Kurds in Diaspora Twice Victims of TerrorismS
Since the division of their homeland amongst Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria in 1923, there is no doubt the vast majority of Kurds in the above countries have been subject to discrimination and mistreatment, including illegal arrests, imprisonment, torture, kidnappings, and even assassinations and massacres by these oppressive regimes. Each of those countries’ justification for their brutality against Kurds is that Kurds demand their rights on their own land, Kurdistan. Unfortunately, Kurds are not only mistreated while they are within the boundaries of those countries colonizing Kurdistan. Even Kurds who have managed to escape the brutality of those non-democratic nations and have resettled in other countries, in recent years are facing similar mistreatment worldwide.
To summarize the Kurdish people’s situation in the case of those living in countries colonizing Kurdistan, the conflicting views can be stated as follows: Kurds almost unanimously, regardless of which part of Kurdistan they inhabit, support the struggle for an independent, greater Kurdistan. They also respect the Peshmerga--the Kurdish men and women who have sacrificed their lives as resistance fighters to make such a Kurdish state possible--as patriotic revolutionaries and national heroes. On the contrary, the countries dominating Kurdistan consider the Kurdish freedom fighters as “terrorists” and view whoever supports them as traitors and given the same low status as those who fight for the Kurdish identity. These views have been held by governments for decades in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. In the late 1990s, when a German woman who had joined the Kurdish freedom fighters was captured by Turkish forces and taken to a Turkish court, the judge asked her where she was captured. “In Kurdistan”, she answered. When the judge supposedly responded, “There is no country called Kurdistan,” the German woman replied, “That’s why we fight.”
As for the Diaspora Kurds who have managed to escape from those brutal countries’ mistreatment and the denial of their Kurdish national identity (and/or who have come into conflict with Islamic extremists for being secular), hundreds of thousands have found third countries to live in. Many of these Kurds have become citizens of those countries and consider them as their second home--but still face difficult circumstances. Perhaps the main reason for this is that most ‘westerners’ are unable to differentiate Kurds from Arabs—and Arabs they view as prime suspects for fundamentalist Islamic activities and threats worldwide.
Although the majority of Kurds are Muslims, in their countries of origin they are treated as Kurds rather than as fellow Muslims, and in some cases they are not considered as Muslims at all. The defunct Iraqi regime’s military campaign against the Kurdish people in 1988, code-named the ‘Anfal’ (‘spoils of war’, according to the Quran), massacred 182,000 innocent civilians, and illustrates this point. For their part, Kurds also respect and identify more with their Kurdish nationality than with their religious faith. Unfortunately, however, due to their skin color and/or where they were born, in many western countries Kurds may be treated as “terrorist” suspects.
When Kurds in the Diaspora face mistreatment or discrimination, they feel that they have been victimized twice. For decades they have been victims of terrorist states that conquered Kurdistan, leading them to be dispersed around the world. State terrorism has taken place including attacks by the Turkish military secret service against Kurdish civilians, extralegal executions, the growing numbers of torture cases in police detention in Turkey, Iran, and Syria, and kidnappings and assassinations of influential Kurdish politicians in Kurdistan and Europe. Unfortunately, most of the time Kurds pay the price for what some extremist Islamic Arabs, Turks, Iranians, and other anti-western organizations stand for. Considering themselves non-Arabs and non-fundamentalist Muslims, but rather as being pro-democracy and pro-western, Diaspora Kurds are nonetheless being treated as suspects while traveling abroad, and even while living in their adopted countries, which they consider their second home.
As a result of the September 11 attacks, the various UK incidents, as well as the arrest of 17 Islamic suspects in Toronto last summer, Diaspora Kurds accept the security measures required by the countries they live in or travel to. Yet these security measures should not be taken against them merely due to their physical appearance or where they were born. Western officials, especially the police, must understand that Kurds have been victims of terrorism for decades and that is the prime reason for their lives spent in exile in other countries. Non-Kurds should also accept Kurds’ sensitivity regarding affirming their Kurdish identity and the word “Kurdistan.” Whenever I have been asked where I was from, or if I happened to return from a homeland trip, my answers would have always been “Kurdistan.” Unfortunately, however, most of the time, even in Canada, I get an insulting reply: “Kurdistan is not an official country; tell us Turkey, Iran, Syria or Iraq.” To support my argument, I respond, “Palestine is also a non-official country but no one would dare tell an Arab that he or she is from Israel!”
Even as a proud Canadian citizen and traveling with a Canadian passport, I have personally endured many times incidents of mistreatment and discrimination in different countries--including Canada--perhaps due to the way I look, or my birthplace, Iraq, which I have never considered as my own country. Although discrimination is against the law and is not a major problem in Canada, on my recent return from my first ever driving to the US, I was asked by a Canadian Customs officer, “Where were you born?” Although I was holding a Canadian citizenship card as the other Canadians did at the border, I was asked further questions and dealt with almost as a suspect! On every single trip returning to Canada from abroad--as is the story with so many Kurds--at the airports I’ve gone through “multi inspection” security measures and being almost investigated as a suspect by the Canada Customs officers.
Diaspora Kurds feel that they have been twice victims of terrorism; first at the hands of the state terrorist countries who have conquered Kurdistan, and second by paying the ongoing price of being (wrongly) suspected of identifying with what extremist Arab, Turkish, and Islamic groups stand for. The Kurdish people do, however, continue to stand for our struggle for an independent Kurdistan. The first ever democratic election in Iraq (which occurred in 2005), is an example of this. There was a non-official referendum as an alternative option for Kurds who were born within Iraqi boundaries and who were eligible to vote both inside and outside of the country, while electing Iraq’s parliament members. In the referendum they had the chance to vote on whether Kurdistan should remain within Iraq or become independent. The result was that 98.8% of the voters chose an independent Kurdistan. This became a wake-up call for those who would say that Kurds prefer to stay within the borders of Iraq, and it demonstrated to the world the reality of Kurds’ true aspirations. As a former US Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, wrote recently, “You can call this place Kurdistan, as its citizens do, or northern Iraq, as the Turks do. But either way, the overwhelming majorities (98 percent in a 2005 referendum) of its 4 million people do not want to remain part of Iraq.”