Kurdish Matters in Diyarbekir

Your help is needed!

What Kurdish Matters is all about…

Do you ever hear them? The stories of Kurds, sharing their hopes in life, their sorrows, their choices, dreams, pains? Probably, you never do. Because the stories that are usually in the media about Kurds in Turkey, are about violence.

Violence is part of the Kurdish problem, but not the root of it. The root is that people’s human rights are being denied. With Kurdish Matters, I want to tell the story of the Kurdish issue through the eyes of average Kurds. Villagers and city dwellers, students, workers, housewives, activists, mothers, fathers, children. Their lives tell the true story of the Kurdish issue in Turkey.

Writing this book is going to require about €40,000, most of which will come from fundraising. Please consider helping Frederike Geerdink in her fundraising efforts so that she can continue her research and publish this important book, and bring out the voices of the Kurds in the region.

Go to http://www.indiegogo.com/KurdishMatters to make your donation today!

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New Book: The Margins of Empire

The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone
Janet Klein, Associate Professor of History at The University of Akron

Stanford University Press, 2011 (forthcoming)

About the book

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Ottoman state identified multiple threats in its eastern regions. In an attempt to control remote Kurdish populations, Ottoman authorities organized them into a tribal militia and gave them the task of subduing a perceived Armenian threat. Following the story of this militia, Klein explores the contradictory logic of how states incorporate groups they ultimately aim to suppress and how groups who seek autonomy from the state often attempt to do so through state channels.

In the end, Armenian revolutionaries were not suppressed and Kurdish leaders, whose authority the state sought to diminish, were empowered. The tribal militia left a lasting impact on the region and on state-society and Kurdish-Turkish relations. Putting a human face on Ottoman-Kurdish histories while also addressing issues of state-building, local power dynamics, violence, and dispossession, this book engages vividly in the study of the paradoxes inherent in modern statecraft.

Reviews

‘Klein sheds light on some of the most important and complicated relations and negotiations the Ottoman officials were engaged in as their empire crumbled around them. She never loses sight of the broader implications of her work in this original, highly valuable look at a significant period in the history of the Middle East.’—Resat Kasaba, University of Washington

‘This is a most welcome and very significant contribution to Kurdish history and to the history of the eastern provinces during the late Ottoman period. The rich documentation of the saga of the Kurds as they undergo a very difficult transformation will generate healthy scholarly debate. An excellent book.’—Fatma Müge Göçek, University of Michigan

See Table of Contents here.

Read an excerpt from the Introduction here.

Order book here.

The Kurds of Syria: from the latest Syrian Studies Association newsletter

The Kurds of Syria is the focus of the latest issue of the Syrian Studies Association (SSA) Newsletter (Vol XVI No. 1, Spring 2011)

Below are the articles from this latest SSA newsletter with links to the full article at the SSA website. If you wish to download the entire 52-page newsletter, click here (.pdf).

Scholarship on the Kurds in Syria: A History and State of the Art Assessment (Jordi Tejel)

A summary of the history of scholarship on the Kurds of Syria from the beginning of French Mandate to the present with emphasis on the importance of historical context in evaluating the current state of Kurdish affairs in Syria.

Studying the Kurds in Syria: Challenges and Opportunities (Robert Lowe)

This article provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities of studying the Kurds in Syria.

Ten Years of Bashar al‑Asad and No Compromise with the Kurds (Eva Savelsberg and Siamend Hajo)

The Kurdish population of Syria continues to suffer significant human rights violations at the hands of Syrian security forces ten years into Bashar al-Asad’s presidency. The resulting tensions led to an unprecedented uprising across Kurdish Syria in 2004.

Sufism among the Kurds in Syria (Paulo Pinto)

Sufism has a pervasive presence in the religious and cultural life of the Kurds in Syria. The vast majority of them are Sunni Muslims and their Islamic practices and beliefs are marked by a strong influence of Sufism. This analysis shows how Sufi communities and holy places constitute social spaces where discrete articulations between Muslim identities and Kurdish ethnicity emerge, allowing the Kurds to mobilize various forms of affirming cultural distinctiveness and negotiating their insertion in the Syrian society.

Book Reviews

A Work of Reference on Syria’s Kurds (Boris James)

Jordi Tejel, Syria’s Kurds: History, Politics and Society. New York: Routledge, 2009. 208 pages.

Syria’s Undocumented Kurds (Ahmet Serdar Akturk)

Nevzat Bingöl, Suriye’nin Kimliksizleri Kürtler (Syria’s Undocumented Kurds). Istanbul: Elma, 2004.

New book: Kurdish Identity, Disourse, and New Media

About the book
Informed by the interdisciplinary approach of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and theories of identity, nation, and media, the study investigates the ways Kurds, the world’s largest stateless nation, use satellite television and Internet to construct their identities. This book examines the complex interrelationships between ethno-national identities, discourses, and new media. Not only offers the first study of discursive constructions of Kurdish identity in the new media, this book also the first CDA informed comparative study of the contents of the two media. The study pushes the boundaries of the growing area of studies of identity, nationalism and transnationalism, discourse studies, minority language, and digital media.

Dr. Sheyholislami’s book will be available in mid-June from Palgrave Macmillan.

Contents
-Discourse, Media, and Nation
-Kurdish Identity
-Kurdish Media: From Print to Facebook
-Discourse Practices of Kurdistan TV (KTV)
-Textual Analysis of KTV
-Discourse Practices of Kurdish Internet
-Textual Analysis of Kurdish Internet
-Discussion and Conclusion

About the author
Jaffer Sheyholislami was born in 1960 in the city of Mahabad in Mukriyan Province. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the School of Linguistics and Language Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He teaches courses in the areas of applied linguistics and discourse analysis on a variety of topics such as language and power/ideology, sociology of language, research and practice in academic writing, and language and media.

He earned his PhD in Communication at Carleton in 2008. His main research interests lie with a critical understanding of language and other semiosis in social life. Currently, with Co-editors Dr. Amir Hassanpour and Dr. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, he is preparing an edited volume on the Kurdish language with a focus on the social, political and legal aspects of the language and how these are intertwined with education and identity in Kurdistan. His other areas of research have included: critical discourse analysis of the representation of Kurds in the US and Canada, Iranian ethnic media and citizenship in Canada, the semiotic construction of Canadian national identity, the dialogic nature of blogging in educational settings, and the place of blogging in the construction of Kurdish imagined communities.

Kurdish politics in Syria: a ‘Webliography’ from Chatham House

In February Chatham House put out a Webliography of articles and resources on Kurdish politics in Syria. Given the events in Syria at the moment, it’s a timely resource. And Kurdistan Commentary got included! Below is a list of their resources. If you want to download the original 3-page .pdf version of their webliography, click here.

Selected Webliography

Kurdish politics and Syria, Chatham House Library and Information Service, February 2011

The following is a select list of websites, articles and books on Kurdish politics and Syria, [most] available on the web.

To find out about Chatham House’s research, analysis and events on Kurdish politics and Syria, please visit the Middle East and North Africa Programme’s site.

To search our Library catalogue for books, articles and papers on Kurdish politics, please visit our site.

General Sites

Amnesty International – Syria

Human Rights Watch

Kurdistan National Assembly – Syria

KurdWatch

Political Resources on the Net – Kurdistan

Rojhelat- The Kurdish Observer

Support Kurds in Syria

Articles

Amnesty International: Trial of Kurds in Syria likely to be a ‘parody of justice’. Amnesty International, 15 December 2009

Arsu, Sebnem: Turkey says Syria detains 400 Kurdish separatists. New York Times, 1 July 2010

Damascus Bureau: Syrian Kurds – bolder, but still oppressed. Damascus Bureau, 27 July 2010

Ismaeel, Bashdar Pusho: The plight of the Syrian Kurds: the forgotten kindred. Kurdish Globe, 30 January 2011

Kurdistan Commentary: Syrian Kurds in Europe, 2010: migration, asylum, and deportation. Kurdistan Commentary, 19 December 2010

Lowe, Robert: Kurds in Syria: from the shadows. World Today, Vol 61, No 11, November 2005, pp 7-8

Spyer, Jonathan: The forgotten minority. GLORIA Center, 9 July 2010

Documents, Books and Papers

Austrian Red Cross and the Danish Immigration Service: Human rights issues concerning Kurds in Syria: report from a joint fact-finding mission (.pdf)…21 January to 8 February 2010. Vienna: Austrian Red Cross, 2010

Human Rights Watch: Group denial: repression of Kurdish political and cultural rights in Syria. New York: Human Rights Watch, 2009

Human Rights Watch: Repression of Kurds in Syria. IN A wasted decade: human rights in Syria during Bashar al-Asad’s first ten years in power. New York: Human Rights Watch, 2010

Human Rights Watch: Syria: the silenced Kurds. New York: Human Rights Watch, 2006

Lowe, Robert: The Kurdish policy imperative. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2010 (overview of book)

Lowe, Robert: The Syrian Kurds: a people discovered (.pdf). London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2006

Lynch, Maureen and Ali, Perveen: Buried alive: stateless Kurds in Syria (.pdf). Washington: Refugees International, 2006

Mella, Jawad: Western Kurdistan which is occupied by Syria (.pdf). London: Western Kurdistan Association, 2007

Montgomery, Harriet: The Kurds of Syria: an existence denied. Berlin: Europäisches Zentrum für Kurdische Studien, 2005 (executive summary, .pdf)

Rojhelat-The Kurdish Observer: The current situation of the Kurds in Syria. [s.l.]: Rojhelat, 2011

Tejel, Jordi: Syria’s Kurds: history, politics and society. Abingdon: Routledge, 2009 (on Google books)

Troyansky, Vladimir and Bengio, Ofra: Facing the Ba’th: the Syrian Kurdish awakening (.pdf). Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, 2010

Yildiz, Kerim: The Kurds in Syria: the forgotten people. London: Pluto Press, 2005 (overview)

Ziadeh, Radwan: The Kurds in Syria: fueling separatist movements in the region? (.pdf) Washington: United States Institute of Peace, 2009

If you have any comments or queries relating to this list or any other research issues, please contact us on 020 7957 5723 or libenquire@chathamhouse.org.uk

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For articles on Kurdistan Commentary about Syria, click here.

Runaway to Nowhere

Runaway to Nowhere is the first novel by Kurdish-American author Qasham Balata. She was born in Duhok (South Kurdistan) in 1968 and now lives in Boston, MA, USA.

From the author’s website, she says:

My novel’s events happened during the Kurd’s uprising after the first Gulf War and their mass exodus from Northern Iraq to refugee camps along the Turkish and Iranian borders and when the western journalists compelled the first Bush administration to establish the safe haven better known in the 1990s as ‘the Northern No-fly zone.’ In my book I wrote about modern Kurdish history, tradition, and women.

Kani Xulam of the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN) published a reflection on the book yesterday on the AKIN website and he describes it as a book about love, war, and the haplessness of the Kurdish woman.

It is about the cruelty of the Kurdish man. It is about the brutality of Arabs. It is about the fickleness of ‘Great Powers.’ It is about the dearth of virtue. It is about the absence of honor. And yes, it is also about the transience of freedom.

With some levity, the reflection continues and discusses how brides are chosen at funerals. They are chosen at funerals ‘one character tells us in the book, to avoid an ugly bride, for in Kurdish weddings, the Kurdish maidens put on a lot of make up.’

But it is a serious novel that tells a story of love and loss and separation. Xulam’s reflection continues…

It is a war drama. It starts off in a place called Mosul. For those of you who don’t know of the place, it is a dusty city on the banks of Tigris. But for the narrator, a Kurdish woman, who attends its university, it comes close to being idyllic. Initially, you are thrown off by the incongruence of the comparison, but soon you realize that even Nome, Alaska would have qualified for the same description. The reason: it is away from home.

Pray to God that war has not knocked on your door for a visit, says Xulam’s reflection. He mentions war and the mountains and their indifference to the young and the old.

In the words of one character, they [the mountains] devour especially ‘children under three years old and [the] elderly.’  Cold wears the robes of the angel of death.  Hunger and thirst aid and abet and thousands are lowered into shallow makeshift graves.  You can’t help but remember your Thomas Hobbes from college.  Life, as the English philosopher once so memorably put it, is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ in the spring of 1991…

Author, Qasham Balata

The reflection leaves us with a wish from Nareen, the narrator, who ‘becomes the reluctant chronicler of this mass exodus’ to the mountains. In a conversation Nareen has with her American photojournalist friend, Emily, she says she wishes ‘we had a united Kurdish state –a wish that will continue to live in my heart and the hearts of millions of Kurds across the globe.’

To read the rest of the thoughtful reflection penned by Kani Xulam, visit the AKIN website.

To learn more about the author, visit her book’s website.

After that, go buy the book!

Kurdish publishing in Turkey

In the year 2010 at least 115 Kurdish books were published in Turkey. The number of books published in Kurdish in 2007 was 109, and 97 were published in 2008. The 2010 figure is slightly down from 2009 (118 books), but marks an upward trend in publishing in Kurdish, particularly since 1990.

Lîs Publishing House (Weşanên Lîs) published the most books with 21 copies, Avesta Publications printed 17 and Do publications 16. A substantial increase in the number of books translated into Kurdish accounts for much of the overall rise in numbers. Lîs, for example, translated 10 books into Kurdish.

From 1923 to 1970 only six books were published. From 1971-1979, ten books. There were no books in Kurdish published in Turkey from 1980 to 1989 (the coup and subsequent years). During the 90s, 212 books were published. And from 2000-2005, 367 books.

Recently Kurdish publishers have been specialising in certain fields. For example, Nûbihar Publishing House mainly publishes religious literature, Lîs and Belki publish fiction, and Vate Publishing House focuses on books in the Kırmancki (Zazakî) dialect.

Kurdish books published in Turkey typically sell between 100 to 1000 copies a year. Some of the best selling books are dictionaries and grammar books, such as Ferhengok Kurdî-Tirkî (Pocket Kurdish-Turkish dictionary, Welat Publishing House) and Dersên Zimanê Kurdî (Lessons in Modern Kurdish, Deng Publishing House). The pocket dictionary in 2002-2003 had a print run of 13,500.

In recent years some Kurdish publishing houses and Kurdish periodicals have moved their centres to Diyarbakır, and new publishing houses have been established there. Of the publishing houses with central offices in Diyarbakır, Deng, Bîr, Lîs and Belki, the last three were founded between 2003 and 2005. Previously all Kurdish publishers had been based in Istanbul and Ankara.

Here is a list (from 2006) of Kurdish publishers, opening date, and address:

Aram Publishing House (Weşanên Aram)-1997
Cağaloğlu Yokuşu Hobyar Mah.
Cemal Nadir Sok. Uğur Han No: 18/305
Eminönü/İstanbul

Avesta Publishing House (Weşanên Avesta)-1995
Avesta has published more Kurdish books than any other publishing company.
Evliya Çelebi Mah.
Aybastı Sok. No: 48/4
Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Tel: 0090/212 251 44 80

Bîr Publishing House (Weşanên Bîr)-2005
İnönü Cad. Ma-Gül İş Merkezi No: 49
Dağkapı/Diyarbakır
Tel: 0090/412 228 78 28

Deng Publishing House (Weşanên Deng)-1989
Kurt İsmail Paşa 5. Sok.
Fırat 5 Apt. No: 2/1
Ofis/Diyarbakır
Tel: 0090/412 223 89 23

Doz Publishing House (Weşanên Doz)-1990
Taksim Cad. No: 71/5
80090 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Tel: 0090/212 297 25 05

Elma Publishing House (Weşanên Elma)-2002
İlk Belediye Caddesi 37/6
Tünel/İstanbul
Tel: 0090/212 243 01 56

Kurdish Institute in Istanbul (Weşanên Enstîtuya Kurdî ya Stenbolê)-1992
Mesih Paşa Mah. Ordu Cad.
Hadi Han. No: 305 K: 5
Laleli-Eminönü/İstanbul

Komal Publishing House (Weşanên Komalê)-1974
Katip Mustafa Çelebi Mah.
Hasnun Galip Sok.
Uğur Apt. No: 25 Kat: 3 Daire: 4
Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Tel: 0212 243 83 97

Lîs Publishing House (Weşanên Lîs)-2004
Ma-Gül İş Merkezi Kat:1 No: 66
Dağkapı/Diyarbakır
Tel: 0090/412 228 97 76

Nûbihar Publishing House (Weşanên Nûbihar)-1992
P. K. 80 Fatih İstanbul

Pêrî Publishing House (Weşanên Pêrî)-1997
Osman Ağa Mah. Söğütlü Çeşme Cad.
Pavlonya Sok. No: 10/19
Kadıköy/İstanbul
Tel: 0090/216 347 26 44

Vate Publishing House (Weşanxaneyê Vateyî)-2003
Katip Mustafa Çelebi Mah.
Tel Sok. No: 18 Kat: 3
Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Tel: 0090/212 244 94 14

Sources:

Malmisanij, Mehemed (2006). The Past and Present of Book Publishing in Kurdish Language in Turkey. Next Page Foundation.

Books published in Kurdish on the increase. Firat News Agency, 04 January 2010. (Translation: Berna Ozgencil)

The Man in the Blue Pyjamas

Barzanji: When I was imprisoned in Iraq, my biggest concern was that I would be separated from my passion for writing, and all the resources to write.

Jalal Barzanji, Kurdish poet and journalist, will soon release The Man in the Blue Pyjamas: Prison Memoir in the Form of a Novel, his memoirs about the time he spent imprisoned under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The first draft of the book, completed in 2007, was written in Kurdish. After many rounds of revisions and translations, the novel will be available in April 2011 from University of Alberta Press.

‘It is a narrative about a part of my life which I (held) for years in my heart and memory,’ says the author.

The part of his life Barzanji speaks of is from 1986-1989, during which time he endured imprisonment and torture under Saddam Hussein’s regime because of his literary and journalistic achievements—writing that openly explores themes of peace, democracy, and freedom. For those three years, Barzanji wrote only on scrap paper, smuggled in to his cell in Iraq.

As an outspoken critic of the censorship under former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Barzanji had been fully expecting to be either imprisoned or executed. ‘The regime was against freedom, and I was asking for freedom. I wasn’t a follower of the ideology and mentality of the regime. My pain was double – I was a modern writer and I was Kurdish…I was living in fear because I knew I was doing something dangerous, talking about peace, democracy, freedom,’ he said.

One evening in 1986, a group of military men forced their way into Barzanji’s home and took him away in his pyjamas, blindfolded and handcuffed. He cannot recall how long he was kept in solitude in a small cell. He was later moved to a larger space shared by about 15 others.

But imprisonment of the body is not the same as imprisonment of the mind, and for Barzanji, writing is his reason for being: ‘If I don’t write, I feel like I’ve lost something. Writing has become part of my life and spirituality.’

And so, with help from a prison guard who slipped him pieces of scrap paper and a pencil, Barzanji bravely defied his captors and continued to write—this time, letters to his wife, detailing his experiences and those of others in prison.

Barzanji was pardoned and released from prison after three years, as part of one of Saddam’s birthday celebrations. Although he continued to live in fear of his life, he maintained his dreams of freedom. He still wrote, but in secret, as he was still under investigation.

In 1991, after an uprising in Kurdistan that drove out Saddam’s forces, Barzanji was asked to be the chief editor of a Kurdish magazine. He knew it would be a challenge, because although Saddam’s military was now absent, a legacy of governmental control remained.

‘The media was controlled by a very strong and powerful central government. You can’t isolate free media from the rest of society. For writers who were asking for freedom of expression, the price was too high because everything was controlled by power and blood and fear,’ he said. Nevertheless, Barzanji maintained his patient resolve amid the circumstances, and adds that protesting against the conditions would have led to execution.

Saddam’s forces returned to Kurdistan in 1996 and Barzanji and his family fled to Turkey, approaching the United Nations to claim refugee status. After receiving government sponsorship, they headed to Canada in 1998 and settled in Edmonton.

In Edmonton he helped establish the Canadian-Kurdish Friendship Association and the Edmonton Immigrant Support Network Society.

In 2007 Barzanji was named Edmonton’s inaugural Writer-in-Exile—a writer-in-residency program created by the literary and human rights association PEN Canada to foster refugee writers who have fled persecution in their home countries. The one-year appointment provided him the time, space, and financial means to build his writing career in Canada and complete The Man in the Blue Pyjamas.

Said Barzanji of the writing of the novel: ‘It’s a little bit hard to go back into that memory because it is a bad memory. On the other hand, when I go back to this memory I want to put it into words. I would like to share with people what happened, and what’s happening to writers because they write about peace, beauty and human desire.’

Barzanji was born in a small village in 1953. The village was remote and didn’t have a school until Barzanji was seven years old. He described his village as ‘a peaceful place between beautiful mountains’ where he ‘learned about the beauty and simplicity of life’ and listened to stories the men told by the fire or on the rooftops and he dreamt of things he had never seen.

That vision of simplicity and beauty changed overnight when Barzanji was in first grade. Iraqi forces bombed the village and everyone was forced to flee. He and his family ended up in Hewlêr (Erbil) and saw cars for the first time.

Later at university he read the works of foreign writers and it inspired him to start writing. In 1979, he published his first collection of poetry under the title The Dawning of the Evening Snow (Jamour Publishing, Kurdistan). It was his second collection of poetry published in 1985 that landed him in prison.

Now, says Barzanji, ‘I want to tell my story, what’s happened to me, without judgment. Just the true story from my heart. Second, I want to show the power of words—how, when I was in jail, it gave me the power not to give up and to stand.’

His other works include: Unwarm (1985, Rashid Publishing, Baghdad); War (1996, Gew Books, Kurdistan); Holy Rain (2002, Kurdish Ministry of Culture); Memory of a Person Under the Wind (2006, Bedirxan Publishing, Kurdistan) and On going back to Birth place (2007, Mnara, Kurdistan).

Jalal Barzanji speaking of freedom of speech and his writing

Sources:

Fong, Jennifer. 10 Edmontonians who lead the way into 2011. Edmonton Journal, 24 December 2010.

Karbani, Tasneem.  Writer in Exile gets a new lease on life. University of Alberta Folio: Focus, 04 January 2008.

Poets Across Borders Project, Edmonton Poetry Festival 2007.

Salih, Sabah. Speaking to the World: the Poetry of Jalal Barzanji. Kurdish Academy of Language, 28 June 2010.

Goyette, Linda (Ed.). The Story That Brought Me Here: To Alberta From Everywhere. Brindle & Glass, 2009, pp. 9-14.

Kurdish Digital Library now online!

The Kurdish Digital Library (Bibliothéque Numérique Kurde, BNK) is now online!

The Kurdish Institute of Paris, which runs the largest Kurdish Library in Europe, has put part of its stock of books online. This contains over 10,000 monographs about the Kurds in 25 languages, several tens of thousands of published documents, collections of reviews and newspapers, photographs, videos, postcards and posters, as well as audio archives and music recordings.

In the first instance, it will be possible to consult about one thousand works and several hundreds of associated documents, in Kurdish and other languages, at its site http://bnk.institutkurde.org/catalogue/

Later, as the project of digitalising the library progresses, other works and documents (audio recordings, videos, etc.) will also be made available on the Internet.

The Kurdish digitalised Library will be the first centre for online research on the Kurdish world, as it is already the richest one.

Consulting can be done in French, English and Kurdish.

Event in DC: Book signing with Carol Prunhuber

Carol Prunhuber

20 September 2010 at 8:30 PM
Author, Carol Prunhuber will discuss and sign her new book, The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd: Dreaming Kurdistan. A story about Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou’s life and bloody murder in Vienna, Austria. The Kurds are a minority in the Middle Eastern countries of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. This book is about thier struggle in Iran. Mr. Ghassemlou led that struggle for ten years under the banner of “Autonomy in Kurdistan Democracy in Iran”. The Iranian leaders rejected his demands and assassinated him on July 13, 1989. Carol Prunhuber has a different tale about the country.

Location:

Busboys and Poets
2021 14th St (14th and V)
NW DC 20009
tel: 202.387.7638

Free event, open to the public.  Begins at 8.30pm.

From Amazon:

It was in Paris, in 1983, that I first met Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou. We were introduced at the Kurdish Institute, where I was attending an art exhibition with the filmmaker Yilmaz Güney and his wife, Fatosh. I had met Güney at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982. That year he had won the Golden Palm Award, and the publicity that followed brought worldwide attention to the plight of the Kurdish nation.As a Venezuelan journalist, my limited impression of the Kurds was that they were fierce warriors who lived amongst distant mountains somewhere in the Middle East. Yilmaz Güney taught me about the free-spirited Kurdish people, opening my eyes to the oppression they had endured for centuries. Their situation touched me deeply and I began to write articles on the Kurds for Venezuelan newspapers and magazines.

One year later in Paris, I found myself standing face-to-face with this sophisticated, charming, and charismatic Middle Eastern leader of millions of Kurds in Iran.

-from the book

Ghassemlou’s lifelong wish was that of lasting peace for his people. He was the visionary and cultivated leader of the Iranian Kurdish revolutionary movement, brutally assassinated in 1989 while negotiating a peace accord for his people with Iran’s government emissaries in Vienna. His light still shines upon the volatile politics of this remote Middle East region that continues to play prominently upon the world’s political stage.

“Carol Prunhuber, writer and journalist, with links to the Kurdish world since the early 1980s, knew Dr. Ghassemlou and spent time in the Kurdish mountains with his guerrillas. The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd is an impassioned and meticulously documented investigation that vividly evokes the enthralling life and final days of this incomparable Kurdish leader.”

-Kendal Nezan, president of the Kurdish Institute of Paris

About the Author

Venezuelan writer CAROL PRUNHUBER was educated in Caracas and Paris, where she completed her doctorate in literature. She began her career as a freelance journalist in Paris, then as a foreign correspondent in Madrid. In 1985, she traveled to Kurdistan with a French TV crew to film the Kurdish conflict in Iran, where she became immersed in the plight of the Kurdish people. Th is book, twenty years in the making, is a distillation of her passionate concern.

Uncomfortable Luggage, a book by Zaher Mahmud

Zaher Mahmud at book signing

Uncomfortable Luggage
Pawn on the international political chessboard
2009, Zaher Mahmud

Zaher Mahmud was born in Silêmanî in 1956 and has been living as a refugee in the Netherlands since 1976.  His life as an eleven year old outcast, a Kurdish guerrilla, and a war casualty scarred by a phosphorous bomb has often been noted down by others mostly for political purposes.

During the Kurdish-Iraqi War of 1974-75, at age 18, he was struck by a phosphorous bomb and severely burned.  He ended up in hospital in London to convalesce.

With this book he himself takes control of the narrative.  In Uncomfortable Luggage, he describes his life stripped of any political frills. It is hard and shocking, sometimes interrupted by moments of hope, ideals and humanity.

Excerpt from the book:

The following day: it’s 24 October 1974, six o’clock at night. We are hiding in a small trench. With our binoculars we can see the movement of troops straight ahead. Above us fighter jets fly over but we don’t have heavy artillery. Using my Kalashnikov I fire at the low flying aircrafts. My friends warn me not to move about so much as I may attract the enemy’s attention. I’m not worried too much; it’s just one great adventure. There’s no stopping me and I keep on pushing forward. Behind me there are some thirty Peshmerga. I’m right at the front and can clearly hear the voices of the enemy soldiers. A bomb drops. It must be a flare in order to reveal our positions. The trees, the grass and the mountains are all lit up. It leaves some luminous foam behind very close to our position. Nothing special! I go and take a look. I’m kicking some foam around. Within seconds my shoe is totally burned. I walk back with just one shoe left. This surely can’t be just a light to determine our position. I run towards my two friends. ‘Where’s your shoe’, Nebez asks. We agree that it’s definitely not been a talkanatura, a signal flare. The worst part is that of my brand new shoes only one is left. I can still hear Nebez saying that we should watch out for those strange bombs. Still I continue forward shooting bullets as I go along. A quarter of an hour later the next bomb comes down. It grazes me on my left side. Jasin flees away. Nebez is sitting next to me. He’s screaming. Peshmerga come running toward us. Nobody notices me lying in the trench. ‘It’s all over now’, I say to myself. With my hand I feel my face and my ear. The pain is starting to burn all over my body. I’m unable to call out. What’s keeping my fellow fighters?

To order the book, see:

for English version

for Dutch version

See Zaher Mahmoud’s website (Fosforbomb) to view some historical video footage from the 70s.

PS Zaher has told me that he recently sent his book to Kurdistan where it will be translated into Kurdish and Arabic.

New Book from KHRP: The Kurdish Conflict

Press Release: For immediate release

The Kurdish Conflict: International Humanitarian Law and
Post-Conflict Mechanisms to be published 21 June 2010

KHRP is pleased to announce the forthcoming publication of ‘The Kurdish Conflict: International Humanitarian Law and Post-Conflict Mechanisms’ by Routledge next Monday 21 June 2010.

This book is written by KHRP Chief Executive Kerim Yıldız and Dr Susan Breau, Professor of International Law at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, who specialises in the law of armed conflict and international human rights law.

It is highly topical considering the ongoing conflict in the Kurdish region of Turkey, and the continued incursions into northern Iraq by the Turkish and Iranian armies and security forces, and Turkey’s EU accession negotiations. Turkey has become an increasingly important player in Middle Eastern geopolitics. More than two decades of serious conflict in Turkey are proving to be a barrier to improved relations between Turkey and the EU. This book presents the first study to fully address the legal and political dimensions of the conflict, and their impact on mechanisms for conflict resolution in the region, offering a scholarly exploration of a debate that is often politically and emotionally highly charged.

Yıldız and Breau look at the practical application of the law of armed conflicts to the ongoing situation in Turkey and northern Iraq. The application of the law in this region also means addressing larger questions in international law, global politics and conflict resolution. Examples include belligerency in international law, whether the ‘war on terror’ has resulted in changes to the law of armed conflict and terrorism and conflict resolution.

The Kurdish Conflict explores the practical possibilities of conflict resolution in the region, examining the political dynamics of the region, and suggesting where lessons can be drawn from other peace processes, such as in Northern Ireland.

This book will be of great value to policy-makers, regional experts, and others interested in international humanitarian law and conflict resolution.

Hardback and Paperback copies of the book are available to pre-order from the KHRP website shop for £85.00 and £29.99 per copy respectively.

14 June 2010
KHRP: Kurdish Human Rights Project

The Age of Orphans: a Novel

Laleh Khadivi

Laleh Khadivi

New novel explores issues of Kurdish identity and forced betrayal.  Laleh Khadivi is the recipient of the Whiting Writers’ award for this book, her debut novel.  It is the first of a trilogy which explores the lives of three generations of Kurdish men and their relationships with identity and the state.  Khadivi is working on the second novel of the trilogy, The Walking.

Article from today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Khadivi and her work.

Severed roots are haunting
By Catherine Fox

The sunny carriage house in Inman Park is yet another temporary home for Laleh Khadivi. She has lived in more than a dozen places since her family left Iran at the start of the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Now at the tail end of a two-year creative writing fellowship at Emory University, she writes, longhand, in a loft space surrounded by material memories of other places.

Books accumulated over her 31 years line the wall behind her. A sculptural specimen of California driftwood — bleached white, hard-to-pack — crowns a bookshelf in the corner. The smooth stones she collects wherever she goes cluster around the tub.

“I keep coming back to rocks and stones, mountain and land,” Khadivi said. “It’s my own yearning for belonging, a connection.”

Uprootedness is the theme of her first novel, “The Age of Orphans,” which won a Whiting Foundation Writers’ Award last year.

The protagonist, a Kurdish boy, is a casualty of Iran’s tumultuous transition from tribal rule to nationhood.khadivi_orphans

Torn from home and family and conscripted into the shah’s army, he is renamed Reza Khourdi and indoctrinated as a “modern” Iranian. Though he renounces his tribal allegiance, his new identity is never more than a mask. In the end, he is a broken man who belongs nowhere.

Unflinchingly, Khadivi limns the emotional and physical brutality of the tribal-suppression campaign and Reza’s splintering psyche in language both fierce and poetic.

“The mythic language comes from the idea that Kurds … have been telling their own stories for a really long time,” she said, sipping tea at her dining room table. “I wanted to slip very elegantly into that stream of storytelling and add this other chapter of what happens when Iran becomes a nation.”

“Orphans” is the first book of a three-generation trilogy. Though derived from her family history, the arc of the saga she is planning — political upheaval, migration, assimilation — will be familiar to “orphans” everywhere.

The road to ‘Orphans’

Khadivi took a roundabout path to her present occupation. She went to New York after college and spent five years making social-issue documentary films before deciding to become a doctor in 2002. Moving to California for medical school, she decided to map her trip so she could visit aunts and uncles in Chicago, Texas and Los Angeles.

At the time, her motive was personal: a longing to learn more about the Kurdish side of her family. But when Khadivi quit medical school after one semester to take up the writing life, the stories she had recorded would help her summon the world that created and ruined Reza.

Khadivi needed no help, however, in imagining her protagonist’s sense of dislocation. A childhood spent hopscotching across continents, countries and American states left her a perennial outsider. Spending her teens in Atlanta, a city steeped in its history, magnified those feelings. She remembers staring at the Confederate leaders chiseled into Stone Mountain, thinking: “These are not my heroes. I don’t belong here.”

Khadivi, who graduated from the Atlanta International School in 1995, marveled at the multigenerational burial plots in Oakland Cemetery. “These were people who didn’t go anywhere! They lived and died in the same place.”

Soon Khadivi will leave Atlanta for the second time. She will return to California, which, she’s decided, is home. The $50,000 Whiting Award will allow her to write full time and, hopefully, complete her second book. Then it will be time to find a teaching position and, perhaps, move again.