Nashville, Tennessee — home to the largest Kurdish population in the United States— is also home to America’s first Kurdish police officer, a 26-year old by the name of Jiyayi Suleyman. This is his story.
From Kurdish Refugee to Kurdish Cop
Jiyayi Suleyman grew up in America, but is originally from a small village in Iraqi Kurdistan. His father was a Peshmerga fighter in the 1980’s, and his uncle is still a ranking official in the Peshmerga forces.
Jiyayi means “mountaineer” in Kurdish. Jiyayi says he was given that name because he was born in the mountains after his family was forced to flee from the Kurdish genocide in Iraq.
Suleyman and his family were refugees during the First Gulf War and were brought to the United States by several churches in Nashville, TN. His family, along with many other Kurdish families, arrived in the Nashville in 1991.
While Nashville has the largest Kurdish population in the United States, during Jiyayi’s childhood, there were no Kurdish police officers. Suleyman wanted to join the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department to break down traditions and build a bridge between the police department and the Kurdish immigrant community.
Setting an Example for Young Kurds
Suleyman wanted to be a role model for young Kurds in his community. Many young Kurds in Nashville were turning to a life of crime and drugs by joining the local Kurdish Pride Gang — a gang that consisted of young Kurds whose parents were from war torn parts of Kurdistan.
Today, Suleyman patrols some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Nashville. Yemenis and other Middle Easterners who run liquor stores and other convenience stores in these neighborhoods are forced to carry guns in an effort to prevent theft. Suleyman says that having a Kurdish police officer on patrol puts these folks at ease, as he is Muslim and from the Middle East.
When asked why he doesn’t patrol the Kurdish neighborhoods, Suleyman said it would be tricky to patrol his own Kurdish community. Since everybody knows everybody, he wants to avoid mixing his personal and professional life by getting stuck in a difficult situation. With that said, Suleyman still gets calls from neighbors asking for advice about legal situations ranging from domestic disputes to parking tickets.
Jiyayi recently returned to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he still a has deep ties, but he says he has no plans to leave the United States permanently. He has been a police officer with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department since 2012, and considers Nashville his home. He plans to raise his two sons in the same area that he serves.[To Read More Visit PRI]