Wow. This woman’s dedication to Kurdish culture is truly phenomenal. The article below (abridged for the blog) appeared in yesterday’s New York Times and outlines her life story and her work preserving Kurdish culture. Dr. Vera Beaudin Saeedpour’s aim in life is informing U.S. Americans of the existence and plight of the Kurdish people. Her library houses more than 2,000 volumes in numerous languages, as well as maps, newspapers, and rare documents.
THE HOME AS CULTURAL REFUGE
Original article from NYTimes by Deborah Baldwin
Vera Beaudin Saeedpour answered her door one night to find a neighbor with whom she had exchanged only a few words across the courtyard. He was a fellow student, a Kurd from Iran, carrying a cake and a bouquet. Soon afterward, they married; five years later, he died of leukemia.
“Nothing that happens to normal people happens to me,” Dr. Saeedpour said recently in her mildly melodramatic fashion, her gray-blue eyes lighting up as if witnessing an epiphany.
As tiny and intense as a shot of espresso, Dr. Saeedpour, 78, is one of those New Yorkers whose lives – funny, bitter, sorrowful and inspiring – begin to reveal themselves once you get inside their front door.
From the outside, her four-story corner house, at 144 Underhill Avenue in Prospect Heights, looks like countless Brooklyn brownstones: steps straight up to a formal entrance, with a second door tucked underneath; a wrought-iron wraparound fence swamped in ivy; a wisteria-laden patio visible in back. The top two floors are rented out, leaving plenty of room for Dr. Saeedpour to stage her highly personal rendition of Victorian Orientalism down below.
She bought the house to have space for what she describes as the first – and still the only – Kurdish library and museum in the United States. (It is open by appointment; the Web site is kurdishlibrarymuseum.com.) It’s a pro-bono enterprise, to say the least.
Dr. Saeedpour, who is nothing if not focused, took possession of the house, breaking open the parlor floor to create two airy rooms for her library-museum. She built a graceful alcove for her books set off by deep-purple damask draperies, and she organized Kurdish jewelry and garb in tall display cases and under glass. Dr. Saeedpour lives below the store, in a floor-through space where she sleeps, eats, tolerates an aging dog and five cats, and edits two scholarly journals dedicated to Kurdish affairs.
A Jew whose Russian grandparents somehow ended up in Barre, VT, Dr. Saeedpour became a scholar relatively late in life. She began what she called the Kurdish Program in 1981, piqued partly by the discrimination that her second husband, Homayoun Saeedpour, had endured and partly by a curiosity about a culture almost as tragic as her own.
“I’ve got this feeling for sadness,” she said, at once describing herself and paraphrasing her lugubrious Russian grandmother. And the Kurds? Don’t get her started.
She tracks their plight and predicaments at a computer tucked in a passageway, surrounded by photographs of family members and a Kurdish woman. “I love the old women in Kurdistan,” said Dr. Saeedpour, who visited Iran in 1992. “They survive through smarts.”
Although neighbors know her as the woman who organized a candlelight protest against the war in Iraq, these days she prefers to confront the world from her desk, using research and correspondence to raise questions that encompass American and Israeli foreign policy and the influence of political lobbies on mainstream academia.
Which brings her to one question that’s been nagging at her in recent years: Once she is no longer able to care for her museum and library, not to mention the dozens of boxed files stored on shelves in her basement, who will? “I want to know that it’s there for some scholar,” she said.
The full article can be found here on the NYTimes website.