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The Ze River

What did you say? Curd? Like a cheese curd?  People? I’ve never heard of them.

I’m sure every Kurd in the diaspora has at least once in their life had to explain to people what a Kurd was and where they come from. The war in Iraq has increased the world’s familiarity with Kurds, though it’s not uncommon to still find people completely clueless about who Kurds are, much less other cultures outside their country.

I remember especially before 2003 my parents would both get excited at just the mention of “Kurds” anywhere, be it on a news broadcast or down to a simple book that mentions Kurds in passing. For many Americans in the 90s, if they heard Kurds at all, it was typically in two flavors. Those with memories of the chaos of Anfal and the media storm over the Kurdish refugee problem in 1991 could remember images of the Kurds crowded on the Turkish border in Iraq attempting to flee from the tumults of Iraq’s counter-attack on the peshmerga groups and genocide against the Kurds themselves. For a few months the world was acquainted to what Kurds had experienced for years- but had been ignored in mainstream western media for the sake of preserving Iraq’s image, a strategic ‘ally’ of sorts against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war for the United States and others. People were treated to the dire straits of the Kurds, one that the United States and others would eventually use among other things (check out Nayirah al-Sabah and her sensationalist testimony regarding Kuwait) to drum up support for intervention. Once this was gone, the world predictably forgot about Kurds, and they faded back into the shadows.

The other reference to the Kurds in the 1990s came in the form of the struggles of the Kurds in Turkey and the PKK. Though often times it was overshadowed by the wars in the Balkans and the Israel-Palestine conflict, the media would occasionally turn to the Kurds themselves. Predictably though this was in a negative manner, which had more or less followed the line established by the Turkish government regarding the Kurdish situation in Turkey. If someone was to hear about Kurds here, it was in the form of ‘terrorism’, not the real issues the people were facing there. Only a few took notice of this outside of Kurdish communities, such as Noam Chomsky. The other issue that compounded this was the divisions between Kurdish groups themselves- my family did not have much sympathy for the PKK and received news of Ocalan’s capture much differently than a Kurd from Turkey would have (for the most part).

Kurds are not well known to put it simply. I’m not sure if even what I do here will matter much, but even if one person comes across this, it is a start. Kurds are becoming important players in the Middle-East, for better or for worse, and they simply can not be kept in the shadows any longer. In the coming days I will expand upon different parts of Kurdish culture and history to those interested. I hope it will be informative.