Winner of the Orwell Youth Prize 2016, Years 12 and 13
In the summer of 2003, I found my naive young self in Istanbul Ataturk Airport waiting to board a plane with my parents. On calling out for my mother in my native tongue, I was surprised to be silenced with a firm hush.
“Don’t talk in that language!” my mother reprimanded. When I questioned why, my father responded with a brief explanation on how we were not welcome here. Despite the fact that this incident happened well over a decade ago it has been firmly entrenched in my memory.
As the years passed, I found myself in parallel situations. Another childhood incident embedded in my memory took place in my year three geography classroom. On being set the task of finding our home countries, I set about analysing the map in front of me in hope of discovering somewhere on the pink, blue or green shadings, the word Kurdistan.
Following a good twenty minutes of judiciously scanning the globe I was left in a state of confusion. As an eight year old being the only student in the class who had failed the task set proved to be upsetting. Aside from my frustration I also harboured feelings of dismay. My teacher was equally as confused as me; so much so that she left the classroom out of sheer curiosity to ask the receptionist to Google Kurdistan to find out where my mystery land lay.
Ten minutes later the receptionist returned with a sticky note, revealing to my teacher and I that Kurdistan was not on the map, because it was not recognised as an Independent State by the United Nations.
So where is my country? Where is Kurdistan?
The question of “what is a Kurd?” is one that I find myself being asked frequently.
While our historical origins are unclear, many historians link us to the likes of the ancient Medes and Mittanis. Others claim the Kardouchoi who Xenophon, Greek soldier and writer, refers to in his anabasis to be the ancient people who Kurds descend from. I myself favour the mysterious myths involving King Solomon.
Kurds are an ethnic group numbering 35 million, making us the largest without an internationally recognized homeland. Like the Assyrians and Palestinians, artificial borders devised by imperialist powers in the early twentieth century left us stateless. The Kurdish homeland was not only torn through its heart, but shredded into quarters following the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. Kurdish territory was partitioned between Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.
It is a sad truth and harsh reality that to the nations who rule over us, our lives are of very little importance. It is the vast amount of resources that can be derived from Kurdish inhabited areas that is the envy of occupying authorities. The Kurdistan Regional Government received $557,272,177 for oil exports in March 2016.
The dehumanisation of Kurdish lives and the avaricious desires of dictators has time and time again resulted in the deliberate shifting of the demographics of Kurdish areas. From 1958 to 2003, Kurds in Iraq were subjected to episodes of mass deportation and ethnic cleansing which maliciously reduced the Kurdish population in the oil rich province of Kerkuk to a minority, while increasing those of the Arab settlers to a majority. The Iraqi government also destroyed 4,000 villages out of 4,655 in the Kurdish Region of Iraq between April 1987 and August 1988.
From the creation of the Turkish state in 1923, under the rule of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to the current day AKP government that rules Turkey, Kurds have suffered immensely. Decades of forced assimilation, ethnic cleansing and institutionalised racism makes surviving in Turkey as a Kurd an achievement to be applauded.
From Kurdish politicians, actors and musicians to my own friends from North Kurdistan the effects of assimilation enforced by Turkish supremacy are apparent. Be it in their government assigned Turkish surnames, their inability to communicate in their native tongue or the way that many label themselves as Turks when their true ethnic identity is far from this lie. One story that struck me the most regarding the scale of ethnic assimilation forced upon Kurds is a tale from a friend who only discovered she was a Kurd when disembarking a plane which came from Turkey to the UK. Prior to her family’s migration, her parents had simply felt it unsafe to familiarise their young daughter with her ethnicity and culture.
In 1992, Nelson Mandela refused to accept the Atatürk-Peace-Award given to him by Turkey because of the harsh treatment the Turkish government inflicted upon Kurds. Nelson Mandela also went on to condemn the war waged by the Turkish government on the Kurdistan Workers Party as “a war against human rights”.
Kurds – even those without any nationalistic aspirations – are people of ardent and strong characteristics when it comes to their land and culture. Unfortunately, this was not only deemed as a criminal offence in the eyes of Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk but almost a century later embracing Kurdish heritage still has the same fatal consequences.
In 2016, I am fortunate enough to be able to securely visit my hometown in Kurdistan. However for some other Kurdish groups this is not a trip they can make so confidently or comfortably; in particular Kurds of the Yezidi faith. Yezidis have been victims of over 70 genocides, the latest being waged by ISIS. In November 2015, Kurdish forces discovered in Sinjar a mass grave with the remains of 78 Yezidi women believed to have been executed by ISIS. Due to the threat from violent extremists, many diaspora Yezidis would be greatly endangered if they were to pay the towns they originate from a visit.
Kurdistan has had a treacherous past full of suffering and injustices and a dismal present with only hope for the future generations.