“When they see an educated girl in Yazidi community, they praise her, taking pride in her achievements, but they never allow their own daughters to study”: Zuzan, “the brave”, Khuboyan.
During the orientation day at the university, Zuzan Khuboyan’s very name came as a surprise to her professors. It wasn’t misspelled: the Yazidi girl was just bold enough to come to the capital to pursue the dream that shares with her mother — seeking education. Today Zuzan is a student at the Public Administration Academy of Armenia, where she is planning to earn her second university degree.
“My parents got married when they were very young. My mother was only 18, when my father kidnapped and married her. Happily, my mother reciprocated his feelings and still does so now, but early marriage left her pining for many unfulfilled dreams,” says Zuzan.
Formally, there are no obstacles to the idea of women receiving education in the Yazidi community. The situation, however, has more to do with stereotypes and traditions that are still practiced in the community. Women are not encouraged to study not only by the community, but also by their families. Such an approach to education is often justified by the practice of early marriages, which, however, is not substantiated by law or national traditions.
“I was to become a high school graduate, when my mother decided to receive a vocational education. My father supported her in every way, but many found my mother’s choice perplexing not only in the Yazidi community, but in Armenian society as well. Everyone told her she was too old to start studying and that she should make way for her daughter. My mother, however, went after her dream, breaking stereotypes both in our community and among Armenians,” says Zuzan.
Her family has always had great respect for education. Moreover, Zuzan’s father was most encouraging when she decided to go to university. As a person with a mind of wide scope, he believed in a direct connection between education and national progress, Zuzan added.
“In our family, they attach great importance to women’s education. My grandmother is a well-known poet and my mother is an avid reader. I do believe that future belongs to nations where mothers are readers,” says Zuzan.
Yazidis form the largest community of ethnic minority in Armenia. According to the census conducted in 2011, some 35,272 Yazidis lived in Armenia (unofficially, their number reached 45,000-50,000). The statistics also suggested some 473 girls went to school in 15 Yazidi-populated villages of Armavir and Aragatsotn regions of Armenia between 2004 and 2015. Only 234 out of these 473 girls finished 9-year basic school, while some 122 have fully exercised their right to receive compulsory secondary education. In academic year 2018-2019, there were only 369 Yezidi students in senior high schools across Armenia.
“I regret that it has taken me too long to discover the most beautiful aspects of my national identity. I regret that I’ve only recently learned to speak the Yazidi language. I regret not having written sources about our national religion, as I believe that you can only learn to love you identity when you get to know it. And education plays a crucial role in this,” she added.
Zuzan still finds it surprising that people in her community praise her for her achievements and personal leadership, but fail to give the same opportunities to their own children.
“I don’t understand people who got married at 15, went through all difficulties and hardships of early marriage and now push their children to do the same. Fifteen-year-old girls are physically and mentally incapable of becoming women or mothers. Of course, all parents want best for their children, but is it really the best future for them?”
In future, Zuzan plans to marry a Yazidi man, who shares her values and aspirations.
“Our national history gives answers to many questions. They used to regard early marriage as a means of preserving national identity. Education, in turn, was viewed as a threat of assimilation, but today things are different. It is impossible to preserve national identity through traditions only. I am convinced that creating an intelligent and viable nation requires educated individuals,” says Zuzan.
- story by Sona Martirosyan
- video by Action Studio