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‘Peace of heaven’: Businessman builds Little Kurdistan in California

This article originally appeared in Rudaw.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A Kurdish businessman who fled his native Turkey has found peace in California’s Napa Valley where he has a winery and cooks traditional food.

Mehmet Siddik Torun was born in 1957 in Bingol, Turkey. He supported the Social Democratic Party (SODEP), a secular party with close ties to Kurds.

He says he left the country because of persecution for his political work.

“I left Turkey because [authorities] disturbed us two times on the grounds that we collected clothes and shoes for Barzani people and gave a ride to a Kurdish politician, Orhan Dogan,” he told Rudaw English.

Orhan Dogan was arrested in 1994 for political reasons. Amnesty International considered him a prisoner of conscience.

Barzani people refers to Kurdish refugees from present day Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq who fled to Turkey in the early 1990s.

Torun volunteered to help lead the effort to collect donations of clothes, blankets, and shoes for the refugees.

Authorities found business cards of Torun in the pockets of PKK guerrillas – putting him into trouble.

An influential business friend helped Torun leave Turkey and make it to the United States in 2002.

He bought a forest in Napa Valley, California in the same year, and has planted on 43.19 acres so far. The former owners said it would be impossible for Torun to convert the forest into a place visited by millions of people.

But Torun persevered, with the support of his wife Naciye, and established what he calls a ‘Little Kurdistan.’

At the entrance to his winery, a Kurdistan flag waves alongside the American flag, something Torun describes an individual freedom “as allowed by the US government.”

In addition to serving Kurdish traditional dishes, he has set up monuments to Kurdish leaders such as Mullah Mustafa Barzani and Qazi Muhammad who both led the short-lived Kurdistan Republic in Mahabad, and celebrities like Ahmet Kaya who was famous for his patriotic songs.

He has also marked out the geographical sites of greater Kurdistan such as Erbil (Hewler), Diyarbakir (Amed), Rojhelat (Iranian Kurdistan), and the self-proclaimed Rojava administration in northern Syria.

“I want Kurds to come together like brothers. They should not be divided by saying Rojava Kurd, Bakur Kurd, Bashur Kurd, or that Kurd, or this Kurd,” said Torun.

Torun arranges an International Kurdish Mulberry Festival every year. This year’s edition was held last May under the slogan: “Experience a little peace of heaven in the hills. Meet our friendly animals and taste fresh home cooked meals from Kurdish cuisines.”

This article was originally published in Rudaw.

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