Residents of the Tennessee city the Kurdish capital of America feel sold out but unsurprised by troop withdrawal

If you spend enough time in Kurdish places, from sidewalk tea stands in the shadow of the Erbil citadel to the bullet-pocked alleys of Diyarbakir and the dusty fields along Syrias frontlines, there is a proverb you will hear. It goes like this: The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.

It means that in the end, when Kurds are under attack and facing death, the mountains they retreat to will be the only things to protect them, whatever alliances they may have had before.

Youll hear it in Nashville too, in Little Kurdistan, a strip of grocers and eateries tucked between an Aldi and a Waffle House along the Nolensville Pike.

This week, Donald Trump announced he was pulling US troops from Syrias border with Turkey, seemingly giving the green light for Turkey to attack Kurdish forces allied with America. For many Kurds in Nashville many of whom came here and prospered after fleeing for their lives the sudden reversal was nothing short of a betrayal.

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A Kurdish grocery store in Nashville. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

He betrayed the whole Kurdish nation, said Salah Osman, the imam at the Salahadeen Center mosque. We knew this is what would happen. We knew after they used [the Kurdish forces], after they did their job, they would leave them to face their future without any friends.

To most Americans, Nashville is the country music and bachelorette party capital, a place for boozy and raucous fun at neon-lit honky-tonks on Broadway. But it is also the Kurdish capital of America, home to an estimated 15,000 Kurds, the largest such population in the US.

When members of the Nashville Kurdish community like Osman look at images of Syrian Kurds fleeing Turkish attacks, crowded into the back of trucks or fleeing on foot with whatever they can carry, they think of their own experiences.

There are those who were in the first wave, arriving in the 1970s after a failed rebellion in Iraq. There are those who fled Saddam Husseins genocidal al-Anfal campaign in the late 1980s, and those who fled after George HW Bush encouraged Iraqis to rise up during the Gulf war but then did not provide assistance.

There are those who were born in refugee camps to parents who escaped with only the clothes on their backs. There are those who fled in the mid-90s, after Saddams forces, briefly pushed out of northern Iraq, stormed back in. There are those who risked their lives as interpreters for the US military, after the 2003 invasion.

More recent arrivals have fled from Syria and from oppression and violence in Turkey.

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Sakir Cinar says sleep has been hard to come by since it was clear that Turkey was going to attack Syrias Kurds. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

It is unlikely that the latest violence will bring another surge in Nashvilles Kurdish population. Under new asylum rules, applicants must first try to seek safe haven in a third country. It is nearly impossible for Syrians to get US visas under Trumps travel ban and the administration has set the refugee cap at an all-time low.

Kirmanj Gundi, a Tennessee State University professor, came to Nashville in the 1970s. He spoke no English and the Kurdish community numbered in the hundreds.

I dont know how to express my feelings, he said this week. Its sad. Its frustrating. We feel we are betrayed again. We feel we are sold out again. We feel we are used again.

Gundi came to America after the Shah of Iran cut off funding to Kurdish rebels in a deal with Iraq. He watched more Kurds arrive in the 90s. The betrayal by Trump, he says, is more intense, the wound is deeper They were promised that they would be protected.

Trump did not stop at clearing the way for a Turkish attack. He has sought to justify his decision by painting Kurdish forces who did the bulk of the fighting against Islamic State in Syria as potentially fair-weather allies.

On Wednesday, Trump even defended his decision by saying the Kurds didnt help the US during the second world war.

At a rally in Minneapolis on Thursday evening, Trump was speaking about Turkeys offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces and his decision to withdraw US troops when he suddenly brought up how he has to send letters to the families of soldiers killed in blue on green attacks, where were teaching people how to fight and then they turn the gun on our soldiers and shoot them in the back.

He had previously praised Kurds for being among Americas most loyal allies.

We feel like when Donald Trump makes statements like this, it affects our position in this country and how some other citizens may perceive us as a threat to this country, which we are not, said Zaid Brifkani, a Kurdish American doctor in Nashville who is president of the Kurdish Professionals Group in the city.

We are part of this community, we are part of this American dream.

We are free here

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Nawzad Hawrami, the director of the Salahadeen Center, says Kurds like him have found freedom in Nashville. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

At the centre of Little Kurdistan, around the Salahadeen Center mosque, Kurdish stores are interspersed with a Latin American nightclub and a hibachi restaurant. Earlier this year, Nashvilles public schools approved adding Kurdish-language electives in high schools. During Ramadan, when the mosque is open all night, the police department stations a squad car outside. Some in the older generation only speak Arabic and Kurdish. Their children have American accents.

We are free here. As a Kurd, as a Muslim, we are free more than in our back home countries, said Nawzad Hawrami, director of the Salahadeen Center, who lived in the Iraqi city of Halabja during al-Anfal. This is a great country, a great nation.

Sakir Cinar got asylum in the US two years ago after, he says, he made a Facebook post critical of Turkeys president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, that led to a mob attacking his restaurant and his arrest by Turkish authorities.

In Nashville, working as a cook, he can say what he wants. He can speak Kurdish without having to look over his shoulder. He can speak with a journalist in public, without fearing repercussions.

But the Turkish attack on Syria has left him sleepless, glued to his phone, checking for updates.

My insides are hurting, crying. I just can pray, he said.

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A mural depicting scenes of traditional Kurdish life is painted on the side of a Kurdish grocer in Little Kurdistan, Nashville. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

Nashvilles Kurds are unsure they can make a difference. Tennessees two Republican senators have spoken out. On Friday, hundreds of members of the Kurdish community protested in downtown Nashville. But at the end of the day, they are a small community with little ability to leverage state elections, let alone foreign policy.

Trump has said he will try to broker a deal between Turkey and the Kurds and has raised the possibility of working to destroy and obliterate Turkeys economy if it does anything off limits. But despite widespread criticism, even from his closest allies, he has stood by his decision to withdraw.

While many in Little Kurdistan feel betrayed, Trumps behavior has not soured their thoughts on America.

When it comes to America, there are opportunities, said Gundi, the professor. When you compare America with any other nation America comes out head and shoulders above any country in the world.

Brifkani, the doctor, said: I dont think Trump represents true American values.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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