Yes Theory Goes to Kurdistan and Calls it Iraq

The hustle and bustle of Erbil’s bazaar from a 2020 or 2021 lens is far different from that in 2017, 2014, or 1990. You cannot argue that there has been progress over the last couple of years. It’s often easy to forget that not too long ago, in 1991, “Northern Iraq” was the site of a mass exodus of indigenous Kurdish populations to neighboring Iran and Turkey after a state-sanctioned military operation to suppress uprisings amongst the Kurds. It’s easy to forget the Halabja chemical attack that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Kurds. It’s easy to forget that the purpose of the Al Anfal campaign, which encompasses many war crimes, was essentially the deconstruction and the Arabization of Kurds. It’s easy to forget when you’re not a Kurd, but when you’re a Kurd, you carry these memories, your children inherit them, your lives are thwarted by them and your successes are shaped by them. It’s easy to forget and disengage when you’re not a Kurd when you refer to Kurdistan as “Northern Iraq” or as a part of Iraq at all. But Kurds will often wonder if Kurds and Kurdistan were indeed a part of Iraq, the systemic Arabization, the pan Arab nationalism, the rampant government-approved executions, the acts of torture, genocide, and imprisonment of innocent Kurds would have never occurred. Therefore as a long fan, follower, and supporter of Yes Theory, I was, and am completely disappointed in their latest video titled, “7 DAYS IN IRAQ… My Unbelievable Trip”. 

I knew Thomas, Lexie, Drew, and Cory had traveled to Kurdistan in late 2020, and I have been patiently waiting for the video to come out ever since. The night before the release of the video, I had gone to my sister’s room and told her that I’m worried that they’re not going to refer to us as Kurds in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (as stated in the Iraqi constitution). She told me to not overthink it, and that she’s sure they’ve done their research and that they will not “throw us under the bus”.

So when I checked YouTube the next day and saw that the title indeed referenced Kurdistan as Iraq, I was gutted. I was disappointed, upset, and felt marginalized yet again. My sister and I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt, “maybe they traveled to Iraqi cities” we both thought. However, I was already beginning to lose any hope because, in the description box, they had written “So, along with Drew Binsky, Lexie Alford, and Cory Martin, we were taken around Iraqi Kurdistan by our amazing guide, Baderkhan.” They essentially traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan, The Kurdistan Region of Iraq, or Bashuri Kurdistan but titled it Iraq. Disappointment is a strong word to use for people you respect and admire, whose ideology you follow every day to the best of your abilities, I went on my first solo traveling experience in Iceland because they encouraged me to, and now I’m left hurt and disappointed. Yes Theory, you should have done better, you should be better. 

Thomas, you say that you visited Iraq, and yet you landed in a Kurdish airport, in a Kurdish city, welcomed by a Kurdish family who cooked Kurdish food, and yet you categorize it as Iraq and Iraqis? You can travel between Kurdish cities, and go into Kurdish bazaars and dance at a Kurdish wedding, wearing Kurdish clothing, under Kurdish flags, at the protection of the Peshmerga who for years have defended Kurds against oppression by the Iraqi government, and it took you 7 minutes into the video to mention Kurdistan at all? In fact, in the brief moment where you did accidentally enter Iraq, you looked like frightened at the thought of entering Iraq, why?

You have nearly 6 million subscribers that changed your life, you can directly feel the impact of that, and you’re aiming to reach 10 million by the end of the year, that’s nearly 1/4th of the Kurdish population, the largest ethnic minority without a state. And I know you know this because you mentioned it, so to reference us, as you did multiple times in the video as “Northern Iraq”, is derogatory. The reason why that is, is because many Arabs in Iraq do not refer to Kurdistan as Kurdistan or even Iraqi Kurdistan, they refer to it as the north, or “al shamal” because to say Kurdistan is beneath them, some don’t realize it and continue to use it because it’s systemic, but others say it to deny a Kurdish state. No one would have penalized you if you had said, Iraqi Kurdistan or the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, but you chose not to. Maybe it was clickbait, maybe it wasn’t, but over 40 million in the world are disappointed in you today. 

Despite my disappointment, the content was amazing. I teared up multiple times throughout the video and Baderkhan is truly an inspiring human being, full of compassion and love. He is the ultimate representation of Kurds, thank you for teaching us to laugh it off. The backdrop of Kurdistan and the Kurdish mountains was beautiful. Thank you for spreading awareness on the religious minority of the Yezidis and for introducing us to Zaeem and his contagious smile. There is so much more of Kurdistan left to see and I encourage you to come back again and explore it, I already have a title for you, “7 DAYS IN KURDISTAN… My Unbelievable Trip”. Seek discomfort but also seek the truth no matter how uncomfortable. 

P.S. Zaeem looked like he wanted some Seek Discomfort merchandise, I would love to make that happen if you have some contact information!

Love and Light,

Mardin

28/02/2021

Updated on March 3rd 2021: They changed the title to “7 DAYS IN IRAQ… My Unbelievable Trip (Kurdistan)”.

an open letter to the PM

Dear Mr. Prime Minister Trudeau,

I invite you to come have dinner with me. Come to my home away from home. Welcome, as you walk into the foyer and see a Persian rug hanging, look closely, it tells a story. I’ll share her secrets with you, her journey through Persia to Iraq to Jordan and then finally to Canada. You’ll see the house filled with blue eyes that protect from the hidden evil of hearts unknown. Hey, you don’t have to take your shoes off, but I will take your coat, the weather is changing isn’t it, fall is soon arriving. Here, have a seat. Yes, these are rocks, two of which I packed back with me from Iceland, that was an interesting trip I took out of the blue, I’ll tell you more about it, but first, would you like coffee or tea? My mom makes a mean steeped tea. Oh, these, these are rocks from Kurdistan, you see there is this artist named Ismael Khayat, he draws on rocks and my aunt asked him to make those for us. Here have some chocolate covered almonds while I pour the tea. 

You see, Mr. Prime Minister, I didn’t ask you here to talk about rocks and Persian rugs, I invited you here to talk about what it’s like to be me, a young female Canadian Kurd. Although my story may be unique, sugar? No? Okay. Although my story may be unique, it is uniquely similar to thousands of other Kurds in Canada, in the USA, in Europe, in the diaspora and within Kurdish cities itself. And although Canada is not Kurdish, it has a history of fighting for what is right. Here try this, we call this “kleecha,” my favorite is this one right here, filled with walnuts. You see, standing up against dictators, is something Canada has not shied away from, which is why I am confused at your silence. Mr. Prime Minister, you ask me to vote for you, but how can I vote for you if you won’t hear my voice, I’m screaming, and shouting, at the top of my lungs and from the bottom of my heart, but do you hear me? Can you hear me? Can you hear us?

Justin, can I call you that? It’s just us here, no please and thank you, Sir or Madam, my people are dying. Oh, what wonderful people we are, but we are dying. The air is thick and opaque, the people are being led by fear across the red sea of bodies, the governments and the humanitarians have failed us. It’s a mass exodus. And yet, the wonders of our world, our reality, Justin, is that we are privileged, safe, protected. Let’s speak honestly, it’s just you and me, I don’t know what it feels like to be afraid of airstrikes, of losing my limbs or worse be forced into a cult of terrorists. I don’t know what it means to wake up and find out over twitter, that my family and I have to flee to neighboring cities, because a NATO ally is coming to cleanse us of our Kurdishness, of our identity, our language our existence. Do you know what it means? What does it mean to be a target of genocide for years? Does your wife? Do your children? 

The food is ready, this is yapraxi galawmew, its stuffed grapevine leaves, my favorite dish in the world. Here, let me show you how to eat it, take one and take a small piece of meat and make a sandwich. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for 23 years. You know, I cannot sleep, can you? I cannot sleep knowing that Canada is a land people take refuge in, immigrate to for a better life, and yet at the core of your neighbors’ decision is a human rights crisis that you chose to ignore. I’ll tell you what I think, I think this is happening too close to election time, and that is a price the Kurds will have to pay. 

Oh, you don’t have to do that, I’ll take your plate. Mr. Prime Minister Trudeau, there is no dessert today, I think there is no sweetness to life today or any other day for that matter, not until the world cries with us, not until we speak up against the atrocities of fascist states, not until we stand up to hate, to genocide, ethnocide, to the oppressor, for the oppressed. No sweets today.

I beg you to reconsider your stance, on your drive home, really think about the fact that you’re not being forced out, afraid of airstrikes overhead. I beg you to reconsider. I beg you to stand, I beg you to be an ally, I beg you to be a voice.

Sincerely, 
Mardin Hener