The Yezidi in the Republic of Armenia, in common with many Armenians outside the capital Yerevan and the larger towns, lead a life of subsistence. The full employment of the Soviet era is long gone; the old collective farms lie abandoned, or now serve only as temporary or semi-permanent accommodation for a passing cowherd or shepherd and his livestock. There are few jobs in the mountain areas – and Armenia is nothing if not mountainous – and therefore subsistence is forced upon much of the rural population. Perhaps for the majority of Yezidi at least this might still be a preferred way of life. In summer the women grow vegetables in garden plots around their low dwellings in the villages; they also gather edible herbs such as shushan from the meadows and sell them by the roadside in Jamshlu, Alagyaz and other villages through which the main M3 road passes between Spitak and Yerevan.
One extremely popular large dark green leaf called aveluk, a mountain sorrel with a strong flavour, is cleverly plaited into ropes up to a metre long, with the protruding stalks trimmed off with a sharp knife; this braid is then hung up to dry for use in winter, when it has to be prepared by rehydrating and washing before cooking.
Meanwhile, the Yezidi men are up in the highland pastures of Aragats, their traditional Kurdish-style tents supplemented by plastic tarpaulin covered trucks; the milk, yoghurt and cheese of their sheep and cattle which graze the flower-rich meadows are said to be particularly flavoursome and healthy.
The Yezidi villagers, like many Armenians, may be poor when judged by Western material standards but they live well enough off the land and perhaps it is inappropriate to apply Western measures of standard of life. There are some satellite dishes and of course the ubiquitous mobile phones and coca cola in the villages. It is true that the educated among them may leave for urban life, and of course there are some disaffected youth, but the community is largely adjusted and inured to remote village life in highland Armenia. The Yezidi of Aragatsotn are respected by the Armenians for their role in fighting the Turks in the years following WW1 and their religion is accepted as non-threatening, if as a little peculiar. As well as Kurmanji Kurdish, the Yezidi speak fluent Armenian with the local accent learnt in the Armenian school system and an Armenian would be hard-pushed to distinguish a Yezidi from an Armenian on voice alone.
The older cemeteries, such as that in Rya Taza, where striking ancient and probably undatable animal-shaped grave-markers survive, speak of the Yezidis’ centuries of residence in Aragatsotn. Although the resident Yezidi population was supplemented by Yezidis displaced from post-Ottoman Turkey from the 1915 Armenian Genocide onwards (a period during which the Yezidi too were persecuted and deported by the Turks), the graveyards indicate that the Yezidi have lived on this land for hundreds of years.
The location of the Yezidi villages of the Republic of Armenia is shown on our Google Map. As mentioned, some of the ancient Yezidi places of habitation NE of Mounts Aragats are perhaps centuries old, while others are of more recent origin, having been settled during or after the second decade of the 20th century, as Yezidis fled oppression in Turkish lands in eastern Anatolia.
Unless otherwise stated, the map shows villages the population of which is entirely or overwhelmingly Yezidi.
The cluster of villages around Alagyaz is the historical heartland of Yezidi settlement within the borders of modern Armenia. All except Alagyaz itself and Sadunts are identified as Yezidi villages in an old gazetteer of the Yerevan gubernia or province of Tsarist Russia in 1869 – at that date, there was a total of 260 households in these eight villages.
In 1869 there were also 16 Yezidi households in an isolated settlement called Soukh-Bulakh, the precise location of which has not been established (its approximate site is shown on the map with a question mark).
Birgül Açıkyıldız, “The Yezidis: The History of a Community, Culture and Religion”, pub. I B Taurus, 2010
Eszter Spät, “The Yezidis”, pub Saqi Books, 2005
Эриванская Губернія: Списокъ Населенныхъ Мѣстъ Губернія, Военно-учёный комитет, c1870/71
This is a revised version of text and map which were first published on the bluebirdresearch website in 2011.