Wednesday, 18 September

Broken Dreams: Family Flees War in Iraq Kurdistan for the Diaspora, Not Armenia



“When it was snowing, my son went out to play. But it was cold and I’m called him to come home. Armenia is our father. So why doesn’t he call us inside?”

The above rhetorical question is posed by Movses Sarkisian, who left Iraqi Kurdistan for Istanbul.

Movses says that his cousin returned to Erbil after staying in Armenia for four years. He told Movses that in Armenia they called him a foreigner and a gharib (stranger) who had grown up among Turks.

People in Armenia are tired. Young people are looking for work in Europe. Everyone is leaving Armenia. Only the women and girls are left,” Movses says with a sigh. “We also felt like outsiders in Iraq. I am angry at Armenia. Why didn’t they take us in? Why didn’t they leave us outside for so long?”

Movses, his wife and three children left the Dohuk region some six months ago. It’s been the fourth time. His family history starts in the village of Arou in the Shirnag (Şırnak) province in south eastern Turkey near the Iraqi border. Movses says that the entire population is Kurdish speaking and that Armenians from Arou speak Kurdish as well, regardless of whether they now live in Australia or Canada.

The Sarkisian family speaks Kurdish at home. None know Armenian except for a few words here and there.

During the 1915 Genocide, Movses’ ten year-old grandfather miraculously survived and fled towards the town of Zakho near the Iraqi border. There, he met his future wife, a member of the native Armenian community. The couple then moved to Dohuk, some 30 kilometers away. Movses’ wife is also an Iraqi-Armenian from Zakho.

In Istanbul, Movses has rented an apartment in a building in the neighborhood of Samatya, where there are many Armenians. The screeches of his three kids – Yerjan, Tania and Hovig – emanate from the corners of the dark uninviting rooms. They now attend class at a local Armenian school.

His wife, Seta Nersisian, smiles and tells a neighbor that they have a guest from Armenia. The only words she can say in Armenian are, “I am Armenian. My family is Armenian.”

The family says they chose Istanbul because it is a cosmopolitan city with many Armenians living there. In addition, Movses says that the people are kind, and that they all help him out - whether Turks, Armenians, or Kurds – and that they are even more helpful when they hear he escaped the war.

Movses is a sculptor who works with wood and stone. He boasts that, just like Leonardo da Vinci, he comes up with his own designs and mentions a unique water tank he made that was displayed in Paris. He also writes poems and songs; mostly in Arabic and occasionally in Kurdish. His wife used to teach Kurdish at school.

The first time Movses left home was at the age of nine in 1973 during the Kurdish uprising in Iraq. Holding back tears, Moves, now past fifty, recounts how he was left on the side of the road because there wasn’t enough room I the car. “There were 7-8 people in the vehicle and the driver said there wasn’t any room.”

Movses’ father, who passed away twenty-five years ago, had five sons. Movses never raised the issue of being abandoned with his parents. He figures that his father took the decision to abandon one of the sons so that the other four could live.

Movses’ mother, Elvin Kiroian, suffered a broken hip back in 1990 when U.S. planes were bombing northern Iraq. She flew while running down the stairs to an underground shelter. 

It was difficult moving his mother because they didn’t have a wheelchair. After relocating, however, the woman is receiving free medical care at the Sourp Prgitch Armenian Hospital in Istanbul.

I visited Elvin Kiroian, who was born in Zakho and learnt Armenian at the local school (there’s also an Armenian church there).

“My mother and father dreamt of one day going to Armenia. They regarded Armenia as the Jews look towards Israel,” says Movses. “They thought that perhaps our children, if not us, would go to Armenia to live. But all that is water under the bridge.”

“If Armenia had empty space, many people would come from Iraq, Syria and other places. Ten years from now, Armenia would be a different country,” says a teary-eyed Movses. “But all that’s gone with the wind.”

Movses’ brother Mardiros, who has come to Istanbul to help, remembers the story his father told him about the officials who came to Iraq in 1946 inquiring about how many Armenians lived in the north of the country. (Reference is to the repatriation of Armenians to Soviet Armenia).

“But they left and never returned because Iraqi officials didn’t let Armenians leave. But the Jews did,” says Mardiros. “My mother always remembers the Jewish adage that they constantly said – that they would go to Israel but that we would not go to our Armenia.”

Mrs. Kiroian says that the Jews sold everything possible and left for Israel; their promised land. “But we couldn’t. Do you know Kurdish?” she asks me. Hearing that I do not, she goes on, “Better still. Yerevan is our place, the place for Armenians. The Kurds shouldn’t know.”

Speaking of his decision to leave Iraq several months ago, Movses says he got passports with Turkish entry visas and fled within an hour.

“We couldn’t take much of anything, not even the little cash we had saved. I left it with relatives.”

Movses says there are forty Armenian families in Dohuk and around the same in Zakho.

“This time, we were the only ones to flee. Most of the others have no passports. Others are so rich that they can’t leave their possessions behind.”

The family still doesn’t know where they will end up. But Armenia isn’t an option. Their dream about Armenia has gone up in smoke.

“Do you know what it is like to have a dream that is broken?” asks Movses. “It’s a heavy emotion, very heavy. Because you know there is no hope afterwards.”


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Comments (18)
1. Հ.Շ.04:03 - 11 February, 2015
«Ընտանիքը Ստամբուլն ընտրել է նրա համար, որ միջազգային քաղաք է, ու այստեղ շատ հայեր կան, բացի այդ` Մովսեսն ասում է, որ մարդիկ այստեղ բարի են, բոլորն իրեն օգնում են` թե́ հայերը, թե́ թուրքերը, թե́ քրդերը:» ................................................ դեհ լա՜ւ, շատ բարի --- աշխարհի լաւագոյն տեղը, կարգին դրախտավայր էք գտել - նամանաւանդ հայերի համար -, ուրեմն, դեռ ինչի՞ համար էք զայրացած եւ գանգատում --- շնորհակալութիւն յայտնեցէք ցած ու վատ Հայաստանին, որ իր ցածութեան եւ վատության պատճառով, ձեզ ոսկի առիթը ընծայեց որ երթաք ու հաստատվիք հոյակապ, սքանչելի, զգլխի՛չ թուրքիայում... բարի վայելում... յաջողութիւն ձեզի...
2. Հայ09:43 - 11 February, 2015
Ես չհասկացա, թե ինչպես է իրենց՝ Հայաստան գալու երազը մշուշի պես ցնդել, եթե Հայաստանում չեն էլ եղել...
3. Tina14:31 - 11 February, 2015
The government and especially the Ministry of Diaspora must as soon as posibble implement a viable project to repatriate all armenians who want to settle in the motherland (Hayastan). The armenian president has to sponsor this project of national importance and people in armenia must help and support the repatriates as friends and relatives.
4. H.C.17:28 - 11 February, 2015
Tina, the Armenian State is doing its share. As for the people in Armenia, they are the most hospitable people in the entire world. The fact is that a large number of foreigners of Armenian descent (a.k.a. diaspora "Armenians") are not interested to move to Armenia. At all. In any circumstance. Most of them have not even visited it, once.
5. Razmig19:44 - 11 February, 2015
Sad to say, but the "Armenian State can do so much more if it had the vision and the will. And I do not gloss over the failing of the diaspora in this regard. Recently, the Armenian State, allegedly, with the participation, of "unnamed diaspora representatives, drafted and publicly announced a "Pan-Armenian" proclamation regarding an agenda on the 100th anniversary of the Genocide. It was announced with great fanfare here in Armenia. It spoke of the need to remove/nullify the consequences of the Genocide. I put it to you, what greater consequence has there been other than the eviction and exile of Armenians from the historic homeland. But what is the agenda to gather the far flung descendants of Genocide survivors, assimilating outside Armenia, to return. There is no such agenda! 100 years later, the Armenian nation has yet to formulate any such collective plan of action. Yes, resources are needed to implement such an agenda, but more than financial resources, there must be a need, a desire, to return to that little sliver of the homeland we now regard as the Republic of Armenia. Evidently, there is no such need, no such desire. If there were, we could overcome the lack of financial resources. Simply stated, the state and the diaspora, individually, and as a collective, see no rationale in formulating such an agenda.
6. H.C.20:27 - 11 February, 2015
Razmig, between the so-called diaspora and Armenia, who's primary responsibility was it (because it is too late, now), to organize the repatriation. Considering the enormous problems Armenia has to deal with, since day 1 of the return to Independence, it was incumbent upon the diaspora to take decisive steps, in that regard. But here is the more fundamental problem : the diaspora leadership does not want such a massive repatriation of Armenians. Because they don't want to lose their "subjects", they want to perpetuate the existence of those diaspora communities where they are supposed to have some title, some importance, some "power", etc. And they are unable to see that, in any event, the diaspora does not even really exist anymore. It has become just a sham now, an illusion...
7. Razmig21:42 - 11 February, 2015
You have the equation backwards. HC. The traditional diasporan leadership only enjoys a scant 10-15%, at best, of their "subjects". Rather, I would venture to say, that the current regime in Armenia, now comfortably riding roughshod over the 2-2.5 million Armenians here, do not want to deal with potentially troublesome and less than subservient Armenians from the outside upsetting the apple cart. It's the current rulers in Armenia who have the most to lose from "repatriation" - their very existence as top dog.
8. H.C.08:43 - 12 February, 2015
Razmig, you are talking about the "current rulers" - and you may be right - . ---- I am talking about what should have happened right after the return to Independence, back in 1991-92... And if the diaspora had proceeded to a significant repatriation, back then, it is very probable that the current situation in Armenia, including the position of its "current leaders", would have been different. --- in any event, here we are, talking to each other in English, while the Armenians of Iraq and Syria are preferring to move to Istanboul, instead of going to Armenia. Is all this also the fault of the current rulers of Armenia... ? --- here's a more detailed and elaborate analysis on this subject : http://hetq.am/arm/news/57177/suriayen-depi-erkir.html
9. Ռազմիկ10:11 - 12 February, 2015
Հարգելի HC....Պէտք է այլեւս ընդունինք որ երկուստէք կամք եւ ցանկութիւն չկայ «հայրենադարձ» ծրագիր մը մշակելու: Թէ ո՞վ է աւելի մեղաւոր, զիս այդքան չի հետաքրքրէ: Ուզողը հայաստան կ՛երթայ, չուզող չ՛երթայ: Այլեւս անձնականի հարց դարձած է: Ազգովին, փաստեցինք որ ազգային հաւաքականութիւն չենք եւ որպէս զայն չենք մտածէր:
10. Ափսոս17:56 - 12 February, 2015
Երազները ընդհանրապէս անհասանելի բաներու մասին են...եւ ատոր համար ալ երազողները աւելի երիտասարդ են քան որոշ տարիքի անձեր: Ամէնայն դէպս, շատ լաւ կը հասկնամ իրաքահայուն ապրած հիասթափութիւնը, նոյնիսկ եթէ ան ոտք չէ կոխած Հայաստան: Ես ուրիշահայ եմ եւ մեր դաստիարակութիւնը` դպրոցական, միութենական թէ ընտանեկան մեզ պատրաստած էր օր մը հայրենիք վերադառնալու: Պարագաները տարբեր երկիր վիճակեցին ինծի ուրկէ կրկին Հայաստան երթալու փափաքս վառ մնացած էր: Յետոյ տարիները, հանգստաւէտ կամ նուազ հանգստաւէտ պայմանները, ու մանաւանդ վախը՝ որ գրկաբաց պիտի չընդունուիս հայրենիքիդ մէջ, որ նոյնիսկ տարբեր ես հայաստանաբնակէն, որ կրկին պիտի ստիպուիս ապրիլ ընկերութեան մը մէջ ուր առօրեայ ջնջին բաներու համար ստիպուած ես կաշառել եւ, ամէնէն կարեւորը, Momentum-ի պակասը անկախութենէն ետք մարեցին այդ կրակը, ափսոս...հազար ափսոս: Եւ մինակ չեմ, ոչ ալ Սփիւռքի ղեկախարութենէն կախեալ անձ:
11. Tina23:33 - 12 February, 2015
Armenia is member of International Organization for Migration (IOM) and I would like to know if there is a IOM mission or office there. IOM works to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search of practical solutions, to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, be they refugees, displaced persons or other uprooted people. To help those willing to settle in the country of origin, the following activities should be implemented: nationwide media campaign, promoting voluntary repatriation, providing specific support services for repatriation and integration of migrants.
12. Anna Muradyan11:08 - 13 February, 2015
Dear Tina, yes there is IOM office in Armenia, one can easily find their contacts just googling with IOM Yerevan tags. The thing is how many people know about them etc.
13. Վարազ Սյունի (Ամստերդամ) 05:28 - 14 February, 2015
ՀՀ Սփյուռքի նախարարությունը փաստորեն այդպես էլ ձևակա՛ն (տուրիստական բյուրոյի բնույթի) կառույց մնաց: Այն պիտի փոխարինել «Ներգաղթի» նախարարությունով՝ առաջին հերթին Արցախի ազատագրված տարածքները վերաբնակեցնելու համար: Պիտի նաև հասկանել,որ Ռուսաստա՛նն է շահագրգռված,որ Արցախի ազատագրված տարածքները չվերաբնակեցվեն,որպեսզի Ադրբեջանին առաջարկելու բան/խայծ ունենա՝ Ռուսաստանի ազդեցության տակ պահելու համար:
14. Davit11:09 - 16 February, 2015
why do you find it necessary to publish this garbage? Really is you aim the destruction of your own country? I fully support Hetq in discussing actual problems and exposing wrong doings in the country, but what does this have to do with anything? So someones cousin told him that he was called a foreigner, and that was enough cause for that person to abandon your ancestral homeland? If that's case, I'm sad to say the country will not have lost much. Or it was that you heard from someone's cousins brother in laws neighbor that a lot of people are leaving Armenia, that only women and girls are left? So what was your point Ms. Muradyan in writing this article? what were you trying to convey? How does the title which implicates those in power in Armenia to be at fault have anything to do with the content of this story? What were you trying to accomplish? Cause damage to your country and spread pessimism with baseless and pointless accusations? If so, great job. This is utterly pathetic and you in fact should consider yourself a Turk for contributing to their cause.
15. Varaz12:34 - 16 February, 2015
Hey David...spare me your pathetic patriotic BS. The fact that u and thousands of other "patriots" have the luxury of sitting thousands of miles away from Armenia to belittle and chastise people for portraying one particular side of reality is pure hypocrisy. As if the hundreds of Armenians, native to the RA, are leaving the country monthly isn't "pessimistic" enough, you have to call others traitors. Take a good hard look in the mirror!! It's jerks like you, living the good life, that feel the need to spout vitriol that give Armenians a bad name. Just shut it!!
16. Armenian16:35 - 16 February, 2015
Dear Armenians living out of Armenia, Please remember that Armenia is not as rich country as Israel to be able to help all Armenian on the world, If someone from another country wants to live in Armenia, our doors are open for all Armenians all over the world. Now people living in Armenia has huge problems, you should understand that they have problems not less than yours, if you want to live in Armenia, just go and live, why are you telling that your dream is BROKEN? If Armenian government is stupid son of bitch,, who is not interested in you, it doesnt mean all Armenia is not interested, they are happy to see you there. Why are you blaming for all armenians for the mistake which government did? Why you think that Armenia is a place where you will live as in haivan , no , Armenia is one of poor countries where you should work hard and torture to prove that u r patriot who can overcome all difficulties in his motherland , never think that Armenia is Saud Arabia who has enough resourse to pay for all his people. Come and live as everyone lives in Armenia, as real patriot who is not leaving his motherland and agree to overcome all difficulties in his motherland, you are seating there and blaming us, that we are not doing this or that, we all need help, we need to get rid of this government and after it , we will be able to help you more than now. But now government is helping as much as they can, try to use that help and dont blame armenia,,, Why we all Armenians are expecting help from our motherland, , we should help it ourselves.
17. Davit07:35 - 17 February, 2015
Varaz, first of all, Im about to relocate to Armenia permanently. And the only thing having kept me here this long is my student loans, not any condition of Armenia. More importantly, hundreds of people are leaving? What does that mean, in what period of time? And how is that related to the topic of this article? If you want to discuss economic or political issues, and in detail explain how alternative policies would create a better situation, please go ahead. Meanwhile, quit encouraging vague pointless articles like this are without any substance or any constructive criticism which help to fuel that emigration you speak of. If you criticize, don't wine like a child. Actually explain in concrete details.
18. Varaz10:03 - 17 February, 2015
Yes , here in Armenia, hundreds of ordinary citizens are leaving for Russia and other European countries every month. Why are they leaving- mainly because there is no work here in Armenia and secondly because there is no rule of aw. So do not criticize a Hetq reporter for "hanging our dirty laundry" out in public view. She is more an Armenian than you claim to be. The Turks are laughing at you and other diaspora Armenians who always talk about "lands" but can't even resettle in the Armenia that exists today. You will always find an excuse not to come.
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