As a journalist
based in London, I have travelled and written about the Kurdish issue for close to five years. I had also worked closely with the Armenian community for two years before turning my attention to the Kurds, and as fate would have it, I was offered a job to work with the United Nations Development Programme in Yerevan, the capital of the Armenian Republic — arriving in the country in October 1998.
During the first few months, life was quiet and simple. Alongside my work as a United Nations employee, I received some magazine assignments to write analysis of the Kurdish issue inside and outside of Armenia, but with the arrest of Abdullah Ocalan, President of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party], everything was to change, both for myself and for the Kurdish community in Armenia. After a month or so in Armenia, the opportunity to once more immerse myself in the Kurdish issue was a refreshing change.
On February 16th, Turkey declared to the world that it had finally captured Ocalan. Throughout the world,those Kurds loyal to the movement stormed embassies and offices everywhere, and not least in Armenia. Several hundred Yezidi Kurds marched on the United Nations building, taking the head of UNHCR and the deputy head of UNDP hostage for an hour. The next day they marched again, and hoisted a tent to accomodate twenty Yezidi Kurds on hunger strike in protest at the arrest of their leader. This time, the protest passed off peacefully — albeit loudly — and with the local Armenian police nodding -- somewhat amusingly — in approval to the chants of "Turkey Terrorist!".
Despite a still evident political split in the Yezidi community in Armenia as to their roots, one thing is now certain. If many Yezidi were relucant to show their ethnic identity in the past, the media spotlight on the plight of Ocalan has changed all of that. As elsewhere in the world, the Kurdish Question could no longer be ignored or overlooked.
For myself, it was an opportunity to once again experience the fire and the passion of the Kurds fighting for their right to self-determination and freedom.
Things were not so clear for the United Nations, however, and after being denied access to the UN building for security reasons -- all the staff had been evacuated--I went to sit with the Kurds, and to photograph and talk to them. One member of the UN made an official complaint to the UN resident coordinator, and I decided to resign.

Two of the hunger strikers watching the protest pass by the tent they set up outside the UN building in Yerevan.

©Onnik Krikorian, a photojournalist based in Yerevan, Republic of Armenia. Submitted March 1999.
More of his photographs and research into the Yezidi community in Armenia can be found online at: