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Nomad Spring 2012

stateless nation Nashville’s Little Kurdistan



Nomad is a quarterly publication that seeks to explore the migration of people across spatial and temporal boundaries. As nations are created and destroyed and as political, social and climatic turmoil fuel these changes, Nomad takes its readers along on the journeys of people in transit. We explore topics of home, nationhood, identity, topography, boundary, cosmopolitanism and the negotiation of transitions between cultures. Publisher Terry Eiler

Managing Editor Rebecca F. Miller

Editorial Board Matt Adams Mitch Casey Cayce Clifford Mark Dawson Madeline Gray Samantha Goresh Heather Haynes Darcy Holdorf Junru Huang James McAuley Maddie McGarvey Patrick Oden Joel Prince Becca Quint Bryan Thomas Priscilla Thomas Wayne Thomas Patrick A. Traylor Anita Vizireanu Emine Ziyatdinova

Dear Reader, Welcome! In this inaugural issue of the magazine we’re glad to have you with us on the first of many journies we plan to take you on in coming issues. Like those we document within our pages, we know you’re curious about other people and places and how these interact and intersect. We know you love to travel. We know you love to learn. We’re right there with you. This first issue about the Kurdish in Nashville has us excited: we’ve looked into our own backyard here in the United States at a community that formed out of migration. We’re indebted to the many people there who allowed us into their lives and homes and shared our enthusiasm for the project. In the coming year, we will take you to Estonia, China and Senegal to look at how history has shaped and continues to influence where people call home. We wish you the best on your own journies and hope you’ll share them with us, too. Be well and don’t forget to write. Warmly, Rebecca F. Miller


Stateless Nation Beginnings


Letters to Kurdistan


A Human Geography




noun \stat\

mode or condition of being <state of readiness> ... a politically organized body of people usually occupying a definite territory; especially: one that is sovereign


noun \’na-shən\

a community of people composed of one or more nationalities and possessing more or less defined territory and government

Stateless adj

\ stat-ləs\

Kurdistan noun \kər-də-‘stan\ Broad designation given to a mountainous region that includes parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Armenia, and Syria. ... Since early times the region has been the home of the Kurds, a people whose ethnic origins are uncertain. The Treaty of Sèvres, signed in 1920, provided for the recognition of a Kurdish state, but the agreement was never ratified.

Kurdish womens’ clothes are hand-woven, dyed and beaded.



Merriam-Webster Online

having no state, lacking the status of a national <a stateless refugee>


Black Sea

Caspian Sea





Dohuk Amediya




Illustration by Rebecca F. Miller




From the Sharafname, a history of Kurdish tribes, written in 1597. Reprinted in Kurdistan, by Susan Meiselas


fter the death of the great Persian king Jamshid, the tyrant Zahhak usurped the throne and established a reign of terror. Besides being cruel by natural inclination, he suffered from a strange disease that made him even more of an oppressor. Two snakes grew out of his shoulders and caused him severe pain, which could only be alleviated by feeding the snakes human brains each day. So every day Zahak had two young persons killed and their brains fed to the snakes. The man charged with slaughtering the two young people taken to the palace each day took pity on them and thought up a ruse. He killed only one person a day, replacing the other by a sheep and mixing the two brains. One young personâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s life was thus saved every day; he was told to leave the country and to stay hidden in distant inaccessible mountains. The young persons thus saved gradually came to constitute a large community; they married among themselves and brought forth offspring. These people were named Kurds. Because during many years they evaded other human company and stayed away from the towns, they developed a language of their own. In the forests and the mountains they built houses and tilled the soil. Some of them came to own property and flocks, and spread themselves over the steppes and deserts.

Kurdish Origins: Kawa the Blacksmith





Kurdistan Letters to

Members of the Nashville Kurdish community write letters to loved ones and tell stories about their real and imagined experiences in Kurdistan. Here we provide a glimpse into the lives and minds of three of them.

Photos by Rebecca F. Miller

Peshkout Duski has lived in Nashville since 1996, when his family immigrated from Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan. NOMAD SPRING 2012




Eva Nirgaz Abdullah grew up in Fargo, North Dakota. She met her husband, Meren, there and the two moved to Nashville to be closer to the growing community of Kurds that inhabit the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s southern end. She converted to Islam and learned to speak fluent Kurdish, which she is passing on to their three children. Meren and his brother, Norman, run an auto body shop on Nolensville Road.



It was during 1961, I was about ten years old. The Kurdish revolution had just taken place with Mullah Mustafa Barzani. At that point the government - the Kurdish government - ours - was reclaiming certain areas. And cities of Dohuk and right around where my village was - Sekrine. A group of officials came from Baghdad and they wanted to speak with Barzani about the fighting that was taking place. They didn’t want it to get out of control and they wanted to know exactly what Mullah Mustafa Barzani wanted. When the officials came, people told them Barzani was in the city of Sersink. When they went there, he was nowhere to be found. And people told them he was in Amidah and once they went there, people told them he was in Barmarne. At that point no one really knew Mullah Mustafa or who he was or what he looked like. However, at the time, Mullah Mustafa Barzani was at my family’s house. And only his men who were around him knew who he really was. My family didn’t know.

As a ten-year-old you open your eyes every morning to see a good life ahead of you. A happy life. I woke up that morning to body parts and a room full of blood. The officials came to my family’s house. They talked to Mullah Mustafa Barzani and they really didn’t come to any decisions or compromises and it was right around dusk when they left. When they left, Mullah Mustafa got ready to leave, too. Once he was ready to leave, everyone realized who he was - Mullah Mustafa Barzani. He advised my family to leave the village, to start evacuating the village because the government knew he was there. There was a great possibility that the village would be bombed and in an effort to kill Barzani. Once we were advised by Barzani to leave the village, my father decided it was too late to leave - all these kids and we have to go through too much in order to leave, so we’re going to stay here and hope for the best. They slept the night through. Early in the morning, planes came and raided the village. The first bomb they dropped hit that very room at our house where Barzani had been. When that first missile hit our house, five people died. And they were all my cousins from my mother’s side, father’s side and an in-law also was there. And my sister. As a ten-year-old you open your eyes every morning to see a good life ahead of you. A happy life. I woke up that morning to body parts and a room full of blood.

Jalal Dosky, Peshkout’s uncle, is from Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan. His turban, or Darsuk, is tied in the style worn by all older males of the Dosky family. NOMAD SPRING 2012 9

Nashville Kurds

A Human Geography Photo s & Story by R e b ec ca F. M i l l e r

Peshkout Duski smokes at a hookah bar near Vanderbilt University in southern Nashville, Tennessee. In the past 20 years, the city has seen an influx of Kurds, along with their culture and new economic ventures that cater to both the traditional and the modern.




eshkout Duski enjoys a good argument. He seeks them out among his friends and politically minded acquaintances. Tonight, in an overstuffed leather couch in his family’s massive suburban living room, he is having it out with his friend Ismael Rozh, who is 20 years his elder. He champions a prohibition against mosque building in Iraqi Kurdistan. Ismael considers this before responding, “But you grew up in America and in America we learn one thing: you give rights to everyone. ... It’s beautiful, beautiful

the way you give rights to yourself and your beliefs. ... Religions, all of them, have good intentions.” Peshkout’s father listens quietly from an adjacent couch, adding, “I like it here in America.” Having grown up in a diaspora, young Kurdish men and women have been removed from the geography that gave rise to their heritage, and which has formed their identities despite the distance. Although their parents and grandparents have had no easy path to Nashville (and many of them did not survive the journey at all), Tennessee has proven to be a nest for the ties that have held the Kurds together throughout the centuries.



Above: Suad (right) has been in Nashville for 21 years and works at the Sulav International Market on Nolensville Road. She learned to make Kurdish bread before coming to the United States.

If you pull off the outer leaves of history that surround the Kurdish people and the place they call Kurdistan, they reveal a network of routes taken, paths well-traveled, names passed down, and cities established. Folk tales place Kurdish origins in the Zagros mountain range that abuts the border of Iran and Iraq.Kurdistan, as it exists to its people, straddles the north of those two countries, plus Turkey, Armenia and Syria. Archaeologists attribute some of the first technological advances to people who lived in the region, noting that agriculture was first invented there 12,000 years ago. Evidence of the first domesticated animals and plants has been found in areas either presently or at one



time inhabited by Kurds. GĂśbekli Tepe, the site in southern Turkey considered to be the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s first organized religious temple, lies near the same area. Kurds are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Zoroastrian and atheist. Yet, after centuries of habitation within this geographical area, the Kurds remain the largest ethnic group in the world without a state. Throughout their history as nomadic tribes and interrelated kingdoms, they have never been unified under a single governing body. The fall of the Ottoman Empire brought the promise of unification without the payoff. More powerful states divided the region as they redrew their own borders under the Treaty of

Center and Above: Norman Abdullah and his brother own an auto body shop on Murfeesborough Raod, on the southern end of Nashville. The two spent five years in a refugee camp in Turkey during the early 1990s before making it to the U.S. They lost their parents while escaping Sadaam Hussein’s attacks on the Kurds. Lausanne. States in the region were occupied by both the Allies of the First World War and newly formed Turkey. The new states now intersected in the Zagros Mountains, leaving Kurds on their respective sides of the divide to develop in isolation from one another. Kurdish militia groups protested have protested ever since. Ismael was one of these Peshmerga, or freedom fighters, for several years, living in the mountains of northern Iraq. The most violent strikes against the Kurds came between 1986 and 1989, when Saddam Hussein ordered a series of chemical attacks on the Kurdishinhabited northern region during the Anfal and Halabja campaigns. Ismael left Iraq after the first Gulf

War and later became a translator. Mehrdad Izady, professor of History at Fordham University and Pace University, writes of the Kurds’ continuous migrations within their region, which helped to homogenize Kurdish culture, language, economy, and society. He writes, “These periodic internal migrations have prevented local variations from permanently fragmenting the nation.” Since the region was partitioned off, Kurds living in separate areas of the divide have little contact with one another and it is a less common occurrence that one tribe will speak the other’s dialect if a national border separates them. Yet, in its diaspora, in places as far flung as Sweden, South America,



Right and Below: Worshippers at the Friday Kurdish service at the Salahadeen Center. The mosque has its home in an aging strip mall, surrounded by a few Kurdish businesses.



Above: Drost Kokoye plays with her friendâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s son before the Friday noon service at the Salahadeen Center. Her father and some of his friends started the mosque a decade ago as a place for Kurds to worship in their own language. and Nashville, the feeling the Kurds have of belonging to their ancient land, of their membership to a unified culture, is as strong as ever. Kurdish immigrants came to the United States in several waves, beginning in the 1930s. They settled in Michigan and the Upper Ohio River area as refugees from eastern Turkey, numbering around a thousand, and assimilated into the local industrial centers. Following the Iranian revolution in the 1970s, an estimated 20,000 Kurds emigrated to the U.S. from Iran. Another wave from Iraq followed shortly after, many of them having spent several years in Turkish refugee camps. These were educated academics, business people, and skilled workers who

settled in various regions of the United States as part of private refugee resettlement services, such as Catholic Charities or World Relief. Now, approximately 8,000 Kurds live in Nashville, but communication with those at home is still important. In his 2011 book about how new media is shaping Kurdish identity, Jaffer Sheyholislami discusses how social media has played the role of an intermediary where traditional media faltered. Kurdish language newspapers and websites have existed for years, but Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have given a voice and an online presence to Kurds living around the world. Peshkout and his family left Dohuk in the mid-90s, leaving NOMAD SPRING 2012


Affluent Kurds have made Nashvilleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s suburbs their homes.



behind many of their relatives who owned and operated prosperous businesses there. They had lived in their ancestral home for generations. He now jokes with his friends, “If I were to not answer a Facebook message from one of my cousins in Kurdistan, they would be so offended. They would be so mad at me!” There are seemingly two opposing identities at play within the community’s youth. While both call themselves Kurdish, one group prefers to identify itself with its religion and the other less so. Both share criticisms for the other’s nationalistic sentiments or more traditional lifestyle. Traditionalists claim that some youth are corrupting Kurdish customs with their synthesized music and superficial relationship to their culture. The other side is wary of having a religious authority dictate its lifestyle. In a sense, the tension mirrors the current state of politics in Iraq’s Kurdish province. A recent New York Times article tells of discrimination against Christians by conservatives in the northern city of Zahko. Although the Kurdish Regional Government has provided this area of Kurdistan with some autonomy, its officials at all levels still struggle to find a democratic balance.

Our generation has that identity crisis. we go back to Kurdistan and we don’t feel comfortable there...Parents still think that this situation is temporary.

- Drost Kokoye


” 17

Women dance to Sorani music from eastern Kurdistan in Iran at a 20th birthday party in a Nashville


n Saturday night, Rezzan and her friends are dressed to the nines in the bright, heavily beaded dresses of their homeland in Iranian Kurdistan. Her friends’ birthday party is packed with women dancing in a slowly revolving circle. Men sit in a side room talking or clapping to the music, which is an amped up synth version of Persian folk music. “I don’t know the dance – it’s from Iran,” says Peshkout, watching the dancers’ feet to get the rhythm before breaking apart two female peers to join in the quaking human chain. Many Nashville Kurds possess a nostalgia for home and expressions of it are everywhere to be seen. An autobody shop on Nolensville Road has been named “New Day,” which is the English for Newroz, the Kurdish new year. Bakeries and grocery stores line the busy southern streets. Visitors to Kurdish homes and sometimes businesses are served sweet black tea in tiny tulip-shaped glasses. It’s there among younger generations who may only visit Kurdistan during the summer months. The youngest generation struggles with how to keep hold of their culture despite their Americanness. “I could never marry a girl from Kurdistan,” says



The community routinely rents out suburban bungalows for parties. On Saturday, Nadia and Kimya, two Sorani women from eastern Kurdistan in Iran, celebrate their 20th birthdays together. NOMAD SPRING 2012




Peshkout, 23, lives with his two brothers and sister, Paiveen (right), in a Nashville suburb while he studies to be a nurse. He is the second child of five and came to the U.S. with his mother, Aziza (back) and father, Ahmed (left) via Turkey and Guam in 1996.



Peshkout. “Kurds from Kurdistan are just too different from what I know. I grew up in America and how I live and the things I like are very American. I want to marry a Kurdish girl, but one who grew up here, too.” Peshkout’s peer, Drost Kokoye, feels a similar sentiment. “Our generation has that identity crisis – we go back to Kurdistan and we don’t feel comfortable there. I have close family in Kurdistan, but I have people here who I’ve grown up with who I feel closer to, even though they’re not my family.” Kokoye’s father was one of the founding members of the Salahadeen Center, Nashville’s only Kurdish mosque. The mosque is one of the key places for Kurdish Muslims to come together and

maintain their sense of belonging to a group and to a cultural idiom that juxtaposes their southern United States reality. An Immigrant Community Assessment from the early 2000s revealed through focus groups that Kurds expressed a feeling of cultural exclusion and underemployment in Nashville. Their darker skin color, lack of knowledge of English and lack of access to public transportation left many newcomers at a disadvantage. In the assessment, Kurds expressed this feeling more often than the sense of economic marginalization and age exclusion or limitations in refugee resettlement that is felt by other immigrant groups in the area. However, the expansive network of fellow Kurds in the city helps

Below: Khalat Hama is the only woman on the board of the Salahadeen Center, Nashville’s only Kurdish mosque. She and her colleagues have worked to purchase land for a new Kurdish mosque and cemetery, as well as an open field for soccer tournaments.



many feel more at home. In fact, homeownership among them and other immigrants in Nashville continues to rise. Still, the community takes advantage of its ability to take part in government. Some express their political choices in United States elections in terms of how policies will affect Kurdistan as an entire region. While there are no Kurdish representatives currently holding office in the Tennessee legislature, there are members of the community who see involvement in public offices as a way to bring about change to their region in the Middle East. In 2005 and 2010, Nashville was selected as one of the few places where Iraqis could cast votes for its elections in those years.

Presently, Kurdistan is a place in which desire for recognition and the art of recollection cross paths, where memories fog territorial boundaries. Youth growing up in the Kurdish diaspora have learned to appreciate the choices they have as U.S. citizens and as members of a technology-driven generation. Social media have strengthened family ties and allowed Kurdish cultural values to flourish since the early 1990s. Ever more, the new generation is finding ways to express its love of both worlds. Ismael’s democratic perspective was honed through years of oppression. Peshkout’s youthful nationalism has matured in an environment of openness. Both bear witness to the idea of a nation that, for now, exists only in the minds of its people.

Below: Peshkout’s friends and family gather for recreational soccer tournaments every Sunday morning at the site of the new Kurdish mosque near their homes on the southeast end of Nashville.






A quarterly magazine about migration. Prepared during the School of Visual Communication's 2012 Magazine class at Ohio University.