First Yazidi theatre debuts in Armenia with Karabakh war play
A 60,000-strong Yazidi community lives in Armenia, mostly leading a conservative lifestyle and strictly adhering to their traditions.
Recently, the Yazidis have created their own theater. Moreover, it is not just men but women, too, who participate in the performances. This not only surprised the community but has also become a reason for the harassment of actresses.
JAMnews talked to the founder of the theater and the troupe, as well as the actors themselves to explain why they chose to perform and what message they want to convey to their people.
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Karabakh war on stage of Yazidi theater
The play entitled War and Life tells about the participation of the Yazidis in the second Karabakh war which occurred in the fall of 2020.
One of the leading performers, 29-year-old Amar Mamoyan, says the theater would have opened earlier, but the war broke out, and work had to be interrupted.
“I volunteered to join the Yazidi detachment. The fighting was hard. We were in the Qubadli area. In those days, we thought only about winning and how to stay alive. What I saw and experienced for myself I then performed on stage.
I play the role of the friend of the protagonist, he gets injured, but I manage to pull him out. It’s very difficult to relive it all over again, as it resonates with real events”, says Amar.
“We were going to open the theater with a traditional Yazidi play, but the course of the war, the participation of the Yazidis in it, their losses and experiences changed our plans. We decided to dedicate our debut performance to the memory of the soldiers who died during the war”, says Greta Aleksanyan, the founder of the Yezidi theater, a lawyer and Armenian by nationality.
She is also the author of the play. She says that during the war she visited the families of Yazidis and Armenians who lost their relatives:
“It doesn’t matter if you are Armenian or Yazidi. Armenia is the homeland for all of us, and the war caused us all the same pain”.
150 Yazidis took part in the second Karabakh war, 15 of them were killed.
The first Yazidi theater
Greta Aleksanyan is originally from the Armavir region of Armenia, which is inhabited by many Yazidi families. She says that it was contact with them that prompted the idea to first establish a cultural and educational initiative ‘Next to the Yezidis’, and then the theater:
“I work as the director of the Machanents theater based in Echmiadzin. On top of that, I worked on the problem of the lack of education within the Yazidi community. The idea of creating a Yazidi theater was constantly spinning in my head, I thought that a large Yazidi community should have one. It was in the Machanents theater that we staged our first two performances”.
The first Yazidi theater in Armenia was named after Arsen Poladov, a master of pantomime, the founder of the Yerevan Pantomime Theater, and a Yazidi by birth.
“They have never had their own theater in their entire history, and it’s not just about the Armenian Yazidis. There were troupes, club performances, but the theater as such is being created for the first time. We are hoping to grow from an amateur theater into a professional one”.
Yazidi culture is rich in interesting traditions and rituals that can beautify the stage. There is a Union of Yazidi Writers in Armenia, but even their own community is not familiar with their works. I plan to collaborate with them too”, says Greta.
Theater helps break stereotypes
Anahit Sharoev from the village of Ferik, Armavir region, found the courage and agreed to go on stage. She says that ever since she was a child, she dreamed that the Yazidis would have their own theater.
“It’s unusual for our community to see women on stage, but I did perform on one. I was performing with my grandson, whom I was sending off to war. Since we live side by side with the Armenians, like brothers, we drink water from the same stream, we cannot throw stones into the water, we must also make our contribution, defend our homeland. Emotions were overwhelming, but I managed to contain them and finish the performance”, says 68-year-old Anahit, who has five children, 15 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.
At first, Anahit’s son was completely against her performing on the stage, but after a while, he changed his mind. Now it is Yazidi women who criticize her harshly.
“Those who are older than me, condemn it, say that it is a disgrace – how dare you to go on stage! But young girls support me and say that with my example, I break stereotypes. Theater is an extraordinary world, and I live for theater”, says Anahit.
Anahit regrets that Yazidi women are not always allowed to pursue education. She believes that it is possible to help the community overcome this problem with the help of art:
“I call for girls to be allowed to study. Now I serve as an example – after me, two young girls joined the theater. This is already some progress. If I had not graduated from high school, if I, like others, had been married in the fifth grade, today, perhaps, I would only be busy with sheep, wool and milk. I live life to the fullest, write poetry, and now I perform in the theater”.
Actor Amar Mamoyan also believes that the theater will help overcome the strict canons of the community and more women will be able to perform on stage:
“I am sure our theater will change men’s attitude towards this issue”.
27-year-old Zoro Sharoev is Anahit’s grandson. He plays a leading role in the production. Zoro admits that he could not even imagine that they would ever have their own theater:
“I kept thinking why is it that our community doesn’t have one. The theater is an opportunity to show the world our culture. I am glad that my grandmother is breaking stereotypes. I urge our men to allow their daughters to receive a fully-fledged education so that there are educated girls and women in our community.
We need to understand that a woman’s role is not limited to family and kitchen. Women also have the right to work, make their own contribution to the life of society and, why not, play in the theater”.