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Interview with Karwan Zebari

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Kurdish Oral History Project
Interview with: Karwan Zebari
Interviewed by: Erdem Ilter and Aynur de Rouen
Transcriber: Marwan Tawfiq
Date of interview: 10 June 2013
Interview Setting: Phone Interview
(Start of Interview)

AD: So now it is recording, ok so Karwan why do not just state your full name for us first?

KZ: Tell me how this is typically done.

AD: This is how we do it, we start with the full name and then we will just start asking questions. I do need to email you a consent form and you can sign it and email it back to me, and then so we will just ask you questions and then just answer the way you want to, or you will not answer however you want to do it. You are the boss.

KZ: I have an hour; do you think it is enough?

AD: Yeah, that will work, that will work for us.

KZ: My name is Karwan Zebari.

AD: Okay, and where were you born and when were you born?

KZ: I was born in the city of Duhok, southern Kurdistan and that’s January 10th, 1983.

AD: Okay, and uh you lived in Duhok while you were living in Kurdistan?

KZ: That is right.

AD: Can you describe for us the environment how it was? Like when you were growing up.

KZ: I was born and raised in the city of Duhok southern Kurdistan, and I grew up there for about fourteen years, fourteen-fourteen and a half before I had to depart to the United States. The living conditions throughout, so I was born in 1983, I was born into a war. Living under the dictator like Saddam Hussein, he was at war at any given moment you could point to history of his rule. 1980 until 1988 he was at war with Iran. He was also at war; he was always at war with the Kurds. So, I was technically born into two wars: the struggle of the Kurds against Saddam Hussein, and Saddam’s war against Iran. And this year was no different than any previous years if you were to concept. Living conditions, despite the fact there so many wars that Iraq was going through throughout the eighties the living conditions were actually not too bad economically. Now the living conditions for the Kurds were quite different simply because the struggle of the Kurds against Saddam Hussein, he would make cheap deals with the Kurds and then he would break those promises. So I grew up often seeing my father maybe once a year maybe twice a year at that time my father was actually working with department of transportation and they were sent to all the way southern of Iraq to work on massive war projects, making roads, paving ways for the military to cross certain check points and to have access to obviously attach the Iranian troops.

AD: How was your neighborhood? Like were they all Kurdish or there was some Iraqi you know?

KZ: In the cities of Duhok, Zakho, Sulaimaniya and Erbil and of course others that located in geographically in northern Iraq or Kurdistan region of Iraq today. They were all Kurds. Hardly had any Arab neighbors. All of my neighbors were Kurds. There were no non-Kurdish neighbors, and so everyone knew each other. If you were not related you were somehow related to some other that they were related to.

AD: Okay, so you were mainly speaking Kurdish at home obviously, right? And how about school?

KZ: The language, the native tongue was in Kurdish. Everything was in Kurdish. Most people do not speak Arabic but the school, the material the subject everything was in Arabic. There was no such thing as Kurdish language. As part of Saddam’s ethnic cleansing, he did not recognize that Kurdish existed. He would recognize it when he was weak or when he wanted to negotiate with Kurds. He was recognizing say I will give you this I will give you that and when he would get his strength back and he would break that deal again. But all material in school was in Arabic. The professors and the teachers were all Kurds, but the material actually was all in Arabic.

AD: So, you were speaking Arabic at school, the curriculum language was Arabic?

KZ: The curriculum language was Arabic. Now, did we speak Arabic? No. Did we, I mean to this point I do not speak Arabic, but the material was in Arabic, so you had to actually, the teachers had to translate it back to Kurdish and explain it to you in the classroom, but you had to memorize it in Arabic and you had to answer the exam in Arabic.

AD: Okay, so can you read and understand Arabic now?

KZ: I can read Arabic, I can partially understand Arabic while I read it, but I cannot speak Arabic because speaking and writing in Arabic are two different things that is why is one of the difficult languages to learn.

AD: Okay, well we interviewed with some other family members I know you are coming from a very big family, how many siblings do you have in total?

KZ: I have twelve siblings and plus myself thirteen, so there is thirteen of us and that is very common for Kurdish family to have big families.

AD: Why is that, why do they have such big families?

KZ: There are multiple factors, one is a cultural thing. Two it is a religious thing, the prophet Muhammed’s Sunna is to increase the Umma as much as you can, and three there were no birth control, there were no ways to control birth back in the eighties and seventies and early nineties. So that is, there is multiple reasons as to why there are so many big Kurdish families.

AD: I see. You can jump in at any time if you have questions.

EI: When did you start school Kak Karwan?

KZ: Where? Here in the United States? Or back in Kurdistan?

AD: No, we are in Kurdistan still.

KZ: So, typical school age throughout the region starts at the age of six. I actually started at the age of six.

EI: So, the year was 1989, right?

KZ: Approximately.

EI: Just after Halabja and probably the uprising? How was that time? I mean do you remember like you were child probably you have heard of it I mean there was something was going on, so can you describe it, how was it, how school was affected, how your family and you were affected? Or did you move to border of Turkey and Iran, just describe for us these two or three years starting from, what you remember actually if it is from your childhood.

KZ: 1988, (19)89, (19)90, (19)91 are one of the few most difficult years in the Kurds struggle, Kurdish history especially Turmeric, Kurdistan region of Iraq. Obviously 1988, throughout (19)80s from (19)80 until (19)88 you had this Anfal campaign which was an ethnic cleansing again the Kurds by Saddam Hussein. And then in 1988 things get that messy and get that nasty when starts using chemical weapon against the Kurds, starts Bulldozing villages and mobilizing people, not mobilizing, relocating people from different region to different regions to change the demographics of the region, and so a lot of our relatives, I was not personally affected by in Duhok because I lived in the city of Duhok, the city of Duhok was big there was not something that Saddam could come in and bulldoze, however, all of our neighboring villages, because Duhok is a province is have a lot of villages that belong to Duhok, were bulldozed, a lot of people were relocated a lot of relatives that were part of the Duhok province living in the outskirts of Duhok were relocated and moved to places that we could not know or we did not know where they were moved to. A lot of them were sent to the southern part of Iraq or just executed and no one knew what exactly happen to this day. A lot of us do not know what happened to them. So I was young yet I do remember coming home from school every day and my parents are dealing with another crises, there was either a new member, family member, extended family or relatives was discovered dead or a new family member has disappeared and no one know where they were taking or a new village where our relatives or our tribesmen used to live has been bulldozed and we did not know where they had been relocated to. So very-very difficult years and also obviously as part of the chemical bombardment campaign the whole region was affected and it was not just Halabja, it was all across the Iran-Iraq border that chemically bombed. A lot of people migrated to the neighboring Turkey. I was not one of those. I did not travel, or we did not migrate to the neighboring country Turkey or Iran. However, a lot of people did and a lot of my friends today that are here living with me in the country were part of the migration that went to Turkey throughout the (19)80s particularly during 1988. So very-very difficult years I was young but still recall coming home every day to new crises.

EI: How was school that time, I mean like there was a chaos and war and conflict, but I mean life was continued as I understand, how was it possible?

KZ: You are right, life continued and so was the school material, the subject very good? No. Psychologically the teachers they were teaching they were also dealing with the crises; they were also dealing with the families and people like they had or losing. And so as a result of that we would get this semester late or the teacher would say okay here is the substitute teacher, work on this, you know just to get us busy to work on something because he would go back to the office and see make some phone calls or find out what happened to some of the people, perhaps some of these colleagues, teachers and administrators that probably lost families. So, it was very weak, it was on and off. We did go to school every day nonetheless but were we learning the material that we should have been learning? Perhaps not. Just because of all the chaos all around. Everyone was affected by the ethnic cleansing that Saddam Hussein carrying out.

AD: Okay. So, you said you guys did not migrate to Turkey or neighborhood countries like Iran so when the traumatic event took place what did you do? You stayed at home in Duhok, or did you go elsewhere? What did you do? For example, during the first gulf-war, where were you? Were you able to stay there?

KZ: So, I was referring to 1988, (19)89. This was still the Iraq – Iran and Iraq – Kurdish war. And you fast-forward by a couple years Saddam invade Kuwait after the Iraq-Iran ends in 1988 by the time ended Saddam was in debt by so many billions of dollars and he says well I fought for the Arab world, I fought for Kuwait, I fought Iran for Kuwait, Kuwait has to pay me back. Kuwait said no I do not have to pay you anything back I may give you some money, but I will not pay you. And so, he decides in I think December of (19)90, he decides to invade Kuwait overnight. And so, when that happened obviously the coalition forces give him thirty days to get out of Kuwait. He does not get out and the thirty-four countries of coalition forces start attacking Saddam to drive him out of Kuwait. And so, during this, we are talking (19)90, mid-(19)90 to late (19)90, the coalition forces in Kurds encouraged the Kurds to up-rise in the north and they did the same thing to the Shiite population in the south. And so, we did exactly just that and the coalition forces came. With the aerial bombardment, with the assistance of aerial bombardment we were able to drive Saddam out of the northern part of Iraq and the Shiite did the same. Obviously, the ally forces were bombing from the air. And so, they drive Saddam out after less than few days and plus three weeks. He leaves Kuwait and then they disarm him in the South, in the central of Iraq that is when they give them his weapons back and they withdraw. So, when the allied forces left Saddam had all his weapons back, regained his power and strength. He comes back in brutally massacres the Kurds drive the Kurds out and so same thing with the Shiites in the south. As a result of what had happened few years earlier because of chemical bombardment and ethnic cleansing he had carried out, the Kurds this time were very-very scary, thought, you know we all thought this is going to come and this time finish us with all the chemical weapons they have. And so, my family along with every other family and the whole northern of Kurdistan, northern Iraq migrated to the neighboring countries. This time everyone was affected, everyone. If you were near the Turkey border, you go to Turkey, you migrate to Turkey, or if you were near the Iran you would migrate to Iran, and so as a result of that you had four, four and half million people migrating to the neighboring countries which became a heavy burden on these neighboring countries Turkey and Iran. At the same time the allied forces started thinking what did we just do, we just created the biggest mess. So, I did flee, and this was a cold winter of 1990 that we flew, not flew but depart Kurdistan region, our towns left everything behind and started walking towards the border and eventually made cross the border.

AD: And how was that?

EI: Tell us about the situation, I mean do you remember anything you said it was winter.

KZ: Yeah, it was, I remember very well. My family itself all the kids along with my uncle and my older sister we left the whole city, a day earlier then my parents and the older and the elders and they were, they wanted to get us out as quick as possible, so they catch some other stuff and follow us. And so, we took a tractor trail for us to as far as we could go before, we actually we head to the mountains. There are no good roads at that time; there were no good roads to hit border as q quick as you possible you can through the road. The road would usually take a long way into inside Turkey. So, we started walking and this was a cold winter, December, November, December that year, we have been walking towards the mountains, and the mountains were all snowy, initially there were all tan and snow started coming, hundreds and thousands of people that are walking leaving all such belonging behind just so that they lighten up their way to hit the mountains and to cross the border as quick as possibly they can. So, people left a lot of livestock behind, a lot of goods behind and so we hit the border we go the border and there is a mess. There is hundreds of thousands of people waiting at the border to cross, and some time the Turkish Gendarme would open the border some time they would close it. So, I left very early but those came after us actually the bombs were following them, some of them did not make it, some of them made it. Saddam kept throwing bombs at, they knew people were migrating because he brought heavy artillery to the northern region. And so eventually we make it, eventually we make it cross the border, we stay at the border overnight, the next morning we wake, and they let us in we go cross the border, by then we were very tired, very hungry. We had no money, we had no belongings, and so they direct us toward these makeshift camps, we go there, there is nothing, there is no tents, there were actually some tents that were set up, but no food, no drink, no drinking water or sanitized water. A very difficult situation, as a result of that just the condition on the ground when you were there extremely-extremely difficult, and extremely hazardous, you had mines, land mines on one side especially on the way towards Turkey, we had land mines and sometimes you would see and animal or a cow or a goat that would just start walking on these land-mines and we see everyone getting on the ground, I remember one example, there was a cow, because of the all the number of the people, we had this narrow road, on both sides of the road we have land-mines, one side was Iraq and the other side was Turkey, so in either boarder we saw their all landmines. This cow start walking on the land-mines and everyone hundreds of thousands of people are getting on the ground, if mention of someone takes out a gun and start shooting the cow before it steps on a mine and kills many-many hundreds of people and so this was example of this nature that was difficult that you would never forget. So again, food was scarce, um-

AD: Were people stepping on any mines and then just dies? Do you remember?

KZ: I personally did not see anyone, but I did hear stories of that scenario.

AD: Okay.

KZ: So, we get there, it is muddy it is cold, it is snowy were on these mountains, hills and the ally forces, eventually, a couple weeks later, eventually arrive with parachutes, they do not arrive, but the cargo plane came in and drop food and sometimes they drop these parachutes on top these tents. I mean a lot of people get hit by it, but then they decided they will drop it out of a place where there is no, they are out of people living in it, and that is how we got our food for three, four months, so we stayed there a lot unfortunately because the lack of medicine, lack of proper drinking or sanitized water or situation, hundreds of people died, as a result of that my younger sister at that time who was perhaps two years old she also lost her life, she had diarrhea and there was no medicine and this was a common problem you wake in the morning and there is dozens of people all around how have got passed away last night and you just go and bury them. So, I mean there is very few families that have lost a member, that have not lost any members if not one or two members of each family. Very difficult situation, very difficult time.

AD: So, then you went back after that, so when you went back the war was over, right?

KZ: So, the allied forces in Kurdistan encouraged us, Kurdish in Turkey to go back, we said no, we are not going back, you all remember, you all have seen what he has done to us to years earlier with all these chemical bombardment, then they said what do you want, we said well drive Saddam out of Kurds region and create a safe haven, no fly zone and we will go back. So, Turkey, French, United States, Britain and other allied forces started driving Saddam back in after two and a half months or so, three months, started driving Saddam back, created no fly zone, created this safe haven if you will, and they told us to go back. So, we went back, we went back to what? Ruins! For that two and a half, three months that Saddam was in the area he had destroyed ever bit of piece of land if not, there was of looting, so when we pushed out of the country, pushed out of the northern Iraq, you had other towns like Mosul, Tikrit Baghdad and these areas and they were not affected by this, They were Sunni, they were Arabs, what they have done during our escape during the time when we were away, they came and looted all our houses, all of our properties, and when we came back, there were appliances missing, and there were many different good missing. Everyone that had left anything good behind was actually missing, at the same time he had bulldozed hospital bulldozed schools, bulldozed all these infrastructures that a typical country, a typical city would need to run on. So, we came back to these, to the region eventually and started rebuilding our lives at that time and you would start seeing a lot of non-profit NGOs coming all across the western world to help people, the Kurdistan region and that is when my father had the opportunity work for one of these non-profit organization.

AD: Okay, so rebuilding your life, so how were things then? Were they better?

KZ: So, we came back this region and now all a sudden Saddam, the whole country of Iraq, Kurdistan region of Iraq was part of the country obviously was put under a lot of international sanctions; you had UN Sanctions, US sanctions, EU sanctions and many different sanctions, so Iraq was isolated from the rest of the world. You did not have anything good coming in. People started spending whatever they had, after a year or two, the poverty level went high and skyrocketed, and so the situation getting economically, safety-wise it is a lot better, it is a lot better, but economically gets ten time worse because now we have the country that is under the international sanctions, literally nothing coming in or going out. The country’s rich with oil and natural resources, just you cannot get it out because you are under international sanctions. So those four, five years probably was the most difficult that I have seen in my life economically.

EI: So how was the authority there? There was no Saddam force and, who were there, the governmental building, the bureaucracy how was it working? DO you remember anything? For example, was there any change in school, in language, in security forces?

KZ: I am glad you asked that Erdem. Of course, there were many changes that took place. You know for the past three decades prior to 1991 you were living under a dictator, you had to obey him, you had to speak his language, you had to do everything that he wished. Now he is no longer in power, and you have this autonomous region created, safe haven protected, no-fly zone protected by the ally forces, and you are an autonomous government, or regional government that was established between the two main political parties and they started governing the region. The school curriculum as you asked was changed from Arabic to Kurdish and English, so they started with first grade. I think it was 1992, 1993, second grade, third grade all the way up until now. Ten years later you have all of K one through one to twelve taught in English, taught in Kurdish pardon me and English and all colleges taught in English and Arabic just because the material in college is not easily translated into Kurdish. So, these are some of the changes that were took place. People all of the sudden were free. There were no longer afraid of any dictators, they were no longer afraid of being bombarded. Although, Saddam did continue to make threating, continue to use his radars or to threat to come to the region, but every time he turned on the radar or made a move the allied forces would bombard hi progress. So, economically things were not very good. It was a dire situation, but freedom, living without fear obviously was a prospect came of out of the first gulf war.

EI: Okay, like there were any Peshmerga from that time or you said there were two parties started to lead the country, and actually there was a conflict between them and did you affected by that or your family or people?

KZ: Good question, yes, so the two main political parties tried to form the government, the regional government to stabilize the region, there were elections and there were some problem with these elections as a result of this you had some tensions that started building up and so the patriotic union of Kurdistan which is primarily based on Sulaimaniya area and you have Democratic Party of Kurdistan which primarily based on Duhok and Erbil, tension were started rising, things got nasty, some skirmishing started breaking out and you had a civil war that started within the region from late (19)94 all the way until (19)97 unfortunately a lot of people lost their life, but if you look at the history of any country, or any region you will notice you have gone through that the hump, that check-point if you want to call it. You will go through of some of civil war and eventually you learn your lessons and you start wishing yourself for a better and more effective government. And so, you had that going unfortunately, you had that civil war…

EI: Like personally how did you, were you affected by it? Did people will discuss about it like what are they doing or what are we doing, for ordinary people, not the party member like how was life for them, I mean all people were not part of the conflict I guess.

KZ: No, none even was part of the conflict especially if you lived in the city of Duhok, there were hardly any conflict in the city of Duhok, if you lived in the city of Erbil, yes that was the central of the conflict. Everyone, both parties tried to control that was, because it was the capital of the region because it was strategically attempted in the region and it was big, it has a lot to give to any political party that have control on that city, but personally I was not so much affected by it, nonetheless, my uncle was in the artillery team that was fighting this civil war or brotherly as we call it, and so, but not so much, you would not so much affect by it if you lived in the city of Duhok.

EI: Okay, and your dad was Peshmerga, right?

KZ: During the (19)90s or prior to (19)90s?

AD: When, when was he Peshmerga?

KZ: Everyone was a Peshmerga, on and off, on and off, on and off. My father sometimes a farmer, sometimes he was a Peshmerga, sometimes he was working for department of transportation.

EI: He was actively in struggle, but in Duhok like not everyone actually I mean everyone like from some other interviews. So how was the life for, what was, just define your relation with your dad, I mean could you see him every day or like he talk about anything or did you ask questions about him like what are you doing?

AD: Or did he want you to become a Peshmerga when you get older? I mean things like that? Because we will talk to your father too, so we will ask about his impression of his kids, so we want to hear what you thought of him.

KZ: The problem with our fathers not just my father but all of our fathers we did not see them, you know, I would see our father may be once, if I was lucky, I probably see him twice a year. Like I said, if they were not drafted to army, if you live in a city like we say Duhok or Erbil or Sulaimaniya you would mostly be drafted if you had after the age of eighteen to army. If you did not go to army then you had to escape and become a Peshmerga, or you try to go live in a remote village, but you were still not far enough from Saddam’s troops to come and grab you or take you in capture or take you to the army. So, my father any time he would try to squeeze between the lines he would be Peshmerga, if he was not a Peshmerga then he was working for the department of transportation. You know this department of transportation he was considered working for the government then for example you are going to the army, so he was trying to work between lines he never actually was working or a soldier for the Saddam’s forces. If you got, he was working for government as a transportation employee or construction or as a Peshmerga.

EI: But they did not know it right?

KZ: They did not know what?

EI: That he is Peshmerga.

KZ: I mean everybody was a Peshmerga in their heart, everybody was supporting Peshmerga, if they know of course they would kill him.

EI: Yeah, I mean because you are working with government and at the same time you are fighting against them.

AD: So, you were close to your mother then?

KZ: My mother was the only parent that was around you every day all the time that you needed help. And this was a typical Kurdish family.

AD: So, women are strong right? Because it is not an easy job, I am sorry I have a hard time for one child like twelve kids, she must be a very strong woman.

KZ: They were very-very strong women. They not only managed the family first but they had to keep up with this grieve and sometime hide and keep things inside from telling it to children to affect their children, so what was these women running the family first, there were sometimes tribal out there, dealing with all tragedies, dealing with all you know, not an easy job. So, you considered as a single mum running a huge family.

AD: Yeah, that must be tough. So, you wanted to say something?

EI: Yeah, so when it started to become like a little stabilized because still you said there was safety, but economy was terrible when your life changed to better what was the time?

AD: When things got better?

EI: The transformation process?

KZ: So, obviously after we came back to the region from Turkey, so you had all this four to five million people coming back from Turkey and Iran, safety security like I said again was given because with the help of the allied forces and western governments creating safe haven and no-fly zone. We started running our own affairs Kurdistan region of Iraq, safety and security was there, unfortunately economically things were not good. After 1997 you had this oil for food program which was a program to, because of this dire situation throughout Iraq people fall behind, people not having enough food to eat, united nations passed a resolution called oil for food , they would take Saddam’s oil and give food to the people, obviously distributed with the help of the united nations such as UNESCO, on the ground distributing food, you know managing these affairs of distributing food so that they make sure this money or the food is not in Saddam Hussein’s hands, he would sell those foods and buy weapons. So, we get out in late (19)96 and arriving in (19)97, things getting better and improving even economically and if you fast forward by six years or so, 2003 operation Iraqi freedom breaks out, that is when you had again the Kurds upraised along the allied forces and they attacked Saddam further in the north and drove him south and the Shiite in the south did the something and the allied forces came in from all the sides and for once and all block Saddam and captured him. So this is when you had the flood gates opened, the international sanctioned lifted and this was a region that had so many natural resources, so rich just the city of Kirkuk for example having the largest oil reserve than any city or any town or any province in the world and so now we have a lot of international interests of foreign government or foreign companies interested in coming to the region and start investing. This is where was where the pay gets flipped, the Kurdistan region was already a head of the rest of Iraq by thirteen years, obviously (19)90 to 2003. And two years after the war, a year and a half after the war things start, and security situations started deteriorating in the rest of the country in Mosul, Baghdad, Fallujah and Tikrit and the rest of the country unfortunately. So, you see you have this Kurdistan region as a gateway to the rest of the country beacon of democracy, beacon of stability, security prosperity and so people started, the life of people started getting a lot better. So if you fast forward it to today sixty percent of the investment, the relationship with Turkey for example from having (19)99 or even in 2006 and 2007 having 200 thousand troops on the border threatening to invade the Kurdistan region, to today the sixty percent of the investment coming from Turkey and a lot of big giant such as Exxon mobile, Chevron, Total, Gasprom and others coming to the region and investing in the region. Today we are expecting soon Marriot to open up, Hilton, three Hilton, three Marriot and numerous other Euros investments and western investment companies investing in the region. So today the situation is day and night different between Kurdistan region and Iraq, whereas if you compare that to the contrary in 1991 and the eighties you had the Kurdistan region was always on fire always had so many problem and the people being massacred, brutally massacred; today the same exact is happening in the rest of the country yet Kurdistan region is one of the safe havens or the beacon and gateway to the rest of the world and perhaps the model for the rest of the country to go after, so a lot has going on, the situation has gone so much better, a lot of people have cars, a lot of businesses, a lot of rich people now. So, the situation has gone from hundred eighty degrees turn.

EI: Okay, now I think you came to politics which is good. You are working in Kurdistan regional government in Washington, right? Representation, so what are you doing firstly there, and what is your facilities as Kurdistan regional government, and I will ask the second question, please firstly like define or evaluate Kurds situation in the region, of course first central northern Iraq and the whole region like what do you think in general, your perception and because you are in politics.

KZ: So, I am the director of congressional and academic affairs, and I am technically, the principle starts for devising, maintain and developing the Kurdistan regional government’s liaison office, which is this office that I work with, representational office in Washington D.C. Our relations with the US based think tank to US congress and such responsibility is include coordinating all relationships with Kurdistan regional government and the US congress for serving as the initial primary contact of our office on congressional increase that provided bias information to other KRG directors such as my colleague on congressional little issues mobilized the Kurdish community in the US to effectively lobby their elected representatives to ensure sustained communication and interaction between the Kurdistan regional government the Kurds in Diaspora and their elected officials. And I also acted as a principle liaison with academic ethnic community. This consist of a lot of research institutions here in town which develop academic initiatives and programs with the US policy makers. I also oversee the initiatives and programs with US universities and other academic institutions nationwide on matters relating to Kurdistan and Kurdish students currently studying on the KRG’s sponsored scholarship and I often attend official meetings, events with US official government officials. Some short-term and long-term goals as obviously recognized what we just talked about, this is the initiative that in fact I am working with, in Fall Halabja genocide we are working on a case to have it recognized by the US congress as a genocide and also to continue to maximize and strengthen the relationship between Kurdistan regional government and the United States government. Some long term aims obviously is to continue to work with such officials particularly the elected officials to make sure that Iraq, Kurdistan region remains on the radar they continue to talk about it, they do not just, especially after they withdrew US troops at the end of 2001, they want to make sure that the US government continues to pays attention to the difficulties and tension and the struggle that is going on inside Iraq obviously, and of course inside Kurdistan region. As far as the role of the Kurds how much really have come from 1991 till where we are today, constitutionally in Iraq the Kurdistan regional government is recognized entity. It is a recognized autonomous region, and they are free legislate and act as an entity yet as a part of a federal democratic and pluralistic Iraq. And that is all we strived and struggled for. As far as the rule of the Kurds within Iraq and you can see the Kurds have been a king makers, had a major or an important role inside Iraq, you saw Maliki obviously coming to the region yesterday or the day before, prime Minister Maliki of federal Iraq and hoping to fix some of the issues that is facing of course, you have the Sunni uprising and insurgency, you have the Kurds that are not happy with prime Minister Maliki because of all the dispute over oil and other oil revenues and of course even within his own block, within Maliki’s block there are some Shiites that are not very happy with him. So, that is Iraq if you were to look at Syria, you have Syria that is on fire today as of June10th 2013 Syria is on fire and it does not seem to be any peaceful resolution inside or ending inside. And the Kurds again are going to be a major player in that region. And you have also the positive development within Turkey. In Turkey having anywhere between 18 to 20 some million Kurds officially with the peace process, the ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party that is based a lot of it based in Qandil mountain which is part of Kurdistan Iraq, Iran, Turkey borders. So, these are positive developments luckily this time everything was publicly, transparently you know Prime Minister Erdogan has made some positive change steps and so as the PKK, so these are positive developments. Now, if you were to look at Iran as another case where just the matter of time before it boils over and if there was to happen again you have a good numbers of the Kurds that could play a role inside the region. So, there is a lot of changes in the region especially over the last three, four years where the Arab spring and uprising and in a lot of these countries you have Kurdish population in existence residing inside these countries, they will continue play a permanent and significant role in this region.

EI: Okay, so you are hopeful for the future?

KZ: I think if you ask me what the role of the Kurds would be perhaps in the future, personally I think nature has the way of cycling itself every hundred years, and if you were to go back hundred years ago the changes, some of the developments that took place in the region were not of the benefit to the Kurds I think this time, hundred years later again this 1914 today took almost 2014 the Kurds are in better position we play an active role in the region, we understand the region better, we have learned from our mistakes I think the future will better for the Kurds this time around.

EI: Okay, what about Kurds-US relations are you happy with it or not because I know that US criticized Turkey because Turkey has a trade agreement with Kurdistan regional government without approval of central government, so what do you think about that?

KZ: The relationship with the US government, we have a very good and a mutual relationship with the US government, just because of our obviously interest who insight together very well. For example, we assisted US troops in 1991 to topple Saddam which you know the allied forces stop at a certain point. And again, we assisted the US troops in 2003 to obviously topple him once and for all. And we cooperate on security matters, intelligence matters quite a bit, and we have obviously we are the US allies’ friends in the region when you have obviously all around us besides Turkey, Turkey being an exception that are not very friend or not very much in favor of the US government. So, we have a very good working relationship with both the US, legislative branch and executive branch. Obviously, we do have our differences, sometimes things that the US asks of the Kurds are not in the interests of the Kurds to do, and the same thing happens with Turkey. Look Kurdistan regional government and Turkey have good and excellent relationships today. These are based on mutual relationships such economic interests, Kurdistan region is a new and emerging market it has a lot of natural resources and has a lot of oil, has a lot of natural gas, and Turkey as a hub, and Turkey has a demand. So, it is demand and supply, we have the supply, Turkey has the demand. And so of course the United States would say look make this a three-way mutual interest. Work with Baghdad, KRG or Erbil and Ankara. But for years the Kurds as well as tried to work with Baghdad but Baghdad unfortunately was facing so many other challenges, so just security challenges, we both had to move on to plan B, and plan B was okay, Turkey-KRG relations and so we had to move forward on that. Yes, the US government would ask to work with the Federal government, and we say great, as long as the federal government is working within Federal pluralistic and democratic, and within the federal government of the Iraqi constitution we would be willing to work with that and we meant to be part of Iraq, we are not by no means are good relations with Turkey are to threaten the integrity of Iraq, no we are not looking for independence but we are looking for a way to move forward and Turkey is the way to move forward.

EI: Okay, so what is the best and worst scenario for Kurdistan regional government and Kurds for you?

KZ: I think at the moment it is difficult to imagine what could happen tomorrow let alone what will happen a year or two, three years from today. The best case scenario is if Iraq improved, the relationship between Iraq, Turkey and KRG improved and these mutual interest, the relationships obviously, Iran comes to negotiating with the western and other united nations national assembles, say look I am willing to let go of these nuclear weapons, I am willing to come back to the negotiating table and become part of this region, that would open up another gateway for the Kurdistan region to import and export. Iraq situation, security situation improves and that could be the gateway too to the sea. And so, as well as Syria-Syria is another problem, you know the best-case scenario is having a stable neighbor that are now threatening Kurdistan region where you can import and export and trade all and everyone. Worst case scenario is what is going on unfortunately what seems to be turning Iraq Security situations deteriorating, Syria’s security situations is a mess today, Iran is not willing to negotiate with anyone, and the only thing is Turkey and God forbid if something happens in Turkey such as seeing some of these protest thing start deteriorating in Turkey, you know this peace process between Kurdistan Workers Party and Turkey deteriorates, you know we can go back to nineties and early 2000s when Turkey started threatening to come to the region, and once again the Kurds would be isolated and there would be no way to import-export and trade anyone outside of the region. So, this would not be a good case scenario, the best-case scenario is to have all the neighbors, all mutual neighbors. And worst-case scenario obviously all the neighbors on fire.

EI: Okay, I mean the situation depends on the neighbors mostly and their attitude or their situation. Okay, if you want to ask something?

AD: I want to ask, I want to finish your personal, not politics. So, you prefer to live in the US right now? Or do you miss living in Kurdistan?

KZ: Do I miss? We all miss living in Kurdistan, as someone who works for the government, Kurdistan regional government, I am a frequent traveler, visitor to Kurdistan region, I go there three-four time a year we spent a couple weeks on the ground every time. So, I do quite miss it. Do I want to move back? I am looking if the right opportunity strikes, the right job strikes I absolutely move back, I think you started seen a lot of people started to move back because of all these, because of the economic prosperity, security situation and they see in a little time they probably are better off in the region is new and emerging where you can make out something of yourself where is if you, you know the economy is growing by double digit, if you look at US economy is hardly growing at all if not diminishing,

AD: So, you are kind of Americanized here, no?

KZ: Look I have been here, I have spent exactly half of my life in the states and half of my life in Kurdistan, so I can move back and forth, I speak the language fluently, I do not have any problem, I can move either way, I can ship either way, I do not see would that be a problem, no. I can understand those younger generation, they were two or three year or they were born here and they have never lived in Kurdistan, I can see it is difficult for them, but because I have spent half of my life there and half of my life here I can see living in either place okay, just okay.

AD: Just, okay?

KZ: Well, I mean either way I will be okay.

AD: You will be okay. All right then.

EI: Thank you so much, do you want to add something or?

KZ: No, I think we have covered it pretty good; I am unfortunately I am not sixty years over that I can share with you all this which and struggles-

EI: I mean all experiences are valuable because your age is like, you are child and you can evaluate from a child perspective so your mum can evaluate from a mum’s perspective, your dad is different, I mean they are all valuable, so do not worry about it.

AD: And trust me, your story is really different than what your mum told me. So, everybody has a different perspective although you are from the same family, so everyone brings their own opinion like how they view those situations. You see what I mean, like the things she remembers, what affected her most is different than what affected you. So, that is why that is really nice to see everyone’s opinion.

KZ: Sure, and you know if you guys need anything, sorry it took so long to find sometime-

AD: No, that is fine, that is fine.

KZ: Let us know, especially as you start expanding your wings and get out of the town and go to other communities, we have a director—

AD: Yes, we will do that but really want to finish this town, but Avras sent me an email this morning, we can close that.

EI: Yeah, the interview is over now, thank you again.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

10 June 2013


Erdem Ilter


Karwan Zebari

Biographical Text

Born into wars, Karwan didn’t see his father often, since he was working with the government building roads for the army in southern Iraq. Throughout his childhood, Karwan lived in Duhok with his family. In 1990, he, along with his family, fled Iraqi Kurdistan and came to the United States. Karwan is a representative of the Kurdish Regional Government in Washington, D.C.


57:24 minutes



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Binghamton University

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Kurdish; Kurdistan; Duho; Zakho; Sulaimaniya; Erbil; Everyday life; Food; Kurdish Regional Government; Iraq; Syria; Turkey; Iran; Kuwait; Saddam Hussein; Anfal


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In 2011, Binghamton University Libraries received the donation of the Vera Beaudin Saeedpour Kurdish Library and Museum Collection. The acquisition opened a dialog with the local Kurdish community in Binghamton, N.Y., which led to the creation of the Kurdish Oral History Project. These interviews provide deeper insight into the… More

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“Interview with Karwan Zebari,” Digital Collections, accessed April 23, 2024,