We Americans aren’t very good at understanding ethnic groups, in spite of being basically a stew of ethnic groups ourselves. If they came here, we might notice them, but otherwise “Pashtun” or ‘Kurd” is well, pretty foreign to us.
But the Kurds have been in the news a lot lately, so this is Kurds 101. The Kurds are battling ISIS for Kobane, a Kurdish city near the border of Turkey. Kurdish women, even grandmothers, have dug in with their rifles in a kind of desperate scenario which touches American psyches. We must help them! And help them we have, the US having dropped food on weapons on their besieged city.
NATO ally Turkey, which has been battling the Kurds for decades, kind of hoped ISIS would do its dirty work for them and so sat watching the ISIS attack from the comfort of their tanks on the Turkish border. This understandably angered the Kurds who protested vigorously in Turkey, resulting in nineteen dead Kurds.
Kurds are a real ethnic group, with a history going back at least thousands of years. There are about 30 million of them with a very strong and persistent identity: We are Kurds, dang it, and we are not giving up our culture and language and turning into second class citizens of Turkey or anyplace else. They want their own nation and it does not appear they are giving up until they get it. They have been fighting for a long time and they have been shot, jailed and their PKK has been labeled as a terrorist group. They have been butting heads with Turkey and other nations who want them to just blend in and be quiet.
Americans are somewhat surprised by Kurds. Are they Muslims? Why aren’t their women covered up, indeed, why are their women such bada** soldiers? To answer the first question, a common saying around the Middle East is: “Compared to an unbeliever, a Kurd is a Muslim.” To answer the second, Kurdish women have always fought alongside the men.
While the news makes frequent reference to Kurdistan, a region with many Kurds stretching across Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq, that is, in fact, misleading. There is no such nation (yet) though there is an Iranian province by that name and “Iraqi Kurdistan” seems to be more and more recognized as…autonomous? Semi-autonomous? Who knows…It’s still a work in progress.
After years of betrayals, violence and being pawns in geopolitical games, the Kurds have become rather fierce and extremely resilient, as shown by the Kurdish proverb, “The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.”
The Kurds have become fierce and resilient but what they have NOT become is something besides Kurds. I therefore predict that they never will and that they will ultimately achieve their goals. When they do, may they behave with more decency and honor than those who have opposed them.
May they remember: An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.-Gandhi