondary school levels, it is not offered to children attending pre-school or students in higher education. Community leaders and Yezidi organizations report a lack of quality teaching materials and textbooks.

  • Yezidis started arriving in Armenia in the first half of the 19th century, fleeing Ottoman persecution. During the First Armenian Republic of 1918-20, Kurdish and Yezidi demands for greater representation achieved some success. Their first representative, Usub Bek Temuryan, was elected to parliament. Temuryan identified his faith as Yezidi and his ethnicity as Kurdish. In the 1920’s, the first schools for Yezidi children were opened in Armenia, and the first Yezidi language alphabet book was published.

    Yezidis were not classified separately from Kurds in Soviet censuses, as the Soviet espousal of atheism meant that minority religious identities were disregarded. This led to an erosion of Yezidi culture and religion in Armenia. The gradual opening up of the Soviet system through the perestroika political reform movement of the late 1980’s enabled a renewal of Yezidi identity and mobilization. In September 1989, the Third All-Armenian Yezidi Assembly was convened, demanding recognition of Yezidi identity. Yezidis were included in the 1989 Soviet Census, which recorded 52,700 persons as belonging to the minority.  A Yezidi radio station was also opened.

    Since the late 1980s, there has been a debate in Armenia (and elsewhere) as to whether Yezidis constitute a separate ethnic group, with many Yezidis stating that they are indeed a separate community. They also believe that the Kurmanji dialect is a separate language from Kurdish. However, Yezidi religious texts are written in Kurdish, and many members of Yezidi communities in other countries consider themselves to be Kurdish. The debate has split the Yezidi community in Armenia, with some Yezidis rejecting the disassociation from Kurdish identity proposed by some.

    2017 proved to be a significant year for the political participation of Armenia’s minorities. Following the April elections, four minority MPs were elected in the country’s parliament, including one Yezidi. The election process was nevertheless criticized as these four MPs were required to join established party lists to stand for election, raising questions as to how independent they were.

    According to a report prepared for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2004, Yezidis were more likely to suffer lower levels of education than other communities. This was partly because of the poor economic climate, and partly because of the remoteness of many Yezidi villages. Preferential treatment of minorities under the Soviet system had withered away, exacerbating the marginalization of Yezidis. The situation was worsened by internal disputes over whether Yezidis should be classified separately or as Kurds. The Armenian government faced strong criticism from one part of the community when it considered ratifying Kurmanji as the name of the language spoken by Yezidis in Armenia. However, it ratified both ‘Yezidi’ and ‘Kurdish’ as separate languages under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

    A significant moment occurred in 2019 with the opening of Quba Mere Diwane, the world’s largest Yezidi temple which is situated in Aknalich village in Armenia’s Armavir region. It sits alongside an earlier temple that was built in 2012. The new temple is a symbol of the Yezidi community’s prominence in Armenia.

  • As a result of the elections of the National Assembly of 2021, four representatives of the largest minority groups again received mandates, including one for the Yezidi minority. However, many belonging to the country’s national minorities believe that the Members of Parliament neither represent their interests effectively nor deal with the problems faced by their respective communities.

    Yezidis have expressed concerns over disproportionate hazing during military service, compared to other ethnic and religious groups in Armenia. There have also been reports of bullying of Yezidi children in school and discrimination at the hands of local government and law enforcement officials. Yezidis have also reportedly been disadvantaged in the allocation of privatized land and in the enjoyment of water and grazing rights. Since the early 1990s, Armenian Yezidis have emigrated to Russia and Germany in search of better lives.

    The situation facing Yezidi girls in terms of early and forced marriages and high rates of school dropout continues to be a concern in Armenia. Yezidi organizations are working to address this problem, and actions have been taken to combat these harmful practices. However, more efforts need to be taken by the authorities to develop comprehensive policies and measures to prevent and combat these issues, with law enforcement and social services engaging closely with Yezidi community representatives.

    In October 2020, the National Security Service launched a criminal investigation of prominent Yezidi human rights defender Sashik Sultanyan, head of the Yezidi Center for Human Rights, with charges of inciting national, racial or religious hatred. This followed an interview Sultanyan had given to the Yezidinews website, during which he had described a few of the issues facing the community, including challenges in studying their language and developing their culture. In May 2021, the investigator brought charges against Sultanyan. The case was later suspended after Sultanyan left the country. Numerous national and international organizations expressed deep concerns regarding the mischaracterization of legitimate advocacy work as incitement to national hatred, with the prosecution amounting to harassment of a human rights defender.

Updated May 2024

Related content

Reports and briefings

  • Our strategy

    We work with ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, and indigenous peoples to secure their rights and promote understanding between communities.

  • Stories

    Discover the latest insights from our global network of staff, partners and allies.

  • Events

    Join us for insightful discussions at webinars, screenings, exhibitions and more.