On March 22, 2011, at the Kurdish-Yezidi Community Center in Tbilisi, a spontaneous discussion with Lena Khudoyan and Mia Marekhashvili, representatives of the Union of Kurdish Youth of Georgia, as well as with Agit Mirzoev, who founded this organization 10 years ago, touched upon the challenges which Kurdish youth face nowadays. The issue of civic participation remains a major problem for the community.
(Re)Quest of Identity…
As a result of a long process of assimilation throughout time, the Kurdish-Yezidi community living in Georgia has lost a great deal of its traditional cultural features and customs, as well as the use of their language, Kurmanji. Today, most Kurdish-Yezidi youth of Georgia do not master their inherited language, even though they are willing to learn. According to their young leaders, they do not know who they are anymore.
The overall economic situation in Georgia reflects pretty well the perspectives of Kurdish-Yezidi youth: there is little hope for the near future. The economy is weak and job opportunities remain scarce. In 2007, the unemployment rate among youth reached 30 % (Indexmundi*). This is the main reason why youth, and especially minority youth, still decide to emigrate.
As Kurdish-Yezidi kids are traditionally sent to Russian-speaking schools, some youth cannot speak Georgian at all when they graduate from high school. This used to make their university entrance to a Georgian university impossible, as the Georgian language is the main tuition language and a requirement. So most youth would go and study abroad, mainly in the Russian Federation. Today, however, it is now possible to take a foundation year to learn Georgian before starting a course at university; but failure to learn the language properly leads to removal from the university registers.
Most importantly, being unable to speak Georgian prevents most Kurdish-Yezidi youth from taking active part to the debates of society in Georgia. In addition to usually not knowing and/or using their rights, this makes their civic participation a major issue in independent Georgia. Besides, if the independent Georgian legislation has taken a few steps towards support to civic participation of minorities, its implementation by the government does not have real significance. Today, lobbying for the rights of the Kurdish minority thus equals standing up for more information about their rights and more support to their representation and action in public arenas, in order to reach the level of ethnic Georgians. In this sense, integration means that all Georgian, whether ethnic or minority representatives, would have the same rights and be aware of them, while remaining free to use those rights or not.
In spite of all the above mentioned challenges, looking at the positive aspects of the evolution of the Kurdish-Yezidi identity and community in Georgia is the attitude which is promoted by its young leaders. It cannot be denied that Kurdish-Yezidi youth of Georgia are Georgian citizens. In addition to this, they are and undoubtedly remain Kurds. They feel they are part of the civil and political processes going on in Georgia and promote their civic participation. They want to stay and live in Georgia, be active in Georgia and represent their community in Tbilisi and all over the country. Since the Kurdish-Yezidi community center was opened in 2010, the Union of Kurdish Youth of Georgia has been one of the most active youth minority groups in the country.
Connection to Kurdistan!
The establishment of a community center for the Yezidi-Kurds of Georgia provided their community with a public space for meeting and talking about Kurdish culture and issues, and discussing the management of important problems and policies on a national level. This is a big step forward for the community, which was largely made possible thanks to the support of the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani and Ambassador of Iraq in Georgia, Tayeb Mohammad Tayeb. Today, the Kurdish-Yezidi community of Georgia is eager to relate to Kurdistan.
Now the Kurdish-Yezidi community center is also supported by the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI), the Swiss Embassy to Georgia, and the Women’s Fund in Georgia, which gives new hopes for youth perspectives.
Many thanks to Lena, Mia and Agit to have taken time to talk about their community and presented with much awareness what is not going well, but also with so much dynamism what is surely going to be better in the future –
Photo: Lena Khudoyan, Agit Mirzoev and Mia Marekhashvili (from left to right) at the Kurdish community center on March 22, 2011.
* Indexmundi. Youth Unemployment Rate – Georgia – Economy. Available at: <http://www.indexmundi.com/georgia/youth-unemployment-rate.html> |online]
Yezidi are Kurds, but Kurds are not necessarily Yezidi. The Yezidi (ئێزیدی or Êzidî, in Kurdish) are members of a Kurdish religion called Yezidism. In Georgia, members of the Kurdish-Yezidi community are divided: some call themselves Kurds (they are not necessarily Yezidi) while others prefer to say that they are Yezidi (they are obviously Kurds). The adjective “Kurdish-Yezidi” is then used to make both groups happy.
THE UNION OF KURDISH YOUTH OF GEORGIA
The Union of Kurdish Youth of Georgia was founded in 2001. In 2011, it registers more than 30 active members aged 16 till 30.
The Union of Kurdish Youth of Georgia aims at consolidating the Kurdish youth community living in Georgia, integrating youth into the Georgian and European societies, protecting their rights and preserving their cultural and religious values. The priority is set for the youth to gain knowledge and professionalism.
To do so, the Union organizes sports and cultural events, charitable actions, educational seminars, trainings and conferences on a non-formal basis. Also, intercultural exchanges with the European Union are carried in the frame of the ‘Youth in Action’ Program of the European Commission. Participation in elections is particularly fostered.
Sarhad – Union of Kurdish Youth of Georgia. Available in Georgian, Russian, Kurmanji and English at: <http://sarhad.ge/main.php?mode=1&cat=about&sub=6&lang=en> [online]