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David Martinez Back In Iraq
David Martinez has gone back to Iraq to continue his documentation of the US occupation and the new struggle of the Iraqi people to survive post-"war".
Blues for Kurdistan
We blow through Turkey in one day by car and plane, flying over the eastern regions’ snowy mountains…it looks beautiful down there and I want to return some day and see more. But not this trip, we only stop for lunch in TK, historically the capital of Kurdistan, and then we are into a car headed east,
passing ancient towns built on hills that poke up from the green plains. We cross the border at Zakhu, into Iraqi Kurdistan, spend the night there and then go to Erbil.
The area is beautiful, with rolling hills and wide rivers swollen with snowmelt, craggy mountains looming behind capped with snow. The people here look more Central Asian, with wide windblown faces and red smiles, the men wearing the
billowing pants tied with wide sashes that are the traditional outfit of the Kurds. They remind me of Palestinians in their pride and welcoming spirit. “You are American? You are welcome in Kurdistan.” The area has enjoyed a decade of
semi-autonomy, with its own armed forces and passport controls, and has a sense of tranquility and happiness that is the polar opposite of Baghdad’s misery and social chaos.
The Kurds I meet also all tell me that they love America. “Bush, America, Kurdistan, Sadeeq (friend)!” This is of course because the U.S. got rid of their hated enemy Saddam Hussein. We don’t try and explain to them the fallacy
of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” rationale, and that they have been aided by the U.S. strictly for its own self-serving political interests.
The city of Erbil has a citadel in its center, perched on a high hill like the towns we passed on the way here. I suppose it’s the best way to defend against marauding Turk or Mongol armies. The citadel itself is 4,000 years old, and inside there is an old neighborhood where children fly kites made of plastic
bags in the winds that blow in out of the purple sky. The women in Kurdistan are even more beautiful than their Arab counterparts.
Language here is very politicized. It reminds me of Aceh, where speaking in the local dialect is held in utmost importance. In Erbil, you say “Shpaz”, Kurdish
for thank you instead of the Arabic “Shukran”, and if you don’t, people will not take kindly to you. The Kurds are fiercely proud, and their language is a huge part of their identity.
They are the largest stateless people in the world, numbering thirty million souls, and spread over more than four countries. Only Iraqi Kurdistan has achieved any kind of autonomy, and that only due to the ruthless political mongering of the United States, Turkey, and Iraq. I still hope that in the future, as the various entities struggle for control of Iraq and its environs,
that the Kurds are able to maintain some degree of self-determination.
The problem is one of colonialism. Colonizing powers have consistently used ethnic minorities as a way to maintain power in their seized properties. For example, the English used the Gurkhas and the Sikhs to police the Indians, and
capitalized on the difference between Hutus and Tutsis to control Rwanda. Now the Americans are exacerbating the tensions between Shia, Kurds, and Sunna in order to keep Iraq fragmented and more controllable.
Whenever I saw a Shia demonstration in Baghdad, there were people carrying placards that denounced “Federalism”. In other words, the Shia claim that they do not want anything but one united Iraq, one country, under one government.
But they will of course win any election, being the majority of the population. So where does this leave the Kurds, or for that manner, the Sunna? Iraq is a post-colonial construction, hacked out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire by
the British in the early part of the murderous Twentieth Century. Does that mean Iraq should remain “one country”, up for grabs to an almost accidental “majority”?
The Kurds have no friends, as the well-known book on the subject is entitled, but the mountains. I for one hope that they are able to maintain some kind of regional autonomy, a la the different regions of Spain, whatever comes out of the imperial chaos that is Iraq today. And I do not believe for a second that
Sustani’s Shia party will grant them anything like that, should they gain power, just as I am almost certain Sustani will impose Shariah Law at the first chance available.
After only two days in Erbil, with a day trip to Kirkuk to interview U.S. Army engineers, we hire a taxi driver to take us south to Baghdad. As we hit the highway, he pops a tape into his stereo and again tells us how much the Kurds love George Bush, as the car is filled with the wailing strains of the Kurdish blues.