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!