Patriotism from a Kurdish perspective

By Dilar Dirik:

I have always been skeptical of people who were proud of things that they did not choose. Growing up in Germany, where patriotism is always a delicate issue, I was aware of the dangers of extreme nationalism and the implications thereof. The thing that bothered me about patriots is the fact that they were proud of being something they had not gained, deserved or deliberately chosen. I would not argue that people should deny their background – that would be equally inadequate – but actively priding oneself with an attribute that is coincidental? That has always been beyond me. Lately, I’ve been rethinking many concepts that I had previously taken for granted. My studies have obviously contributed to my understanding; however, belonging to a stateless ethnic group definitely provides you with an alternate perspective on national pride.

I’ve seen different kinds of national pride. When I studied in the United States, I got chills down my spine sometimes when people were glorifying America in ridiculous ways. I had the “pleasure” to witness very strange behavior when I was studying for my finals and heard that Osama Bin Laden was killed… I have also seen obnoxiousness during the World Cup series in Germany. Why would people argue -“rationally” – with their friends about which team is better, based on the nationalities they represent? I’ve experienced another, to me personally, especially disturbing kind of nationalism in Turkey. I was 16 or so when I visited the elementary school class that my aunt was teaching. Seriously, I was horrified to see the amount of indoctrinating posters and drawings idealizing the Turkish ethnicity. Ironically, most of the kids in the Hatay region were obviously Arabic! Why wouldn’t the school teach these kids about different cultures, or perhaps their own indigenous culture? Why insist on enforcing the “I am a Turk, honest and hardworking. My principle is to protect the younger, to respect the elder, to love my homeland and my nation more than myself. My ideal is to rise, to progress. My existence shall be dedicated to the Turkish existence”-dogma on these tiny human beings? While some may argue that this education raises them to be good citizens, I’m pretty certain that one can be a law-abiding person without subscribing to an ethnic ideal that one does not embody, leave alone assimilating one’s identity to artificially imposed, foreign constructs.

I wouldn’t be fair if I wouldn’t criticize Kurdish forms of nationalism as well. I was upset many times after a demonstration or festival in downtown Frankfurt or any other metropolis in Europe that the Kurds temporarily occupied with their slogans. Turk-haters and other kinds of radicals never go extinct, as much as we try. Some people, especially the young – and frankly uneducated – see these demonstrations as some sort of adrenaline-kick or an opportunity to belong somewhere, after society has kicked them around in their endless pursuit of identity-finding as Middle Eastern migrants to Europe.

I genuinely believe that many young Kurds suffer from severe identity crises at least once in their lifetime. I include myself: I remember being scared to admit that I was Kurdish, when I was a child. Seeing police officers at Kurdish demonstrations and the Turkish state’s violence against us established a sense of powerlessness in my little head. I already attained some sense of power relations of the international order in elementary school! That sounds like a massive exaggeration, I know. But what I mean is that by that time I had figured out that the Kurds were not one of the advantaged authorities in the world. I didn’t know why, but I knew we were outcasts. I was confused because I didn’t speak Kurdish, but Turkish. I wasn’t born in an official state called Kurdistan, but in the Turkish Republic. No joke, I got anxious when people asked me what I was. Since everyone in Germany considered Turks and Kurds to be the same anyways, my safe answer was “I am Turkish” – I would disclose my secret only to people whom I trusted. All that because I thought that, if big and “real” countries like Turkey had a problem with us, there must be something wrong with us – not them. Today, I feel like crying when I think about the distortions of my early childhood perceptions of myself.

It is only recently that I began challenging my monolithic concept of nationality and patriotism, in favor of a more contextual understanding. The repression against the Kurdish people in Turkey has reached another high, which naturally lead to a reappraisal of nationality and patriotism on both sides of the conflict. Really, discussing political events would be beyond the scope and purpose of this text; what I want to focus on is the special kind of patriotism among us Kurds.

I would never advocate active national pride, but lately I realized that Kurdish people have things that they can actually be proud of, on a national level (however, that obviously doesn’t mean that they should consider themselves better than others – that’s not the point!) Looking back at the history of Kurds, one can trace all kinds of oppressive measures against this nation. From assimilation policies to cultural and physical genocide, there is nothing that Kurds have not experienced. The Turkish government has for a long time actively denied the EXISTENCE of the Kurdish people!

The Kurds however managed to rise up and appear in the global agenda. After a century of repression, denial, assimilation and misery, they still stand and are now more present than they ever were. Many times, I’ve seen thousands of people from all over Europe get together in one place to demonstrate against the state terror that Kurds in the homeland still endure. The diaspora has managed to mobilize and establish grassroots projects to make the young realize who they are and the old remember who they used to be. That was definitely not an easy task. This spring, dozens of people engaged in hunger strikes, hundreds visited them in solidarity, thousands campaigned and marched for them. Not only were institutions of the international order occupied, even Amnesty International had to be reminded of its tasks. When one Kurdish child dies in Eastern Turkey, part of every Kurd dies. I don’t think this is a blind obedience sort of nationalism; it’s the pain and resentment of decades, the anger about the blindness of the world towards the Kurdish people and a realization that nobody gives us rights – we take them.

What I admire about the Kurdish movement is its specific form of pride- it is not arrogant, because arrogance is always an attribute of the oppressor. It doesn’t claim superiority over others, but is a humble demand for rights that one ought to be naturally entitled to. It is the pride similar to gay pride perhaps. Gay people don’t pride themselves by saying they are better than heterosexuals. Rather, they are proud to be adequate human beings and proud to be themselves, proud to fight oppression.

I make this comparison for another reason as well. Because I believe that there is a crucial difference between the oppressor’s exclusive tendencies and that of the excluded and oppressed. Taking the example of African Americans in the US for example (as my philosophy professor in college liked to use), I don’t think that exclusive all-black organizations can be compared to all-white clubs. Such distinctions need to be considered in terms of power relations and authority and I would only call an all-black club “racist” if it was actively promoting hatred against others. Otherwise I would consider it a necessary form of mobilization in reaction to the previously encountered oppression. In that light, all-white clubs are never socially necessary and tend to be problematic.

Coming back from this little excursion, I want to express that I believe that the Kurdish people have the right to be proud. Not in an arrogant or exclusivist kind of way, but they need some sort of ethnic solidarity in order to keep mobilizing for a human rights cause. They have achieved what many would never have expected. While most people didn’t know them before, the Kurds have made a strong appearance in the world stage and are determined to keep going. Fists held high and with burning throats they want to keep chanting their demands across the world until they achieve their full rights of existence. We actually gained and achieved our national reality. We created ourselves. Being Kurdish was never taken for granted, we had to assert it.

In this sense, we can be proud. We can be proud to say, “Listen world, we are here and we are here to stay”. We can now say, “We are no Turks, Arabs or Persians. We are Kurds”. We have the support of thousands of journalists, human rights activists and artists and we can be proud of our long and hard struggle. Our national pride does not lie within a strong economy, nuclear weapons or the like. It is hidden in the tales of the mountains of Mesopotamia. It is in the voices of the mourning parents and in the reach of the arms of stone throwing kids. Our national pride reveals itself when the mother of my Iraqi Kurdish friend wants to talk to me on the phone for the first time and says, “Watch out for each other, okay?” It’s when I come back from studying abroad and people tell me how proud they are of me and introduce me to authors and suggest sources to help me with my master’s dissertation. It is when I then celebrate Newroz, in a dancing circle of happy faces and a passionate fire with people jumping over it to remind themselves of who they are: Heirs to a beautiful culture that has grown wings again and that is determined to fly high over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers – and that will only rest to take a breath on the Ararat mountain. A culture that is free.

Dilar Dirik is a 20-year-old student, working on her master’s degree in the UK. She was born in Antakya, Turkey and grew up in Germany. 

Copyright © 2012

11 Responses to Patriotism from a Kurdish perspective
  1. BAQI
    June 12, 2012 | 02:00

    Well done and well written!

    One very suggestive point the author alludes to is that the overwhelming majority of Kurds are not radicals or ultranationalist, but rather grappling to achieve equivalent rights and recognition as a diverse ethnic groups whose existential rights have perpetually been negated.

    As regards patriotism: I believe Kurds are more patriot than any other nation in the world.

    Kurdistan is in critical need of educated Kurdish female students/activists like the author who can better vent and espouse women rights.

  2. Salah
    June 12, 2012 | 03:48

    What a great article. And an even bigger subject. Nationalism has destroyed much more than it built. Unfortunately most of our Kurds today are willing to step into the same trap of Nationalism that Arabs fell into right after the period of colonization, and look where nationalism led the Arabs. Let’s all love each other, be humans and brothers and not advocate hatred of any ethnicity even if they have hurt us in the past. That’s what makes us who we really are.

  3. Borya Al-Rayy
    June 12, 2012 | 20:24

    Fantastic work Dilar. You make all of us proud.

  4. Kaiwan Bahroz
    June 13, 2012 | 07:17

    The Kurds should be able to decide their future like any other nation in the world and the world must accept that.

  5. Burhan
    June 13, 2012 | 20:56

    I agree with you. The Kurds need their freedom, independence, and the right to choose their leaders. However, we have to get it by our own hands. No one in the world, not even USA would guarantee full support unconditionally. No alliances. Just smart politics. Deal with everyone cautiously, and don’t cut ties with anyone, yet don’t let anyone take advantage of you. Unfortunately, over the course of the Kurdish movement, we Kurds fail to understand this concept.

  6. Kaiwan Bahroz
    June 13, 2012 | 21:42


    Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes and movement.

  7. Soran
    June 14, 2012 | 13:02

    I am not exaggerating if I say this is the best article I have seen for years. It is truly humbling to hear all this from a wise young Kurdish woman. We have, in the mist of the moment, forgotten that there is a very fine line between being proud as a nation and being a fascist and racist. This, in my view, has been actively promoted by a group of ill educated politicians who used it as a smoke screen to cover up their spectacular failure in building a fair and democratic system. History and today tell us this is the best medium for dictators to grow and flourish and this is exactly what has been happening in Southern Kurdistan.

  8. Nasir
    June 14, 2012 | 22:06

    Great article

  9. Dilar
    June 16, 2012 | 18:44

    Thank you very much for all your friendly comments! I appreciate your kind words!


  10. Alan Saeed
    June 20, 2012 | 02:24

    The author very clearly shows the distinction between blind patriotism on one hand and the “ethnic solidarity” that we stateless Kurds resort to for survival on the other hand. Our kind of nationalism lacks any kind of arrogance of any form.

    As regarding the nationalistic brainwashing in Turkish schools I would like to call it “baptism in the name of Turkishness,” which is absurd.

    Very eloquently written and very honest!

  11. Meena Ossoulian
    September 24, 2012 | 20:22

    Hi Dilar, my name is Meena a kurdish women from Iran also a feminist activist living in London. I really loved this article and also the one about why kurds need feminism. I would love to be in touch with you and possibly use some of your article and publication. Please let me know.

    Thank you
    Meena Ossoulian

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