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Grisha Balasanyan

Yezidi Farmer Running for Seat in Armenia’s New Parliament; “I don’t want to be another button-pusher”

Ayser Isayan, a Yezidi farmer living in Nalbandyan, a community in Armenia’s Armavir Province, is running for a seat in the country’s new parliament, the make-up of which will be decided by the December 9 snap election.

Armenia’s Electoral Code allows political parties vying in nation-wide elections to include representatives of the country’s four largest national minorities as candidates on the tickets. According to the last census held in Armenia, the four largest national minorities are the Yezidis, Russians, Assyrians and Kurds.

Of the eleven political parties/alliances running in the December 9 parliamentary election, four will field national minority candidates; Im Kayl (My Step), Lusavor Hayastan (Bright Armenia), Orinats Yerkir (Rule of Law), and Bargavatch Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia).

Numbering 35,308, according to the 2011 census, Yezidis comprise the largest national minority in Armenia.

Isayan is running on the Prosperous Armenia ticket for a seat representing Armavir Province. He and his family own 1.5 hectares of fruit trees and 4,000 m2 of grapevines.

Farming hasn’t made him rich, he says, adding that he feels blessed because he has four children growing up in a healthy family environment at home in Nalbandyan.

A depressed economy has weakened traditional Yezidi family bonds

The farmer says that the country’s stagnant economy, which he attributes to the policies of past governments, has led to a weakening of family bonds both for Yezidis and Armenians.

“The once healthy environment in Yezidi and Armenian families is becoming sicker. The chaotic situation, created by the policies of the former authorities, has led to tension in the household. People wake up thinking about how they will pay off their loans and how will they sell their crops. They no longer place the primary importance on  maintaining cordial family relations,” Isayan says, adding that normal family life is disrupted when people leave to work abroad.

Isayan says that the Armenia’s villagers, the backbone of the country, are suffering from a bout of psychological dejection that must be addressed.

The candidate says one of the reasons he’s running for parliament is to serve as a spokesperson for the country’s suffering small-scale farmers.

Wants to be a spokesperson for the small-scale farmer

“City folk don’t understand what it means to sleep for months at a time along the side of a irrigation canal waiting for water to finally flow. They can’t imagine what it means to see your crops die right in front of you.  Wrinkles appear on the foreheads of village residents way before they grow old. It’s the daily tension of grinding out a living,” Isayan says.

While Isayan says that he considers Armenia his homeland, noting that four of his relatives died while fighting in the war to liberate Artsakh, he confesses that national minorities still face a number of problems, especially in the educational and cultural sectors.

He broaches the subject by describing conditions in his hometown of Nalbandyan.

Dreams of creating a modern Yezidi cultural center

“We don’t have a cultural center. I’m not talking about a tiny room somewhere with a plaque on the wall saying it’s a Yezidi cultural center. No, I’m talking about a modern cultural center where we can show our heritage, our spiritual identity, to the world. The state must play a part in making this happen. It’s the government’s moral responsibility,” Isayan argues.

If elected, he plans to create a platform to give voice to the concerns of Armenia’s national minorities.

“I’m not talking about having one representative from the four largest minorities in the parliament and being satisfied. Look at Turkey’s parliament. It has national minority representatives, including Armenians. I feel a sense of pride every time I see Garo Paylan stand up in the Turkish parliament to raise this or that issue. But, it’s not enough,” says Isayan.

He argues that politics in Armenia must change and mentalities must mature, otherwise national minority MPs will serve as mere “button-pushers” for the parties they represent. Even most Armenian MPs in the past, Isayan says, only showed up in parliament to push the yay or nay buttons on legislation as directed by party leaders.

“I don’t want to become another button-pusher in parliament”

Isayan says he’d resign from parliament if he’s ever forced to vote against the interests of the Yezidi community or his fellow farmers. “I will never betray the interests of my people all for the sake of being a button pusher,” he declares.

Isayan would also like to see Yezidis appointed to a variety of posts in the new government, especially in provincial offices in Armavir, Ararat, Aragatzotn and Kotayk, where the bulk of the country’s Yezidis reside.

Bribes and nepotism were par for the course in past administrations when it came to getting government jobs. Isayan hopes that things have changed in Armenia and that national minorities will have greater representation in the decision-making process, both on the local and national level.

Isayan believes that if Yezidis, or any other national minorities, are better represented in the new government, it will spur an influx of those nationalities to Armenia, thus contributing to greater cultural diversity and new economic investment.

The would-be parliamentary deputy places great importance on education for Yezidi youth, and is pleased to see that more Yezidi young women are attending college.

Wants more national minority representation in local and national government

“We have to put a stop to Yezidis getting married at an early age. We can’t allow our children to grow up without an education. Parents who marry off their daughters at the age of sixteen must be held accountable. Girls at that age don’t want to marry and be subjected to the intrigues of in-laws or the pressures of new family life,” Isayan says.

While Isayan says that National Union of Yezidis President Aziz Tamoyan has resolved some issues facing the community, many remain. Many are the same facing Armenian famers as well – high irrigation water rates, poor quality fertilizer and pesticides, and exorbitant prices for the good ones.

Isayan has taken his campaign to the villages, to the people he shares a bond with.

He only has ridicule for his competitors, from the towns, who swing through Armavir’s rural communities making promises left and right, but who have no clue about farming or raising livestock.

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