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December 11, 2011

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Losing Kurdistan

Kurdishaspect.com - By Ali Tawfik-Shukor

shukor@gmail.com

“En compagnie de Gilgamesh, le peuple Kurde etait en quete d'immortalite. Mais les Kurdes, eux, n'ont pas renonce. Ils ont trouve l'immortalite dans la culture de la terre. Ils ont traverse des epreuves, pour jouir d'une vie serene. Ils ont gagne les montaignes, et ont choisi les cimes inaccessibles comme demeure. Leur tranquilite a ete brisee; mais les Kurdes n'aspiraient qu'a leur vie paisible.” ~  Whisper with the Wind (Sirta La Gal Ba), 2009

March 21st, the first day of spring, is a sacred time for Kurds – it is the day of a renewal, regeneration, reaffirmation and rebirth of our free identity. We call it Newroz, literally meaning “New Day”, and have celebrated it as the beginning of our calendar year for tens, if not hundreds, of generations – our eternally recurring, beloved New Year. It is a day we light ceremonial bonfires on majestically soaring mountaintops, signifying our eternal freedom from the tyranny of selfish hate and hubristic pride.

And so a historiographical account of the Kurds is inevitably one of resistance, freedom, dignity, tears and love. 

Enkidu resisted Gilgamesh; Kawa the Blacksmith killed the tyrannous Dehak; Said Piran relentlessly fought the chauvinistic Kemal Ataturk; Qazi Mohammad hopelessly defended his beloved Mahabad; Mahmud Barzanji understood the true meaning of Sykes-Picot, and exposed the infinite trickery and lies of Britain's Percy Cox and Winston Churchill; Ahmad and Mustafa Barzani fearlessly confronted the might of Iraq's ruthless war machine over nearly half a century; and after spending a decade of incarceration in Turkey's notorious prisons simply for speaking Kurdish, Layla Zana incredibly continues speaking of peace, reciprocity and love. 

Today, our children on the streets of Diyarbekir and Istanbul defy riot police, imprisonment, discrimination, and the misery of poverty, hunger, homelessness and abuse at the hands of the Turkish apartheid state. Young women and displaced villagers, victims of forced displacement and ethnic cleansing, labelled “terrorists” by the “civilized” West, confront the collective military might of Iran and Turkey – NATO's second largest force – on the freezing mountains of the Zagros and Taurus ranges.

And in that short-lived, first beacon of hope for self-determination – otherwise known as Iraqi Kurdistan – independent souls and thinkers of honest bent, unrelenting in their search for Truth, are hopelessly fighting against the inevitable nightmare of what we have become: America's neoliberal, “Other Iraq”. Today, the enemy is delusive, the threat invisible – but fatally real. 

Today, we have become our own enemy – blinded and imprisoned by our very own greed, selfishness, ignorance, stupidity and corruption. Today, we have sold our God, our souls, our humanity, our nation, our history, our ingenuity and our love for cheap. You all know very well what I mean.

Today, we silently support leaders invoking fraudulent narratives of our history, speaking of “democracy, progress, equality and freedom...” - words too great for their miniscule collective cognitive capacities. Today we wave meaningless flags grounded in the empty, corrupt dirt and dust of Erbil's crumbling superficiality; whereas our real flag, our 'Alay Rengîn' – who's foundation, Truth, found only in the solid bedrock of Kurdistan's eternally free and loving mountains – is ignored, forgotten, belittled and scorned.

And for that, we shall inevitably pay the highest possible price – that of our identity – that is at the crux of our humanity, our life's meaning, happiness, wellbeing and existence.

“And Al-Mustafa was silent, and he looked away towards the hills and toward the vast ether, and there was a battle in his silence. Then he said:

'My friends and my road-fellows, pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion. Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own winepress. Pity the nation that acclaims the bully a hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful. Pity a nation that despises a passion in its dream, yet submits in its awakening. Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it walks in a funeral, boasts not except among its ruins, and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between the sword and block. Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking. Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings, and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again. Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strong men are yet in the cradle. Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.” ~  Khalil Gibran, The Garden of the Prophet, 1923

Oh, what pithy words of loving Truth and wisdom came from that iconoclastic poet – and iconoclastic he was indeed! And is that not what we, as Kurds, as lovers, as uniquely free human beings – ought to be? 

When people used to ask me what I was, I used to say I was a Kurd – that I was not an Iraqi, a Turk, a Syrian, an Armenian, an Iranian or a Canadian. I used to define myself by what I was not – by my negation. It was an unfulfilling, hateful, racist, ignorant, stupid and spiritually impoverished way of describing oneself – and no way at all of finding one's true self. And so, I tried to find myself, and by extension, my beloved Kurdistan...

Therefore, in early 2009, I went “home”, to find Kurdistan – to experience it with all my faculties and senses. And upon the completion of my whirlwind trip, on the eve of March 21st – Newroz – I wrote:

“Flying home, I woke up to the most incredible sight of my life. A sight I had waited a lifetime to see, and a feeling of overwhelming sadness took over. I saw Kurdistan – the snow-capped Zagros and Taurus mountains I had dreamed about and romanticized night after night, year after year. Kurds have a spiritual attachment to our land – we see God and creation in nature – in our mountains, valleys, rivers and springs. An immense sense of nostalgia had been fulfilled – a nostalgia for a land I had never seen in my life before. I had seen Kurdistan with my bare eyes – it is impossible to explain how important this moment was to me, to my sense of being and belonging. This was my country, my land – a land that does not exist on any maps, but exists in the hearts of nearly 40 million people. 

Jonathan Randal, in his epic book, ‘After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness? My Encounters With Kurdistan’, wrote that every Kurd cultivates a secret garden; a garden hidden from the eyes of the world, in the hopes that one day justice will prevail and the wrongs of the past will be righted, so they can see the beauty of this garden, and humanity can benefit from having saved one of the spectacularly resilient and beautiful cultures from destruction and extinction...

... We spent the evening in the green resort village of Shaqlawa – literally meaning ‘the little tree saplings’ - nestled in a beautiful valley, populated by thousands of pomegranate and fig trees, ice-cold springs fed by snow water, and some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen. As we returned to the city later that evening, I could not peel my eyes off the mountains – I wanted to return, to go back to the place that had instantly captivated my heart...

... And the urge to return to the mountains did prove too strong. Over the next few days, we traveled to Dokan’s beautiful blue lakes and ice-cold rivers, Bikhal’s splendid canyons and springs, Gilly Ali Beg’s waterfall and Rawanduz’ massive mountain passes Saddam’s army could never penetrate. The sheer size of everything gave an incredible sense of freedom, while the colossal mountains made one feel so small and insignificant. We drove through the most beautifully romantic run-down villages – places untouched by time. Local villagers would rush to the car to give us local jams, figs and rewaz – a type of rhubarb that only grows on the mountains of Kurdistan in the spring. The people were desperately poor, but generous and kind – eager to show anyone willing to visit them that they exist, that the Kurdish way of life is alive and has never been crushed. They never accepted payment for any of their gifts – we were their guests and were welcome to share in their bounty. Every time we would leave the mountains and their splendid people, without knowing it, I would put my hands on the car window, like a child hoping to never let them go – they will be with me for the rest of my life and I will always love them with all my heart.”   ~ “ Finding Kurdistan ” 

And so I found that Kurdistan was not a nation state, a mall, a town, a village, a mountain, a river, a tree, a flag, a political ideology, an institution or a person. It was not a type of food, dish or drink – nor was it a costume, song, tune or national anthem. It was not to be found in a specific skin or eye color, language, accent, regional dialect, religion or belief.

Kurdistan was a twinkle of the eye, a smile, a hug and a handshake. Kurdistan was generosity of spirit, of reciprocity, of honesty, humility, kindness and gentle confidence. Kurdistan was civilization – civilization in its true sense – that of love and respect for humanity and nature, manifested through perseverance, ingenuity, creativity and  wisdom passed down over thousands of years. Kurdistan was nothing but a special space known as freedom – a space that exists in our hearts, nourishing and sustaining unity, coexistence, understanding and knowledge. Kurdistan was perhaps one of modern humanity's last chances at Humanity.

Kurdistan was therefore a state of Being – of Love, of Freedom, of Life, of Truth. This was beautifully articulated by Farzad Kamanger, a 33 year old village schoolteacher, prior to his execution in 2009:

“I remain a Teacher and you a Prison Guard. Zeus the god of gods ordered the imprisonment of the disobedient Prometheus and this is how our story started. I am teacher; I inherit smiles and curiosity from my students.

Now, since you know me, you tell your story; with whom you’ve been a colleague; from whom you’ve gotten this anger and hatred of yours; who inherited you those handcuffs and foot shackles? Are they relics from Dehak’s dungeons?

Don’t beat me for singing; I am a Kurd; my ancestors have left us their loves, pains, struggles and their existence through their songs. I shall sing and you shall listen. You must listen to my songs; I know they bother you. Do not beat me when I walk for the sound of my feet; my mother has taught me to talk to the soil with my steps; there is pledge between me and the earth; I have pledged to fill it with beauty and smiles. So, let it hear the sound of my feet; let me walk. Let the earth know I am still alive and hopeful.

Don’t deny me my pen and papers; I want to sing the children of my land a lullaby full of hope; filled with Samad’s stories; filled with Khanali and his wishes. I want to write; I want to talk to my people from inside of my cell; from this very same place; do you understand? I know you are trained to hate light, beauty, thoughts and reflection.

But don’t be scared come to my cell; sit with me on my small, torn tablecloth as a guest; observe how I invite my students here every night and relate stories for them. But since you don’t have a permission to see; to hear, you have to become a lover; a human; you have to cross to this side of the door to appreciate what I say.

Your world will always be a prison and dark and “the sense of light” will disturb you; I have wished, for months, to see a sky full of stars. To see a sky with those disobedient stars that fly from one corner of it to the other and tear down the heart of darkness with their lights. But you have lived in the dark for years and your sky is without a single star. Do you know what a sky with no stars mean? Do you know what a sky with an eternal dusk mean?

When I return to prison cell 209 next time, step inside; I have myriads of wishes for you; unlike your prayers, which are full of fire and the fear of hell my wishes are abundant with smiles, love and hope; step into my cell to tell you the secret of Izzati’s last smile while on the gallows; I know, again I will be sent back to 209; and you will yell at me with all your might; and I feel sad for you and for the degrading world that has been built for you; I will return while I am still a teacher and have the smile of children from my homeland on my lips.

A teacher who is being sentenced to death.” ~  Farzad Kamanger, The section of infectious diseases; the prison of Karaj, Iran. 2009

I searched for that state of Being in the land of my ancestors, in that cradle of human civilization – that geographical region known as 'Kurdistan' – and yet I can not find it anymore. All I see now is an empty straw man built of selfish greed, fear, lies, ignorance, stupidity and ugliness. And so I must now look elsewhere...

“India was once a golden land, because Indians then had hearts of gold. The land is still the same, but it is a desert because we are corrupt. It can become a land of gold again only if the base metal of our present national character is transmuted into gold. The philosopher's stone which can effect this transformation is a little word of two syllables – Satya (Truth). If every Indian sticks to this Truth, Freedom will come to us of its own accord.” ~ Mohandes (Mahatma) Ghandi, Unto This Last, 1908

“To my unborn child, in case I don't make it, just remember I love you... I wanna go in peace, when I gotta die... In case you never see my face again, my unborn child, remember – on these cold streets, ain't no love, no mercy and no friends”. ~  Tupac Amaru Shakur, Letter to my Unborn, 1994

I have tried so hard not to sell my essence and soul – and to also resist a vicious world relentlessly beating the soul out of me. Speaking the Truth can and will make you an outcast – indeed, even old friends will deny, and even scorn and attack you. I wonder if I can hold up – I am only human. I, like everyone else, have made many mistakes in the past, hurt many people, including myself, and wonder if I am now paying the price. But Truth has somehow become my merciful God – now and, hopefully, forever. And for that, I am grateful, and find myself increasingly in a state of peace.

And so, today, I desperately hold onto strings – strings that held together figs and rewaz the poor, barefooted villagers of Bikhal gifted me – strings that eternally tied our hearts together, and that remain my inspiration, hanging by my desk. I marvel at the celestially smooth river stone I picked up near Lake Dokan, always keeping it near my bed. I watch Bahman Ghobadi and Shahram Alidi's films to see a beautiful culture, humanity and world that once really existed. I collect photos of my grandparent's villages on the mountains near Penjwin and Mariwan – loves divided by artificial colonial borders – and dream of hopes, struggles, passions and lives long lost. 

I read Celadet Bedirxan and Said Nursi's books of literature, science and philosophy – knowing their essence as the healing arts our despiritualized and empty modern society so desperately needs, but hubristically ignores. I hear my family speak of a time – not long ago – when Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Persians, Turkmen, Azeris, Assyrians, Shias, Sunnis, Christians, Yezidis and Jews all peacefully and happily lived, worked, ate, sang, danced and loved, together. I dream of seeing a sunset over Hasankeyf, of laying flowers at the unmarked graves of Halabja and Dersim, and of seeing children laughing and playing on the snowy slopes of Hawraman’s timeless mountains.

I listen to ancient love poems, and tales of my forefathers dignity, integrity, bravery and courage through the beautifully tragic songs of Hesen Zirek, Shahram Nazeri, Bijan Kamkar and Adnan Karim... and I cry...

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