Armenian rock in the Kurdistan mountains
Anahit Khatchikian and Roni Alasor, Erbil-Kurdistan – The life of Aram Shahin Davud Bakoyan, an Armenian born in Federal Kurdistan Region in Iraq, truly reflects the historical path of Kurdistan in the last 40 years. Aram was only 14 years old in 1968 when he started fighting as Peshmerga (Kurdish Freedom Fighter) in the Kurdish mountains against the Baath regime of Saddam Hussein. He was tortured in prison and his left arm became immobilized after Iraqi Army cannon blast. Today the 57-years old Aram represents the Armenian community in Kurdistan Region as independent Member of the Kurdistan National Parliament.
Aram was born in Avzrog Miri, in the north of Kurdistan Region. Six generations ago a young man called Bakoz (Bohos) from the clan Geznakh in Hakari, today’s North Kurdistan (Turkey), came with his mother to Avzrog Miri and married an Armenian girl from Sarkissian family which was already settled there. They became the founders of family Bakoyan. Four more generations followed them with the fathers Revo, Gulan, Davud and Shahin and today Aram and his three sons and one daughter are the 6th generation living in Federal Kurdistan Region.
The family Bakoyan witnessed the arrival of many other Armenians fleeing the massacres and the mass deportations in the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of XX century. Today Aram Bakoyan says that there are about 80 Armenian families in Avzuruk, 170 families in Zaho city, 60 families in Dohuk, 100 families in Havresk. Aram also mentions 160 families arrived in the last years from different parts of Iraq to find safer life and better protection in the Christian suburb Ainkawa, in the capital Erbil.
Indeed, several attacks of Christian churches in different Iraqi cities, including the bombing of the Armenian church in Mosul in 2004, pushed many Iraqi Christians to come to Federal Kurdistan. The village Havresk for example was established in 2005 with the financial support of Sarkis Aghajan, Minister of Finance of the Kurdistan Region who initiated the building of 115 homes for the Armenians fleeing Baghdad and Mosul due to the lack of security.
Today the parliamentarian Aram Bakoyan estimates at about 450 families (3600-3800 individuals) the number of all the Armenians in Kurdistan. Armenians in Kurdistan, as well as the Kurds, were deprived from their fundamental human rights during the Saddam’s regime. The situation of the minorities in Kurdistan gradually has been improving since the establishment of Kurdish authorities in the 1990s. Today the Armenians have 2 Armenian schools (in Erbil and Dohuk), 3 churches (in Dohuk, Avzuruk, Zakho) and two new churches are expected to be built in Havresk and in Ainkawa (Erbil). Many Armenians from Kurdistan don't speak Armenian language, but they have preserved the Armenian traditions and culture in a relatively closed and united community with Armenian identity.
Since 2009 for the first time in the history of Iraq the Armenians have been politically represented in the Kurdish parliament. At the last parliamentarian elections in 2009, following the appeal of President Massoud Barzani, three Armenians participated as independent candidates. The Armenians in Kurdistan who had right to vote at that time were about 800, but Aram Bakoyan got 4200 votes! His rivals Aertex Morses Sargisyan and Eshkhan Melkon Sargisyan won respectively 2900 and 880 votes. It is evident that apart the votes of the Armenians, many Kurds voted for the Armenian candidates.
One important reason for the Kurdish support for the Armenian candidates and particularly for Aram Bakoyan, is the fact that he was already well known for his Peshmerga (Kurdish Freedom Fighter) past. Aram was only 14 years old when in 1968 he and 6 other Armenians from Zakho started fighting as Peshmerga, shoulder to shoulder with the Kurds from Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) against the Baath regime of Saddam Hussein. In 1974 Aram has been injured by a cannon blast on the left shoulder and stayed three months in a hospital in Mahabad, in Kurdistan in Iran. Unfortunately, his left arm remained immobilised. After coming back home, in 1977 the Armenian was sentenced to five years in prison for his political activities. In the prison Aram was tortured brutally as many other Kurdish political prisoners at that time. In 1979 he was released and he continued to participate actively in the political and social life. Aram was elected two times as leader of the Armenian community in Zakho in 1982-1990.
For the 2009 parliament elections in Federal Kurdistan Region, eleven of the 111 seats were reserved for minorities, including Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmen and Armenians. Aram Bakoyan was one of the three Armenian candidates who run in the election campaign and he got elected. Today Aram is member of 2 committees in the Parliament - the committee for Municipalities and the committee for Housing and Reconstruction.
The parliamentarian Aram contributes to the new developments in Kurdistan Region, but he also works to preserve the Armenian cultural heritage and to help the Armenian community. Some of his future initiatives will be construction of a wall round the Armenian graves in Avzuruk and providing a salon for celebrations. Aram counts on the support of the Kurdish authorities for these projects, but he and the Armenian community also hope that the Armenian government in Erevan will not forget the Armenian children who live in Kurdistan Region and could help with sending teachers and priests who are not enough for the moment. Aram also believes that even a simple visit by Armenians from Armenia or from the Diaspora - artists, writers or just ordinary people, could be very stimulating for this small, but dynamic Armenian community in Federal Kurdistan Region in Iraq.