October 01, 2003

Nation, state

This brief passage, from After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?, by veteran war correspondent Jonathan C. Randall, sums up quite a bit of what I've been thinking about the Kurds lately:

Eternal outsiders, who in this century can only have marveled at the wasted fortunes that the Arab world lavished on Palestinian nationalism, the Kurds are the Middle East's essential poor boys. Deprived, even of their own oil and kept on short rations in one state, their national dress banned in another, their language in still a third, their most basic human and civil rights denied to differing, but often extreme, degrees at various times in various places, the Kurds have resisted assimilation with a constancy confounding their would-be masters. They have survived the first aerial bombing in the Third World, poison gas, the deliberate leveling of their rural society in Iraq, mass destruction of villages and forced deportation to the western cities of Turkey, and the assassination of their leaders in Iran.

I've toyed on and off with a post that begins, more or less, like this:

A people with ancient ties to their homeland, long pre-dating the borders imposed on them by Europeans at the end of the First World War and the political developments that occurred in a number of countries in the region following the Second World War, are stateless. Beyond their lack of political autonomy, their very existence as a distinct people, with a unique history and culture, is denied by their occupiers. Their homes have been destroyed, their cities occupied. Deprived of a state of their own, they have been persecuted in their own lands or forced to flee, their refugees dispersed throughout the Middle East and beyond, ffrom campaigns of collective punishment that verge (some would argue that are) genocidal in nature.

Of course, I was referring to the Kurds. I don't mean to score cheap rhetorical points, only to make an observation and to confess to a bias I think I have whenever I hear or read people using the word "Zionist" as if it were a dirty word, or an altogether intellectually indefensible movement. The idea of Zionism was, if I'm not mistaken, that without a state of their own -- one which could accept refugees, one that could protest to other nations the mistreatment of their people -- the Jews would be defenseless, and dependent upon the kindness of strangers (and we all know how well that worked out in the 30s and 40s). That doesn't mean I'm necessarily entirely unsympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, but I find it hard to take seriously those who say that the problems of the Middle East cannot be resolved until Palestinian complaints are resolved in their favor, but have little or nothing to say about the Kurds.

The terms are confused, and I imagine the numbers may well be unreliable, but there were something like 100,000 Kurdish Jews (I'm not quite sure if that means Jews who lived among the Kurds, or Kurds who adopted Judaism) in Kurdistan. Most of them fled to Israel after 1948. In the book Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, we find this from an interview with a Kurdish Jew:

In our city, Aqra, and in Mosul, conditions were excellent for Jews. The Jews and the Kurds identified with one another. They both had enemies, "sonim" -- literally "haters" -- nations that hate them. The Jews did not have a state and neither did the Kurds. We emigrated to Israel because we were Zionists, not at all because of what was going on in Kurdistan.

And then there is this:

The relationship between the Jews in my village and the Muslims in neighboring villages was excellent, but there was a great change in the early 1940s. The Arabs had developed a strong relationship with the Nazis, and that had its effect on the relationship between the Jews and Muslims in Kurdistan.

Both speak of their hardships in Israel, of going from their stable villages to the bottom of Israeli society, with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs. Yet if one compares this to the photos of Kurds trudging along a mountain pass toward the Turkish border -- weary mothers carrying babies, men doing their best to comfort young children -- knowing they are fleeing from one country that wishes to kill them to another country that does not want them, or to the photos of the flattened town of Qala Diza in northern Iraq, where 70,000 Kurds once lived, or to the graves of those killed by the chemical attacks in the town of Goktapa, you begin to realize how lucky -- despite everything they had to suffer -- the Kurdish Jews were.

They at least had a place to go, a homeland they had never visited, that they did not know, that did not know them, but that would protect them, that they would protect.

Posted by Ideofact at October 1, 2003 11:45 PM