Being Kurdish in a Hostile World

29 November 2017

Being Kurdish in a Hostile World
by Ayub Nuri
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Michelle Shaw
$29.95 ISBN 9780889774940

When Ayub Nuri was a young boy, a piece of shrapnel hit his knee and cut it in half. At the time, he was sitting contentedly between his mother and grandmother threading the family’s tobacco crop. War was an ongoing part of life in Kurdistan. On this occasion, the war was between Iran and Iraq but Kurdistan had been a centre of conflict for many years.

Nuri’s mother reacted first, screaming and causing the family to rush to the young boy. Nuri and his grandmother (whose face had been ripped open by the shrapnel) were taken in his uncle’s British-made Land Rover to the military hospital in the Kurdish capital of Halabja. Nuri mentions in an aside that during the war military hospitals were better equipped and had better doctors than civilian ones.

It’s this juxtaposition between normal everyday life in a literal warzone that really struck me. Most of what I know about the Kurds and the Iraq conflict has been gleaned through western media. I clearly remember when the first Iraq war was going on (the one involving George H.W. Bush) as well as the second, after 9/11 (the one involving George W. Bush) which toppled Saddam’s regime. It was a revelation to see the events through the eyes of someone who had lived through it.

Nuri explains the story of Kurdistan and its ongoing struggle for independence through his family’s history. The book is beautifully written, sprinkled with Kurdish idioms and revealing a breathtaking glimpse of the geographical beauty of the region.

I was fascinated by Nuri’s comments about how even language was affected by war. He explains for instance how the Kurdish civil war divided the spectrum of colors and language. “Green, yellow, red, white, brown and blue – these were no longer colors for ordinary people. Each now represented a specific political group, and many people lost their lives or disappeared forever merely for wearing a shirt, coat, even carrying a pen, of the wrong color in the wrong place.” He notes too that, “Opponents began using synonyms for certain words simply to make sure they didn’t use the same language as their rivals. There were two words for school, two words for student, two words for delegate, two words for women…”.

This book is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the Kurdish situation more clearly. Although I think it would have been helpful to include a map of the region, the book does include a chronology of historical events affecting Kurdistan from 1916 until 2014. The book ends on a positive note with the Government of Canada’s commitment in 2014 to send the Canadian military to help with the fight against Isis. Considering recent events have once more dashed Kurdish hopes for independence, I find Nuri’s closing words heartbreakingly optimistic.


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