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)”.

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.

Mardin
9/8/2020

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?

R O J A V A

I close my eyes and remember warm summer nights 

Spent on rooftops, mattresses spread out, spray bottles filled with water

Waving at neighbours, enjoying the rare breeze of a summer’s night.

My three sisters and I would laugh endlessly as our parents slept

Underneath the blanket of stars and an overzealous moon 

Watching over us, and we danced, we danced around with our hopes and our dreams while Singing to Jupiter and the trees.

On cold winter nights, it was the clanking of the pots and pans that 

Awoke us in the morning, underneath our covers, we etched a lifetime of 

Memories, now all a faded distant dream.

It was the chestnuts by the fire, and the sherbet for our guests, 

It was the long conversations over the hedge with a friendly neighbour, 

It was the young boy who brought us our warm bread in the mornings 

And the little geckos hiding by the air conditioner that frightened us, 

It was this and all of this, 

That I built my magical kingdom on. 

And now, a crumbling dynasty of hope.

First came the whispers and murmurs of a revolution, a spring, 

Then came the protests, followed by a siege, and all of a sudden, 

Our hometown was destroyed by madness and our streets were overflowing with 

Black flags with white writings and perverted tendencies, 

A betrayal of the innocent, an angry cry, tears of blood from the sky, it wasn’t a bomb,

it was three and more, followed by the creation of streams of light blood,

dark blood, all blood Blends, of friends and foes, the city was exposed.  

From cradle to grave we were born into a war, 

Our fairytale life was nothing but a dissolved rumour. 

Scenes of family and friends fleeing, images of fallen faces, feeling afraid and famished, 

We were now uninvited from our homes, unwanted by our people, unwelcome by all. 

Our misfortune was a means to an end. 

They didn’t care about the chestnuts or the rooftops,

they had no intention of listening to our hopes and dreams,

they were monsters from my unimaginable childhood nightmares, 

And they were here to stay. 

We fought and fought, we buried the dead, 

We buried Sheereen, Berivan, Ruhan and too many to count. 

I look to the sky to see a glimmer of hope, 

But all I see is an untrusted enemy, a betrayal. 

You were supposed to protect me. I wished upon all the stars, I wished for protection. 

And now the cycle repeats, it’s different faces and a different flag, 

But the decree is the same by all intents. 

Our mother, a lover of the mountains, of the sun, of the earth, 

Now a body of regret, “Why?” She would ask herself every day as she visits my grave, and waters my flowers, “Why did I stay?” She would ask as she prayed, 

And “why” she would utter at the world? 

“Why?”