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Who Are the Kurds?

October 24th, 2019 by dk

Few are defending President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. We are abandoning the Kurds, who have shouldered the greatest burdens in this long-term conflict. But blood is thicker than artillery lines, so we heard this week from the president’s daughter-in-law.

Lara Trump, a senior campaign adviser, offered this defense to Fox News host Shannon Bream this week: “I think we should start with the fact that if you ask the average American out there, I think they would have to Google ‘Who are the Kurds?’”

It’s true that most Americans couldn’t locate the Kurds’ homeland on a map, but that’s because it doesn’t exist. The Kurds represent the world’s largest ethnic group without a nation to call their own. They are a stateless nation of possibly 40 million people. Kurds represent sizable — and sometimes troublesome — minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and western Russia. They are known as fierce fighters, by those who know them.

It’s also true that most Americans don’t know very much about the Kurds. It’s less true for long-time readers of The Register-Guard. I traveled to Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq, and this newspaper published my accounts every day for two weeks in 2008. Each dispatch offered a glimpse of everyday life among the Kurds who live there.

I sat with refugees and dignitaries, drinking strong tea and warm Fanta orange soda. I saw encampments where the only running water was the nearby stream, and fancy offices behind brightly colored doors. Everyone shared their stories generously, and I shared them with readers.

Najlaa, a medical technologist, told me her neighbors had given up eating fish, because human body parts were too often found inside when the fish are cleaned. “[War lords] throw bodies in the water, where they can’t be counted. Don’t blame the fish. They can’t tell the difference between a worm and a finger.”

Haider recounted trying to secure an exit visa for himself, his brother, and their family. “Every visit requires a full day,” he told me. “We must be there at 8, so we’re up at 7. We sit and we wait, often the whole day, until 5 or 6 at night. All day sitting. No food. My mom, she has to eat. She has to take medicine, but with food.”

Father Raymond Moussalli greeted a man who interrupted our visit. He was concerned that a widow’s brother-in-law had been killed, but the woman hadn’t yet been told that her missing husband was beheaded months earlier. Should she learn of both deaths at once? Unshaken, Moussalli finished our time on an upbeat note. “We’re having 23 First Communions this Sunday. You can see the children’s pictures on my door. They are apples on the tree. There’s always hope.”

For the last dozen years and more, Americans have offered Kurds hope for a better future. They will be looking to others for that hope now, but I can tell you with some certainty that they will not give up hope. It’s all they have.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard. All 19 of Kahle’s 2008 essays can be found at

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