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Journeys in Kurdistan

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 448 | ISBN: 978-0-307-43050-2
Published by : Random House Random House Group
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Though the Kurds played a major military and tactical role in the United States’ recent war with Iraq, most of us know little about this fiercely independent, long-marginalized people. Now acclaimed journalist Christiane Bird, who riveted readers with her tour of Islamic Iran in Neither East Nor West, travels through this volatile part of the world to tell the Kurds’ story, using personal observations and in-depth research to illuminate an astonishing history and vibrant culture.

For the twenty-five to thirty million Kurds, Kurdistan is both an actual and a mythical place: an isolated, largely mountainous homeland that has historically offered sanctuary from the treacherous outside world and yet does not exist on modern maps. Parceled out among the four nation-states of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran after World War I, Kurdistan is a divided land with a tragic history, where the indomitable Kurds both celebrate their ancient culture and fight to control their own destiny. Occupying some of the Middle East’s most strategic and richest terrain, the Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the region and the largest ethnic group in the world without a state to call their own.

Whether dancing at a Kurdish wedding in Iran, bearing witness to the destroyed Kurdish countryside in southeast Turkey, having lunch with a powerful exiled agha in Syria, or visiting the sites of Saddam Hussein’s horrific chemical attacks in Iraq, the intrepid, insightful Bird sheds light on a violently stunning world seen by few Westerners. Part mesmerizing travelogue, part action-packed history, part reportage, and part cultural study, this critical book offers timely insight into an unknown but increasingly influential part of the world. Bird paints a moving and unforgettable portrait of a people uneasily poised between a stubborn past and an impatient future.

From the Hardcover edition.


chapter one

Through the Back Door

the maltai family lived in a big airy house on the outskirts of Dohuk in northern Iraq. Out front stretched their even bigger garden, its borders etched with fluttering purple blossoms mixed with penny-sized red wildflowers that the patriarch, Aziz Maltai, had transplanted from the mountains. Here and there bloomed flowers grown from seeds sent by friends in Europe. In the middle splashed a hand-carved fountain, water spilling from cup to cup to cup into a violet pool below.

"Flowers are like young sheep," Aziz Maltai said, examining a rosebud on our way into the house. "The more time you spend with them, the more they grow."

At the door, a line of women waited-dressed in floor-length gowns of lilac, black, deep green, and bright red, their long lacy sleeves tied behind their backs while still allowing for freedom of movement. Most of the older women's heads were covered with gauzy black or white scarves, most of the younger women's heads were bare. "B'kher-hati, b'kher-hati," they all cried-welcome, welcome-and kissed me on both cheeks before ushering me into a large room furnished only with Oriental carpets, a kerosene heater, and shiny benchlike couches lining two walls.

Women sat on one side, men on the other, as Aziz was joined by some of his nine sons and other male relatives. In contrast to the patriarch, who was wearing a Western suit and red tie, many of the men were dressed in the Kurdish shal u shapik, or trousers and jacket. Resembling billowing aviators' jumpsuits, traditionally made of goat's hair, the shal u shapik come in a variety of muted hues-browns, tans, blacks, and whites-and are cinched around the waist with elaborately woven cummerbunds, which can be up to twenty feet long when unwound. The style of the shal u shapik varies depending upon region or occasion, but today, all were wearing their finest: it was Newroz, or New Year's.

Tea was served in delicate, tulip-shaped glasses, along with cookies stuffed with walnut paste, made specially for the holiday. Then we were off-Aziz and his wife, most of his sons and their families, cousins visiting from Baghdad, and me. Moving out into the garden, amid excited children's cries, we climbed into a cavalcade of gleaming BMWs and sports utility vehicles. Proudly mounted on the lead car was the striped green, red, and white flag of Kurdistan, a yellow sunburst in its middle.

Aziz seated me in a BMW next to his son Siyabend, a small, wiry, dapper man wearing fashionable minimalist glasses and a starched military-style shal u shapik made of khaki. He and I had both spent time in Iran, and Aziz hoped we would be able to communicate in Persian.

Kurdish music spinning from the tape deck, we headed north toward the Turkish border and then east toward Iran. The snow-capped mountains of Turkey's Kurdistan appeared, along with an expansive plain shining like an enormous silver tray as it soaked in the rays of the sun.

"There's Silopi, and that's Mount Cudi." Siyabend pointed out several sites across the Turkish border. Later, I learned that Silopi had suffered especially badly during the Kurdish-Turkish civil war that ended in 1999, and that Mount Cudi, along with the better-known Mount Ararat, is believed by many Kurds to have been the resting place of Noah's Ark.

Turning off the paved road, we headed up a grassy mountainside. Although only midmorning, the slope was already half filled with parked cars and sturdy white tents shaped like miniature big tops. Children played ball, men built bonfires, and women socialized or cooked, the lush fabrics of their gowns blinking in the sun.

After parking, the men quickly set up a tent, into which the older women immediately retired, and started a fire. Many of the rest of us set off to roam the mountain and to look for wildflowers-white nergiz (narcissus), scarlet or purple sheqayiq (ranunculus), daisy-like hajile.

When we returned, much of the family was already seated on padded cushions around a now-roaring fire. One of the younger wives, a handsome chestnut brunette, was boiling water in a battered teapot. Another woman was handing around small cakes, and a third, a bag filled with nuts. Two young men were playing a game, moving pebbles between six small holes dug into the earth.

I gazed out over the plain before us. A river cut a clear meandering path across a land that changed color as it went-from browns to reds to greens and back again. The mountain ranges beyond the plain started small, but then rose and rose, each range thrusting higher into the cobalt sky until cresting into Turkey's crystalline blue-white peaks.

On the plain immediately below stood a dozen or so red and orange buses hired by picnickers too poor to own vehicles of their own. And on the mountain slopes to our left and right, tents had popped up almost as far as the eye could see.

Aziz talked about his garden. "I have always loved nature, ever since I was a small boy," he said. "And when I was a peshmerga, fighting in the mountains, I would shout 'Oh!' whenever I stepped on a flower. My friends would think I had stepped on a mine." He slapped his knee, laughing.

Lunch was served, on a big plastic tablecloth spread out near the fire: biryani rice made with raisins, nuts, and chicken; tershick, or wheat patties, filled with vegetables and lamb; grilled kebabs, served with tomatoes and onions; thin crisp bread, baked in an outdoor oven that morning; du, the Middle Eastern drink made of yogurt and water; and platefuls of mysterious, pungent greens gathered fresh from the mountains.

On the slope below, a trio of musicians was traveling from tent to tent, the sound of their cylindrical drum, the dohul, and conical flute, the zirnah, penetrating deep into the mountains. Wherever the musicians stopped, people dropped what they were doing to form a long line and begin a Kurdish dance. Joining hands, swinging arms, moving shoulders in deliberate, hypnotic rhythm; two steps to the right, one to the left, back, forward, kick. The first person in the line often twirled a handkerchief high in the air as people merged in and out, men and women and children dancing together.

When the musicians reached our tent, Siyabend and his wife pulled me to my feet and showed me how to link my little fingers with theirs as we joined the line. The dance had simple footwork that even a child could follow, but just as I was relaxing, a more intricate dance began. Everyone started singing, with one side of the line answering the other in a love song about a girl with dark hair. In and out the line moved. I stumbled, then dropped out.

A short while later, the musicians started a bold wild tune, chasing all but five men from the dance floor. Most dressed in shal u shapik, they were stomping, jumping, bending, and twisting in a dance that seemed as old and resilient and self-contained as the mountains. Watching them, the world around me vanished-the men seemed alone on a barren slope, Kalashnikovs piled beside them, winds and snows howling around them, taking a break from the fierce guerrilla war that has raged off and on in Kurdistan for over one hundred years.

The musicians moved on. The dancing stopped as abruptly as it had started, leaving an emptiness behind. Two of the youngest men, dressed in black sweaters, sunglasses, and jeans, took off in the newer, cooler, black SUV, while the rest of us returned to the now-dying bonfire. The sun was setting. A tall, skeletal blind beggar, led by a blond girl, wandered from tent to tent.

"The worst people in the world are the Turks, and then come the Arabs," Siyabend said.

I looked at him, not knowing what to say. Uncomfortable subjects had been bumping back and forth unspoken between us throughout the day. Until now, neither one of us had wanted to articulate them; the day had been too beautiful, there had been too much hope in the air.

"See over there." Siyabend pointed toward a Turkish mountain in the distance, its tip now blue-black, dipped in darkening snow. "That's where we went after the uprising. We stayed in a refugee camp there for two months and then they sent us to a camp near Mardin. We stayed there four years."

"Four years?" I said, surprised. Only my third day in Kurdistan, I still had much to learn. "The whole family?"

He nodded.

"Four hundred people died in the first camp," said one of his brothers.

"They tried to poison us with bread in the second," said one of the wives.

"The Turkish soldiers hit the women."

"They kicked the children like footballs."

"But we couldn't come back. Saddam-"

"He gassed his own people."

"He destroyed four thousand Kurdish villages."

"More than one hundred eighty thousand people disappeared."

"How did we survive?"

"God helped us."

from the moment I arrived in Kurdistan, I felt as if I had fallen through the back door of the world and into a tragic magic kingdom-the kind of place where tyrants' castles reigned over mist-filled valleys, beautiful damsels ran away with doomed princes, and ten-foot-tall heroes battled scaly green dragons as good clashed swords with evil. In reality, there was no kingdom-at least not of the type found in fairy tales-but I did find evil, as well as good, and castles and valleys, damsels and princes, magic and tragedy.

the kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a state of their own. Probably numbering between 25 and 30 million, they live in an arc of land that stretches through Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and parts of the former Soviet Union, with the vast majority residing in the region where Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran meet. About eight hundred thousand Kurds also live in Europe, with about five hundred thousand of those in Germany, while some twenty-five thousand Kurds live in the United States and at least six thousand in Canada.

Not a country, Kurdistan cannot be found on modern maps. The term was first used as a geographical expression by the Saljuq Turks in the twelfth century and came into common usage in the sixteenth century, when much of the Kurdish region fell under the control of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires. For the Kurds themselves, Kurdistan is both an actual and a mythical place-an isolated, half-hidden, mountainous homeland that has historically offered sanctuary from the treacherous outside world, and from treacherous fellow Kurds.

I became interested in the Kurds during a 1998 journey to Iran. While there, I traveled to Sanandaj, Iran's unofficial Kurdish capital, where I was immediately struck by how different the area seemed from the rest of the Islamic Republic-heartbreaking in its lonesome beauty, and defiant. Despite a large number of Revolutionary Guards on the streets, the men swaggered and women strode. These people are not cowed, I thought-no wonder they make the Islamic government nervous.

In Sanandaj, I stayed with a Kurdish family I had met on the bus, and attended a wedding held in a small pasture filled with about two hundred people in traditional dress. To one side were the city's ugly concrete buildings; to another, empty lots strewn with litter. But the people and their costumes, framed by the far-off Zagros Mountains, transcended the tawdry surroundings. Women in bright reds, pinks, greens, blues, and golds. Men in baggy pants, woven belts, and heavy turbans. Boys playing with hoops. Girls dreaming by a bonfire. Musicians on a mournful flute and enormous drum, followed by circling men dancing single file, one waving a handkerchief over his head.

After I returned home, I began reading more about the Kurds. Who are these people, and why don't we know more about them?

The Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East-after the Arabs, Turks, and Persians-accounting for perhaps 15 percent of its population. They occupy some of the region's most strategic and richest lands. Turkey's Kurdistan contains major coal deposits, as well as the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers-important irrigation sources for Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan holds significant oil reserves, and Turkey's and Syria's Kurdistan, lesser ones. Much of Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan also lies in the fertile valley of and adjoining northern Mesopotamia, one of the world's richest breadbaskets and most ancient lands.

The Iraqi Kurds, numbering about 5 million, constitute between one-fourth and one-fifth of Iraq's population. Despite much repression, they have always been recognized by the state as a separate ethnic group. Iraqi Kurds have at times held important government and military positions, and between 1992 and 2003, ran their own semiautonomous, fledgling democracy in Iraq's so-called "northern no-fly zone." Post-Saddam Hussein, the Kurds are assuming a central role in the forging of a new Iraq.

Numbering 13 or 14 million, or one-half of all Kurds, Turkey's Kurds comprise at least 20 percent of their nation and boast a birthrate that is nearly double that of their compatriots-promising an even greater presence in the future. Turkey's Kurds have been brutally repressed both culturally and politically since the founding of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923. Turkey is now striving to join the European Union, however, and its acceptance therein will depend largely on an improvement in its human rights record toward the Kurds.

Numbering about 6.5 million, or 10 percent of Iran's population, Iranian Kurds ran their own semiautonomous state as early as the 1300s. Today, they have about twenty reform-minded representatives in Iran's Parliament, who, along with many others, are pushing for more liberalization in the Islamic Republic. Syrian Kurds, although numbering only about 1.4 million, constitute 9 percent of their country's sparse population, with the Syrian capital of Damascus home to an influential Kurdish community since the Middle Ages.

Exact population figures for the Kurds are unavailable because no reliable census has been conducted for decades. All of the countries in which they reside regard them as a political threat and downplay their existence. And without a nation-state of their own, the Kurds have been slow in letting their presence be known to the outside world.

This is changing. Thanks in part to recent political developments, of which the Iraq war of 2003 is only the latest, and in part to a growing diaspora, satellite communications, and the Internet, today's Kurds are both rapidly developing a national consciousness as a people, and overcoming the geographic and psychic isolation that has plagued them for centuries. And as they do so, questions of nationalism, multiculturalism, and a possible future redrawing of international boundaries arise.

From the Hardcover edition.
Christiane Bird|Author Q&A

About Christiane Bird

Christiane Bird - A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts
Christiane Bird is the author of A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan; Neither East Nor West: One Woman’s Journey Through the Islamic Republic of Iran; and The Jazz and Blues Lover’s Guide to the U.S. A graduate of Yale University and former travel writer for the New York Daily News, she lives in New York City with her family.

Author Q&A

A Talk with Christiane Bird

First off, what drew you to Kurdistan?
I first became interested in the Kurds during a trip I made to Iran in 1998. While there, I traveled to Sanandaj, Iran’s unofficial Kurdish capital, where I was immediately struck by how different the area seemed from the rest of the Islamic Republic–heartbreaking in its lonesome beauty, and defiant. But it was only after I returned home and began reading more about the Kurds that I really began to wonder, “Who are these indefatigable people?”

Most of us know something about the tragic recent history of the Iraqi Kurds. Is this common for the Kurdish populations in other countries?
Yes. As a people, the Kurds have one of the most tragic of modern histories, beginning with the West’s partition of their lands among Turkey, Syria, and Iraq–all new countries carved out of the old Ottoman Empire–and Iran after World War I.
The Kurds of Turkey have an especially horrific history. In its zeal to establish a national identity post-Ottoman Empire, Turkey denied it had a Kurdish minority; up until as recently as 1991, Kurds were declared to be “mountain Turks who have forgotten their language.” To speak Kurdish in public, give Kurdish concerts, teach the Kurdish language–let alone talk politics–was forbidden, and could result in arrest and torture.
Between 1984 and 1999, a bitter civil war waged in Turkey’s Kurdistan, during which over 3,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed–almost as many as in Iraq–37,000 people killed, and at least one million Kurds rendered homeless. Hundreds of other Kurds “disappeared” and thousands more were slammed into prisons.
The Iranian and Syrian Kurds have also suffered tremendously. After Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, thousands of Kurds were slaughtered and the region was placed under military rule. In Syria, about 200,000 Kurds are denied identity cards, meaning that they lack even such basic rights as a primary education, marriage registration and car ownership.

What can you tell us about U.S.-Kurdish relations over recent decades and today?
The history of U.S.-Kurdish relations in each country is very different–meaning that each group also has a very different attitude toward the U.S. The Iraqi Kurds may well be the most pro-American people in the world, while Turkey’s Kurds are largely anti-U.S., and many Iranian Kurds harbor great suspicion toward the U.S.

The hostility of Turkey’s Kurds stems from the role that the U.S. played in the Kurdish-Turkish civil war. In its reluctance to offend a prominent Middle Eastern ally, the U.S. ignored the rampant human rights atrocities committed by the Turkish state against the Kurds, instead wholeheartedly supporting their allies, no questions asked. Many Kurds grew up in terror of the sound of U.S. Black Hawks, Hueys, and Cobras–the army helicopters used to land Turkish troops in their villages.

Many Iranian Kurds, like Iranians in general, bear a grudge against the U.S. for past betrayals, especially the CIA-backed ouster of popularly elected Prime Minister Mossadeq in 1953. The Iranian Kurds, again like their compatriots, desperately want change in their country, but they distrust U.S. intentions in the region.

Of all Kurdish groups, the Iraqi Kurds have the closest historical ties with the U.S. The association goes back to the days of Mulla Mustafa Barzani (1904-1979), father of the Iraqi Kurdish independence movement, who idealized America. The U.S. brutally betrayed Barzani in 1975 by endorsing the Algiers Accord, which ended the Shah of Iran’s support of the Iraqi Kurds, causing their movement to crumble. A similarly brutal U.S. betrayal occurred just after the first Gulf War, when President Bush encouraged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam, but failed to follow through on promises of support.

You were in Iraq about a year before the war. How did you get into Iraq at that time? How difficult was it to travel throughout the land of the Kurds? Did you feel safe?
Since the Baath regime did not grant visas to most Westerners, I had to enter Iraqi Kurdistan through one of its bordering countries, using a crossing permit issued jointly by that country and the Iraqi Kurds. I applied through Syria, and then traveled by bus and Jeep to an outpost on the Tigris River. By the banks waited burly men in red-and-white turbans, and a creaky skiff. I climbed aboard. Five minutes later, I was in Iraq. Traveling over the Tigris was one of the high points of my trip–it felt astonishing to be on that mythical river, mentioned in so many ancient texts.

Iraqi Kurdistan had no buses or scheduled transportation services–everything had to be done by taxi. But I had an enormous amount of help, from both officials and ordinary people. I was one of only a few non-Iraqi Americans in the region at that time, and everyone was eager to show off their experiment in democracy to me.

The most difficult issue for me to grapple with was safety; I never felt I had a true bead on the possible danger in Iraq. And neither, it seemed, did the Kurds. Some people chilled me with dire warnings about Saddam’s agents–who were in Kurdistan, and might target Americans–and told me never to travel without bodyguards. Others cavalierly said that I had nothing to worry about, bodyguards were just a formality. For the most part, the latter assessment seemed more accurate, but I did use bodyguards when visiting isolated regions and Halabja, where the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam was active.

I faced related issues in Syria, Turkey, and Iran. I didn’t worry so much about personal safety in those countries, but since none of their governments encourage foreigners in the Kurdish regions, I never knew when the authorities might suddenly decide to stop me, confiscate my notes, or toss me out of the country.

You visited Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria on your journeys. How similar are the Kurds of the four countries?
All Kurds share a similar basic culture, of course, but each group is quite different from the others. Some of the groups also have little interaction with one another, while others–the Iraqi and Turkey’s Kurds, for example–have a violent recent history between them, with their political parties often at war with each other.

Some of the differences are historical. Even before the division of Kurdish lands into four nation-states post-WWI, the Kurds were never a united community. Each region had its different tribes and different leaders, with little trust between them. And the Iranian Kurds were always especially separate from the rest; they had their own autonomous state as early as the 13th century and were the only Kurds to fall under the control of the Safavid Empire, rather than the Ottoman Empire, in the 1500s. The Iranian Kurds are also less tribal than are Kurds of other regions, as they were settled earlier.

Over the past 80 years, each Kurdish group has taken on some of the characteristics of their respective nation-state. Like their fellow Turks, Kurds living in urban Turkey are very Westernized, while the Iraqi Kurds, like their compatriots under the Baath regime, are only now coming into contact with the modern world. Many Kurdish men in Iraq and some in Iran still dress traditionally, but in Turkey, they wear Western clothes. Most Kurds of rural Turkey and Syria are illiterate; most Kurds of rural Iran are literate. The Iraqi Kurds were the first to organize a modern nationalist movement and remain the most sophisticated politically.

The Kurds are often described as tribal. How true is this description? How does this tribal nature affect their culture and politics today?

The once-paramount power of the Kurdish tribe and its leader, the agha, is no more, and their once-dominant nomadic lifestyle has all but disappeared. However, tribal affiliations are still central to the identity of many Kurds, especially in Turkey and Iraq. For these Kurds, tribal affiliations can influence marriage decisions, world outlook, and political viewpoints. Other Kurds are completely non-tribal.

Iraq’s two major Kurdish political parties are divided largely along tribal lines. Both wield extraordinary power, and their leaders are often viewed in the same personalized way–rather like grand patriarchs–once reserved for aghas. In Turkey, many aghas serve as politicians, usually siding with the rightist Turkish state and against leftist Kurdish politicians. Proponents of the status quo, the last thing most aghas want is any threat to their position, which has grown more powerful than ever since the civil war. Aghas who aid the state are amply rewarded. Rival aghas join rival parties. Traditional tribal conflicts are tightly entwined with modern politics. Among the uneducated, aghas often wield much power on a more personal level as well–offering advice and settling disputes, including murders. In some areas, murders are still considered to be tribal affairs, to be resolved outside the law.

What are “honor killings”? Is the practice increasing or decreasing?
Kurdistan is a highly traditional society, in which women are expected to be virgins when they marry and pre- or extramarital sex is strictly forbidden. Women who break the taboos are sometimes murdered by their own families, in so-called “honor killings”–a problem in various traditional tribal areas in the Middle East, but especially prevalent in parts of Pakistan, Jordan, and Palestine, and Iraqi and Turkey’s Kurdistan.
The number of honor killings in Iraqi Kurdistan is believed to have been holding steady or going down before the 1990s. It spiked dramatically early in that decade, and is believed to be on the decline again. Experts blame the spike on many factors, but economic and social dislocation seems to be the primary cause. Similarly, in Turkey, the number of honor killings went up in the wake of the civil war.
Only the early 2000s did the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey seriously address the issue of honor killings by finally repealing the laws that allowed for the killings under mitigated circumstances. Increasingly powerful Kurdish women’s groups, publications, and conferences abroad are also drawing attention to the problem.

What is the role of women in Kurdistan?
As elsewhere in the Muslim world, most Kurdish women live under many strictures. Women must marry, preferably before age 30, if they wish to gain respect and a quasi-independent life. Most traditional Kurdish women also do not work outside the home, drive cars, travel by themselves, go out after dusk alone, or spend the night away from home unless in the company of male relatives. Kurdish men are allowed to have four spouses, while Kurdish women can have only one.
However, these mores–which do not necessarily apply to educated urban Kurdish women–are changing. Many in rural Kurdistan told me that women's lives have improved significantly over the last two decades. In Turkey, some of this change has come about because of the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party), which welcomed women guerillas into its ranks.
Educated urban Kurdish women often live lives similar to those of Western women, with some working at the very top of their professions. Overall, too, Kurdish society has always been somewhat more liberal in its treatment of women compared to other Muslim societies.

Are most Kurds Muslim? What is their relation to Islam?
Yes, most Kurds are Muslim. The vast majority are Sunni, while about 15% are Shiite. Most Sunni Kurds are of the Shafiite school, which sets them apart from the Arab and Turkish Sunnis in the region, who are mostly Hanafite. There is also some tension between the Sunni Kurds and the Shiite Kurds, who live mostly in Iran and, up until recently, have taken little part in Kurdish movements.
But whether Sunni or Shiite, most Kurds view themselves as moderate Muslims. The political side of Islam has at times created tension between their Muslim and Kurdish identities. Some nationalist Kurds even say that Islam is detrimental to their people, as it subjugates the Kurdish cause to the larger Islamic one.

Finally, is independence what most Kurds want, and can they achieve it?
Most Kurds dream of an independent Greater Kurdistan, incorporating all four Kurdish regions, but most also realize that that dream is just a dream–at least for the foreseeable future. Far more urgent is the immediate need to create equal civil rights for the Kurds in Turkey, Iran, and Syria, and a strong federated state in Iraq.

Many enormous impediments stand in the way of an independent Kurdistan. None of their nations would let them go without a fierce struggle; the U.S., too, has a great vested interest in a unified Iraq. A large number of Kurds, especially in Turkey, are well integrated into mainstream society and no longer live in Kurdish areas. The Kurds also lack a strong military, adequate financial resources, organization, education, and perhaps most importantly, a unified, pan-Kurdish leadership. The Kurds remain a fractured people on many levels–torn between countries, political parties, tribes, families, and dialects.

And yet...Modern technology has changed everything. The Kurds now have their own TV shows, radio broadcasts, and Web sites. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds also live in Europe and the U.S., where they are steadily gaining advanced degrees, power, and influence. The Kurds may not have their own physical nation, but they do have an international cyberspace state, along with a quickening sense of national identity that may yet give rise to an independent Greater Kurdistan one day.

From the Hardcover edition.



“I cannot recommend too highly this brilliantly evocative portrait of people who have suffered terrible crimes, but endured, with remarkable courage and charm and undying hope, captured with rare sensitivity and sympathetic understanding in Bird’s deeply moving account of her journeys through their lands and her sharing of their lives.”

“One of Christiane Bird’s revelations in A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts is that in the Middle East, one should never confuse minority with marginality. This account by a particularly attentive American woman journeying into the land of the Kurds . . . helps readers understand the most striking feature of the Middle East: complexity.”
—FATEMA MERNISSI, author of Beyond the Veil and Islam and Democracy

“Christiane Bird writes well, with an open mind, an eye for detail, and a clear voice. No one who wishes to be informed on what is going on in the world can afford to skip this important book about a little known and often abused people.”
—MARK KURLANSKY, author of 1968: The Year That Rocked the World
and A Basque History of the World

“Christiane Bird travels enviably and intrepidly about her selected neck of the world. In A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts, she writes intelligently, personably, tirelessly, and engrossingly about the Kurds, a people execrably abused and eminently worth learning about.”

From the Hardcover edition.

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