Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mayn Zard: Kurdish Engineer Trains Successful Dance Group

Kurdish Engineer Trains Successful Dance Group
Mayn Zard has appeared at the Kurdish Festival in Mexico. It has performed at the Canadian Parliament, during a celebration marking Newroz. Photo courtesy of Mostafa Nosraty
By Ava Homa
TORONTO, Canada – Without funds and relying only on volunteer dancers, Toronto-based engineer Mostafa Nosraty has beaten the odds to showcase the beauty of Kurdish dance to audiences in Canada and Mexico, and has invitations to perform in the United States and Europe.
Mayn Zard, a Kurdish dance group founded by the Iranian-born Kurd in 2010, has used creativity and determination to offer new choreographies every few months, while remaining true to the core of Kurdish dance.
The troupe has shined for three years across Canada, presenting the beauty of Kurdish dance, music, and garments to enthusiastic audiences.
At the “60x60 Dance” talent show in Toronto, the word “Kurd” was mentioned for the first time and raised a lot of curiosity and admiration, after a performance by Mayn Zard. The International Lions Clubs praised the dance, the dancers and their background, and raised awareness about the situation of the Kurds.
Nosraty, 40, is originally from Sanandaj (Sina), in Iranian Kurdistan. With degrees in industrial engineering and management, he has worked at oil companies and held managerial positions at international firms.
  I love to show to the Western world that there are beauties in Kurdistan that they are not aware of. 

“I love to show to the Western world that there are beauties in Kurdistan that they are not aware of. My interchange/exchange of culture with them will also help enrich my culture,” he said.
“In the West, the picture portrayed of the Middle East is very politically-oriented, a muddy, distorted and reductive view. Kurdish culture is mainly unknown, since it’s not been presented as an independent identity, rather under geographical boundaries.”
Through halparke – a Kurdish dance – the group reveals an often ignored image of Kurdistan, one associated with glory and solidarity instead of misery and oppression. 
Mayn Zard has appeared at the Kurdish Festival in Mexico. It has performed at the Canadian Parliament, during a celebration marking Newroz.  
The dancers have also been invited to perform in the United States, at a Kurdish Youth  Festival and a Middle Eastern Conference in New York. There have also been invitations from Sweden, to perform for the World Kurdish Congress. But the invitations could not be honored for lack of funds.
Despite the empty pockets and meagre support he receives from the Kurdish community, Nosraty has refused to give up the independence of his group. Mayn Zard only battles cultural barriers and is not politically-oriented. 
“Mayn Zard has been founded based on the passion, hard work and expense of its founder and the genuine support and efforts of its members. It is fully independent and has no affiliation, whatsoever, to any person, group, or association.”  
Fascinated by the energy and solidarity exhibited through Kurdish dance, Nosraty travelled around Kurdistan as a teenager to learn the dances of various regions. 
  I ask myself, ‘what is my role in the world as a Kurd.’ Kurdishness is important to me because, despite our ancient history and rich culture, we are still ruled by others 

“In Toronto, I saw the necessity and felt the time was just right for following my dream. I guess I knew that I would eventually do dance training; at least I had imagined so.” Nosraty said.
But, what does Kurdishness mean to this devoted individual and why is it so important for him to present his culture to the world? 
“I ask myself, ‘what is my role in the world as a Kurd.’ Kurdishness is important to me because, despite our ancient history and rich culture, we are still ruled by others and in the direction of their profits. What we have is working for others and what we don’t have is used against us.”
Despite his achievements, Nosraty spoke to Rudaw about the many obstacles he has faced in pursuing his dream of providing outsiders a glimpse into the beauties of Kurdish culture.
“In Canada, nothing is given for free and we have to pay for everything from our own pocket,” he explained. “We have no Kurdish government or any organization that is concerned about Kurdish culture, and so there’s no support,” he added. 
“Not many of the Kurds in diaspora, for various reasons, are interested in their roots. This has limited the number of individuals attending the classes. Also, life in Canada is not easy and people are engaged in their own daily life. They hardly find free time to put in a dance class and stay committed to it. Having no money to pay the dancers for their time and efforts, you may imagine how difficult it is to lead a successful group.”

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Year After Deadly Classroom Fire, Another Heater Bursts at Kurdish Village in Iran

A Year After Deadly Classroom Fire, Another Heater Bursts at Kurdish Village in Iran
In December 2012, 37 Kurdish schoolgirls at the village of Shinabad near Piranshahr in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province, were not so lucky when their class heater caught fire. Photo: ISNA
By Ava Homa
As the parents of some of the 37 schoolgirls who were burned in a classroom fire in a Kurdish village in Iran a year ago plead for officials to improve school safety, another kerosene heater exploded at another elementary school of another Kurdish village. 
Fortunately, there were no injuries from the explosion at the school in Kahrize Sheikhan, a village in Iran’s central Mahabad region with a population of 500. The school was immediately shut down and students were sent home.
In December 2012, 37 other Kurdish schoolgirls at the village of Shinabad near Piranshahr in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province, were not so lucky when their class heater caught fire. Two of the girls, Seyran Yeganeh and Sarina Rasoulzadeh, lost their young lives. All of their other classmates were injured, some suffering chronic burns. 
Last week, their families gathered before the presidential palace in Tehran’s Pasteur Street, demanding that President Hassan Rouhani pay greater attention to the victims of unsafe schools.
The father of one of the victims, Nadia Saleh, complained that, “The hospital refuses to go ahead with my daughter’s surgery until I can provide the money they ask. The Ministry of Education had promised to pay for the costs but they have refused to do so.” 
Since last year, the authorities have been informed of the unsafe heating systems at schools in Kurdish villages. No steps have so far been taken to replace the hazardous system. 
Fariborz Esmaeilzadeh, the head of the provincial School Renovations body, announced that 600 classrooms in the province use kerosene heaters, and that “we lack the budget to purchase safe heating systems for these schools.” 
There have been public calls for the education minister to take responsibility for the fires and resign.
Shahram Nazeri, a popular Kurdish singer, organized a fund-rising concert in August and sent the proceeds for treatment of the schoolgirls, but that has not been enough. 
Lawyers say that the government must legally compensate the victims of the Shinabad fire, but that parents have been unwilling to file lawsuits because they are unaware of their rights or are content with official promises of compensation.

Friday, December 13, 2013

We Know the Pain of a Mother Whose Child has Disappeared

Mandela and Ocalan: Flowers for a Friend of the Kurds

Mandela and Ocalan: Flowers for a Friend of the Kurds
Flowers sent by Abdullah Ocalan to the funeral of the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. Photo by Christiane Amanpour.
By Ava Homa

For many Kurds, the late Nelson Mandela will be remembered for his principled stand against Turkey’s treatment of its large and oppressed Kurdish minority.
In 1992, when Mandela was still president of South Africa, he turned down the Ataturk Peace Prize that Turkey offered him for his lifelong fight for freedom. Pointing to the oppression of the Kurds, Mandela confronted the Turkish government for its hypocrisy and rejected the prize. 
This caused an outrage in Turkey. According to the AFP news agency, nationalist Turks called Mandela a “terrorist” because of his support for the Kurdish cause. Mandela was also named an “insolent African” who turned down a prestigious award.
“We know what it means to be oppressed in your own country. We know the pain of a mother whose child has disappeared… We know what it means to have your nationality and culture insulted… I am part of the Kurdish struggle. I am one of you.” These are some of the words Nelson Mandela uttered at a Kurdish Festival in Germany in September 1997.
Mandela also denounced the criminalization of the Kurdish cause and pointed out that at one point, he himself was labeled “a terrorist.” He went on to specifically condemn the war that the Turkish government wages on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as “a war against human rights and against the masses.”
It is, therefore, no surprise that from behind the bars, Abdullah Ocalan sent flowers as a tribute to the South African leader. 
Christiane Amanpour, a British-Iranian journalist and television host, currently working at ABC and CNN, posted the photo of the flowers on her Facebook page on Wednesday.

“Tribute to Mandela from behind bars. Saw these flowers from jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan for lying in state,” Amanpour wrote under the photo of the wreath sent by Ocalan.
The photo generated more than 3,500 likes and more than 1,000 comments by Kurds and Turks alike.
The Turkish nationals labeled Ocalan as a terrorist and attacked Amanpour for posting the photo, calling her a provocateur and supporter of terrorists.
“Do you support terrorism?” a Turkish Facebook user commented on the photo, addressing Amanpour. “Do you consider this an act of kindness from behind bars?”
Kurds also responded in their hundreds, applauding Amanpour for her photo of Ocalan’s flowers and likening the situation of Kurds in Turkey to that of South Africa’s black population under the white rule. 
“They (Ocalan and Mandela) both carried arms and fought when needed,” Alan Saeed, a Kurd, commented on Amanpour’s photo. “They both began a peace process when time for peace arrived. They were both sentenced to life in prison. They are in fact soul mates in the struggle for freedom. No one has any doubt that Ocalan will also arrive at victory, like Mandela did.”

Let Them Know They Are Not Forgotten

Let Them Know They Are Not Forgotten
By Ava Homa

The best gift for a political prisoner, according to former detainees, is a letter or postcard from a stranger, wishing them well. 
PEN, an international organization for writers, offers a list of captivated journalists and authors in prisons across the globe so people can send them a greeting letter and wish them health.
You can send a simple card to a Kurdish prisoner to provide a glimpse of hope. 
Mohammad Sediq Kaboudvand is a Kurdish journalist who has been held captive since July 1, 2007. He was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment. Editor of the banned weekly Payam-e mardom-e Kurdestan and chair of the Tehran-based Kurdish Human Rights Organization (RMMK), Kaboudvand was arrested at his place of work in Tehran by plain-clothed security officers.
Kaboudvand’s books, computers, photographs and personal documents were confiscated and he spent the first five months of his detention in solitary confinement. His health has deteriorated in prison due to ill-treatment and lack of medical care.  
PEN International and Amnesty International have urged Iranian authorities to release this human rights activist. Their pleas have so far remained unanswered and Kaboudvand is still in prison.
Your letters and postcards can be sent to “Mohammad Sediq Kaboudvand , Evin Prison, Tehran, Iran.” In order to make sure the prisoners receive the letter and that you will not cause them problems, please avoid making any religious or political comments. Make your greeting short and only wish him health and good spirit.
Adnan Hassanpour is another Kurdish writer, journalist and human rights activist who is jailed in Mariwan, the Kurdish city in Iran. He was arrested on January 25, 2007 and was sentenced to death. This sentence was reversed on September 2008 and he is now serving a 15-year prison term.
Saleh Nikbakht, one of his lawyers, told Reporters Without Borders that Hassanpour had been found guilty of “espionage” because he had allegedly “revealed the location of military sites and established contacts with the US foreign affairs ministry.”
Nikbakht added that: “This sentence is not only contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international conventions ratified by Iran, but it also contrary to Islamic law and the laws of the Islamic Republic.”   
Hassanpour’s cousin, environmentalist Abdolwahed (known as Hiwa) Butimar who worked with Hassanpour for the Kurdish-Persian weekly journal Aso (Horizon), had also been sentenced to death on the same charges. 
Adnan Hassanpour has spent seven years in prison, making him the longest-held prisoner among journalists. He is serving his sentence behind bars in Sanandaj prison, deprived of his legal right to furlough and without a single hour of release during these years, according to the Committee of Human Rights Reporters. His physical condition is weakening due to the harsh conditions of his incarceration. 
Send your cards to Sanandaj Prison, Kurdistan, Iran and once again please refrain from making political or religious comments and only wish them good health/spirit. Provide a return address in case the prisoner can respond to your letters. 
For more information: