Silencing Everyone in the Middle East out of Hate for One
“No friends but the mountains,” is the old Kurdish proverb that seems unable to be shaken off in Kurdish circles around the world. Perhaps it is so because there is more than what meets the eye, or the ears, when this proverb is heard again and again. The Kurds, considered a nuisance to many in the Middle East, are those destitute children of the region who have faced some of the harshest punishments meted out by their neighbors. They have been stripped of their names, identities, and language and their livelihoods have been bombed, gassed, poisoned and burned. And yet despite the magnitude of the crimes committed against the Kurds, many around the world still do not know they even exist. The Kurds are lost between the mountains and their calls for help often fall on deaf ears.
So what is it about the Kurds that makes so many view them as negligible?
After all, the Kurdish name surely was once revered at a time when a warrior by the name of Saladin raised an army that would recapture some of the Middle East’s most holiest places in the name of Islam. And even the West and its Crusaders with all their spite towards Saladin could not help but romanticize stories about the Kurdish Islamic leader who was said to show the utmost respect to his adversaries and who advocated unprecedented tolerance towards other religions – Judaism, Christianity – and their followers.
Today, we are in an age of rising nationalist sentiments; an age where strong nationalist ideologies of the Middle East leave no room for the Kurds. This is not new. The Kurds have been short of much luck for most of history, and before and after Saladin, had become subjects of the large empires that expanded into their mountains from the east and the west. Today, similar states have expanded into those mountains as the world’s strive for power persists. The difference is that today’s hunger for power is impartible from the strong feelings and connections with one’s own culture and heritage thereby rendering nationalist sentiments that disregard the rights of other nations.
A strong case can be made in favor of the Kurds when it is about inalienable rights of people. The Kurds have been subject to the same internal displacements and encroachment of their territories that pro-Palestinian activists have argued against when Israeli settlements are the topic. The Kurds have been stripped of their language, and in some several hundreds of thousands of cases, their citizenship and all the benefits that come with it, in countries like Turkey and Syria. They were dumped in mass graves across Turkey, and in Iraq where they fell victim to genocide. And Kurds are being killed, whether by the noose or by the bullet, on almost a daily basis in Iran mostly simply for speaking out in favor of the rights that they have been stripped of.
However, make no mistakes. In the words of the murdered Kurdish teacher, Farzad Kamangar, “The purpose of this [article] is not to pinpoint the problems of the Kurds and deny the inequalities that exist among the Baluchis, Turks, Persians, and Arabs,” or any other ethnic group that has been subjected to brutality in and outside of the Middle East.
The purpose is to express that the attention given to the plight of the Kurds is insufficient. In much of the Middle East’s mainstream political discourse, which has been plagued by the ultra-nationalist sentiments of today’s age, the words Kurds and Kurdistan imply anti-security connotations. Rather than hearing and heeding the calls about violations of human rights that are ongoing against Kurdish populations in the Middle East and that should and must be stopped, the audience of the discourse hears the security issues and the possible disintegration of their beloved Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran and makes that their concern. Such is the power of the propaganda machine manufactured by the states of Iran, Syria, Turkey and the old Iraq (and some elements of the new Iraq). To them, the Kurdish question is not a question at all. It’s an issue that must be solved with suppression.
This propaganda machine has not stopped short of diverting people’s attention away from the innocent Kurds being killed by states’ military and police to the Kurdish rebel groups fighting the various regimes. It has gone as far to manufacture lies to further nurture the anti-Kurdish sentiment that already exists. The Arab World is provided with fabrications to stir the peoples’ emotions against the Kurds by attempting to define the semi-autonomous rights of Kurds in Iraq as nothing more than an American project. It is unfortunate that many cannot see the fact that Kurdish rights to statehood in their native region should be no less than the right of Palestinians. And even if deprived of statehood, shouldn’t the Kurds be able to live free from the discrimination that they face in the countries they live in?
Middle Eastern media propagates a number of invented stories that generate anti-Kurdish sentiment that are beyond the scope of this article. Yet, despite what those stories are meant to do, Kurds are still fortunate to find those who believe in justice for all people, Kurdish or non-Kurdish. The MidEastYouth (MEY) has become a platform for all ethnic groups and nations of the Middle East to voice their opinions and address the pressing concerns of our shared subcontinent of the world. MEY has shown again and again that it is blind to the cultural and linguistic differences between peoples, and instead, has a sharp vision for the inequalities between peoples. MEY truly defends the rights of all people, regardless of their ethnic background, as a true activist would. And the Alliance for Kurdish Rights, and the Arabs, Kurds and others who have joined together to make it possible, has become a model of solidarity that can exist against tyranny if we are all willing to stand together and say enough is enough.
In the past few weeks, the Alliance for Kurdish Rights (AKR) – a site with a sole purpose of speaking out against the violations of Kurdish rights and with no political motivation whatsoever – was attacked by anti-Kurdish groups such as the so-called “Turkish Islamist Hack Team”. The site was subsequently brought down and the attacks then spread to MEY and the other affiliated website projects. Despite the fact that MEY serves ALL ethnic groups from the Middle East and North Africa and hosts a number of sites ranging from bloggers rights inspired by the killing of an Iranian blogger (OR318), Free Kareem! dedicated to an Egyptian activist, and a Israelis for Palestine website just to name a few, this did not deter anti-Kurdish groups from taking down everything affiliated with MEY just so the anti-Kurds’ main target, the Kurds, would be silenced.
MEY was one of many anti-Kurdish targets in the last several weeks. The non-profit and cultural Kurdish American Youth Organization’s website, cultural websites such as Kirmashan.com, and websites of online publications such as NetKurd and Kurdish Herald were also targeted and brought down. And many who followed and understood the attacks with great disappointment are struck again with the realization that such anti-Kurdish sentiment inspired by ultra-nationalist propaganda is alive and kicking well into the second decade of the 21st century. However, disappointment must not deter but strengthen our insistence that such racist attitudes are a thing of the past and that activists and others who believe in the rights to freedom and liberties for every person will not stand for inequality where ever it may exist. As all young voices of the Middle East were silenced by the attack on Kurdish Rights at MEY, we can learn that if we do not continue to speak out for everyone and try to rid our world of racism, we will all be silenced together.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (and what may be a more uplifting proverb to conclude with): “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”