A group of Iranian refugees in Germany. Photo: DW
LOS ANGELES, USA – Although this fact is lost in the news, Iranian Kurds are among the giant crowd of migrants and refugees trying to find a home in Europe, contributing to one of the highest brain drains in the world.
This is not new, since many Kurds have left in the past, mostly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Although there is no apparent war since the 1980-88 conflict with Iraq, Iranian Kurds have many strong reasons to leave their homes and start life anew in a foreign country.
A highly educated woman fluent in four languages who wanted to be identified only as “Tough,” said she would not have left if she didn’t have to. “Leaving (Iranian) Kurdistan has left an incurable tender sore in my soul and mind. I would never have left if I were not treated like an incapable, useless little thing that needed to be cared for. It was ridiculous and unbearable to be seen as an object for men's delight,” she said, one of several people who spoke to Rudaw.
“Islamic and Persian philosophies of life have penetrated deep into Kurdish roots, and it is very difficult now to distinguish them from one another,” she said.
Mojgan, in her early 40s and waiting for the United Nations in Turkey for a decision on her asylum application, is a former high school teacher and mother of two who refused to give her last name, because she said she belonged to a prominent family in Sanandaj.
“My husband would beat me but the court didn’t allow me to divorce him,” she told Rudaw. “It’s a man’s right. He once pulled at my hair and dragged me to the street. The neighbors watched but nobody helped me. My family urged me to stay with him, mentioning examples of many men who became nice to their wives after they had children or after a few years into the marriage.”
Hoping for such improvements, Mojgan stayed with her violent husband for nine years, and had a son and a daughter with him.
“But my little son developed a speech impediment after his father threw a pot at me because he didn’t like the taste of the food I had made. My former husband then went to the kitchen and hurled dishes and glasses on the floor and walls.”
She said she left Iran so her children wouldn’t be affected further by his behavior and “so my daughter won’t have to put up with an abusive man when she grows up.”
Narges Rashidi from Kermanshah is a mother of two escaping Iran, not to save herself, but her teenage children.
“My daughters have no future in Iran,” she told Rudaw. “They are not safe anywhere. Men on streets harass them. Religious police harasses them.
Their father always fights with them and I’m stuck in between. Even if my kids get into the best universities, there is a limit to how successful they can be in Iran. Kurds can never have high or even mid-level government positions in Iran,” she complained.
Golaleh Kamagar, a Kurdish writer and analyst based in Norway, said she had many political, social and cultural reasons for leaving Iran, but that here inner reasons were the strongest motivation. She wanted to be able to live someplace where she could be herself.
“I wanted to work and live someplace where my beliefs and looks were not being investigated all the time. I was tired of always having to censor my thoughts. Here I feel a relative peace, living in a free and meritocratic system.”
But even many men find it difficult to live in Iran. They still have to spend close to two years completing the obligatory military service, and see little prospect of ever living a normal life in their home country.
Azad, a 27-year-old engineer studying for his PhD in Michigan who did not want his last name used, said he was accepted in a doctorate program at Tehran University, but left that opportunity for an unknown destiny in the United States.
“I was not eager to leave everyone I knew and live alone as a foreigner in a place that wasn’t mine, but I knew I’d have no future in Iran. After graduation, I would have to spend two years completing obligatory military service and even after that I wouldn’t have much chance of getting hired at a good university in Iran. Selections are based on connections and not qualifications. Being a Sunni Kurd and son a former political prisoner, I was guaranteed unemployment,” he said.
Azad added that, even if he was able to find an academic job in Iran he still wouldn’t be financially stable in a country with a crippled economy.
“As a graduate student in America I have a better life than people in Iran with full-time jobs. I have a decent apartment and can get a car if I want. Once I have a job as an engineer, I will have a much better life in America than I could ever have in Iran.”
Mostafa Nosraty, a Canadian Kurd in his 40s, said he left Iran to look for a larger space or better opportunities to grow. "I used to swim in a river. I moved out to learn how to swim in the sea,” he said, drawing a metaphor for his move.
He said things were particularly bad during the term of the former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “The situation was not good anymore to stay and work in Iran and it was worse for me as a Kurd,” said Nosraty, now an engineer in Toronto and working for a Canadian company.
He said he is happy with his decision to leave Iran. “It was my dream and I accomplished it. Also, the situation in Iran is not better than before. Today, it's much worse and I wish I could have all my family out. At the same time, staying far from the family and living in loneliness is a significant drawback. I believe even heaven is not a good place if one is alone.”
Pedram, a 20-year-old from Sanandaj who fled to Europe two years ago, left because he would constantly get into trouble with the religious police “for being a young man” -- as he puts it -- or over his haircuts, T-shirts and jeans, which didn’t comply with the Islamic dress code. “I was not into politics but I’d constantly get into trouble. Now I am happy and so is my family.”
Ibi, who is in his late 20s and holds a master’s degree in civil engineering and a decent job, is trying to find a way to leave Iran. “I want to go and live a life with basic welfare, somewhere that I am able to work, study, have fun and experience life, not like here with all the shortages. Life is depressing in Iran.”
What all of these displaced people have lost in their native homes is hope – a missing element in the lives of the majority of Iranian Kurds. Some wars are invisible, and the war the Islamic Republic of Iran is waging on its marginalized population is draining both motivation and joy from its oppressed minority.
The article was originally published in Rudaw