The following piece was written by Hanna S. Khosravi, a 16-year old Kurdish American. Hanna is a Junior at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California. Hanna is the Op-Ed Editor for The Talon, the Los Altos High School newspaper. She is interested in History, Journalism, Music, and World Affairs.
Op-Ed: To Stand Before Death
By Hanna Khosravi
It has been said that the Kurdish people have “no friends but the mountains.”
The Kurdish region and its people, divided amongst the Middle Eastern countries of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey, have come to develop a rich culture of freedom fighting and liberal spirit. Their continuous struggle for autonomy and their open-minded cultural grounding in the face of regional tyranny has led to their persecution throughout history, and the jagged creations of borders and barriers post-World War I have made Kurdish sovereignty practically impossible.
However, the Kurds are now gaining recognition for their organized, Western-styled government in their semi-autonomous region of Iraq, one which President Barack Obama has told the New York Times is “functional the way we’d like to see.” The Kurds have not only proven to be an American ally, but have also proven their determination and bravery to the rest of the world in their current and monumental fight against the Islamic extremist group ISIS.
The Kurds, the defenders of the Middle East, deserve people’s support as they put their lives on the line on a daily basis. A culture without a state, the Kurdish people have proven that they are more than worthy of a Kurdish nation and of their autonomy.
Diplomatic Support for the Kurds
Many argue that Kurdish independence will be a lost cause. Not only will too many die for the effort, but the new Kurdish nation would be exposed to immense peril, as it would be geographically landlocked by the nations of the prior perpetrators. Although the U.S. is trying its hardest to create peace within the Middle East, many believe that completely devoted support of the Kurdish nationalist movement would only lead to further regional discord.
The Kurdish people, however, have proved time and time again that they deserve their own nation. If not for anything else, their defense of the Middle East in the wake of ISIS’ brutality warrants them diplomatic support. The Kurds should be entitled to fundamental human rights as they are one of the only cultural groups in the Middle East that endorses cultural liberalism and tolerance. Until then, they continue to serve as the protectors of the region.
From the start of their mission to establish autonomy, the Kurds have faced subjugation in the more conservative and Islamist Middle East due to their broad-minded belief system. They advocate for tolerant methods of organization, seen especially in their use of female militia forces. This, alongside the progression towards equal stature of women in Kurdish government, proves their enlightened idealism in a region that often marginalizes women to a callous extent.
Women in Kurdistan
The Kurdish YPJ, an acronym which translates to “Women’s Protection Unit,” has been extremely influential in the fight against ISIS. Most Westerners automatically associate the Middle East with governmental laws and restrictions against females, such as a woman’s inability to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, or the consistent enforcement of the traditional “hijab” outfit, which covers all of a woman’s head except for her face, in countries like Iran.
However, seeing the effect of the YPJ in the face of ISIS was both shocking and refreshing. When the prominent Kurdish city of Mahabad in Iran was granted partial autonomy in 1945, it immediately encouraged women to participate in politics and to get an education (the rights were quickly reproached by the Iranian government.) Kurdistan’s lack of discrimination against women, and cultural and religious minorities, has made its people an important fixture in Middle Eastern politics and has also brought to mind how prosperous a country it could be if afforded freedom and independence.
Furthermore, the Kurds have allied themselves with the West and have proven their admiration for American customs and choices. Many Kurds emphasize the friendship between the U.S. and Kurdish people, and are generally thought to be pro-Western, democratic, secular and economically prosperous. Kurds look up to Americans as their model for political success. Their admiration of the West and their liberal ways of thinking have brought them to the forefront of American attention, and should serve as a crucial factor in the ultimate fate of the Kurdish region.
Iraqi Kurdistan: A Safe Haven for Refugees
The Kurdish Region of Iraq has come to serve as a safe haven where those who are threatened by ISIS’ brutality are protected by Kurdish sovereignty. The unprejudiced Kurdish culture is home to many religions, thus making it the ideal candidate to have stood up to ISIS through the defense of many different minorities such as the Christian Yazidis. When ISIS threatened Mount Sinjar, a region of Iraq which consists of many Christian Yazidis, the Kurds came to the rescue. Because of their Christian faith, the Yazidis have been consistent victims of ISIS’ violence, such as the massacre to their homeland on Mount Sinjar. With the support of American air power, the Kurdish army was able to celebrate a victory by ending ISIS’ siege of the area. Those Yazidis have now been airlifted to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they are sheltered and comforted by the Peshmerga forces and the Kurdish government. The Kurds’ determination to achieve justice and peace for themselves and other minorities signals their power and their worthiness of what they have wanted most for over a century: independence.
The Kurdish people are and always have been freedom fighters, asking for fundamental human rights and an end to savage repression. The voice of the Kurds, silenced throughout history by dictatorial backlash and gruesome, bloody violence, must finally be heard. Massoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, said, “The time has come to decide our fate, and we should not wait for other people to decide it for us.”
As a dark horse of the Middle East, the Kurdish people have stood against genocides and countless acts of colossal brutality. The United States and other Western governments fighting against the Islamic State should acknowledge the Kurdish people, their rights in the Middle East, and their quest for autonomy. A culture deserving of justice, the Kurdish people must finally be able to have more friends than just the mountains in which they have fought for freedom for so long.