Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 33

Reacting to the capture of terrorist leader Abdullah Ocalan, Kurdish militants staged violent protests yesterday in many Western countries and in Russia and Armenia. The banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has long operated clandestinely in the West, and has openly maintained a representation of the Kurdish Liberation Front in Moscow with the Russian government’s connivance. But the sudden eruption of Kurdish militancy in Armenia, in geographic proximity to the area of the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, might foreshadow a dangerous enlargement of that conflict.

Yesterday’s protests in Yerevan conformed to the PKK script in evidence across Europe that day. Several hundred Kurds in Yerevan forcibly entered the missions of the UN and Greece, held the staffs hostage, threatened to immolate themselves and the hostages and were ultimately subdued by club-wielding police. The protesters appeared to include foreign Kurds resident in Yerevan and members of Armenia’s own Kurdish-speaking minority (UPI, Noyan-Tapan, Russian agencies, February 16).

Armenia has a Kurdish-speaking minority of some 50,000 to 60,000, known as Yezid, professing the Zoroastrian faith and an ethnic awareness distinct from that of Turkey’s Muslim Kurds. Armenia’s Yezid were officially encouraged to maintain that distinct identity, but the recent change of government in Armenia may have ushered in a change of policy in this respect. Some Armenian circles are currently encouraging the Yezid to switch to a Kurdish identity, and are distributing PKK propaganda in Yezid villages. Yezid religious and cultural leaders fear that this identity-changing effort might preface a recruitment drive on behalf of the PKK. Meanwhile the Armenian government, like the Russian, tolerates a Kurdish Liberation Front political representation in Yerevan