Thursday, December 29, 2011

Where People Listen to Each Other

Where People Listen to Each Other:
 Review of White Mountain by Taha Karimi
Ava Homa
“I say
Put your wreath under any tree,
Near any stone,
Beside any collapsed wall,
By any river bank,
In front of any door
Bow your head and put down your wreath.
They are all my unknown soldiers' graves.”
The sharp contrast between the setting and the subject makes White Mountain an influential movie. Picture is one of the most powerful elements of White Mountain that in spite of the bitter subject makes the movie distinct and penetrating. The setting is the breathtakingly beautiful Qandil Mountain which could have been a lucrative tourist attraction to enrich Kurds and instead has turned into a war-torn area that squeezes many dead Kurds.  
A white haired, white bearded man and his tired mule’s job is to carry corpses from a part of the mountain to another. These dead bodies are called “filthy” on one side and “martyr and hero” on the other side_ depending on which political party they used to fight for. The old man has every step by heart, so does his friend and vehicle, the mule. He is the narrator, the story teller who gathers white stones from the bottom of the river while washing himself and his mule gently and meticulously. He is full of tales, tale of the bodies he transported and buried. He breaks the tree branches to make a blanket for the dead and ties a scarf to the branch to try and catch up with the numerous victims of human’s inability to live in peace.
The dialogues ironically characterize lack of communication. The way characters converse speaks of a land where people offer no patience or understanding to one another. Suspicious and anger dominates their attitudes and frustrates the members of the community. Women of the valley either hopefully cling to supernatural forces to protect their loved ones or hopelessly weep on a piece of stone that may or may not be embracing their loved one. Despite their common pain, these grieving women cannot comfort or even tolerate each other; thinking they are the only one whose loved one is lost. The old man shows a grave to five women and tells them it is where he buried their family member. The truth is he does not have the chance to bury all the corpses.
The enemy here is not the governments of Turkey, Iran or Iraq. A self-reflective, self-critical movie, White Mountain zooms on a bitter part of history that Kurds shy away from: Kurds killing Kurds. The hints are veiled and the director avoids pointing finger at any specific person or party. He puts a small mirror before all of them to get them ponder and hopefully change their approaches.
The writer and director, Taha Karimi paints a powerful situation subtly and smartly. He avoids melo-dramatizing the situation or making it too disturbing. These traps, for which some writers/directors fall, would only take away from the movie and leave the audience with nothing but shallow and transient emotions and no productive reflection.    
   A maybe-not-so-mysterious “Kak Doctor” promised the old man one day the Kurds will be prosperous, one day no kid will be hungry and no woman’s eyes would be sore. Both of what the doctor and the main character hope for are very metaphorical. Eyes become sore of either crying or ailment. Kids will not be hungry for food as well as peace and comfort. However, the most symbolic part of the garden “Kak Doctor” originally hoped for and the old man has been looking for is a place “where people listen to each other.” Communication, the ability to listen to and understand each other is a critical point of empowerment for Kurds.
The contrast between the subject matter and the setting creates a sharp effect. Despite human misery and ignorance, violence and regret, Qandil Mountain is stable, prevailing and gorgeous. The stunning mountain with its trees and spring that continue to flourish regardless, mocks human’s short sightedness and inability to communicate. The contrast between Qandil and people adds layers and depth to the movie.    

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Moment of Truth Is Fast Arriving

The moment of truth for the Kurds is fast arriving: In conversation with Jonathan Randal

Jonathan Randal and Ava Homa
By Ava Homa:

‘After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?’ is the title of a book by Jonathan Randal that I came across last year. The book’s daring and honest criticism of both world powers and Kurds in shaping the Kurds’ unfortunate destiny both intrigued me and blew me away. The book is a treasure, an extraordinary memoire that is focused on the history of the little-known and little-understood Kurds. Randle does not hesitate to straightforwardly state that Kurds have been used as pawns by both Middle Eastern nations and United States. Randle talks about the Kurds’ political suicides, their repeated mistakes and what he calls their “blind trust” in the States which constantly betray the Kurds. Incredibly unbiased, Randle portrays injustice and ignorance without the slightest desire to please any Middle Eastern or Western nation. He provides details on the atrocities committed during Anfal and reports how the States made loads of money selling arms to Saddam. Nonetheless, Randal states that “without wanting to be cruel, much of the last 100 or so years of the Kurdish experience can be construed as a series of political suicides, but they, too, have forged the Kurdish soul, albeit at a terrible price.” The book also includes details on the hazards Randal has been through to meet war lords and see the difficulties of Kurds.
Generally, we Kurds are used to self-pity and blaming foes more than we are familiar with facing our mistakes and fixing them! Feeling exposed and bare naked, I told myself I needed a break from the book before I can get back to it and digest it.
‘Osama: The Making of a Terrorist’, ‘Going All the Way: Christian War Lords, Israel Adventurers and American Bunglers’ are Randal’s other books. Last month I met Randal in a cafe in Paris. A high-spirited, very charismatic and strikingly wise and calm gentleman, Randal greeted me in a typical Parisian cafe and offered me the Farsi version of ‘After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?’ Translated by Ebrahim Yonesi, the book was a very good read and made me face what I unconsciously preferred to escape. My time in European subways and trains was once again devoted to reading the miseries and mistakes of my nation.
Randal currently writes a preface for a book he has been working on for almost 30 years about how the Lebanese (Christian) Maronites committed political suicide—and helped blow up the country - rather than compromise with the other dozen and a half communities in Lebanon.  ‘Going All the Way’ is the title. Randal still works on a book about the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the siege of Beirut and its unheeded lessons.
“The moment of truth is fast arriving,” says Randal. “The American troops are leaving by the year’s end. There are no US bases in Kurdistan. That leaves the messy situation between Kurds and Arabs unsettled around Mosul and Kirkuk. Did the KRG really ever think that would happen and, if so, when and what now is Plan B?”
“Years ago, an American ambassador told me the Kurds had nothing to worry about as long as Saddam Hussein was in power. But, he asked, what would the US and the rest of the world do, if Saddam fell and a determined Sunni Arab general decided to exercise sovereignty all the way to the international borders? Since then Saddam is no longer around and the question now would involve a Shiite Arab general. But the question remains valid. I keep thinking of the 1937 Saadabad Treaty allying the region’s nation states against the Kurds. Have things changed that much in the last 75 years? How long will the Turks want to keep making nice?”
“Obviously, the Kurds are coining money”, Randal says. “They never had it so good. Esso has dared sign an oil deal with the KRG despite Baghdad’s threats. But is that a proof of Kurdish strength or Baghdadi weakness?”
In response to my question on what can actually be done to prevent a potential crisis, Jon says: “I have a dreadful feeling that it may be too late, that what at least seemed like blind faith in the United States may have become so ingrained that there is not much the Iraqi Kurds can do now that the US recessional is underway, indeed nearing its conclusion. How ironic that the Kurds doubled down on the US just when the US was losing its clout and soft power … because of its wars in Muslim countries.”
Randal warns the Kurds but does not entirely dismiss the chances for a stable future for them. “The Kurds are gamblers”, Randal says, “and I suppose it was a wager worth taking. It was difficult to grab the brass ring when good fortune seemed to emerge from the very nadir of Kurdish history.”
Randal wraps up by saying that “I keep hoping against hope that somehow the KRG will emerge unscathed when Baghdad does get organized and the neighbouring states are tempted to honour the Saadabad accords.  It puts me in mind of Dr. Johnson’s description of second marriages: ‘the triumph of hope over experience.’”
We are getting very close to the end of the year 2011 which marks the end of the US presence in Iraq. What else can we do other than “hoping against hope?” Can hope actually overcome experience?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

By the Kurds for the Kurds

By the Kurds for the Kurds: Kurdish Youth Festival

tradional image
By Ava Homa:
The Kurdish Youth Festival (KYF) along with many similar festivals are the Kurds’ way of searching for identity and independence, a cultural resistance that Kurdish Youth is trying to replace the traditional ones. KYF is held 6-8 January, 2012 in Washington DC and provides a great opportunity for the Kurdish Diaspora to mingle, network, celebrate their roots and feel connected to and supported by their community. “The Annual Kurdish Youth Festival is powered by the youth for the youth,” say the founders of this organization. This large festival is a result of the devotion of energetic youth who work all year round to organize a compelling three day event.
The programs vary from dance and a “Kurds Got Talent” competition to featuring movies and panel discussions such as “From the Mountains to Twitter.” An Essay Contest is part of this Festival’s goal to promote and encourage education. The participants, however, do not take sides with any political agenda “other than a deep commitment to a bright future for our youth.” Nuha Serrac, one of the active volunteers of this group talked to Ava Homa, on behalf of the KYF. “The committee members are students, young professionals, aspiring leaders, and talented artists with a passion for community development. The organizational structure is highly democratic with an emphasis on exchanging ideas in a supportive and positive environment”, she explained.
Ava Homa: Who are the founding members of this festival and what inspired them/you?
Nuha Serrac: The idea of a youth festival was conceived less than three years ago by members of the Kurdish Youth Club. They envisioned a platform for the promotion of the vast range of cultural, educational, and artistic talents of the Kurdish youth. With this vision in mind, they networked with other passionate Kurdish youth across the United States. Their collaboration, enthusiasm, and hard work led to the First Annual Kurdish Youth Festival held in Atlanta, Georgia in January 2010.
The first festival’s impressive attendance rate, positive reception and feedback by the community helped inspire and energize many others to get involved. It has been an exciting and promising journey since.
AH: What do you expect to achieve through this festival? How has it been going so far?
NS: The Annual Kurdish Youth Festival is a celebration. At the least, we want to acknowledge the young generation of Kurds in Diaspora. We want to recognize their impressive accomplishments and encourage further advancements. It is also homage to our identity as a stateless people and a reflection on the challenges our parents and ancestors faced. However, our vision is far greater than just a celebration.
The festival is an assembly of ideas. It is meant as a jumping point for further community participation and mobilization. We believe that by creating networking opportunities and a stage for the exchange of insights and solutions, we will help our youth cultivate their best qualities. They can in turn empower their communities. An educated, healthy, and productive youth can become agents of change and help build a successful presence for Kurds in the global arena.
So far, the Annual Kurdish Youth Festival is a great success story. In a short period of time, this festival has become the event to look forward to all year.
Participant testimonies speak volumes about the positive effect of the festival. One concrete example of the festival’s results is the establishment of a Kurdish-American Youth Organization chapter in Los Angeles. They were energized at the Kurdish Youth Festival in January 2011 and went back to their city to form an active group.
AH: How has the turn out been?
NS: The turn out has been amazing. Attendance has exceeded the expectations of the organizing committee every year. We can credit the popularity of this festival with the great success of the first events in 2010.
We received wonderful feedback. That is why we believe that our single most effective form of promotion is through word of mouth of the previous attendees. The stories, photos, good memories and education they take back to their families and friends encourage others to attend.
The 2011 Festival brought close to one thousand attendees throughout the three day event. Many of those who attended were from the local Dallas community but many more were out of state participants.
This year, we anticipate a much larger attendance rate and hope to once again be pleasantly surprised.
AH: What are some limitations/restrictions you have had so far to achieve your goals?

NS: Like any organization operating in difficult economic times, funding is a challenge for us. More resources would mean we could invite more renowned scholars, artists, and activists. It would also help us provide more scholarships to participants who are not able to attend due to monetary challenges.
We have tried to tackle this issue by utilizing volunteer strengths, social networking, and better fundraising efforts. We are fortunate to say that it has been going well despite the hard times.
Another area of challenge for us has been the need to create an inclusive space for participants who are non-Kurds or Kurds from non-English speaking countries.
This festival started by Kurdish youth in the United States catered to the youth here. We soon noticed that people from across North America, Europe, and the Middle East showed interest in participating. This was an encouraging sign but also challenging.
In the past year, we have worked diligently to develop quality programs that will be useful and interesting to Kurdish and non-Kurdish participants from various backgrounds.
AH: How do you get funding for the festival?

NS: The Annual Kurdish Youth Festival is funded by the generous donations of companies, organizations, and individuals. We want to stress that the organizers of this festival are committed to remaining an independent non-biased not-for-profit committee. For this reason we are very transparent about our funds and provide names of our sponsors to those who are interested.
To make things easy for our sponsors, the committee has created various sponsorship levels. There are also many benefits to being a sponsor of our Festival. We have a very enthusiastic audience who are eager to support companies who have sponsored us. We publicize and advertise for businesses and include their names in our publications. Supporting this festival is a sure way to build a loyal customer base while investing in the future of this generation.
This year’s festival would not be possible without the monetary support of Iraq’s first mobile telecommunications company, Asia Cell. They are our first Diamond level sponsor.
Other notable sponsors include SENK Group and Pinnacle Web Services who have generously donated every year. We are also grateful to several Kurdish Organizations operating throughout the United States.
We want to emphasize that regardless of the amount, donations go along way so we appreciate those who give.
Please visit our website for more information on how you can be a partner.
AH: How do you hope the festival will improve in the future?
NS: The Festival’s organizing committee is heavily invested in making improvements to our operations and programs. We strive to become a model for other events held throughout the year. Therefore, we respond to the needs of our community. All of our efforts and resources are focused on creating a truly unique cultural and educational experience for the Kurdish community. We rely heavily on feedback provided to us by those who have or will attend the festival. We have mechanisms such as online surveys, written questionnaires, face-to-face interviews, social media, and participant enthusiasm to measure our performance. We are also open and available to suggestions from seasoned leaders and older community organizers.
In the future we hope to build a mentorship program to pair up experienced community leaders with younger members who will be taking a more active role. In order to make this festival sustainable and successful for many years to come, we would need training workshops regarding leadership and non-for-profit work. We also hope to have subcommittees dedicated to fundraising and advertising.
Another possibility is to create opportunities to work with non-Kurdish youth festivals or international conferences in order to build alliances through meaningful joined efforts.
AH: Thanks for your time Nuha.
For more information, please visit:
This and similar festivals have a positive social, cultural, political and psychological impact on the Kurdish nation.
To Kurds’ prosperity and happiness!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A New Review of Echoes from the Other Land, Nov. 2011

Reviewed in The Toronto Quarterly, Issues 8. Nov. 2011

Ava Homa was not so long ago writing and teaching at a university in Iran when she decided to move to Canada to study Creative Writing at the University of Windsor. She now lives in Toronto, where she continues to teach and write. Her debut collection of short stories Echoes From The Other Land (Tsar Publications, 2010) has been critically acclaimed and nominated for the prestigious Frank O’Connor Short Story Prize. She has been regaled as Canada’s answer to Raymond Carver, and rightly so. Her stories are incredibly succinct and breathtaking. Homa exquisitely portrays the lives of her female Iranian protagonists, who continually prove to be unafraid of taking hold of their own lives, unveiling an inner-strength that is not only surprising, but a lot more universal than might have been first expected. Her stories are rich, dramatic, tension-filled, and have an innate ability to captivate the reader.

Homa poignantly points out that the resistance is real, that Iranian women are indeed tired of living their lives under an oppressive regime, and that the Western media’s depiction of them as being inferior and limited are primarily falsehoods. It should also be noted that the similarities between Middle Eastern and Western culture are not that dissimilar at all, that Iranian women do have a voice, and their social activity is not only widespread and diverse, but ever- changing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review of Carol Prunhuber’s ‘Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd’

book cover
By Ava Homa:
Carol Prunhuber’s book, Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd, is more than a biography; it offers a deep insight into a nation and an ethnic group’s history.  Poignant and intelligent, this engaging book focuses on the inspiring life of one of the most influential Kurdish political leaders, General Secretary of Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), Dr. Abdurahman Ghassemlou. He fought for “Democracy for Iran, autonomy for Kurdistan” for years and in 1989 was assassinated by the Islamic Republic agents while negotiating Kurdistan’s situation. The book offers much to a spectrum of readers, from those who have been part of Kurdish resistance to those who don’t know much about Kurdish cause.
Prunhuber has skilfully captured all the intricacies and complexities of this leader’s life and resistance. Ghassemlou was a politician who remained a humanitarian, a guerrilla who opposed acts of terrorism, a progressive thinker, a Muslim who believed in the separation of religion and State, much ahead of his time and region. By putting Dr. Ghassemlou’s life in its proper historical and social context, Prunhuber is able to explain the contradictions and compelling facts and details.
Drawing on extensive resources, books, articles, newspapers, interviews with Ghassemlou, his family, friends and people who were in contact with Dr. Ghassemlou, Prunhuber has proven an ability to grasp various aspects of this leader’s life who was a beloved of Kurds. Ghassemlou was a democrat who was pro women’s rights. Prunhuber not only points out the fighting methods of KDPI but also explains how Dr. Ghassemlou would treat the Peshmarga:
“Ghassemlou would hold their hands; he knew their names, about their lives. He spoke to them about their village and their family. Ghassemlou had such an incredible human quality that he would listen to each and every one of the stories of the peshmarga’s.”
Prunhuber pictures the Peshmarga’s love and respect for Ghassemlou and does not miss details such as the differences between Talabani Peshmarga and KDPI Peshmarga. She quotes a French doctor who commented:
“The democrats, the KDPI, were miserably outfitted compared with the Talabanists. ‘They were very poor. They used sneakers and kept bread and cheese inside their shirts. They froze out in the field. They had cloth made of nylon. On the other hand, Talabani’s men used cotton cloth. The Talabanists had Coke and cookies in the hospital; the democrats only had bread and goat cheese.’” (104)
What makes Prunhuber’s book powerful is the way she understands Iran’s Islamic Revolution and Kurdish history which is simultaneously part of and distinct from Iran’s situation.
Ghassemlou is a significant part of Kurdish history, a charismatic leader who spoke nine languages and had an appealing sense of humour. He was a man who stayed democrat even when this quality worked against him. Although terrified of dying in Europe, Ghassemlou’s death was a statement. He died while having a dialogue with one of the most despotic regimes of the world, Islamic Republic of Iran. Prunhuber, however, does not end the book by this leader’s assassination. She offers details of his murder and the party’s destiny after Ghassemlou’s death. Prunhuber, in addition, bravely points out the fact that Austria never resolved the murder’s case in return for arm exchanges with Islamic Republic of Iran. “Ghassemlou’s widow, Helene pursued the case for many years,” Prunhuber writes.
A great read from this excellent writer. Strongly Recommended.
Ava Homa, a Kurdish-Canadian writer is author of Echoes from the Other Land  which was nominated for the the world’s largest short story award Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Ava has two Masters’ degrees: one in English and Creative Writing, another in English Language and Literature. Echoes from the Other Land has a running theme of resistance by modern Kurdish women.  The stories are told on a universal scale, depicting human endurance, desire and passion. Ava’s writings have appeared  in the Windsor Review and the Toronto Star.  She was a writer in Iran, and university faculty member. In Toronto, Ava writes and teaches Creative Writing and English in George Brown College. For more information please visit

Monday, October 31, 2011

Kurdistan’s Future and the First World Kurdish Congress

By Ava Homa:
Leyla Zana (left) and Ava Homa
Leyla Zana (left) and Ava Homa
“It’s true that Kurds have a painful history,” said the Honourable Leyla Zana, “But I do believe it is much better to have a difficult yet dignified past rather than a violent and oppressive one. We won’t bring shame to our predecessors. Our enemies will.” That was a moment when the participants started their enthusiastic applause, making it hard to hear Ms. Zana’s final words. Of course, this brave woman who spent ten years in prison for having spoken the Kurdish language, presented her speech in Kurmanji and an interpreter translated her words into English.
Among many distinguished speakers and patrons, Leyla Zana seemed to be one of the most popular figures, impressing the majority by her very inspiring speech, humbleness, friendliness and her calm energy. Despite a difficult past, she was capable of hiding her suffering and generously offering smiles to everyone.
Such was the exciting and promising opening to the first World Kurdish Congress which was successfully held in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, October 6-9, 2011. This conference was unique and productive in bringing together some of the Kurdish scholars and intellectuals from around the world and asking them to focus on the issue of Kurdistan and offer their proposals and suggestions. The setting, in addition, provided a great opportunity for the speakers and attendants to get to know each other in order to be able to further cooperate in building a strong nation: Kurdistan.
Another exceptional aspect of the conference was its interdisciplinary nature. The speeches concentrated on various aspects of Kurdistan: culture, psychology, politics, medicine, business, economy and so on. The speakers presented their researches, results and their suggestion as to how to improve different aspects of life in Kurdistan. The speakers had travelled from different continents: Canada and States, Asia, Sweden, Germany and various European cities, as well as Southern and Northern Kurdistan. Some courteous Kurdish students in the Netherlands acted as volunteers to help organize the event.
Despite the hardships of long distance and cross-continental travelling, a majority of the speakers were present. Students and general public attended the conference to listen to these speakers. Xoshink, a student of engineering from Sweden, live-streamed the conference online. It is noteworthy to mention that, given the considerable population of Kurdish Diaspora in Europe and in the Netherlands particularly, the turn out could have been much greater.
Many interesting ideas were brought up and discussed during the two-day conference and it is impossible to mention them all here. Amongst the richest ideas was the speech by Ms. Deborah Morgan-Jones. She was the one who introduced the idea of nation as a brand and emphasised the Kurdistan’s role in the world. Deborah mentioned that in addition to strengthening Kurdistan in terms of domestic affairs, it is important to be aware of its international role and develop it. Then she continued to elaborate on the analogy of nation as a brand by explaining how some brands are worth millions of dollars in the market. She stated that Kurdistan needs to realize how much it costs in the market, what the target market is and how to market itself better in the world. Ms. Deborah added that it is very important that Kurdistan be aware of the messages she sends out to the world and, in order to achieve a common goal, Kurds need to work together and have a powerful and unified voice.
Carol Prunhuber, one of the organizers of the conference, emphasised the same idea that Kurds need to find friends “other than the mountains” and have a unified voice. Ms. Prunhuber, who has published the biography of Dr. Ghassemlou, emphasised that most great Kurdish leaders including Ghassemlou would have been very happy to see the conference.
Achieving a unified voice is not easy however. On one hand, team work requires a culture that is not promoted and practiced in many developing countries including Kurdistan. This is ironical because our culture is collective as opposed to the West’s individualistic culture. Nonetheless, we do not find it easy to be flexible and sacrifice “my” interests for “our” interest. This is not hard to achieve, however, given that Kurds have had thousands of Peshmarga i.e. people who were ready to face death. Our history proves our unique ability to put a greater value on the interests of Kurdistan above our temporary benefits.
Certain types of arguments will continue to exist however, which won’t necessarily affect us negatively. As much as it is important to have a unified voice and send a powerful message to the outside world, it is important not to deny or hide our problems. For example, liberals will continue to criticize the situation and ask for improvements. Feminists believe that women’s situation in Kurdistan needs a lot more enhancement while the nationalists like to say that Kurdistan is progressive and women enjoy a lot of freedom. A similar argument occurred between the speakers. Leyla Zana, however, cleverly pointed out that “you are both right.” On one hand women’s rights are significantly improving in Kurdistan. Female genitalia mutilation and honour killings are criminalized in Kurdistan now and this news proves a significant progress. Having a police for women and building women’s shelters where women are taught different handicrafts are unique not just in Kurdistan and Iraq, but also in the entire Middle East. This does not mean, however, that feminists should not continue to ask for further developments. Nationalists need to make sure they do not suppress and silence the feminists and other liberals. Instead constructive critics should be cherished because such people ensure progress and their voice is a sign of a healthy and progressive country.
In sum, the WKC (World Kurdish Congress) was a successful and fresh experience. Since there is always room for improvement, the congress will continue to reform and develop itself. It is our duty as Kurds to appreciate and assist such events in order to empower ourselves. For further information please visit

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ava Homa Interviews the Women of Peshmarga

The women of the Peshmarga: Fighting for a Kurdish homeland

| October 6, 2011
Nahid Hoseini and Golaleh Kamangar, two exiled Kurdish women fighting for their homeland. Photo: Ava Homa
The Peshmarga (those who face death) is a large group of Kurdish guerrillas who live in the mountains of Kurdistan, fighting the occupiers. Kurds, the largest ethnic group in the world without a homeland, are mainly divided between four countries of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria and have faced genocide. In an ethnic cleansing attempt, Halabja was gassed in 1988 when 5,000 Kurds were killed and 2,000 more a few days later. Kurds in Turkey are denied their very identity, including the right to speak their mother tongue in their own homes. In Iran, thousands of Kurds have been assassinated and executed for their beliefs.
A Peshmarga is a nationalist who has sunburned skin and has travelled on mules, starved, fought and lost loved ones. The Peshmarga in Iraq are referred to as "freedom fighters" while those in Turkey are labelled "terrorists." Since August 2011, Iran and Turkey have been attacking the Kurds in Qandil, located in northern Kurdistan. Seven civilians have died in these attacks and the mainstream media has turned a blind eye to this violation of human rights.
Kurdish-Canadian writer Ava Homa travelled to the region earlier this year to conduct interviews with those impacted by these conditions:
Nahid Hoseini, 43, is a mother from Kurdistan, Iran, and a chair of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI). In an interview, she described how her life changed forever.
"Listen, I either have to escape right now or I'll be detained in the morning." Nahid broke the news to her sleepy husband one night. He panicked; he has been unaware of his wife's political activities and was not sure how to take care of the children on his own. Nonetheless, he knew well enough what prison in Iran meant for a female political activist: torture, execution and rape. Thus, he supported his wife, and at the dawn Nahid kissed her five-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son goodbye and ran away to Kurdistan, Iraq, to join her friends in a camp.
Hoseini is a poet and daughter of a highly respected judge. She was brought up by an educated, open-minded father who encouraged and admired his daughter's strong sense of curiosity. Every time she asked her father a question, rather than giving her a direct answer, he referred her to a certain book or chapter in his library. Hoseini has read a lot of literature, history and politics. She was allowed to choose her husband, unlike many women of her generation, and was happily married. The husband was a kind and caring father and a successful businessman. He, nonetheless, preferred stability and had no passion for politics
Hoseini became interested in her Kurdish cultural heritage at a young age, an interest the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is determined to suppress. In order to protect the culture from Fars chauvinism, she voluntarily taught herself first and then other Kurds how to read and write in their mother tongue. At the same time, she became familiar with the principles of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan Iran (KDPI), which fights for a democracy for Iran, autonomy for Kurdistan, the equality of men and women in society and within family, as well as the separation of religion and state. The main leader of this party, Dr. Abdulrahman Ghassemlou, was a charismatic leader who spoke nine languages, had a PhD in economics, and was assassinated in 1989 by IRI agents while negotiating for Kurdistan.

In fighting the Kurds, Iran has been much slyer than Turkey and Iraq. IRI gassed Sardasht, killed many civilians and executed social and political activists. They have also devoiced Kurds. Irani Kurds are not allowed to learn their language and literature in school. Drugs are a lot cheaper in Kurdistan than other provinces. No Kurd is allowed to be the head of a governmental organization. Rather, highly educated Kurds are rendered unqualified by the government, while state-appointed non-Kurds with high school education are brought to Kurdistan to receive an honorary degree in management and run Kurdistan organizations.
Hoseini joined KDPI and met people with whom she had a lot in common. "We all ached for Kurds and Kurdistan." Nahid never talked openly about politics to anyone, even her children or her husband, but she would raise awareness about Kurdish history and literature and freedom fighting by telling tales, reciting poetry, passing on books and talking about identity. Her cultural activities, however, were enough to put her life at risk.
"The first time I was called by the Iranian secret police was to be warned that the poem I had written the week before should be immediately destroyed, never to be published or read publically." This left Hoseini in a state of shock since she had only written one draft of the ideological poem and had not read it to anyone yet. That was the first of many interrogations and threats to come. She had to flee.
"A wealthy woman leaving her children to be a Peshmarga?" people she had devoted her life to said behind her back. "She is either a psycho or a cheater!"
"You selfishly sacrificed our lives because of your naive dreams," her son blamed her. "Kurdistan will never be free. We should be glad they have not killed us yet. They hate us. They just hate every Kurd."
But Hoseini stoically did not say anything to these accusations. Her daughter lived with her in the camp but her son stayed with his father in Iran. In two years, however, the IRI arrested Hoseini's son and husband and tortured them before each other's eyes, forcing each of them to watch the other's pain. That was when her family finally became sympathetic towards the Kurdish cause. "I'll never forget that torturer's face. Never! The way he hit father before my eyes!" Hoseini's son said to his mother, she recounted. They joined her. By then, Hoseini was appointed the chairwoman of the party and wanted to stay in the camp. Her husband and son live and work in the city of Suleimaniyah, in northern Kurdistan.
"My son and husband are geographically and mentally closer to me but I only get to see them once every three or four months." Trying to stop her tears, Hoseini tells me, "I wrote my son a happy birthday on his Facebook wall this morning. I wrote 'Rola gian, Dearest son, this year like the last two years, I wasn't able to be with you on your birthday. Have a wonderful one and please, please forgive me.'"
KDPI provides a shelter for the members and pays them a minimum amount monthly that covers their basic expenses. They have a doctor, a clinic and a school in the camp, Koya, which is more than an hour away from Hewler. I ask how many Peshmarga are living in the camp and what the percentage are female members but that information, I am told, is classified.
In addition to Hoseini, I interview the best-educated woman of the camp. Golaleh Kamangar, 30, holds a Master's degree in Farsi Language and Literature. Her MA thesis was on mythology and currently she writes and translates articles for the party's website. She says she also writes stream of consciousness, philosophical short stories that she has not published. She joined the party in October 2010 and she was offered one of the best accommodations of the camp. She shares a two-bedroom house with another girl and seems happy with her choice. We chat for a while and she seems open to any question except she has been asked not to share. I ask if she could have become a teacher and/or a journalist in Hewler. This way, she would have a much more luxurious life and would be an independent activist. Instead, she was living in difficult conditions, with tons of flies nesting in the house, a broken shower, an out-of-order fridge, and a bathroom without lighting in the front yard that she had to use in cold and hot weather. "Compared to the previous generation of the fighters who lived in the mountains without hydro and water, I live in a palace." She replies. "Also, it's true that I do not need KDPI but I believe they need more female voices to represent the party."
In respond to my question, Kamangar says she hated guns. She would never shoot one unless she seriously needed to save a friend's life, or hers. "In a less brutal world, I would have never touched a gun. I would be a producer of ideas, rather than a distributor, rather than a fighter. But, with these much oppression, when my people's very existence is denied, when my people are striving for their most basic human rights, I have no option but to fight and my enemy is not civilized, they are armed to teeth cannibals."A distributor of knowledge, in her opinion, is a second-hand thinker, a person who does not have the chance to come up with new ideas. "What I and people like me do is to read Western thinkers' ideas and tailor them to fit our people."
Children are playing in the dirt ally. "Were they born in the camp?" I ask.
"I think their parents have betrayed them. People should have the right to pick their favourite party and that's only if they are willing to become a Peshmarga, if they have what it takes to become one." I ask if every Peshmarga in this very camp has it in them to face death in order to save an ethnic group. "I have to say there are adults in this camp who are not real Peshmarga, especially between women. We have runaways who think camp is a better option that sleeping on the street."
In the middle of our conversation, Kamangar's roommate, Sharmin bursts into the house with red eyes, sobbing. She says her mother has been detained by the Iranian secret police and was under a lot of pressure to make Sharmin return to Iran. Sharmin is only 20 and she has been in the camp since she was 18. "I am here to fight for Kurdish rights." Sharmin seems simplistic in her political opinions. She says, however, she does not want to return home.
"We don't fight only for Kurdish people, for all the ethnicities in Iran," Kamangar tells me. "We should live in a federal state where every ethnic group would have its rights." I ask her if she thinks Iran is ready for such a fundamental change. "The worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship," she replies, quoting Dr. Ghassemlou.
Ava Homa is author of Echoes from the Other Land which was nominated for 2011 Frank O'Conner International Short Story Award. She is also a professor, a scholar and translator. For more information visit her website here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Echoes from the Other Land was Placed 6th in CBC's Reader's Choice Contest

Congrats to everyone on the list and thanks to all those who voted

1. Extensions by Myrna Dey (6.9 per cent of total eligible nominations)
2. The Canterbury Trail by Angie Abdou (5.6 per cent )
3. Everything Was Good-bye by Gurjinder Basran (5.5 per cent)
4. Copernicus Avenue by Andrew Borkowski (3.6 per cent)
5. Hope Burned by Brent LaPorte (3.5 per cent)
6. Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa (3 per cent )
7. Man & Other Natural Disasters by Nerys Parry (2.6 per cent) *
8. Don't Be Afraid by Steven Hayward (2.6 per cent) *
9. Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul by David Adams Richards (2.3 per cent)
10. The Meaning of Children by Beverly Akerman (2.2 per cent)

Monday, October 3, 2011

"The pen is mightier than the pill"

Ava Homa

Ava Homa is author of Echoes from the Other Land which was just nominated for the world's largest short story award: 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Ava is a Kurdish-Canadian, writer-in-exile, with two Masters’ degrees one in English and Creative Writing, another in English Language and Literature. Echoes from the Other Land has a running theme of resistance by modern Iranian women under an oppressive regime. The stories are told on a universal scale, depicting human endurance, desire and passion. Ava’s writings have appeared in English, Kurdish and Farsi journals, as well as the Windsor Review and the Toronto Star newspaper. She was a writer in Iran, and university faculty member. In Toronto, Ava writes and teaches Creative Writing and English at George Brown College.

Recovery through Creative Expression in Kurdistan
The pen is mightier than the pill,” (Bower, 1999)
Alfred Lange, a clinical psychologist in Amsterdam has published studies of working with people who had used structured writing to overcome trauma and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (Lange 1994, 1996). Painting, music and handicrafts have proven to help reduce anxiety and promote positive psychological emotions. By stimulating mind, creative expression creates pleasure and satisfaction in the patrons. These effects can help individual with what Antonovsky names Sense of Coherence (SOC). Individuals with higher SOC will come up with the best coping strategies to deal with stressful situation (Dilani 2011). After years of being exposed to violence: unearthing mass graves, witnessing loved ones die in a chemical attack or being abducted by government soldiers, the surviving but traumatized Kurds need creative expressions in form of literature and art to help youth and adult equally to recover stressful experiences. The freedom and release individuals can finds in creative expression is an affective form of therapy. Mental health care professionals agree that one of the most helpful ways to work through mourning is to express grief in a creative form to represent inner experience, develop awareness and support personal change. Adding creative expression workshops to Kurdistan schools, libraries and community centers help transform lives, instill happiness and above and beyond that enrich Kurdish art and culture.
Keywords: Creative Expression, Trauma, Sense of Coherence, Art Therapy, Writing Therapy

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ava Homa interviews Fethi Karakecili

‘Mem U Zin’ on stage in Toronto, Canada on October 2

Fethi Karakecili
Interview with Fethi Karakecili by Ava Homa:
Fethi Karakecili – an artistic director, dancer, choreographer, educator and scholar – was born in Urfa, Northern Kurdistan. He received his Bachelors degree in Folk Dance at the State Conservatory in Turkey and completed his Master’s in Dance at Istanbul Technical University – Social Science Institute. He taught for 7 years as full-time faculty at Gaziantep University and Istanbul but moved to Canada in 2001 and completed his second Master’s at York University, Dance Studies.  Currently he studies PhD in Ethnomusicology at York University. He has also been teaching at York University – Dance, Music and Cultural Studies Departments since 2006.  For his PhD dissertation, Fethi is working on an Ethnographic approach on Kurdish wedding rituals, dance and music in Kurdistan and Diaspora. Fethi is the founder of the Dilan Dance Company
Ava Homa: What does being a Kurd mean to you, Fethi?
Fethi Karakecili: I want to say it means being a human being like others in the world.  In addition to that, the term Kurd has associations: survivor, unhappy, unaccepted, state-less, land-less, sad, refugee, war.  In the Middle East and in the world.  But after all of this, Kurds live their lives with honour, integrity, courage and success.
Ava Homa: True! Being a Kurd is a mixture of pride and pain. Why did you choose Mem U Zin? What’s about this book that personally appeals to you?
Fethi Karakecili: I grew up with the story tellers.  I was 7 years old when I first heard this story from Hino. She was an uneducated folk-story teller from Urfa region.  She was living in Adana with us.  Adana is in the south of Turkey, but I was born in the city of Urfa in the Kurdish region.  Back in 1977 the neighbourhood I was in didn’t have electricity- we didn’t have television or radio.  Listening to the story teller was our only entertainment and I heard Mem U Zin from her.  Later on I started to investigate to see what was behind this story: was it real? who wrote it? I was curious.  Then my curiosity in Kurdish folklore became a danger for me, because in Turkey this was banned.  Some Kurds, regardless, had hidden old books and I gained a chance to read the great philosopher/poet, Ahmed Xani, author of Mem U Zin. This epic was written in 17th century in a poetic, romantic style. That was when I promised myself, I will one day stage this great work of art.
Ava Homa: Very interesting, Fethi! Kurds indeed have great story tellers and I believe it is vita to document our oral literature before it is forgotten. Do you believe dance, or art and literature in general, can make a difference in a nation’s fate? How?
Fethi Karakecili: Dance and Art are important parts of a culture.  Dance has spirituality and rituals behind all movement, gestures and postures. Most folk and traditional dances focus on love, harvest, grief, weddings, happiness and war.  If people’s freedom or access to culture is limited then people are highly attached to their cultures.  Also art and culture is part of national identity.  It represents who you are, how you act in society and how you present yourself.
Ava Homa: It’s ironical that when you deny people access to their culture, they value it higher. In Canada, students are encouraged to study their mother-tongue in addition to English language and they rarely appreciate this freedom. But, who is your targeted audience and what is the effect you are trying to achieve?
Fethi Karakecili: To begin, this project involves artists from different backgrounds, cultures and dance styles.  The main idea is to be a human being and share different cultures on the same stage.  Our target is basically ‘Torontonians’ – everyone.  We want to show them the lovely Kurdish story of Mem U Zin and let them enjoy the vibrancy of Kurdish culture through the representation of rituals and ceremony (weddings, Newroz, etc.).  As an Academic and an artist I would like to take this performance outside of Canada and perform it for other audiences in the world.  So far there has been interest from within Canada; and from Europe, USA and the Middle East.
Ava Homa: Fantastic! What you are doing is priceless. Mainstream media either refuses to cover Kurdistan news – such as the recent attacks to Qandil Mountain – or, when they do cover the news, they only offer a one-dimensional view.  By putting a human face to the Kurds’ struggle you heighten awareness and interest.  How has the response been so far and what do you expect the turnout to be?
Fethi Karakecili: We have had an excellent response from the public and media.  I have been surprised by the wideness of response and requests for information.  I have been interviewed the Telegraph (UK), Radikal (Turkey), Toronto Star (Canada), ANF (Kurdish network, Europe) and more than 10 local newspapers in Turkey. Also most of our tickets have been sold to multicultural community (not just Kurds). We are getting response from Academics and professional artists.  It appears that we might come close to selling out on the performance day.  We developed a Facebook page and an on-going blog that have been well received.
Ava Homa: Fethi, we, the Kurds, value you and your arts and appreciate what you are doing for us. We will certainly support you. What is your message to the Kurds?
Fethi Karakecili: I want to tell my nation to make sure we always cherish our rich history and celebrate it. Empower yourself and your nation through work, education and unity. With solidarity we will reach acceptance and peace.
Ava Homa: Thank you! Is there anything you would like to add?
Fethi Karakecili: Mem U Zin is the first Kurdish dance performance (ballet dance theatre) ever in the world.  This is very significant and important.  It is also unique in using three different dance styles (folk, contemporary and ballet) with dancers of different backgrounds and disciplines.  The project includes live music led by Dr. Irene Markov.  It is also a multicultural band with players from different parts of the world.  In both the dance and musical performance I have endeavoured to include artists of many different backgrounds and colours.  You will see touches of other dance styles (East Indian, Capoeira, Afro-dance) in some of the individual performers.
Mem u Zin, the world premiere, at the Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles St. W., 7 p.m. Oct. 2. If you live in Toronto or Ontario, make sure you enjoy the dance and support your fellow artist. 
Ava Homa, a Kurdish-Canadian writer is author of Echoes from the Other Land which was nominated for the the world’s largest short story award Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and Giller Prize. Ava has two Masters’ degrees: one in English and Creative Writing, another in English Language and Literature. Echoes from the Other Land has a running theme of resistance by modern women.  The stories are told on a universal scale, depicting human endurance, desire and passion. Ava’s writings have appeared in the Windsor Review and the Toronto Star.  She was a writer in Iran, and university faculty member. In Toronto, Ava writes and teaches Creative Writing and English in George Brown College. For more information please visit


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's Time You Speak

Leyla Zana, Writes to Obama and Ban Ki-Moon

Diyarbakir MP Mrs Leyla Zana, WKC Founding Member, Writes to Obama and Ban Ki-Moon 28.8.2011

DIYARBAKIR, The Kurdish region of Turkey, — Diyarbakir deputy Leyla Zana has sent a letter to the U.S. President Barack Obama, NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, President of the Council of Europe, Herman Van Rompuy and Turkish President Abdullah Gül regarding the most recent policy implemented against the Kurdish people.

While Turkey's air strike continues in southern Kurdistan, Diyarbakir deputy Leyla Zana, in a letter to the leaders of the world, criticized the silence over the growing attacks against Kurds.

Deputy Leyla Zana's letter is as follows;
Prominent Kurdish MP Leyla Zana says to world leaders: it is time you speak. While the world is going through a very fast process of change and transformation and the Middle East is witnessing new developments, our people who are deprived of the fairness of the history still continue their struggle for “existence” at the cost of their lives.

When it comes to the Kurds and their political status, the world opinion keeps remaining silent and condoning the right and boundary violations, bombings on villages, houses and people, regardless of women, men and children, cross-border operations and the ongoing aerial operations. This situation is greeted with great astonishment by our people and considered difficult to understand.

The constant attack position of these powers and their intention to destroy all the values of Kurds do not comply with the character of the 21st century and the principles of fairness in the world.

The latest aerial attacks on Qandil, which have killed a civilian family in the region, are defended by Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey which is currently trying to set an example of a “model country” to the Middle East and conducting negotiations to be a member of the EU. In a statement to a national newspaper, the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, saying that “the operations are legitimate and true”, didn’t abstain from defending the attacks which target civilians. (Bülent Arınç/Cihan News Agency/22.08.2011)

I would like to express my regret that the Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey is increasing the policy of violence against Kurds as the Western world is holding up him as an example to the Middle East. I am greatly worried that we may face a modern dictatorship while the dictatorial regimes in the Middle East are falling down. The state’s attitude which forces the whole society to think the same with itself and the closure cases against the worldwide multilingual Roj TV need to be accepted as a sign in this regard.

In brief, the military, political, diplomatic attacks launched against the Kurds and most importantly, the boundless attacks on our civilian people are in front of the eyes of the world public opinion. It is possible to foresee how the destruction of an oppressed people’s children will deepen the deadlock.

All efforts of the Kurdish side are intended for finding a democratic and political solution to this problem. Although Mr. Ocalan has many times silenced the weapons since 1993 and created opportunities for obtaining the rights of the Kurdish people on a democratic ground as well as convincing his public that the problem can be solved in this way,www.ekurd.netthe state has negated all these processes with a negative attitude and turned a blind eye to these opportunities. Resisting extraordinarily about defining the problem, the state has at every turn considered and applied violence as the single method of solving the Kurdish problem.

Mr. President,

In the testimony of the whole world’s humanity, the geography which has been in a conflict environment for two hundred years is now expecting peace and quiet.

Kurdistan's geography should not be a second Paletsine and the Sri Lanka simulation shouldn’t even be associated with the situation in Turkey. Otherwise, a social chaos and an ethnic war among the peoples will be unavoidable, which will no doubt drag the world peace and humanity into more disaster.

I expect and wish that you will meet the requirements of your both conscience and position.''

Leyla Zana: Who in 1995 won the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights award, and several other Kurds were elected to parliament in 1991, but lost their seats in 1994 after their party was outlawed for links with the PKK. In March 2003, Zana and her co-defendants were allowed a retrial after their original conviction was condemned as unfair by the European Court of Human Rights in 2001. Zana and three colleagues spent 10 years behind bars for speaking Kurdish in the Turkish Parliament and for collaborating with the rebels. She was the first Kurdish woman to be elected to Turkey's parliament. They were released in June 2004

Review of Room by Emma Donoghue

The word “Best Seller” is usually a turn off for me. I tried reading some of them and they turned out to be really shallow. One of them, by a very well-known author, was all about cake and sex! They are, of course, parts of life, but just part, not all. In a world where so many atrocities are going on, the least we can do is to be aware of what people go through_ although knowledge is painful as opposed to the pleasing cake and sex, but our awareness can help stop crime. In a world that Turkey can kill civilian Kurds and their crimes are overlooked in the media, you can’t be all about cake and sex. It’s just degrading for human being, I believe, to be drawn in triviality while Somalia children are starving.
I picked up Room, an international best-seller, however, because it won Writer’s Trust Prize. I am a voracious reader and every book I read, I learn a few writing techniques from. Even when the books are not powerful, I try to figure out what didn’t work in the book. Room, however, taught me a lot about writing. I can talk about a few points.
1.      The book was very coherent and details were mainly significance. If at the first part Ma has a bad tooth, that tooth keeps appearing in the story and playing a role. This is not easy to create in a story.
2.      Globe and Mail says what makes the book distinguished is that Emma was brave enough to write the story form a 5-year-old point of view. I agree with that. A kid’s point of view sets a lot of hurdle but it also adds sweetness, innocence and humour to the book. It also creates irony because readers know more about the character than Jack himself.
3.      Room is original. Although the story of kidnap and rape is not new, by continuing the story Emma proves she is a deep, intelligent writer. The details of Jack and Ma’s life in the room prove the writer’s powerful imagination and the TV show scene shows her observation and critical thinking ability.
4.      Emma can create a variety of human relationships. Story gets a lot more powerful when we see Grandma, Grandpa, Steppa, Paul and his family.  Subtly and powerfully, the writer gives us some insight into the life of people who call themselves “free” as opposed to the trapped Ma and Jack.
5.      I loved how we never know Ma’s other name. It emphasises how being a mother was a greater part of the character’s identity and what saved her. Also, the 5 year old kid, the narrator, would not want “Ma” to be anyone else but Ma.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

CBC Books - The Scotiabank Giller Prize

CBC Books - The Scotiabank Giller Prize

Clara for Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa

Vancouver, BC

My choice is Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa. Her work has a fresh vision and her words speaks to both western and eastern audiences. I really appreciate Ms. Homa's candid exploration of relationships. She is eloquent and articulate.

Friday, September 2, 2011

CBC Books - The Scotiabank Giller Prize

CBC Books - The Scotiabank Giller Prize

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Enrique for Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa

Windsor, ON

It brings the reader behind the veil of a society ignored and misunderstood. A woman's perspective with bold insights into traditions and sexuality, the west needs more books like this to help us understand better the middle east.