Kurds Have No Friends But The Mountains

By Idan Pink-Avidani

The Kurds are presented in the media as props in a play called “The militant Islamic violence and its horrors in the Middle East”, But the story of the Kurdish people is much more than part of a scenery or cannon fodder in ISIS’s exhibit of horror, and much more relevant to us Israelis. Idan Pink-Avidani, second generation to a Jewish-Kurdish family, writes about the history of the Jewish Kurds and the obligation to act human

 Kurds have no friends but the mountains.

Dear friends and whoever is reading this. Please stop posting negative news and instead pray for #Peshmarga and have faith in God. We Kurds never harmed any nation and never asked for something which was not our right. We only struggle for our own rights,we only fought to protect our children and women. We never had support from anyone. Not any nation. Let’s all pray and ask God to protect us and our peshmarga. Let’s stop acting like we know what’s going on coz we simply don’t. Let’s stop acting like politicians and analyze and post things on Facebook. Instead let’s stay humans and pray. Let’s stay humans and help our families in shangal who fled away from their home. Let’s simply look up there to the sky and ask HIM for peace. He never rejects a request.

We are a peaceful nation,who opened it’s arms to protect those who never made a small effort to support us,because KURDS are humans. Let’s stay humans.

You are not helping by making people terrified.

#pray#for #peshmarga

This is what my friend Huda from Irbil-Hawler, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan, wrote on her Facebook page last week following another deadly attack by ISIS forces that caused hundreds of thousands of Yezidis to flee to the mountains, where many of them died of hunger and thirst, praying for rescue.

This moving text represents for me the essence of the Kurdish people and their struggle for independence: solidarity of shared destiny that deletes internal political disputes, a strong need of faith, and utter disbelief in others but themselves.

Since ISIS-Daash has entered our conscious and lives in the Middle East, we find ourselves following the atrocities that this horrific organization is committing through the eyes and explanations of professional security commentators in the media who analyze the situation in Iraq from a distant security perspective. The Kurds are presented by them as props in a play called “the militant Islamic violence and its horrors in the Middle East”, while most of us do not really understand what is going on and do not know that the story of the Kurdish people is much more than part of a scenery or cannon fodder in ISIS’s exhibit of horror, and much more relevant to us Israelis- people of the Jewish nation living with certain independence in Zion.

Yazidi Refugee

Yazidi Refugee

The phrase “Kurds have no friends but the mountains” was coined by Molla Mustafa Barzani, the great and the undisputed leader of the Kurdish people, who fought  all his life for the independence of Kurdistan and was the first president of the Kurdish autonomy. The Barzani family today continues his legacy: his son, Massoud Barzani, is the current president and other family members hold key positions in the administration.

Kurdistan is a mountainous region, fertile and beautiful. Due to the terrain, for many years the Kurdish people lived in relative detachment from the rest of of the Middle East and managed to preserve ancient cultures that have disappeared from the world. The Yazidi minority we hear about in the news is not the only minority of which the Kurdish people consist. The Jews of Kurdistan, for example, maintained the tradition of ancient Judaism from the days of the Babylonian exile and the first temple; they kept the tradition of teaching the Oral Torah; and Aramaic which was the language of the majority of the Jewish people at the time of the Talmud remained the principal tongue of some of the Jewish Kurdish communities. They preserved the legacy of the last prophets whose grave markers constituted a significant part in community life. Those included the grave of the prophet Jonah in Mosul, grave of the prophet Nahum in Elkosh, and the grave of the prophet Daniel in Kirkuk. When the vast majority of Kurdish Jews immigrated to Israel and adopted the Hebrew language as a first language, Aramaic ceased to exist in the world as a living, spoken language. Although the generation of our grandparents still speak it together with a few Christian communities who live in Kurdistan, Aramaic is declared a dead language by the academic world today.

It seems as if the Kurds have always been persecuted by other nations and lived under foreign occupation. Although certain processes of urbanization in recent centuries, the mountains were and remain the safe zone for the Kurdish people.  The Kurdish resistance movement grew out of the mountains and until today, they are the only ones who can survive and fight in this tough terrain. In the last century, the Kurds of northern Iraq lived under the Iraqi-Arab occupation. During Saddam Hussein’s Realm, thousands of Kurds were slaughtered and towns and villages were erased to the ground. I remember my grandparents following the news in Kurdistan at the time with great concern while the eyes of the world were focused on Baghdad and interests of oil and imperialism.

The Jewish Kurdish community has always been tied together, and like other ethnic communities that were thrown into the Zionist melting pot, previous cultural relations with it’s neighbors were cut off. When I, second generation in Israel to immigrants from Kurdistan, started to maintain contact with the Kurds from there, I was surprised to discover how similar we are. I was expecting a certain disapproval on the mere fact that I am Jewish, just out of solidarity with their Muslim brothers in Palestine, but I found that for the Kurdish people, their national identity is a thousand times more important than their religious one. Although most of the Kurds in the world today are Sunni Muslims, for them I was first and foremost Kurdish, and only after that Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Yazidi.

Simply from familiarizing myself with the non-Jewish Kurds, I found that I could better understand the culture of my ancestors. I also realized the heavy price that each of us had to pay from across other sides of the Middle East in the last 60 years: We the Kurdish Jews managed to gain a certain level of security and independence while accomplishing the fundamental right to self-determination, but at a high price of giving up a culture that we managed to maintain for thousands of years. Traditions of 3,000 years were lost in the melting pot and in the process of the creation of a new Israeli identity. Today, out of the 200,000 Jewish Kurds who live in the country, the vast majority of them do not speak Aramaic or Karmanji. In some of the synagogues the prayers are sung in Kurdish style, in some Kurdish weddings they dance with  Dohulh and Zurna and many still eat Kubea on Friday, but the magnificent culture is largely framed as history or folklore.

In contrast, the Kurds in Kurdistan have preserved their culture, but paid a heavy price in a form of years of suffering, genocide and atrocities that we (thankfully) did not have to experience. They told me of the great escape to the mountains in the 90’s, the total destruction of towns and villages, the fear of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons, and the humanitarian aid parachuted to them from planes so they could survive. I remember in particular the description of packages with flour that fell apart before landing on the ground, while the anxious Kurds stare at the white powder, confident that it was the chemical weapon which was about to destroy them.

Even after all these horrors, the world is not yet convinced that the Kurds deserve independence. We are already familiar with the hypocrisy of the Western world but why is there no one in the Middle East that raises up in their defense? The simple answer is: they are not Arab. The More complex answer is: political and geographical interests. When we talk about Kurdistan we generally refer to southern Turkey, northeast Syria, northern Iraq and western Iran. None of these countries are willing to give up these territories for the sake of independence for the Kurdish minority in their territory, especially considering that in some cases they consist of major reservoirs of oil and natural resources.

While the world keeps silent in face of the horrors that are carried in Kurdistan today, just as they kept silent during the genocide perpetrated by Saddam Hussein at the time, my Facebook feed is full of photos of vigils and support protests organized by Kurds living outside Kurdistan. While the Arab League is committed (at least on paper) to a Palestinian independence, it continues to oppose the independence of Kurdistan.

Kurdistan’s strongest ally is the United States.  It is the US that helped establishing Kurdish autonomy after the take down of Saddam Hussein, and is now helping slightly, mainly with humanitarian assistance and specific attacks (those that look sufficiently justified in the eyes of Americans who live safely in the United States, far enough to be concerned of further entanglement in the Middle East).

But with all due respect to the desire not get involved again in another war that is not theirs, America can not remove it’s direct responsibility from the mess and disaster that is happening in the region. It is the US that armed the Iraqi army, which abandoned it’s positions and allowed ISIS to lay their hands on more advanced weaponry than the Kurdish Peshmerga which are forbidden to arm themselves. USA, the “leader of the free world”, went to war without hesitation hundreds of thousands of miles from home in order to protect the interests of oil and energy, and now, when this decision results in genocide, they are cautious and ready to defend only the institutions of the American consulate in Irbil. There is no end to hypocrisy.

But we are not citizens of the United States, but citizens of Israel and part of the Jewish people. We must not close our eyes to a persecuted minority that is undergoing genocide, we must not forget that as Jews we survived a genocide very recently. After the establishment of the state of Israel, the Kurds remain the largest minority in the world without a state. Kurdistan is not in the back of beyond, it’s a total of a two hour flight from us, much closer than the Far East where we did not hesitate to help the tsunami disaster, and closer than Haiti, Kenya, and other places where we have invested many resources to help. The state of Israel that is careful not to interfere in Syria for fear of diplomatic entanglement, must not fear from entanglement in Kurdistan. There is no fear to get in trouble with the Arab League, as the Arab League is against them. There is no fear to get in trouble with Turkey since our relations with them have never been worse.  There is no fear to get in trouble with the United States. 

The common Israeli ignorance about what is happening in the Middle East and the general sentiment that “the whole world, especially the Middle East is against us” cause us all to miss the similarity between the Jewish people and the Kurdish people. For the Kurds living in Israel it is very clear: for years they lived under Iraqi occupation. If you ask them, they will tell you that the mindset changed between Jews and others in Iraq that led to mass immigration in ‘51-52 did not come from the Muslim Kurds, but from the Iraqis.

Many do not know that the Kurdish community in Israel just like Kurdish exiles in the rest of the world, are in touch with Kurdistan. When Molla Mustafa Barzani led the persistent Kurdish struggle for independence, the whole world saw them as an illegitimate guerrilla organization. The enlightened Western world saw a Kurdish independence as a threat to its political and economic interests in the Middle East.

It was the late Haviv Shimoni z”l that founded the organization of Kurdish Jews in Israel who held a close and personal relationship with Barzani and made sure that Israel helps the Kurds in their struggle for independence. Today, his nephew Yehuda Ben Yosef is the chairman of the organization and continues in that vein the connection and solidarity with the Kurds.

Demonstration in front of the american embassy in Tel Aviv, 13/08/14

Demonstration in front of the american embassy in Tel Aviv, 13/08/14

Like other Kurds in exile, we held a vigil in front of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. We demanded of the United States of America not to be satisfied with specific humanitarian assistance. In today’s era, the horrific videos of executions are delivered to us almost live, with them we witness also our cultural heritage being erased. I watched the destruction of the grave of the prophet Jonah in Mosul in horror, when slowly the understanding swept that we are dealing with people who have lost their humanity and are out to destroy an entire people and their culture from the face of the world.

Now it is our time to turn to the Israeli government. As ordinary citizens we raised a voice – but it’s not enough. I call upon our Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Minister of Defense: This is not a time for diplomatic discussion, but for action. It’s time to take control and immediately respond to ISIS and the threat to Kurdistan which is a threat to us, our cultural heritage, and the non-Arab minority in the Middle East. We never forgave the world for its hesitation as they decided not to bomb the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Now it’s our turn. We must not hesitate: We have the means, we have the ability, and we have a moral obligation not to stand idly by.

Idan Pink-Avidani is an Israeli educational tour guide and social activist.

This post was first published in Hebrew on Haokets

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