My identity is what makes me unique

Dr. Helene A. Sairany

By Dr. Helene A. Sairany:

Emin Marouf has once said that every identity that is murdered is our own murder, regardless of what our language, religion or identity might be.

I was often asked about my nationality growing up in the US. The thick eye brows, the dark brown almond-shaped eyes, the olive skin, the dark brown hair and the modesty are some of the things that stood out in me growing up Kurdish but in America. I do envy people of other nationalities for having a simpler answer to the question of, “Where are you from?” My own response always takes me an extra effort to explain.

Where am I from? I am from Kurdistan. “We’ve never heard of it.” Yes, it is nowhere to be found on the world map. Many times I have to say that Kurdistan is located between four countries: Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. But why does my nation have to be associated with other countries for others to know where I am from? Other times I may simply state that I am a Kurd from Kurdistan, but the ego inside me is much larger than a simple reply, I want the whole world to know where Kurdistan exactly is, I want them to know my true identity, my proud Kurdish identity.

I have to admit that I never had any problems with my identity growing up in the villages of Kurdistan because my ethnicity was undoubtedly the dominant one. Issues pertaining to identity are less of a concern to members of the dominant group. However, I arrived in the United States as an adolescent and, with time, I discovered this emotional attachment to my identity during my stay in America. Perhaps it was the fact that my ethnicity is among the minority ones in the States, or maybe because my ethnic identity has always been poorly presented politically, economically, culturally, and by the media. Moreover, maybe because my people are discriminated against, or even attacked verbally or physically, in other parts of the world just for being who they are and I am.

What is the significance of one’s identity and language? Today marks the 64th day of the prisoners’ hunger strike in Turkey.  The hunger strikers demand the recognition of Kurdish as a language in use in education and the public sphere.  Kurdish language is to be used in the courts and the judges must accept defending in the Kurdish language.

Dear all, the beginning of any culture or civilization starts with a language and a set of factors that define identity.   Identity is a part of an individual’s self-concept, which is derived from the knowledge of their membership of social groups, together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership (1). Some social psychologists consider ethnic identity to be the key aspect, while others associate it with a feeling of self-belonging and commitment, the sense of shared values and attitude (2). In contrast, some other definitions focus on the cultural aspect of the identity, such as language, behaviors and values. In essence, one’s identity dominates his psychological functioning and self-concept due to the emotional attachments to his values and belongings.

With all that emotional attachment that is mentioned, how do you expect anyone to react when they realize that they are abused or simply discriminated against because they dare to show pride in their identity? Is it possible to hold negative views about one’s own group and yet feel good about oneself? How do you expect me to react when I am considered of lesser value simply because I disclose my true identity? By lesser value, I mean being considered less of a citizen or being labeled a “Mountain Turk” (like in Turkey), where Kurds are systematically oppressed on their own land that was taken away from them by force. How do you expect a mother to react when she sees her child tormented and tortured in front of her eyes because of their identity? This simply defines Kurds’ who dare to claim their basic rights as human beings in Southeastern Turkey (i.e. Northern Kurdistan).

Sociologists and psychologists indicate that continuous exposure to neglect, abuse, and poverty increases the vulnerability of minority groups to depression and low self-esteem. Social racism and discrimination, coupled with economic disadvantage, trauma of losing a close friend, a loved one, or a family member have all worked against the psychological well-being of Kurds in Southeastern Turkey. Furthermore, low self-esteem combined with constant oppression is proven to lead to violence.

The famous Kurdish writer, Yesar Kamal has once said that the world is a garden of culture where a thousand flowers grow. Throughout history all cultures have fed one another, been grafted onto one another, and in the process our world has been enriched. The disappearance of a culture is the loss of colour, a different light, and a different source. I am of the side of a different source. I am as much on the side of every flower in this thousand-flower garden as I am on the side of my own culture.

In conclusion, we cannot judge another culture through the lens of our own culture. Nor can we make judgments based on what the media presents about other nations. Suspicion, intolerance and mistrust about others are driving us apart. We are stronger when we share, and smarter when we listen and coexist. When one deprives an individual of his basic human rights (e.g. identity and the right to practice his language), one deprives him of his sense of belonging, which leads to a long line of consequences, e.g. low self-esteem, violence, aggression, etc.


1. Phinney, J. S. “Ethnic Identity in Adolescents and Adults: Review of the Research.” Psychological Bulletin, 1990, 108, 499–514.

2. Harris, H. W. “Introduction: A Conceptual Overview of Race, Ethnicity and Identity.”

In H. W. Harris, H. C. Blue, and E.E.H. Griffith (eds.), Racial and Ethnic Identity: Psychological

3. Development and Creative Expression New York: Routledge, 1995.Helms, J. E. “The Conceptualization of Ethnic Identity and Other ‘Racial’ Constructs.”

In E. J. Thicket, R. J. Watts, and D. Birman (eds), Human Diversity: Perspectives on People in Context. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.

Copyright © 2012


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