Tuesday, May 02, 2006


“Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists” ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I tend not to follow US domestic news for a number of reasons. First of all, it's because my mind is generally some 7,000 miles away from here. Also, US domestic news is pretty damned banal. I mean, most of the time I can't figure out why something is newsworthy because problems here tend to be, for the most part, pretty, well, banal, especially when I consider the really bad stuff that's going down elsewhere. But recently, there has been a lot of noise on the US domestic news scene about immigrants, so much noise, in fact, that even I have noticed it out there on the periphery of all those things that I really pay attention to.

Kurds are one of the newest ethnic groups in the US, it is a small group, and, of course, the majority are immigrants. Many of the young Kurds of this new American ethnic community came here as children, or even as babies.

So it's a bit on cue, in a way, that some friends at the Kurdish American Youth organization have been working on a little project about problems that these young Kurds face in the US, and they have just published an article about their findings on one of the problems, that of runaways.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is a big deal because the Kurdish community, wherever it's located, does not like to air these kinds of matters in public. Of course, in Kurdistan there is a cultural structure in place--more so in some places than others--so that problems like this can be handled in a traditional way and they don't become as big an issue for the community as they do in America. In America, or the West in general, you hide problems within the community so that when problems get out of control and burst into the media of the dominant culture, it's too late, as in the tragic case of the lovely Banaz Mahmoud Babakir Agha in the UK recently. This example is one from the darkest part of the struggle to balance the traditional way of life with the newer.

What is happening here is a blend of a generational and a cultural clash which has come about as a result of immigration to the West. What the Kurdish community as a whole may not realize, however, is that it is not the first immigrant community in America to face this kind of tension. If one reads accounts of immigrants and their children who arrived in the US a hundred or more years ago, one will see similarities to the Kurdish immigrant situation of today, even as they are recounted in Ara Alan's article. The parents and older children work several jobs in order to establish the family in the new country. The parents try to maintain cultural identity in the only way they know how--the way it was done in the old country. The children, especially the younger ones who grow up in the public school system, making American friends, and becoming more and more exposed to American culture feel the pull to become more American. No one has to reinvent the wheel here, but look to other immigrant groups to find what worked for them and then adapt it to the Kurdish-American situation.

Neither the older generation, the parents, nor the youth are wrong. The problem is that there is no communication, no effort on the part of the community to find a balance between the two sides. Their parents have done the right thing to teach them Kurdish culture, to enshrine it in the home and insist it not be forgotten. On the other side, young Kurds know that they are Kurds as well as Americans, and they are committed to their traditional culture in their own ways, including committing themselves to work toward greater awareness of the situation in Kurdistan among the American people. For lack of an official Kurdish foreign ministry, these young Kurds are the de facto ambassadors of Kurdistan in their new land.

The whole question of culture and politics is something that no one can tear out of a Kurd. A Kurd can only remove these things from himself by assimilation. But assimilation is not required by America, integration is. No one in America can forbid a Kurd from speaking Kurdish, learning Kurdish, publishing in Kurdish, singing in Kurdish. No one can silence a Kurd from saying the word, "Kurdistan" and no one can forbid a Kurd from working politically for Kurdistan. As a result, there is no need to fear that young Kurds will forget who they are. On the contrary, they are in a place where they have the freedom to contribute to Kurdish culture and tradition and carry it into the future. As an example, look at what happened with Kurdish culture when Kurds moved to Europe. The last fifteen years or so have seen a renaissance of Kurdish language, culture and tradition, that may be unparalleled in history. Exposure to the liberty available in the West, has been fertile soil for Kurds, hence there is no need to fear it.

I don't think the parents realize how deeply attached young Kurds are to the motherland, some 7,000 miles away from here. Their children bring no shame to them, but only honor. It is my wish that the parents would begin to see this and to hear their young Kurds.

To mention something that is particularly connected with the issue of runaways, what may be needed in this case is a safehouse, a temporary haven, in neutral territory, until the home situation can reach a negotiated settlement. By "neutral," I mean that this would probably need to be a place located outside the Kurdish community, among non-Kurds, in other words. Such a space would give the runaway a place of refuge, among people who are not judgemental, and help to reduce acts of desperation. This is my initial suggestion based on the information in the article, and it is something that must be discussed in order to find what will work. But it is a suggestion which has a parallel in traditional Kurdish culture, so it is a workable idea and it is my contribution, for the moment, to the subject.

I hope that this article will be the opening needed for a public discussion on the problems of young Kurds in America, as well as in the greater Diaspora. Let me say that I know for a fact, that the situation is extremely serious and that, for individual Kurds who are trapped in certain situations, it can, and does, become dire in the extreme.

It is already too much that certain governments eat young Kurds alive in Kurdistan. We don't need Kurdish families or Kurdish communities doing the same in Diaspora.

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