What Being Kurdish Means to Me

Photo courtesy of @michael.bayazidi

I wrote this piece back in 2018 and I feel the sentiment has not wavered. I’m debating the question of “where are you from?” in my personal and professional life and I remembered writing this, so I dug into the archives of my external hard drive, resurfaced and posted this piece as was initially written. My relationship with the quintessential question of “where are you from?” is still very complicated, in my next blog post I will challenge the question and debate it from a 2021 (almost 2022) lens. Until then, here is What Being Kurdish Means to Me

My story is that of many Kurds’. It has a lot to do with the Kurdish Diaspora and a sense of identity loss. My childhood was based on a series of movements, both that in the literal sense and that of the metaphorical sense. I spent the first 8 years of my life in between three countries, Canada, Iraq and Jordan. I learned the hard way to say goodbye at a very young age. I also learned the hard way that I was different, that whilst most people had grandparents and cousins living in the same country, same city even, as themselves, I had the unfortunate reality of distance. And that has always left an empty void in my heart that may never be filled. 

I think the heartbreaking reality of being a Kurd is our disbandment, because wherever we are, we will never truly fit in to our society, there will always be a part of us that is different, there will always be a societal disconnect. I don’t recall my earliest memory as a Kurd. I don’t remember a genuine moment of realization where I thought to myself, I’m Kurdish. It sort of just was. I always knew. I also knew I was different, I was different from the Kurds living in Kurdistan, because I had a western upbringing with a Jordanian influence. I was different from the Kurds living in Canada, because I wasn’t completely born and raised in Canada. I was being pushed and pulled between various cultures, and I lost my identity in the process. I spent the majority of my early childhood and teenage years avoiding who I was, I always felt ashamed of my background because in a Jordanian society, I didn’t belong, in a Canadian society, I didn’t belong, and in an Iraqi society, I didn’t belong. And when I went back to Kurdistan, I still felt lost, because I still didn’t completely belong in a Kurdish society, despite how desperately I wanted to. 

I was in Jordan, when my friend’s mom asked me where my parents were from on the car ride home, “My dad is from Hawler/Erbil, and my mom is from Halabja” I exclaimed. She almost had a fit, “It’s not pronounced Halabja, it’s Halabja,” she emphasized on the hard “H” (ح), “Say it like a true Arab” she added. I remember knowing she was wrong, but retreating to the back of my seat and staying quiet, I didn’t want to be different, so in that moment she was right, and I stayed quiet. I had a Jordanian Arab tell me who I was, and where my parents are from. I was never more ashamed. 

I was in Canada, at the CNE by a Turkish booth, when the guy working there started a conversation with me, only to change his demeanour when he found out I was Kurdish, all of a sudden I was inhumane, a terrorist. And that’s exactly what he called me in front of my two friends, simply for being a Kurd.

I will never forget the day at the Oncologist’s office, when we had asked her to write a letter of invitation for my aunt, my mom’s sister. My mom was just recently diagnosed with cancer and we wanted her to be around family. It was in that moment that I knew my heart was capable of harbouring detestation, because the Oncologist said no. “You have your daughter, you don’t need more family” she exclaimed while looking at me. I was shocked by her remark to the point where I was taken aback. I just wanted to scream in that moment, but I knew I wouldn’t. If I could go back and tell her what I thought in that very moment, this would be it:

Dear Privileged White Canadian Doctor, 
My mother was not given a choice whether she wanted cancer or not. She also was not given a choice when she moved to Canada, leaving her family behind for a better future for her children. She did not choose to witness nor be a part of a war she didn’t choose to start, she also did not have a choice when the Sykes-Picot agreement occurred, and she did not choose to be stateless. While you may go back home at the end of the day to your family, and get together with your relatives on thanksgiving and the holidays, we have to work out the time difference and whether or not there is electricity so that we can call our family. While you may not understand the struggles of being stateless, we do. I do. Would it have killed you to bring two sisters together in the midst of a tragedy? If Kurdistan was a state, we would have never moved here, no one would have moved, and we would have never asked you this one request. But this is our reality, we are here and we are real, are you really denying us family?

We didn’t choose this life, this diaspora, we didn’t choose to be away from our homeland, from our families, it happened to us. I was always jealous of my friends in Amman, every Friday they would have their family dinners at their grandparents with all their cousins. I had a grandmother too, only she was miles away, I had cousins too, only they weren’t here. I would get so excited when my grandmother and aunt would visit, it was only for two weeks, but it was always the best two weeks of my life, because for two weeks, I had a family. And when my grandmother passed away, I felt an overwhelming sense of unfairness and guilt, why wasn’t I there? It was really difficult for all of us, being so far away and distant from it all. It’s almost harder than being there, because you are left helpless and alone with your thoughts, no family to surround yourself with, no one to mourn with, we all grieved silently and alone. I think this is where I harbour most of my sorrow, I’m angry at the world, forget the oil, the money and the politics, I just wanted to be in the same city, country even, as my grandmother so that I could be there in the end, not far away from her. 

I shared a YouTube video with my family on a warm summer evening when it hit me. We were gathered by the TV, all of us captivated by the faces of these young and beautiful women fighting for a land that has been denied them, for a country, where the people have betrayed them, fighting for basic human rights when the odds are against them. Immersed in these faces, entranced by the song, I don’t notice my family, my parents, but I do hear my sister say, “Please don’t cry.” I turn around to look at my parents, who too are captivated by the beauty and strength of these women, and see their tears rolling down their red eyes. It was one of those moments where I paused and realized I’ve never seen my parents cry like this, they usually try to mask such pain away from me, but in this one instance, I see the pain of a thousand years of conflict, struggle and dysphoria that they couldn’t keep hidden anymore. These women were Kurdish female fighters of Kobanê. 

Canada shaped me into the patriotic Kurd that I am today, miles away from the homeland. As mentioned earlier, I always knew I was Kurdish, but it wasn’t until the second year of my undergrad that I truly understood the meaning of being Kurdish. I felt a longing to help my people in the midst of the events of 2014. My friend shared her dream with me, and I wanted to be a part of it, we helped set up a clothing drive to be sent back to the refugees and IDP’s of Kobanê. I finally felt such a deep sense of belonging, I was doing exactly what I was meant to do and in that moment I knew, the void that I had in my heart, will only be filled if I gave back to my people, my homeland. 

Being told that Kurds have always lived peacefully amongst arabs without hate, and that there is no need to ask for a referendum angers me. Yes, Kurds are able to coexist with Arabs, with Muslims, Christians, Jews, Turks, Turkmens, Caucus, Yazidi’s, Assyrians and many more races, religions, and ethnicities, because they understand oppression, and they wouldn’t do what was done to them. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will continue to be second class citizens in countries that throw chemical attacks at children, mothers, fathers, innocents, in countries that kidnap and rape their women, in countries that jail Kurds for speaking Kurdish, in countries that execute Kurds on the basis of being a Kurd. It doesn’t dismiss the dozens of mass graves inhabiting the soil, and it surely doesn’t disregard the pain, suffering, and blood loss of hundreds of thousands.

The Kurdish struggle exists, it exists in our homes, during breakfast and at our dinner table. It exists when we are asked, “Where are you from?” It exists when we speak Kurdish, it exists when we turn on the news, it exists at social gatherings and during Newroz. I’ve always noticed when two Kurds meet, the conversation always stirs towards stitches that have left wounded Peshmergas, widowed husband and wives, images of blood and bodies, and recollections of death and friends lost as a result of the war. There is not a Kurd today who can say they have not suffered as a direct consequence of the Kurdish struggle.

I feel lost and trapped in a world that is not my own, because the reality of my situation, of my people’s situation, is that we do not have a home, a place were we can take refuge in and feel safe, we have a contingency plan, but even our contingency plan is failing us. So I say no more, no more passiveness, no more silence, and a lot more action. It is time for the Kurds to be heard all over the world, and it’s not just our voices we’re demanding to be heard, it’s our right to determine a state for ourselves with the subsistence of basic human rights, equality and a chance at life. 

This is what being Kurdish means to me. 

Deconstructing the Rhetoric in Raghad Saddam Hussein’s 2021 Interview with Sohaib Charair

Last week the Middle East was entrenched in one of the most captivating interviews of the past two decades. Raghad Saddam Hussein, daughter of the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, was invited by the Saudi funded channel, Al Arabiya, in an inclusive interview to talk about her father, Iraq, the current political situation, and her future in the political field with Sohaib Charair. 

The interview begins with Sohaib Charair asking Raghad Saddam Hussein what happened to her and her family in the last 17 years. Stoic in her appearance, diplomatic in her answer she replies that it has been a difficult 17 years. I agree, It has been a difficult 17 years of bloodshed, lives lost, families torn apart, 17 years of parents burying their children, and grandchildren not knowing their grandparents. 17 years of Iraqis burying their loved ones in unmarked graves or worse, burying pieces of what was once a body of a loved one in a marked grave. 17 years of people trying to survive long enough to leave because hope in Iraq had become a lost cause. It might have been a difficult time for Raghad Saddam Hussein, but I would argue that she is one of the lucky ones, she escaped and found refuge and protection in Amman. It has been 17 years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, but there are people who will not forget the years of war, systemic genocide, and pan-Arab nationalism that resulted in the purging of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives years before these 17 years. For some people, it’s been 17 years and then some, for others, it’s been their entire lives. It might have been a difficult 17 years for Raghad, but Iraq’s difficulties extend beyond the confines of these 17 years. 

She begins by saying that her father was an exceptional man. There is truth to that, he was exceptional in his methods to execute, murder, and commit genocide on his opponents and enemies. His cruelty extended not only to his enemies, but to his family. Saddam Hussein initiated the Al-Anfal Campaign, a genocidal campaign against the Kurdish people and other minorities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The Halabja chemical attack whereby mustard gas was used to murder innocent Kurdish civilians, the systematic persecution of the Feylis, the Dujail Massacre of the Shias, the invasion of Kuwait, the Iraq-Iran war, the rampant government-approved executions, acts of torture, and the execution of his two sons-in-law are just a few of his achievements as a leader and as an exceptional man. His leadership has left trails of mass graves, bodies, prisons filled with his opponents, and widowed wives. 

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Raghad however, portrays a thriving Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s leadership, adhered by stability and prosperity. She emphasizes that people were alive. She claims that her father was not a fan of wars, but coincidently, she also contradicts her statement by saying that she has seen a lot of wars. But she interjects that his role as a leader comes with difficult decisions and responsibilities. That often, his position of power may result in a strict and tough demeanor, that Iraq is unlike other “free” nations and requires a strict, strong leader, she shares childhood memories and anecdotes to humanize him. She shares a story to seemingly show the compassion of her father as a child, when he was about to punish her, and offers another harrowing memory of her father at the bedside of his most trusted advisor and friend.These stories and many alike are casually placed throughout the interview series to deconstruct the image of the dictator and offer a more soft and loving father and leader. The same loving father who issued the execution of his two sons-in-law.

She simplifies the rift between her husband and father to a disagreement. When pressed on the “disagreement”, she deflects the topic and barely answers the question, and claims that “a lot of women have lost their husbands”. This critical detail of her life was laid bare publicly she says, and that if it were up to her she would have kept everything in house. This sets up the tone of the entire interview as a version of her truth, it is what she wants the world to know, and she repeatedly reiterates this by saying no family secret will ever come out of her. When Charair asks her who killed her husband, she says it was a tribal matter, and not a decision made by her father, that although she was upset, she never blamed him for the execution of her husband. At one point she mentions that she wanted her husband to stay in Jordan, that a part of her felt that distance and time would allow for these wounds to heal between her father and husband. Maybe she thinks the same can be applied between her family and the Iraqi community, that after all these years, Iraqi’s have healed from the wounds her family has left behind.

Throughout the interview, Raghad mentions the Arab solidarity within Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, almost echoing this pan Arab nationalism ideal similar to that of her father’s. She emphasizes that whether we are Iraqi or Kuwaiti, the Arab brotherhood/sisterhood is far more superior, “we are Arab, we are Muslim and we are one.” And while I appreciate her sentiment, I want to exclude the rest of the Arab world and focus solely on Iraq. Iraq is a beautiful, diverse country, filled with Arabs, Muslims, Kurds, Yezidi’s, Christians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Jews, Turkmen, Armenians, and many more. Her words resonate all too well amongst minority groups because a similar language was used in the mass Arabization and ethnic cleansing of these very groups under her father’s leadership. When Charair asks her if she is worried about a divided Iraq, she replies unhesitatingly, yes. She never wants to see the day where Iraq is divided, and that it scares her that this is even an option on the table. Charair asks her if she sees herself playing a crucial role in politics, and this is the most important and telling question of the interview series. She smiles as though she knows something that Charair and the viewers are not privy to yet, and simply replies “anything is possible’’.

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Iraq invaded Kuwait, and yet Raghad claims that both sides wronged the other. She brushes it off and says that Iraqis and Kuwaitis are brothers, and as brothers do, they fight, and that’s normal. When Charair asks her if she thinks her father was wrong in invading Kuwait, she responds again, “we made mistakes, and so did they.” She goes on to say that women didn’t discuss politics at the dinner table. She was not involved in political decisions nor did she ask, so she would never know what her father thought. When Charair would ask a question that has an obvious answer, that could hurt her father’s image, she would deflect answering by saying “women didn’t discuss politics”. When pressed, she says women didn’t have a role in politics, specifically women in the presidential family. She never thought of going into politics and didn’t like the idea of politics at all. She felt safe under the umbrella of men who ran the country and didn’t see herself needing to get involved in politics because she didn’t see anything worth changing. Leyla Qassim was 22 years old when she was executed by Saddam Hussein, it can be argued that she didn’t feel safe under the Baathist regime, it can also be argued that there indeed was a need for women in politics. It was only after her father’s capture, did Raghad see the need to engage in politics. 

On the US invasion, Raghad says she never expected her father to get caught by the Americans. She expected him to die on the battlefield. He fought the enemy until the very end she says, despite being found in a military bunker. The capture and subsequent images of her father saddened her, and she continued to say that it was obvious to her that the Americans deliberately drugged Saddam Hussein to showcase to the world his weakness and to shatter the symbol of strength. It’s also important to note that Al Arabiya decides to showcase a video montage of his capture, arrest, and inspection, the network chooses to play somber music, attempting to play and toy with the viewer’s mind to feel for Saddam Hussein. The question of whether it worked or not lingers and people who have context and a broader understanding of both sides will see it for what it is. The worry is in the new generation of young children born into today’s Iraq that see this interview and with no context glamorize Saddam Hussein and Iraq without really understanding the weight of these views. 

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She goes on to say that the trial was unfair because it had a predetermined verdict. However, she fails to acknowledge the wrongdoings and actions of her father. The trial was fair. The verdict would have always been the same, and the only way he wouldn’t have been executed is if the trial was unfair. This is a man who committed executions regularly, what makes him different to receive a lesser crime for a greater punishment? Raghad claims that the Baathist party did not die with Saddam Hussein, the Baathist party is an idea beyond one person, that it lives with the young men and women of today. She says that Iraqi’s are stronger than ever before, and that their sentiments are just as powerful, and that there are a lot of leaders that can take on the role of the leader of the Baathist movement. When pressed on the topic she says that she must serve her country in the best possible way that she can, and not to avenge her enemies. That she sees herself coming back to Iraq, no question about. She says that people often claim that she has her father’s fierce eyes, and how much she sees herself in her father is ominous to those who know very well the dangerous crimes he’s committed.

I believe in freedom of speech, and so while controversial, giving her a platform is essential to democracy. But I also believe in the other side, in fact-checking and reality. And while she is entitled to her experiences, her emotions, her feelings, and her opinions, she is not entitled to rewriting a history that people have lived. And while giving her a platform is important, I would argue that the other side also needs a platform, everyday regular people need a platform, where are the stories of the people hurt by a dictator? Why is he being humanized? Why are we silencing the other side? When you go on YouTube and on the Al Arabiya Channel, the comments are turned off, why? Hitler too was a father, a husband, a son, I am sure that he too can be humanized in the eyes of his children, but realistically no one ever depicts that side, and even if they did, you have an entire flip side to that picture.

I also believe that journalists have the responsibility to uncover the truth and ask hard-pressed questions, what Charair and Al Arabiya did was ask pre-approved questions that refines Saddam Hussein and in the off chance that a difficult question is pressed, they allow Raghad to avoid and deflect her answers. This is the antithesis of journalism, and unnerving to people watching with real reparations. I continued to wait for the difficult questions to come and yet they were never posed. I acknowledge my biases toward the Kurdish cause, but how can he not mention the Al Anfal campaign? What is Sohaib Charair’s agenda? What is Al Arabiya’s agenda? What is Raghad Saddam Hussein’s Agenda? Who sanctioned this interview and who benefits from it? Does Iraq want Saddam Hussein’s family back in charge? Is this an attempt to rewrite history? 

We’re in the TikTok era, our attention span is 1 minute long at best. We take things at face value and many viewers do not fact-check these statements. The newer and younger generation have no recollection or awareness of Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s leadership, they will watch this and fantasize about an Iraq that never existed. It’s easy to blame Iran and the USA, but a question that presents itself is, do we think that in the absence of the US or Iranian influence, that Saddam Hussein could have survived the Arab Spring? Would people to this day stay silent and claim that he is and was always great for Iraq? And in my biases, I would have to ask, would Kurds exist in the way that they do today in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq? Would there be more government-approved executions, acts of torture, and massacres? Any sensible person will claim “just because things are bad now, doesn’t mean they were better off then”. 

Raghad Saddam Hussein is a woman entitled to her feelings, and at the end of the day she was a daughter, and Saddam Hussein was her father, being empathetic, having compassion, and showing her love is natural, and she repeatedly mentions that culturally, and religiously she cannot scathe him. And while I understand the deep-rooted issue of respecting your father in a Muslim, middle eastern society, that does not mean you can re-write history, undo events that occurred, and erase the memories of the lives lost. She claims her love for her father is unconditional, but people will respect her if she were to say her love was conditional, that she loves her father but disagrees with his politics and decisions, but she didn’t. She took a side and it spoke volumes. 

It seems that Saddam Hussein’s daughter and granddaughter are mobilizing for something. First, Raghad’s daughter, Hareer, comes out with a memoir, and now Raghad is planning on releasing journal entries of Saddam Hussein and hers about details before, during, and after the US invasion. She’s only now releasing the memoir as a fresh look into Saddam Hussein as a family man and a leader. She says that she expects people will read the book because they love her family, her father especially. There seems to be an endgame, but what is it? And what about Al Arabiya? Why is Al Arabiya, a Saudi channel, giving Raghad Saddam Hussein a platform? The interview concludes ominously, Raghad claims that within the year new things will come to Iraq, some may be good and some may be bad, things that Iraq may want and things it might not, what is she referring to? Is this her prefacing her return to Iraq? And in what capacity will we see her in Iraq, is this the rise of Saddam Hussein’s legacy, and should we be worried?

My Circumstance

backyard picnics

I’ve been thinking about circumstance quite a bit lately, the cards you’re dealt. It’s easy to look at those cards individually and see how crappy it is, there’s absolutely no way you can win this game. The game is rigged against you, the other player’s have the better cards, they’ve got the joker, they’re going to win, and you’re going to lose. 

C’est La Vie.

This is life. 

You can’t win every game, and you can’t always have all the good cards. Sometimes you lose, and that is okay. It’s not the win that is important, it is how you win and how you lose, what you do in between and how you react to the cards you’re dealt. 

How you react to the cards you’re dealt. 

This is the lesson that I am learning at 26. It’s how you react to your circumstance is what matters, not the circumstance itself. You may not be able to control or change your situation, but you can control and change your reaction to it.

I lost a grandparent in 2017, my mother was diagnosed with cancer in early 2018, my dad was diagnosed with cancer in late 2018. In early 2019 my mom finished her treatment, this followed with my dad and the beginning of his. In late 2019, I was in the room as I watched my Aunt die, and in 2020, well, need I say more? It was easy for me to see these cards and say “I’ve been dealt a crappy hand.” It was. Although these circumstances have touched me, and affected me in one way or another, they are not actually my reality. 

My reality is that most people don’t get a chance to spend a beautiful summer with their grandmother in a once in a lifetime trip, hold hands and spend nights talking about her good old days. Most people lose their mother and father to cancer, in fact, I know a couple who have lost their beautiful mothers so prematurely. Most people don’t get a chance to say goodbye, and I had the chance to say goodbye to my aunt. And although loss is painful and it stays with you for the rest of your life, and although cancer is, for lack of a better word, a fucking bitch, it is a part of life, it is inevitable, it is expected. It is life. And if I plan on living my life, the only one I have, fulfilled, I needed to stop seeing these situations with the lens of “this is my reality”.

I would say about late April, I got into my head way too much and started reacting in such a way that was detrimental to my health. I felt stuck. I’ve always had this gnawing insecurity with my role in the world. I was afraid I wasn’t tapping into my potential, that I would leave the world with untapped and unfulfilled potential. I’m surrounded by brilliant people who are so intelligent, creative and resourceful that I felt I wasn’t contributing in any way to society, that although I wanted to impact situations, people, laws, I wasn’t. And it seemed as though I would never get there.

What was even more detrimental, was the fact that I started to question who I was and what I liked. Do I actually like reading? Am I a biker? Do I enjoy running in the rain or is this someone else? Do I enjoy cooking and baking or am I just doing it for others? Am I a good writer? Should I write? Will people even care to read what I have to say? I found myself wondering if my favourite colour was blue and if my clothes matched my personality. What was my personality? Who am I? Who was I? Are those mutually exclusive? I didn’t even know what to identify as? What was I good at? Was I good at anything? I’m terribly afraid of heights but all those thoughts, questioning the very atoms that make me who I am shook my world, and I don’t think I’ve ever been this afraid. Ever. 

It’s weird, because from the outside, I’m sure it looks like I’ve got it way more figured  out than I do. But I don’t. Does anyone really? What we put on social media, on Instagram and Twitter is, as we all know, the best version of ourselves, but behind the screen, the post and the like, I’ve come to realize everyone has the same concerns, the same fears, the same aspirations, the same worries, our collective experience as humans are very similar, yet this is something that is hard for each and every single one of us to understand. We acknowledge that it is a collective experience, and yet when we are in this “slump” or “low” we are blinded by our own experience and the loneliness we feel in it, despite the fact that behind a like is a story of the same sadness you feel. 

To rewind back to April, I felt helpless and out of control. I couldn’t control my parent’s health and I couldn’t control the health of planet earth. The weight of those two situations were far too heavy for me to take on by myself. And as absurd as it may sound, I blamed myself. How could I not control the outcome of a CT scan? Of a cell so small I can crush with my own bare hands? How can I not do something to help the innocent 11 year old boy in Slemani with months to live because of his kidney failure? Why could’t I impact governments and change policies? Why couldn’t single handedly stop Turkey from killing my people? Every day we’re inundated with news of a new global crisis. How do you pick and choose what to fix? How do you decide where to put your energy? Who to fight for? What to fight for? There’s just too much that needs to be changed, to be fixed. So often, instead of doing anything, we end up doing nothing. And I felt so out of control, that that is exactly what I did, nothing. We wallow in our own exhaustion. We drown ourselves in the noise and turn on the new Netflix show or scroll through Instagram to avoid having to confront the issues all around us. What I failed to realize is that in my attempt to try and fix everything and everyone around me, to no avail, I neglected myself. I was not the best version of myself, I didn’t even recognize myself. 

Here I was, the only variable I had control over, the only thing I could change, and yet for a good 26 years, I completely ignored myself. I realized I needed to stop changing the world, fixing everyone and everything around me, I needed to stop focusing on circumstances beyond my control. I can’t be an activist, a politician, a doctor, a philanthropist, and superwoman all at once. It is physically impossible. The exhaustion of the weight of the world paralyzed me, and unbeknownst to me, I couldn’t impact anything or anyone, If I couldn’t focus on myself. If I couldn’t figure out what was limiting me and my potential, then how could I ever impact anyone else to change. 

I look to the people who inspire me and move me, and most of them do so through leading by example. I think the most important lesson of all is that the world is paying attention. To inspire change and be impactful, you don’t have to say anything at all, because the words is watching, and many will start to question what they’re capable of, their potential and how much more they can do. This is what it means to lead by example, to inspire. It’s not words, it action. The minute you invest in yourself and who you are, is the minute that people will start to notice you, the change in you, your accomplishments, without even saying a word. So forget social media, forget the weight of the world, focus on yourself right now. The ripple effect that follows will be far more greater than you’ll ever know. That is the lesson. It might even be the greatest lesson of all.


How did Kurdish Coffee become Turkish Coffee?

Between 1850 and 1930 Kizwan from the Turpentine Trees of the mountainous regions of Semsûr, Amed, Batman, and Mardin in Northern Kurdistan knows as Bakuri Kurdistan, located in modern-day “Turkey” was collected and made into coffee, which was then exported to France where it was packaged and sold in Europe as Kurdish Coffee.

A Traditional Coffee Pot

For over 80 years, Kurdish coffee was one of the most popular types of coffee in France. What made Kurdish coffee different from other types of coffee? It didn’t have caffeine in it. Kizwan coffee is made from fruits collected by the Kurds from the wild pistachio menengic. Ground roasted terebinth fruits, milk and sugar are its main ingredients in the traditonal recipe. But modern branded recipes include coffee.

However, following the proclamation of the Turkish state, a series of systemic discrimination was issued and Kurds were denied their language, music, traditional clothing, and their customs. When the Turks started to rename the cities, towns, and villages of Kurdistan, they also renamed Kurdish Coffee as Turkish Coffee.

Kurds themselves called it Kizwan Coffee, and to this day they do. At the time, however, France and Europe knew it as Kurdish Coffee, and in a short period, it became the most sold coffee in France where it was packaged and sent to the rest of the world. Geographers to this day claim that if you search all of Turkey, you will only find the turpentine tree in Bakuri Kurdistan. This is the tree that Kizwan Coffee is made from.

Kurdish Coffee Served with Chocolate and Water

In 1930, 100 grams of Kurdish coffee was packaged and sold in France, known as “Kurdish Coffee” with a picture of a Kurdish gunman as it’s leading logo. It was marketed as Chicorée au Kurde.

Packaged Kurdish Coffee in 1930

Something, seemingly as simple as coffee, was such a threat to the Turks, that they had to ask the French and European governments to change the name and picture of their packaging.

This is merely one example of the systemic discrimination imposed on Kurds in Turkey, and it’s a “mild” one. However, Turkish coffee has become a household name, an item on every menu and since 2013, it was inscribed in UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It has since been used in fortune telling, written about in poems and novels, and it is one of the most fundamentally well known beverages of our decade. But at what cost?