Well-known for its country music culture, Nashville also boasts another lesser-known claim to fame — it is the home to America’s largest population of Kurdish Americans.
Finding Refuge in Nashville
With the help of several refugee resettlement programs, most of the Kurds in Nashville arrived in the early 1990’s, after fleeing from Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaigns and in the mid 1990’s, during the Kurdish civil war.
Today, it is estimated that up to 13,000 Kurdish Americans live in Nashville. It is said that the temperate weather and proximity of mountains reflects the geography and climate of the Kurdish homeland in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
In an interview with Public Radio International (PRI), Remziya Suleyman, a 29-year-old community organizer who grew up in the area, describes an area, south of Nashville, referred to as “Little Kurdistan.”
At the center of “Little Kurdistan” is a mosque, one of the first structures built when the Kurds arrived. Around the mosque, Kurdish Americans have opened businesses that range from Kurdish bakeries, shops, and jewelry stores. There’s also a large international marketplace called the Azadi International Food Market.
History of Kurdish Americans in Nashville
The first Kurdish refugees settled in Nashville thanks to the help of the Catholic Charities of Tennessee. These Kurds came to the United States in 1976, after Saddam Hussein sought revenge on an attempted Kurdish rebellion in Iraq.
The second group of Kurds arrived in Nashville after fleeing the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The Kurds in Iran who opposed the theocratic system of government proposed by Ayatollah Khomeini fled instead of facing harsher retribution.
The third group of Kurds came to Nashville in the early 1990’s to escape Saddam’s Kurdish genocide, also known as the Anfal campaign. As Iraqi Kurds fled northern Iraq, the United States relocated thousands of these refugees to Nashville.
The most recent group of Kurds arrived between 1996 and 1997, escaping the bloody Kurdish civil war that broke out between the main Iraqi Kurdish political parties, the KDP and PUK.
Response to ISIS
After the conflict with ISIS broke out in Iraqi Kurdistan, members of the Kurdish community in Nashville have rallied support for their loved ones fighting for the Peshmerga and serving in the Kurdistan Regional Government.
In her interview with PRI, Suleyman said, “There is definitely mourning. I think our community is on edge. We are concerned about the safety and security of all of our loved ones. But I think it’s difficult that we are so far away and we can’t be there.”
She’s leading a call for volunteers in Nashville to help sort and pack donations for a humanitarian aid campaign. It’s called “All for Kurdistan.”[Read more and listen to the radio interview at PRI]