A short conversation about Kurdistan

Sofia Barbarani

By Sofia Barbarani: 

I am Kurdish, he said to me a year ago. I am afraid I cannot quite pinpoint Kurdistan on a map, I replied. Fast forward to twelve months later, and you will find me pointing out the Kurdish region every chance that I get.

I was raised stateless, and when Kurdistan became part of my life in 2011, I latched on to the idea of a Kurdish struggle; wishing to become part of a battle that was similar to my own.

If I had a penny for every time someone confessed to being oblivious of Kurdistan’s existence, I would be writing this from a private bungalow on the South Pacific Ocean.

Who are the Kurds? They ask, envisioning God knows what.

They live in the Middle East, I explain, but they are not Arab. They are of Indo-European descent, primarily Sunni Muslim, and their language is Kurdish.

Go on, they say.

Hope for an independent Kurdistan was crushed under the weight of the 1923 Treaty of Laussane; their mountain homeland divided amongst Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. They are a resilient people, stripped of a state, continuously suppressed, yet victorious in many of their battles.

Too often the conversation turns to Iraq, and the horrors of Saddam’s Al-Anfal campaign. As delicately as possible, I tell my listener that for the Kurds of Iraq, the US-led invasion was their victory over a dictatorial regime. In fact, the war was heavily supported and pushed for by the Kurds.

In his book Invisible Nation, Quil Lawrence describes the pesh merga’s elated reaction at the sight of Tomahawk missiles slamming into the hills of Iraq.

By this point the listener tends to frown, and invariably asks the question: how can war make anyone happy?

The war liberated them, I explain.

Just over 5 million Kurds inhabit Iraq, 100,000 of them were killed during Saddam’s genocidal campaign. They were treated like second class citizens, repeatedly tortured by Iraqi Mukhabarat, pushed to acquire Arab characteristics, banished from their cities, denied access to their natural resources and prohibited statehood.

Why have I never heard of this? They wonder. I don’t know, I stumbled into this world by chance, I reply.

Today, the world is learning about Kurdistan, as media coverage in Syria pans in on the plight of the Syrian Kurds, roughly nine percent of the population. Iraqi Kurdistan, however, has yet to enter mainstream media in the West.

I imagine it must be dangerous, they say.

It’s not, it’s a safe haven amidst a war-torn region.

Lawrence describes the reaction of an American soldier upon realising what beauty surrounded him:

It was about ten o’clock, and the low sunlight showed the green of the valley with a frosting of white nasturtiums and bloodred poppies. The American looked up at the snowy mountains and some of the little waterfalls running down. ‘I had no idea’ he said. ‘It’s well worth fighting over. If I lived here, I’d want to own it too’.

It is important to tell the story of Kurdistan, even in short, somewhat superficial, conversations.

Sofia Barbarani is a London-based freelance writer, with an MA in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies, King’s College London. Her main focus is Jewish-Israeli identity and the Kurdistan Region.

Copyright © 2012 Kurdistantribune.com

9 Responses to A short conversation about Kurdistan
  1. […] Source: http://kurdistantribune.com/2012/short-conversation-about-kurdistan/ […]

  2. Dr.N. Hawramany
    November 26, 2012 | 15:07

    As Kurd myself I have to say thatthere are iherent weaknesses in Kurdish charachter, they are to sart with minimalists, never realy aspired to have a state of their own, they tend to deliver their fate to single leaders who are usually illiterate, corrupt and incompetent. A bright example of that is Iraqi Kurdistan (North of Iraq), this a region that have alle the requireents and conditions to be an independent viable state, but Kurdish clan leaders prefer to stay enslaved by Iraqi Arabs.

    • Sofia Barbarani
      November 29, 2012 | 18:05

      Dr Hawramany, I think we can all agree that all people are flawed, and no state is perfect. However, I also think it is important to celebrate the successes of a people and their country. Survival under a dictatorship is a success, the creation of an autonomous region is a success, increasing foreign investment is a success, the return of Kurds to the region is a success. As you say, Kurdistan has the requirements to succeed, but it is very unrealistic to demand this to happen not even a decade after the region rid itself of its main oppressor.

  3. Dr.N. Hawramany
    November 30, 2012 | 15:23

    Dear Sofia
    I agree with you that there have been progress in Kurdistan, but my main point was why are Kurds adament to stay within Iraq, even when Iraqi Arabs say they either submit to central government or should separate from Iraq, Kurdistan is a defacto state since 1992 and not since 2003, i.e.almost two decades, what is difficult to comprehend is why countries like East Timor, Southern Sudan, Kosovo have all strived and succeeded in achieving independency , considering the vast difference in wealth and development in Iraqi Kurdistan in comparison to those impoverished and underdeveloped but nationhood aspiring nations. Why kurdish leaders call establishing a kurdish state as a dream or unrealistic when through the history of Iraqi state it is clear that Iraqi Arabs only buy time to attack Kurds again.
    Are Kurds gypsies who are happy to be on the margin of societies which discriminates them and consider them not worthy of having a permanent stay.
    I am quiet aware of what is happening in Kurdistan, the current leaders are historicaly been allied overtly or covertly with Iraqi Arab leaders inspite of campaigns of Genocide against Kurds and the despise of Kurds by Arabs. What else do the Kurds need to experience so that they finally realise that their only dignity lie in a sovereign independent state.
    to be honest i have alkost given up on Kurds !

    • Ari kader
      December 1, 2012 | 05:32

      Dr. N. Hawramany, don’t give up. KURDS need all intellect, now is a time for our people think and work harder than ever (( God,Ahuramazda,Allah,Yahuda ….)) with us

    • Sofia Barbarani
      December 1, 2012 | 16:44

      I fully understand where you’re coming from. Perhaps I am more idealistic, I believe in a sovereign, independent Kurdish state. Maybe not in our lifetime, but I have no doubt it will happen.

    • Sofia Barbarani
      December 1, 2012 | 16:47

      p.s. As is common in many states, those who run the country are turning a blind eye on what the people want – in this case, a sovereign state.

  4. Sandeep Murthy
    March 17, 2013 | 21:37


    I liked your article. I must confess that I am not a Kurd myself, but was interested in learning about Kurdish culture after meeting a few Kurdish students at university. I became fascinated by the culture of this ancient people, who were first mentioned by the classical Greek writer Xenophon in his ‘Anabasis’.

    The amazing thing is how so many people are aware of the plight of the Palestinians, but not of the Kurds, who are in their neighbourhood, as it were, and who haven’t an independent political entity of their own for most of their recorded history.

    I think the best way of appreciating a culture is through its music. The few Kurdish musicians I have come to like make amazing and haunting music. I am thinking of people like Tara Jaff, who is a London-based harpist and gives concerts around Europe and the middle East, and also a group named Koma Hivron.

    Best wishes, Sandeep Murthy

  5. Sandeep Murthy
    March 17, 2013 | 21:40

    Just a quick follow-up. You may be aware of the “YES to a free Kurdistan” page on Facebook. They often post spectacular images of Kurdistan and its people. I’ve lost count of the number of pictures which have made me want to book a holiday there. 🙂

    Sandeep Murthy.

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