IN SCHOOL

Armenia's Yezidi begin to question dated customs

A young woman, member of Yezidi community, kisses a figure of peacock angel called Satan, used as an object of worship by the Yezidis, in the Armenian village of Zovuny.Photo: AFP

A young woman, member of Yezidi community, kisses a figure of peacock angel called Satan, used as an object of worship by the Yezidis, in the Armenian village of Zovuny.Photo: AFP  

As she hangs up washing on branches outside her family's stone home, Liana talks wistfully about her curtailed childhood which ended with marriage at the tender age of 14.

Liana belongs to Armenia's roughly 40,000-strong Yezidi community, a livestock-herding people who follow their own ancient religion that involves the worship of a peacock angel called Satan.

Their customs are strict and sometimes at odds with the values and practices of the modern world, most notably the tradition of marrying women while they are still in their early teens.

Some within the community, especially the young, are now wanting to break out of the limits of tradition and forge normal lives and careers.

"When I was 14 my parents refused to let me go to school anymore and married me off instead," Liana, now 23, said, her olive green eyes flickering timidly to the ground.

"But I want my daughters to get an education, become experts in something and live in better conditions," she said, watching as her six-year-old daughter continued with the household chores.

The Yezidi are the biggest minority group in Armenia – a largely mono-ethnic country where some 98 percent of the roughly 3.3 million population are ethnic Armenians and the country's Christian Apostolic Church dominates.

Fierce guardians of their traditions, the Yezidi do not allow outsiders to convert to their faith and ban the eating of lettuce or wearing of anything blue.

The Yezidis do not believe in heaven or hell, and do not regard Satan as evil. In fact, they worship him in the guise of a peacock angel whose name they are forbidden from saying out loud.

Found in Armenia's western valleys close to Mount Ararat, as well as in their spiritual home in nearby Iraq, along with Syria, Turkey and Georgia, the strongly patriarchal Yezidi forbid girls from talking in the presence of male elders or eating with male relatives.

As was the case with Liana, they have commonly married off their daughters when they are in their early teens, sometimes as young as 12 or 13.

Last year when Armenia moved to revise its law on marriage, raising the minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls to 18, representatives of the Yezidi community erupted in protest at what they claimed was an assault on a cornerstone of their culture.

"This is an ancient tradition," said Aziz Tamoyan, the director of the Yezidi Union in Armenia. "If a girl is not already married by the time she is 18 then she is already considered a spinster."

In the end, in the face of possible street protests, Armenia's parliament compromised and the minimum age that girls in the Yezidi community could marry was set at 16.AFP

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