KURDS AND RELIGION

“People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.”
~ Dave Barry.

I wonder, sometimes, why certain things make it into the media, while more important things don’t. I saw just such an article last week. I didn’t think it was important enough to write about but I suspected certain quarters would definitely comment on it, and they have started to do so.

I am referring to an article from The Washington Times, titled “‘Good news’ from northern Iraq”.

About the whole question of Saddam’s WMDs being sent to Syria, speculation about that was going around in Kurdish circles way back in 2003, so it’s not news. About Georges Sada, who knows and does it matter? The guy claims to have said the things he said to the Ba’athi, and to Saddam and to Qusay, and he survived? That’s one for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. I have only two words about this: Khidir Hamza.

Enough said.

On to the part of this that really concerns me, and that is the subject of Christians, and other minorities, in Kurdistan. The subject of Christians in Kurdistan is not new. Neçirvan Barzanî had an interview with Michael Rubin in the autumn of 2002, before the war, when no one was too concerned about Christians or anybody else in the region. In a reply to a question about Turkmen, Assyrian, Chaldean and Armenian status in South Kurdistan, this is what Neçirvan said in reply:

There is no thought of or need for reconciliation as there is no dispute between the communities. The great majority of Turkmen here support and participate in the democratic experiment of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. That support and participation is evident through their involvement in all areas of the Kurdistan Regional Government and in the local community. Turkmen practice the freedoms that are afforded the people of the region in general. Furthermore, the region’s efforts to establish a civil society in which Turkmen as well as Kurds, Assyrians, and Chaldeans participate are actively supported by all communities. This is a willing and voluntary participation by the great majority of the people in the region with the aim of creating a better future for all.

As with any other group of people on earth, including Christians, there are idiots who engage in individual acts of discrimination, and Neçirvan admits that, too, in the interview. More recently, there was an article on KurdishMedia by a Christian from South Kurdistan, in which he remembers that under the Ba’ath regime, Kurds and Christians fought together against a common enemy, from before the time of the Ba’ath. Actually, none of that is news either, but it is common knowledge among Kurds and Christians in South Kurdistan.

Michael Totten recently completed a visit to South Kurdistan, and he mentioned the subject of Christians:

Arab Christians from the south and the center of Iraq are actually given money and housing by the KRG if they move north. Insisting on a purely Kurdish region or a purely Muslim one is the last thing on the establishment’s mind. What they want is geographic federalism or sovereignty. And they need as many well-educated, competent, and trustworthy people as they can find. They don’t care about race, and they don’t care about religion. They are concerned strictly with numbers and security. It’s just that some groups are more trusted than others. Arab Christians will never join an Islamist jihad, as everyone knows. And the Kurds trust Arab Christians not to join the Baath either. Arab Muslims can and do move north to Kurdistan as well, but they need approval from the KRG and they are not given incentives.

I can confirm Totten’s information myself. Last year, I happened to visit the Christian (Catholic) church in Ainkawa a couple of days after the election of the new pope. I was curious about the opinions of the Ainkawa Christians on this matter, as well as their general opinions about life in Kurdistan after the war. I was fortunate enough to arrive at the church while one of their charitible organizations was arriving for a meeting, and they were gracious enough to talk to me over tea. What Michael Totten wrote is the truth. The KRG does subsidize Christian refugees from Arab Iraq, while the Christians of Ainkawa help to find housing for newly arrived families–no easy task in a place where housing is at a critical shortage for everyone, including Muslim Kurds. The Christians of Ainkawa also check up on the refugee families to make sure they are all right, are settling in and are not cheating the charitible organization or the KRG.

The church runs its own school and is free to teach any subjects unique to the Christian community, which is a good thing because the town is teeming with young people. They have the freedom to preserve their unique culture and religion, something which, for example, Muslim Turks deny Muslim Kurds.

On one of my road trips with friends, we had the pleasure of the company of a Berwarî tribesman, who wanted to act as our guide through his tribal area. I’ll call him, Azad. Azad also happened to be a veteran KDP pêşmerge, who had spent most of his life fighting the Ba’ath. We went through many tiny villages in the northern part of Dohuk governorate. Some of the villages happened to be Muslim, some happened to be Christian, some happened to be mixed, where one could view both mosque and church only a few hundred yards away from each other. All of these villages are now quiet and peaceful, far more so than anything I have encountered in the States, or anywhere else for that matter.

In one Christian village, as we stopped to take in the view and listen to Azad reminisce, children brought us glasses of cold water to drink, no different than the Muslim Kurdish children who immediately appeared with cold water from Shanadar Cave, after a friend and I made the hike up the mountain to see the cave.

Going through another village, an Armenian village, on the way to visit some old friends of Azad, we had to stop the car numerous times because the villagers saw Azad, and had to have a moment to chat with him. He had been a familiar face in the area for many years, fighting to protect everyone from a common enemy, regardless of whether they were Christians or Muslims, Armenians, Chaldeans or Kurds. The relationships between Azad and the people of the area were born during times of violence, when life or death loomed large for everyone, and everyone helped everyone else to survive. Nothing about these relationships is superficial, and that is, perhaps, the greatest thing about Kurdistan.

Another religious group can be added to the Muslim/Christian mix: the Yezidis. The holiest site of the Yezidis, Laliş, where Şêx Adî is buried, is not far from Dohuk. We decided to go to Laliş one day. We took off our shoes and socks before getting out of the car, as the Yezidis require that one go barefoot on their sacred grounds. We went freely through the temple, we inquired about the large, outdoor vats for storing olive oil, which is used to burn lamps, we drank the water as we exited the temple. Again, it was quiet, peaceful and beautiful.

Throughout the area, there are Yezidi villages and mixed villages. Dohuk itself is mixed and the next largest mixed town is Ain Sifne. As you come down into the town from the north, you can see mosques, churches and Yezidi temples, as their profiles reach into the sky above the town’s other buildings. After a day on the road, this is a good place to stop and buy a beer and a few bags of pistachios, as I and my friends, a carload of Muslim Kurds, did. This will help to tide you over until you get to the little restaurant on the road between Baadre and Dohuk, and your kebabs are served to you with plenty of warm nan.

The only thing lacking, which would make South Kurdistan complete, are the Kurdish Jews.

We spent a few days in Silêmanî, to see the sights and visit an old friend of one of my Dohukî friends. We had the honor of hearing his father, a tribal chief from Xanaqîn, speak about his history. He is a great one, who began to resist the Baghdad government in the 1950’s, fought under Barzanî Namirî, and later became a distinguished pêşmerge of the PUK. One of the things this great one wished to do, was to be reunited with his boyhood friends, friends who had left Kurdistan in 1948 to go to Israel. After so many decades, so many battles, so many hardships, this man fondly remembered the Jewish neighbors he grew up with, and longed to see them again.

What was that that Michael Totten said? “They don’t care about race, and they don’t care about religion. They are concerned strictly with numbers and security.”

Uh, yep. That’s about the size of it.

It seems that Masud Barzanî has no objection to a political relationship with the Israelis. Last June, UPI reported Barzanî saying that when an Israeli embassy would open in Baghdad, he would invite the Israelis to open a consulate in Hewlêr. More recently, Barzanî reiterated that sentiment, from the Hewlêr Globe:

“I wonder why we are always obsessed with this. The Israelis are present in all Arab countries and it is regarded as normal… We are a part of Iraq. We will let an Israeli consulate open in Erbil whenever an Israeli embassy opens in Baghdad,” Kurdish President Massoud Barzani commenting on possible Israeli-Kurdish relations during his visit to Kuwait.

From that same page, an editorial on the matter states:

It is almost a common agenda of those leftists of regional countries and Europe as well as radical Islamic groups to accuse southern Kurds of being puppets of Israel.

[ . . . ]

There is neither any logic nor any sense behind this shallow indictment. The Kurds as an oppressed nation have all the right to enter into relations with any regional or international powers. As long as these relations are based on Kurdish national interests, nobody has the right to accuse the Kurds for being pawns of those powers.

[ . . . ]

The KRG not only has the right to do so, but it should also have relations with Israel as long as this relation serves the Kurdish interests. If the Muslim Clerics, or other groups are sensitive towards Israel, they should also question the other Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel. It would be advisable for the Kurdish leadership not to bind themselves with Baghdad on this issue. Baghdad may or may not have relations with Israel, but the Kurds should look for their own interests first.

Hypothetically, should Iraq declare war on Israel, would the Kurds have to follow the Arabs? The Israeli-Arab conflict is primarily an issue between the Arabs and Israelis; the Kurds do not have to take part in this conflict. The Muslim Clerics’ sensitivity on Israel is hypocrisy. Should they worry about their Muslim brothers’ treatment by Israel, why have they never displayed the same sensitivity over the Muslim Kurds’ treatment by other fellow Muslim countries like Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq?

Exactly so. And let me say that the words applied here to the Muslim Clerics, also apply to any and all non-Kurdistani Christians as well. To get an idea of what I mean, you can check some of the comments posted here. I really think there’s whole lot of that “white man’s burden” kind of thing going on with some of those people, which is too bad, especially considering that Western Christians didn’t care what happened to Christians under Saddam. Think about it, does anyone remember hearing anything in the West about Christians under Saddam while Saddam was still in power?

Whether anyone likes it or not, it’s long past time that Kurds considered Kurdish interests. That’s called “politics.” In the meantime, we should all think long and hard about who really needs whom in the Middle East [Hint: Who was the second most numerous ally in the Operation Iraqi Freedom coalition? And they weren’t Christians.].

There’s one other little item that I want to add before I forget. And it would be very easy to forget this because I have only seen one little AP report on it:

Report: Missile Parts, ‘Dual-Use’ Materials Illegally Shipped to Iran Through Turkey

Friday , May 26, 2006

ANKARA, Turkey — An Iranian-owned company, based in Turkey, has illegally shipped alleged guided missile parts as well as “dual use” nuclear-related material to Iran, including high-strength aluminum tubes, according to a recent Turkish government report obtained by The Associated Press on Friday.

The company imported the material to Turkey, the supposed end-user, from dozens of firms around the world, including the United States, and then shipped them to Iran apparently after falsifying documents to hide the nature of the material, customs inspectors said in the report dated May 12.

Turkish authorities would not comment on the report, which was first published by Cumhuriyet and Milliyet newspapers Friday. A government official provided a copy of the report to the AP.

The rest of the report is here.

The silence over this little nugget is deafening, isn’t it? But I am not at all surprised that Turkey is playing this little game with the US and Iran. Count Pakistan in on these kinds of arrangements too. In 2005, the Prime Ministers of both countries met in order to discuss, among other things, defence industy cooperation. Apparently both countries were unhappy with their relationships with the US, and were failing in other alliances. Some analysts seemed to believe that joint defence cooperation would allow Pakistan to access NATO technology through Turkey. If Pakistan can do that, and has a history of selling nuclear information to Iran, what’s to stop them, and Turkey, from cooperating with Iran on further nuclear developments? Both Turkey and Iran claim they only want peaceful, energy-related nuclear technology.

With allies like that, who needs enemies?

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