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Georgia: Treatment of the Kurds, in particular of Yezidi Kurds

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 August 1998
Citation / Document Symbol GGA29833.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Georgia: Treatment of the Kurds, in particular of Yezidi Kurds, 1 August 1998, GGA29833.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aae694.html [accessed 16 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

 

According to the editor of the Journal of Kurdish Studies, around 80 per cent of the Georgian Kurdish population, of which a large part are Yezidis, live in Tiblisi (5 Aug. 1998). A small number of Kurds and Yezidis lives in rural areas where their situation is more difficult than in urban areas. Yezidis are better educated than the rest of the Kurdish population.

In an Internet Website on ethnic minorities in Georgia, the Committee for Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities of the Parliament of Georgia stated

Most  of  the  Kurds  in Georgia  are Yezids by confession, descendants of refugees who  escaped religious repression during the Ottoman Empire. They live  mainly  in  Tbilisi  or  Rustavi.  Though the Kurds are urbanised and quite integrated  socially, they  preserve their  distinct ethnic identity,  language and cultural traditions,  which  possibly  makes  them less socially mobile than some other groups. Kurds in  Georgia are politically neutral, however recent events in the countries of the Near East gave rise to sympathetic support of the aspirations of  Kurd nationalist movements in Irak, Turkey and Iran.

According to Noyan Tapan, there are around 3,000 Yezidis in Georgia (24 Dec. 1997). An Internet Website of the Bethany World Prayer Center entitled The Northern Kurd of Georgia reported that the Yezidis represent 1 per cent of the Georgian population. The Website also provides further information on the Yezidis' cultural survival in Georgia: 

though the Kurdish Yazidis of Georgia are small in number, they have done the most to defend their identity. They have jealously guarded their national customs and have resisted the pressure to be absorbed into Georgian lifestyle.

According to Georgia News Agency the latest census figures shows that there are around 50 to 60,000 Kurds living in Georgia (2 Apr. 1998). The Website entitled The Northern Kurd of Georgia reported that in 1995 there were 33,700 Kurds in Georgia compared to 26,000 in 1979 as reported by the Website entitled The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire.

The following information was provided during a 5 August 1998 telephone interview with the editor of the Journal of Kurdish Studies in New York.

The editor stated that since the breakup of the former USSR the Georgian government has had a general minorities policy that tended to limit national and cultural manifestations of self-identity among the various ethnic groups in Georgia. This policy was generally supported by the Georgian ethnic group which feared for its dominant position in the society. This analysis is corroborated by Glenn E. Curtis in Georgia: A Country Study (1994). According to Curtis, Georgian fear is falsely based on demography

Among the leading ethnic groups, the fastest growth between 1979 and 1989 occurred in the Azerbaijani population and the Kurds, whose numbers increased by 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively. This trend worried Georgians, even though both groups combined made up less than 7 percent of the republic's population. Over the same period, the dominant Georgians' share of the population increased from 68.8 percent to 70.1 percent. Ethnic shifts after 1989--particularly the emigration of Russians, Ukrainians, and Ossetians--were largely responsible for the Georgians' increased share of the population.

Steven F. Jones also provides a similar analysis when he states that "the philosophy of majority rights has encouraged a siege mentality where any opposition to Georgian hegemony is seen as a threat to national unity and to the state's interests" (1993, 297).

The editor indicated that this approach towards national minorities implies that expression and manifestation of religious identity are considered less threatening to national unity, hence less subject to restrictions (5 Aug. 1998).

The Kurdish population, including the Yezidis, are not specifically targeted by the government more than other ethnic groups in Georgia. The editor indicated that as long as Kurds support government policies and do not publicly express their Kurdish national identity, but only their religious identity, they would not encounter problems with the Georgian authorities. In general, this means that Yezidis Kurds are better treated than non-Yezidi Kurds. The central issue for both Kurds and Yezidis is cultural survival amid the nationalist assertiveness in the former USSR.

Despite this, in his 1992 book entitled Kurds: A Nation Denied, David McDowall, a researcher with Minority Rights Group in London, stated that

Kurds themselves have also been affected by the resurgence in national expression in the USSR. They proudly point out that in three (Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan) of the nine republics among which they are scattered, there are regular activities and publications.

Reawakened national awareness has resulted in more Soviet citizens declaring themselves to be Kurds (126).

The following information was provided during a 6 August 1998 telephone interview with the Executive Director of the Kurdish Human Rights Watch (KHRW) in New York. The Executive Director could not provide detailed information on the treatment of the Kurds and Yezidis, but was able to describe the situation of Kurdish migrants from Iraq and Turkey who transit through Georgia to Europe and North America.

The Kurds who transit Georgia use illegal routes established by  traffickers and are often victims of robbery and abandoned in Georgia. The Georgian government has not established any policy to deal with this situation. The Executive Director added that even the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) experiences difficulty with the authorities in accessing the Kurdish migrants in Georgia and in providing services.

Current documentary material on the treatment of Yezidis and Kurds is scarce. Georgia News Agency provides information on some of the reasons why Yezidis and Kurds leave Georgia en masse:

The emigration of Yezidis from Georgia has become an acute issue and this is caused by unfavorable conditions for the development of their religion, the chairman of the Georgian Union of Yezidis and the head of Kurdish broadcasting on Georgian radio, Kerim Anqos [as received], said at a meeting with the chairman of the parliamentary Commission for Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities Issues, Konstantine Kokoev. The meeting held at the Georgian Parliament today was attended by sheikhs, members of the Georgian Union of Yezidis and representatives of the Kurdish community. Representatives of one of the oldest religions have no facilities for religious observance and the Yezidis in Georgia are not able to resolve the problem without state assistance, Anqos said. Anqos said that in Soviet times Tbilisi and Yerevan were Kurdish cultural centres. "None of the other Soviet republics rendered Kurds as much help as Georgia did. However, today, we are facing a bitter problem: we are losing our religion," he said. (2 Apr. 1998).

In a 30 December 1997 edition, Radio Free Europe/RL Newsline reported on the extradition of Kurdish activists to Turkey:

A spokesman for the Moscow-based Front for the National Liberation of Kurdistan, which is loosely aligned with the banned PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), suggests that the Georgian authorities were motivated by economic considerations when they agreed to extradite to Turkey Suleyman Koc, a member of the Turkish National-Democratic Party, "Nezavisimaya  Gazeta" reported on 30 December. Koc had fled to Georgia to avoid a ten-year prison sentence in Turkey, and had worked at a Tbilisi center for Georgia's 40,000 ethnic Kurds, who are concerned that his extradition may herald a crackdown on FNLK activities in Georgia.

Another aspect of the Georgian government's position on Kurdish nationalist activities in the country may be found when, under pressure from Turkey to crackdown on Kurdish nationalist activities in Georgia,

the Georgian deputy minister of justice, Vakhtang Gvaramia, told Prime-News that "the Kurdish international information and cultural centre in Georgia has been established by ethnic Kurds who are citizens of Georgia and their activities are not in variance with the Georgian constitution" . According to Gvaramia, the Kurdish centre was registered at the Georgian Ministry of Justice on 26th September 1997 (Prime News Agency 5 Dec. 1997).

Regarding the Kurdish International Information and Cultural Centre, the editor of the Journal of Kurdish Studies mentioned that although the authorities pay for the Kurdish Cultural and Information Centre in Tiblisi, they do so for foreign policy interests only (5 Aug. 1998).

It may also be of interest to know that Amnesty International, Heksinki Watch, Country Reports for 1996-1997, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Minorities at Risk Project at the University of Maryland did not report any specific information on the human rights situation of Yezidis or Kurds in Georgia. Even the World Directory of Minorities provides very little information on the Kurds and the Yezidis in Georgia (1997, 279). The Kurdish Human Rights Watch Master Exhibit on Kurdish Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the United States does not provide any information on the treatment of the Kurds in Georgia (Jan. 1994).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References

Bethany World Prayer Center. The Northern Kurd of Georgia. [Internet] < http://www.bethany-wpc.org/profiles/p_code/77.html > [Accessed on 5 Aug. 1998]

Editor, Journal of Kurdish Studies, New York. 5August 1998. Telephone interview.

Executive Director, Kurdish Human Rights Watch (KHRW), New York. 6 August 1998. Telephone interview.

Georgia: A Country Study. 1994. Glen E. Curtis ed. Washington, DC: Library of Congress. [Internet] < http://leweb2.loc.gov/egi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field(DOCID+ge0037) > [Accessed on 6 Aug. 1998]

Georgian News Agency [Tblisi]. 2 April 1998. "Yezidis Appeal for Help to Save Their Religion, Culture." (BBC Summary  6 April 1998/NEXIS)

Jones, Stephen F. 1993. "Georgia: A Failed Democratic Transition." in Nation and Politics in the Soviet Successor States. edited by Ian Bremmer and Ray Taras. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kurdish Human Rights Watch (KHRW). January 1994. Master Exhibit on Kurdish Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the United States. New York.

McDowall, David. 1992. The Kurds: A Nation Denied. London: Minority Rights Group.

Newsline. 30 December 1997. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). "Georgia Extradites Kurdish Activist to Turkey." [Internet]< http://www.rferl.org/newsline/ 1997/12/301297.html > [Accessed on 6 Aug. 1998]

Noyan Topan [Yeveran]. 24 December 1997. "Yezidi National Union of Armenia to Create New Alphabet." (BBC Summary  3 January 1998/NEXIS)

Prime News Agency [Tblisi, in Georgian]. 5 December 1997. "Turkey Concerned at Kurdish Activity in Georgia." (BBC Summary  8 Dec. 1997/NEXIS)

The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire. [Internet] < http://www.eki.ee/books/redbook/kurds.shtml > [Accessed on 5 Aug. 1998]

        World Directory of Minorities. 1997. London: Minority Rights Group.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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