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Interview with Jotiyar Taha and Ridwan Zebari

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Kurdish Oral History Project
Interview with: Jotiyar Taha and Ridwan Zebari
Interviewed by: Aynur de Rouen and Erdem Ilter
Transcriber: Marwan Tawfiq
Date of interview: 18 February 2013
Interview Setting: Binghamton University

(Start of Interview)

AD: Okay, we will start in English and then we will move forwards. Just a second let me move this here, so then it is going to be directed to you, and we will go from there. So now what I want to know is, where are you originally from? Where are you from, I mean originally which territory?

JT: I am from Kurdistan, north of Iraq, the city of Duhok.

AD: and how about you?

RZ: Yeah, I am from Kurdistan too same city. In the same place almost.

AD: Okay, so your main, your first language is Kirmanji Kurdish?

RZ and JT: Kurdish yes.

AD: That is the main language in that region, in that city? Yes?

RZ: Yes, right now yeah. Beside Arabic and English, yeah, they study both study Arabic and English in Education. Yeah, in education process, they use English and Arabic too.

AD: Okay so, we are going to talk about your hometown first and then we will switch to this area. And may be when we switch at one point, and I will just leave and you can continue in Kirmanji or whenever you struggle switch to Kirmanji when the answer ends I will ask a question probably that will be the answer you just gave in Kirmanji and we will go-

JT: Okay.

AD: So, when were you born? How old are you guys?

JT: I was born July 3, 1984.

AD: Okay, and how about you?

RZ: 1981.

AD: So, all of your family members are here now, or do you still have families living in Kurdistan?

JT: I live with my wife here, but my parents, brothers, and relatives all they live in Kurdistan.

AD: Okay, how about you?

RZ: Yeah, my family is there, but my wife’s family are here. In-laws!

AD: I see. So, are you guys coming from a big family back home?

RZ AND JT: Yes-yes.

AD: So, how many brothers and sisters?

JT: We are eight brothers and three sisters.

AD: Wow, big family.

RZ: You will see even bigger. We are eight sisters and seven brothers.

AD: You? Oh my God!

EI: Which tribe you are part of?

RZ: Zebari.

EI: Is it big?

RZ: Yeah. It is big

JT: Barwari.

AD: Wow so-

RZ: Sorry are you recording now?

AD: Yeah, it is recording. Now, yeah, so you live… Can you just describe your city for us? Have you ever been there? I have not been there.

EI: No.

AD: No? Can you just describe it for us, like you have such big families, like where do you live, like how did you grow up, like when I am thinking such big family, I am thinking more like rural setting than city life. So-

JT: In my life I pass many things I mean many challenges. We see a lot of thing, I saw a lot of things in my life. But I cannot say my life is like one American people they grew up here and be one person they just, their parents take care of him until he becomes 18. When I was born, maybe I was born in one village it was war. And my brother the same. But After 1991, we came back again to the city. We lived in a house. The house was not bad. Six bedrooms.

AD: Is it an apartment?

JT: It is a house.

AD: Does it have a garden?

JT: It has a garden, everything.

EI: Sorry, you came there after 1990 or?

JT: Where?

EI: You were born in that house or?

JT: At the beginning we passed many challenges of life.

EI: What were those challenges. Tell us about it.

JT: I remember like some dream in 1988 and before that my parents said we were in Duhok city but the regime of Saddam they kicked the Kurdish out the brought Arabs at that time. My family went to the village. I was born in that village in 1984 and same thing some of my brothers. And in 1988 I remember like some dream when war started again, you know after the Iran-Iraq war stop and the regime came wanted to kill all the Kurdish, and that is how we left, they came to burn the house. We left the village we could not stay. We left the mountain in-

AD: Oh, you moved to the mountain?

JT: Yeah, with the family. After we spent 10 days in one of the big mountains in Kurdistan, no water, no food no anything. Many people died; many people got sick as it was summer. Then Saddam said “Okay, you guys can come back.” We go to back and we … surrounded to the regime. They moved us to another place in the desert. It was 1989. We saw a lot of these situations.

EI: So, you remember them, you say it was like a dream.

JT: It was like a dream; I was almost five.

EI: For example, what about your big brothers when they told you.

JT: I am the oldest one, oldest brother, but I remember my father he was a Kurdish fighter, you know he was not with us.

EI: Peshmerga?

JT: Peshmerga, and my grandparents—

EI: Is he a live?

JT: Yes, he is a live. They came with us, they took care of us, my grandfather. We had a horse, they put us on the horse and moved us to a safe place.

AD: I see. How about you?

RZ: Yeah, like he said we are from a rural area, it is a typical farmer family, we grew up and lived out of city. But for my case I spent most of my time outside my home and family, because of my education. I spent seven years in dormitory.

AD: What did you study? Which city I mean?

RZ: I studied in Akre which like a province it is far from Duhok. I studied there two years and then I moved to Duhok which is a bigger city and has a better education institute. I moved there and I studied and finished high school over there. And for the university I moved to Erbil which is our capital and bigger. I moved there I finished four years college over there. And then I came back to my family, and I still did not go to the village. I worked in the city, like kind of a big city.

AD: So, you did not spend so much time in village?

RZ: Not much, just during the summer, spring.

AD: What did you study? What is your-

RZ: Law.

AD: Law?

RZ: I have bachelor’s degree in Law.

AD: I see, I see.

EI: What about primary school? You were living in dormitory?

AD: Not in primary school, but in middle school and high school.

EI: So, can you tell us dormitory life, the people?

RZ: It was really a tough time back then, because of the sanction, you know the international sanction, economic sanctions. The economic situation was really tough that time. Sometimes –

EI: Was it private?

RZ: No, it was government school but even for your life at dormitory you need somebody to finance you, but it was tough.

EI: So most of the students were Kurds or Arabs or different ethnicities, tell us about your friends-

RZ: Yeah, all of them were Kurdish. That was after 1991, you know after 1991 Kurdish up-rising happened, Regime withdraw all of its official institution from Kurdistan.

EI: So, there was a separation or discrimination, I mean you studied a lot with Arab students.

RZ: No, it was not like that actually- because we liked independence from the Arab regime, from the other parts of Iraq. You know I mean?

AD: It is after the first Bush, the Gulf war, yes, the first Gulf War.

RZ: Yeah, it was after that.

EI: So, the regime was not controlling Kurdish region.

RZ: Yes. Everything was Kurdish, even the education started becoming Kurdish in 1991, from that time they started to teach in Kurdish, Kurdishise the programs, yes educational programs.

AD: I want to ask still you are coming from… I have never heard such a big family, like eight sisters and seven brothers you said.

RZ: Oh, that is a typical family, you will see even bigger. Some people have twenty children some people have thirty.

JT: I think Catholics here they have the same.

AD: Yes, because they do not believe in birth control and all that. What was your father’s occupation? How did he feed all these kids, which is what I am curious about it, like your mother did not work obviously right?

RZ: She did. Yeah, she worked.

AD: She did? How did she find time to work like all these kids?

RZ: She worked, and she took care of her kids and she made food everything.

AD: Where did she work?

RZ: She worked in the farm with my father.

AD: Okay, so the family made a living from farming, yes?

RZ: Yes, they depended on farming.

AD: How about you?

RZ: I did when I grew up a little bit.

JT: My grandfather they are from the farm, but in 1975 they came to the city, and he opened a store, but still half my family live in a village and have farm.

AD: What kind of store? Grocery store?

JT: Yeah, grocery store. But after this situation happened, they kicked the Kurds out in the city we went back to the village, we have our own village, we have our own lands. They always, the farm. The first reason they bring their food, always in the Kurdish mind the farms over, if they need it they go.

AD: So, what is your education?

JT: I went to high school.

AD: High School. Okay, so how about your other siblings? Did they get education, did they go to school, if they do like which-

JT: For brothers I am oldest, for sisters, I have two sisters they are older than me. One of my sisters, she finish high school, the other one never went to school at all because of that time. And my brothers they still going.

AD: They are still the school?

JT: Yes.

AD: How about you?

RZ: Usually in tribal communities and societies usually boys go to school and girls stays home. My brothers went to school, some of them finished high school, some of them finished two years degree. Two of them are teachers right now who teach in village school and my sisters never went to school. I finished college.

AD: Are you the only one with college degree?

RZ: Yes, and the other brother he is teaching and he going to finish his bachelor’s degree too.

AD: I see. Are you the oldest?

RZ: No. I have four brothers they are older than me and two of them younger than me.

AD: And from your family, you are the only one you are here?

RZ: Yes. I am the only one I am here.

AD: So, what made you come here? And when did you move here?

RZ: I came here in 2009, there are two reasons made me come here, the first one to help my family if I could and to continue my education. But it looks like I cannot achieve both of them.

AD: No?

RZ: Not even one of them.

AD: So, you are not a refugee here? Are you?

RZ: No, I am a citizen right now.

AD: But you came as a refugee?

RZ: Yes.

AD: Okay, you came as a refugee, and you have the American citizenship right now.

RZ: Yes.

AD: Okay, all right. And you work with Karwan for the Kurdish Organization?

RZ: Yeah, we do.

AD: Both of you?

RZ: Yes.

AD: Okay. So, you work elsewhere right now?

RZ: No, I am taking some classes, and I also worked in a company over there, but I got laid off recently for six months.

AD: Oh, which one?

RZ: From Endicott, Connect Technology. I got laid off, and now I am taking some classes at BCC.

AD: I see. They have a pre-law program because I did translation once.

RZ: I am not interested in that actually.

AD: No?

RZ: I am taking some other classes, English classes.

AD: That is good, that is good.

RZ: At least to improve my English a little bit.

AD: Oh, yeah. It takes a while it is just a difficult language. How about you? Like when did you come and why did you come?

JT: I came in 2007. After 1991 always, the United States of America became my dream because we see that on TV too much movies, Miami, New York city you know and after 2005 I met a girl in Kurdistan. She is Kurdish. She was coming back and she wanted to get married.

AD: She is American?

JT: She is Kurd.

AD: No, I mean she can be Kurdish, but American Kurdish.

JT: She is US citizen Kurd.

AD: Yeah, American Kurdish.

JT: Yeah, she kept.

AD: Yeah.

JT: Yeah, and uh, after that we date each other and the reason I came here because uh.

AD – You married her.

JT: I married her. And uh, actually when she saw my life, she saw Kurdistan in 2005 she did not want to come here because she said her life is easier in Kurdistan. She said here in America life is hard, you have to work, everything is money and bills. I said no I want to see the United States. I want to see America. After I saw America, now.

AD: Now you want to go back?

JT: But I see something more important, you know the law of America, you know, you have the right. They accept you when you come here. It is good; you raise your kids here. It is a normal life. You do not have to be rich; you do not have to be a big person.

AD: That brings up the next question I am going to ask you but before that I will ask you this. So, you did not come here as a refugee like Ridwan? You came because of your marriage?

RZ: I am married too actually; I forget to mention it. He reminded me. I got married too. We are almost the same situation.

AD: But your initial start is a refugee?

RZ: No, the same case. But we are still refugees.

AD: Yeah, but I mean like government statistics or whatever.

RZ: You mean like political issues, and you have like feel not secure over there?

AD: Yeah.

RZ: No, it is not like that actually, we came on our own wish.

AD: So now, you mentioned that there is freedom, the law is working here, you get respected. So, what are you missing here? Like you are here now, what are you missing about home?

JT: I miss my family, and the place where you grew up, you always miss that place. Okay, I mean I miss the place I miss the culture; I miss my family and all other thing I love in the United Sates.

AD: So, you prefer live in the US? Because of that?

JT: Yeah, I want to my kids grow up here.

AD: Yeah, I see. How about you?

RZ: We missed everything over there actually. Even a stone in our village, we missed a tree over there, the mountains everything, beside the family. There are friends and relatives. We miss everybody and everything over there. But we still have a good life here too.

AD: Because you have a community, right?

RZ: life here is not that bad but it is just like some moral issues, like is good here but he said families, your friends all there, you miss your home, your town, your country, everything. But here is still good, I still love here, I still like here.

EI: I think there is a Kurdish community, so it makes it easy culturally.

RZ: Yeah, there are plenty of families here about sixty families they live here, and they are very integrated, they help each other, they visit each other, they participate in any kind of events. I mean they are not like everybody here is home does not know what happens to other Kurdish families.

JT: We still have a culture here.

RZ: Yeah, it is like integrated community.

JT: We have a big family, we have a culture and always they come new people, they are back home, they knew who is coming and right now… um what is it called … communication became easier. You are not missing your language or culture; you know it is easy to call back home or see or you know communication. I mean it is not like 10 years ago or 20 years ago.

AD: Yeah, so life back home how was it? Like what were you … celebrating the Eids and Newroz, I do not want to give the words in your mouth, like how you guys like, how was daily life back home? Like what were you cooking, eating, how were you guys getting along with family, relatives and friends.

RZ: Actually, life over there is not like here, here everything is like program, you have plans you do every day. Sometimes you do not have time to do your activities, but over there, it looks like you have more time to do everything you want. To visit somebody, to do your activities, to do your job, you still have free time.

AD: like weddings celebration?

JT: Yeah, the weddings celebration I mean Eid, Newroz, but right now I want to you talked about food and daily life. Since 2007 many things have changed. The region has become rich region right now, people have money. There used to be three people live in one bedroom or six or more. Right now, people have become rich, and they have built big houses and food has changed. They eat nice food. And daily life has changed. They have car, wherever they want they can go. They can visit, most Kurdish people right now they visit Turkey. It was my dream I visit Istanbul one day. My brother went to Istanbul for a visit. Businessmen go to India; go to China they go to Europe. Before that the daily life of most of these people who are busy with these things, was on the street or they had a small store, or they were working for one party. I mean it was like that, but right now the region is very developed, and I think nobody is spends free time right now. And they still doing ceremony, Newroz.

AD: Do people still know each other?

RZ: Yeah, they still know each other.

AD: Because I am sure in the past everybody knew each other.

RZ: Yeah, life is changed since we left. Every month life is changing, new stuff coming but people still have their culture, they still visit each other they still participate in each other’s events, but it is changing day after day.

JT: Too much what is called, other people come to Kurdistan-

RZ: Foreign labor they come from India, Indonesia and other countries, they come over there they work.

JT: Turkey yeah Turkey.

AD: I see, if you are not, go ahead.

EI: Celebrations or Eid here, do you celebrate it here as well?

RZ: Yes, we do. Actually, right now, I think we are better than them in Kurdistan. I mean like a small community, Kurdish community, we still doing.

AD: How about religion? Are you guys Muslim?

RZ: Yes, we are.

AD: I mean do you follow the rules. Are you strict?

RZ: There is no concern about us like adult people, but there is concern about kids they grow up here, they may not going to be like following religious issues the smaller issues like we want them be. But for us, we are good. I do not feel like anything change from-

AD: Do you go to mosque every Friday?

RZ: Yeah, we do. We still do.

AD: Okay, so you follow with the religion. That is still continue but you do not know if your son is going to do that.

RZ: Yes, exactly, that is the issue that we worry about, yeah.

AD: And if he does not that is normal, I think because they grew up in a different.

JT: City the best we will do and show them-

AD: Yeah, but you are not going to take a gun and force them.

JT: Everything if you put pressure on it, it is not going to work. We are doing our best you know. And I think the life right now in the United States is changing too. Before thirty years we did not have like this Muslim community, not just that Kurdish, but the Muslim community. We did not have that so many mosques. You know. We did not have so many websites talk about Islam. Right now, is- the popular. I think that way I think I can say my kids they will not lose the religion because the publishing is growing and easy you get information-

AD: Yes, so still let us go back did you feel about or how your parents, you are obviously young, really young, how did they fell about Saddam’s regime like do elderly talk about what they went through and if you want to-

EI: Your father was Peshmerga, so I think he had a lot of memory-

AD: What I am saying is now if you feel more comfortable speaking in Kurdish, because this is like more intense memories. This is not like talking about Eids and Newroz then you tell Erdem; you can switch to Kirmanji. I think- Erdem you got the idea.

EI: Yeah.

AD: Okay. Would that work?

RZ: Yeah, everything we could speak in English if we wanted say something in Kurdish, we could say it

AD: Just go ahead and say it. I want to hear exactly your father, what where they are talking about, I mean to me I am really interested hearing how they felt about it as they were going through.

RZ: I think I understand what you mean. Even we went through some of that issues here because from (19)80s.

AD: As a child.

RZ: Yeah, so from (19)80s to 1991 like we remember something so we could say something about that.

AD: Like I mean being a minority like how did you feel or what was happening? You want to talk about those memories like-

JT: You see, I am just talking about one memory I mean the reason that they kicked my family out of the city, my uncle was a student, my grandfather had a shop, like was a businessman. My father, he was young and married. When he became eighteen, he had to go Askaria you know the military, work for the military, for Saddam. Okay, that time there was a war between Iraq and Iran, and my grandfather told him I do not want you to go and fight for nothing, best something good for future, or for you or for your people. My Grandfather, I mean my father could not live in the city anymore. He went to the village. And that time—

EI: Because he refused to join army? Because your father did not join army?

JT: Yeah. No, no not because of that. Still, he thinks about one day that Kurdish become independent, He always had that in mind because my grandfather he did that before, you know. But, okay, when he is coming to the village, and he meet Peshmerga and became Peshmerga and after the government, Saddam knew that he became Peshmerga, okay they came to catch my grandfather what is called?

RDZ – Handcuff.

JT: Handcuff him and my uncle and kick out the rest of the family; women, children and they said bad things about them, and my father’s store at that time he spend 9000 Dinars and became a lot of money and they threw on the street and people came to take it and you know they out of business, they out of everything and … This is how they sent us to the village. Because of, of war my father joined the Kurdish fighter.

EI: It was like with his reach, or he wanted to join them.

JT: Yes, he wanted actually he is umm, yeah. Yup and after that we went to the village and like I said in 1988 they burnt the village too, they called Anfal, they started Anfal of the Kurdish, not just in my village maybe four thousand villages throughout Kurdistan, yeah, they did that. And after that is just situation that happen, everybody see all life in every, I mean you can, I mean at that time each person have a see on, um tragedy and yeah.

AD: So, everybody experienced something like that.

RZ: He mentioned some of them actually. We do not remember what happened like in 1920 until 1960s, but what I do remember is from 1986, (19)87, (19)88 until 1991. I remember that I think the worst year that I have seen is 1988 which was after the Iranian-Iraqi war ended. Saddam faced toward the Kurdish people, he destroyed like he said four thousand villages and he removed all these people, and he settled them in like in concentration camps I was one of them actually which they call Anfal campaign in that time.

AD: What- it is called-

RZ: Anfal. And in the same year Halabja happened, He bombarded Halabja City with Chemical weapons. I mean the thing that I have seen Anfal is like a giant, big process against Kurdish people to remove-

EI: Ethnic cleansing.

RZ: Yes, it is kind like genocide.

AD: It is what Hitler did.

RZ: Yeah exactly, to remove Kurdish people from their villages even from … cities to settle them in areas that the regime had more control over it near to the big cities to settle them over there and then do whatever they wanted to do take young people to put them in jail. And the families stayed in those camps, I mean everything is under their control in that time. And he settled with they call military in those villages to like to prevent any activities to do not let the Peshmerga to do their activities in those areas.

AD: That is only natural, I mean the setting is everybody knows about what Hitler did, talks about what he did but no one talks about what Saddam did. You know.

JT: No, because of, I think all they go for business again. One story I heard in a history channel, I do not want to be a shaheed testify that but that time I think because of the business between the big countries, powerful countries and Saddam regime, they did not want to see that was happening to the Kurdistan. I heard one story the Congress of the United States were ready to go and see it, but big companies said Okay, we have a business in Iraq if you guys do anything we will lose the business and it is not good for the US economy.

RZ: You are right, business had a lot of impact in the politics.

JT: And just Iran and BBC and the Kurdish TV they have a couple or small video and some pictures of what happened.

EI: You said Iran, right?

JT: I think Iran.

EI: Yes, because Iran was in conflict with Iraq and-

JT: Yes because of that and it is close to the border. I mean Halabja they killed five thousand in less than five minutes, but he used gas and chemical to other parts too. But nobody know I mean, because there was not any media anything back then, but right now they follow what people said and the researchers- And they killed for that Anfal for that time about 185 thousand Kurdish during that time.

AD: So, your parent or may be your grandparents like, this is to me the worst, like end of (19)80s I think is the worse what happened in your territory, but did your grandparents or your parents talked about like anything, you know the government how Kurds were being treated before you were born, I mean how did they feel, how were they treated I know how things were in Turkey but I do not know. Do you know? A little bit? Let us see what you know. That is very interesting.

RZ: Yes, since like new Iraqi in 1920, the new Iraqi state was established. Kurdish were treated like second class citizens. They were not allowed to take some jobs, positions for instance pilot, even ministers or even general directorate unless if you had admit that you are not Kurdish, and you are Arab or something else. Then they will let you to take that position.

EI: It was in practice I think in law for example, was the same or, the Kurds were recognized by law in the paper as well, right?

JT: Yes, paper too.

EI: Could you speak you own language in school or street?

JT: No, in street yeah but no in school.

RZ: They did speak language I mean on street or anywhere, like Education, no they did not have.

AD: It is Arabic.

RZ: It is Arabic.

EI: If you go to a doctor or your father go to doctor.

JT: You have to speak Arabic. I mean first I learnt Arabic and after that I learnt my own language. I speak Kurdish, but Academic I cannot. I cannot read two letters and two words, something I cannot write but for Arabic I was okay.

AD: So, Arabic is the language you are most comfortable with communicating?

JT: Right now, no, right now Kurdish because 20 years I mean I said-

RZ: We do speak some Arabic, a little bit.

AD: Oh, so you speak little bit of Arabic-

RZ: Yeah, a little bit.

JT: Because it is almost 15 years passed and you are never-

RZ: You know that topic he mentioned like, like legal issues, discrimination between Kurdish and Arabs it is not like that, I mean, there is no legal article says Kurdish have this right and Arabs have this right, it is not like that-

EI: But generally, as I know in Syria it is like Syrian Arab state.

AD: Or Turkish state.

JT: Iraq was too. The Iraqi Republic-

EI: Was it the Republic of Iraq or The Arabic Republic Iraq?

RZ: No, the Republic of Iraq.

AD: But in Turkey like whoever lives in the land of Turkey is Turkish.

RZ: No, it was not like that, Iraqis old constitution they said Arabs and Kurds live in this country, but you know what they do say something, I mean the benefit of Kurdish, but they will, they have their own people, even they Kurdish but they are regime’s people.

AD: But the law says Kurds and Arabs together.

RZ: The constitution says that, but in practice it is not like that. You were not allowed to take many positions.

AD: Unwritten law, there was unwritten law. The written law said yes you can-

JT: The power always they change the law, the do not follow the law. They do not follow that Parliament, you know they do not follow anything; they follow what comes to his mind, someone like Saddam, and some of the cities of Iraq like they are Kurdish and Arab they live in the same city like Kirkuk, Mosul, and Diyala. I men in Mosul I know a lot of Kurdish they are not allow to buy a house. They are not allowed to buy a land. If you buy it you cannot have a paper says it is mine, no because you are Kurdish, you are not allowed to have this. Many Kurdish people did, they married an Arab woman and when they buy a house, they put on her name because he is Kurd and cannot do that.

EI: How was the integration? Could they marry Arabs? How was it?

RZ: Yes, they did. Actually, the conflict and the problem was not with the Arab people, it was between regime and Kurdish actually. Even now people live in normal live with Arabs. I mean there are neighbors, they get married from each other but-

AD: So, when you in your regular, because that is close to my own research except mine deals with non- Muslim minorities, because what I am studying is like dealing with that group of people. So, when I interviewed with people, like you they were telling me they had this brotherly loved toward if they were Muslim to their no Muslim friends or if they were non-Muslim to their Muslim friends, so people were telling me how fantastic their relationship was. I am not talking about government, I am talking about people, living in a district, mahalle, is that an Arabic word.

JT: I was not part of that time I cannot say it but a lot of my friends when you go to the university of Mosul or Baghdad, I mean we shy we speak Kurdish. Many friends who are older than us they said when we-we go to the university we shy when we speak Kurdish because people after the time of war, they would say oh you are Kurdish and second class and not something like me.

EI: The Arabs?

JT: The Arabs would say that, since I remember when my teacher were Kurds or someone Arabs when they speak until after 1991, they used to speak in Arabic to each other, they would shy because Kurdish language was something lower class to speak. you know? They saw that too.

AD: But people were getting along, you know the neighbors like your Arab neighbors?

JT: See, my city we would see a couple of Arab families in the city but we did not have any Arab families in the neighborhood, but for example you go to Mosul is not for us or a lot of those who lived over there, they could speak Kurdish but they would shy, many times they did not want to say I am a Kurd you know.

AD: And how is the relationship that is what I am asking-

JT: They were good, they were not talking about Kurdish, they were not talking about their own language.

AD: And they go for a coffee or tea you know?

JT: They are okay yeah.

RZ: Everywhere there are some people like exception, but generally they lived like neighbors and friends. They do not have that-

EI: But they were not, we need mandate they speak Kurdish like in Mosul or something-

RZ: No, I mean the people speak but-

JT: I said I have a friend they went to the university-

RZ: There are always exception in the university where all students around are Arab I mean you speak Arabic it is sometimes it is you do not want to speak your language because all around you they do not understand you-

EI: Was there a stereotype like about the Kurds or about the Arabs for example in your- say Kurds what people will remember? What will go to their mind?

RZ: It depends. If you are alone among many other Arabs and say I am Kurdish, they will say oh yeah, he is Kurdish. It is not like something it is not like normal; it is something- even if you are Kurdish, a group of Kurdish and one Arab says I am Arab, they say oh, you are Arab, I mean it is it depends who is the majority you know. But now it is different right now, like we are separate from Arabs, they come, they visit on vacations, they come to Kurdistan they spend good time there, but they will not let us to go there, we are afraid to there, it is not safe for us-

EI: So, after 1991, the borders are more strict or like between Duhok and Mosul and Duhok and Baghdad.

RZ: Yes, it is like two periods, from 1991 and until 2003, there was like not easy for us to go to the Arab parts, to the middle and south of Iraq, and even for them was not easy, but easier for them to come-

JT: To come is safe when they come to us, but for us is-

EI: Why?

JT: See in 2003 I mean it was everything-

EI: No, I mean it was not just for Kurds or Arabs

JT: I think it is just for Kurds.

RZ: It is not easy for them, it is like a border, they had both checkpoints and-

EI: No, he said the Arabs could come, could pass the Kurdish border but there were safe without any problems, when the Kurds pass the Arab borders, it was not like it was a general condition.

RZ: You know why, because they have more resources than we do, like oils, gas petrol, but we did not have that. So, we need to go there to bring some oils and those kind of stuff.

EI: Aha, okay.

RZ: Yeah, but they will not let us to bring with us when we came back from there. You know what I mean-

JT: He is talking about nowadays.

RZ: No-no even in the past, you mean before 2003.

EI: Yeah.

RZ: But after 2003 the situation a little bit changed. I mean we have a safe haven, their territories all explosions which is not safe, so they come more than we go there.

EI: After 2003.

RZ: Yeah after 2003. Yeah, they spend time over here [Kurdistan] because it is safe, you know it is like a mountainous area it is different and it has a nice weather, they prefer to spend their vacation over Kurdistan than in the other parts of Iraq.

EI: Is it common visit between cities, because I had friend from Sulaimania and he said like it is not common that going to Erbil from Sulaimania even they are both Kurdish cities, is it common or?

RZ: You mean there like some restrictions or just people do not do that?

EI: If you live in Sulaimaniya, you will not live in Sulaimania until the end of your life.

RZ: No, they will do that it depends some people do it, usually people do that, people like to visit to see other areas different areas, to move out of his cities. They do, people do. Especially in the springtime.

EI: I think a lots of things has changed after 1991, 2003. So, what is the basic difference for you living in Kurdistan region without Saddam regime? What is the

RZ: Yeah in 1991 what happened we became like free from the tyrant regime, but if we look at the after 1991, we did not have like a legal official entity in that territory. It was just like, it is part of Iraq, and it is not part of the Iraq, I mean you do not have a clear legal situation, you do not know what you are, you are not with Iraq but you are with Iraq, you should have-

EI: You for example used the Iraqi currency-

RZ: Yes, Iraqi currency, Iraqi passport and-

AD: You still do, right?

RZ: We still do that, but after 2003, you know the new constitution was written and new laws has been passed, I mean a legal status in Kurdistan-

AD: Yeah, it is more defined.

RZ: It is a federal region from Iraq. But before that you couldn’t say I am a federal region in Iraq or I am from Kurdistan region.

AD: I do not anybody knew, seriously.

EI: Let us learn about your feelings about that.

RZ: It is better for us, I mean to move around the world to say I am Kurdish I am from Kurdistan; I am from north of Iraq, they know what it is. Before that if you have said I am from Kurdistan maybe they knew you are Kurdish and something happened to you with Saddam’s regime, but they did not get it what exactly what you are, but now they know, people understand that you are from Kurdistan-

JT: I never felt something like this time is good or happy about Kurdistan.

EI: The happiest time?

JT: Yes, for me, but one thing I said I will never think about Kurdistan they go if I mean the best parts loved is become the country. But right now, I never be happy for what we have right now. We are part of the Iraq for the political and the economy and we have very good relation with Turkey, I mean we have a business with the Europe and we can do something.

EI: Okay, so your relation about the government as an individual how was it with the Iraqi government or Saddam’s regime or the Baghdad, how is your relation with new government, Kurdistan government as an individual like a citizen.

RZ: it is much better you know, when you go to like an official place, you speak your language, the paper all in your language, I mean you understand what he tell you, he understand what you telling them... It is much easier. It may be-

EI: And the treatment, how they treat you as a citizen when you go to the state institution-

RZ: Yes, it is much better, I mean you cannot describe it. It is much different. Everything is like your own. It is your own people. He is there, I mean you are dealing with somebody in you culture.

JT: My father was talking about that time, and he had some paperwork for something, he said when I was going to one office, I was thinking they might catch me, they will hang me. You know it was like that. Right now, when I go to or when he goes to an office in Kurdistan, He can ask about his rights, like why I do not have this, why this and why that. Right now, it is completely different.

RZ: Yeah, the communication is easier.

JT: You can talk to them, you can fight for your right from the people work for you, but before you did not have that right. You were always thinking if you say something, they will catch you.

RZ: If you say something bad.

JT: Before the parents they were not talking about Saddam’s regime in a household, because they said the kids here that and when they go to school the teacher ask them what did you hear last night, and the kids like okay my father was talking about Saddam. - In what way? – The bad way. And in the morning, they come to catch the parent. But right now, I said I do not like this president, I do not like the authority in the TV or on the street or in newspaper.

EI: How about the election? The free elections or democratic of Kurdish region?

RZ: You cannot say it is like hundred percent free election, but it is better than many other countries any other places. You have like kind of freedom.

EI: As I learnt that in the last decade most of the Christians they are moving to Kurdistan.

RZ: Yes, that is right.

AD: Christians from where?

RZ: From other parts of Iraq.

AD: Arab Christians?

RZ: Yes, they are Arab Christians, even Arabs, they have come there, they live there. Many of them.

JT: Back home ask a Christian, always they are looking for having a good life no problem in life you know.

EI: Because they are minorities.

JT: Yeah, and when there was a war in Kurdistan and was not a safe place at that time, half of the Christians moved to Baghdad to find a safe place. After 2003 it changed, they came back, not Kurdish Christians, but Arab Christians and Arab people and they came back. The government of the Kurdistan has provided a nice place-

RZ: It is like a safe haven-

EI: There are two identities now right, the identity cards or passports it is Iraqi and Kurdistan?

RZ: No, it is only one.

EI: What about identity?

RZ: You have like an ID which is called Personal Status ID [Ahwal Shakhsiya] it is same for all the Iraqi people; Kurdish, Arabs all of them.

EI: Is it written in Kurdish or Arabic?

RZ: Right now, is Arabic, but in constitution they have changed it; it says we have to write in both languages. Same thing on the currency. Right now, the currency only in English and Arabic. You know I mentioned before that, you have like a legal base, but what you have to do is procedures, you have a process you do it every day. They already have passport in Kurdish and Arabic and English; three languages. And they will do it this year or next year, they will do the identity, the ID card in both Kurdish and Arabic. They start doing those kind of stuff.

AD: It is hard to change things like this.

RZ: Yeah, overnight, it takes time.

JT: I mean always who come to Baghdad, become government or president to Iraq, he becomes a dictator, ambitious, he wants money you know. Anyways things become hard. Right now- if you want to deal anything with Iraq, you have to deal with the neighboring countries. You know for Kurdish it has become hard right now since 2003. In 2003 the Kurdish had- But right now because the government, new government called Maliki government; it became hard but the good thing we have the right in the constitution if one day-

AD: So, go ahead I will say something else.

EI: Do you belong more to Erbil or Baghdad?

RZ: I know what you mean, the identity. Yeah, I mean we always feel like us a common people, public we always think that we belong to Kurdistan, we are Kurdish and we always is our dream to have a state independent state. But it is in our desire what we want to, it is what is possible what we can do. You know what I mean. What we think and what a politician think is different. I think they understand the situation we do. They know what is the challenges around us, how they going to deal with that, we always as people say okay, I want to a state I want to be an independent state but when you look at a politician it is different, we have more challenges around us and how to deal with it. So, we always think that we belong to Kurdistan.

AD: I have a question, you know there are other Kurds living in other parts of the region like, there are some in Iran, Syria a lot, I think the most in Turkey. Am I right? I think Turkey has the most-

JT: We say twenty million.

AD: Yeah, so how do you feel about the Kurds living in the other parts of the world. I mean like what do you think about that? Like how do you feel about that?

JT: Always we feel about them, we want to have right, we want to have best life for them, anything happen to them, we here in harm. We want to best do for them, and many time let me just say why this government a Kurdish government and do not have Kurdish from Turkey, we still do not have any that much you know but always we felling about the Kurdish everywhere.

RZ: Yeah, like I think we have to talk like us as people not politicians, we always think that we are brothers, we have the same, we came from the same background, we are the same nation and we feel bad if something bad happen to them, and we feel happy when something good happen to them, but when we say okay they have to do the same thing that we did, I think that we are not fair to say that, they have their situation in their country, their government, they could do according to their situation not like what we did, and each parts of Kurdistan like has a different situation.

EI: Why do you think it is like that? What is the reason for different parts?

RZ: You know what? I mean what else should we think, I mean you live in Turkey, and I live in Iraq let us say, we both, it is true we are Kurdish we both have, I mean with the same many common stuff like language or culture, but in political point we are different. Each of us has different situation, you could deal with your government, with your country according to your situation to have like a certain kind of relationships with your government and I do for my part and the other parts they do the same thing according to what is good to them, what they see it is good for them. May be what we do, we did in Kurdistan, I mean the part of Iraq is may not be applicable in Turkey or in Iran, maybe they have a different situation and they need a different solution, but like I said as a Kurdish nation we always like we feel we are the same.

JT: We are always thinking about the Great Kurdistan.

AD: Yeah, but do you think wherever the Kurdish groups are located that the culture is little different. Like do you think your culture is little bit different than Erdem’s culture.

JT: If anything, you- each other for a long time there will be change. For many years for example I cannot visit anybody in Turkey [Kurdish]. They do not know what I am doing or what I have, they will change from what they grew up with.

AD: I mean it affects little things like the way you make your soup is different than-

JT: Yeah, all they from History, when you not speak with each other, when you do not know anything about news or anything about each other, and for example to the Kurds and Kurdistan in north Iraq they have a Behdini and Sorani. One river took them apart. Historians say they never saw each other for five hundred years, for example I mean I do not know it is true or not, that is why they say the language [the dialects] are different, the clothes are different.

AD: It is a different dialect.

RZ: So are the other nations. Arabs have the same, I think even more. From Algeria to Iraq they do not understand each other but what makes different us and them they have their own country, their own government I mean like a for a century, they did something common, like their language, they put standard language for them, they put many other common stuff that they have there like what they call the Arab League they do some common stuff but for us we did not have that opportunity to do that. I mean we are part of Turkey, Part in Iraq, Iran, Syria, we did not have that opportunity to get together to do our common stuff, to put our language together, to make a one standard language, to unify educational program, to do such kind of stuff, but like he mentioned identity we fell that, I am Kurdish, we are the same even we have some differences like our dialects. But we understand each other, we have many stuff in common, I mean the more important thing is that we have the same identity. When I say I am Kurdish, I am Kurdish yeah it is done.

EI: So, you said you want to go to Istanbul and Turkey, what is Turkey in your mind?

JT: She asked me about the daily life before after 1991. I was talking about that time.

EI: Istanbul for that time?

JT: Yeah, that time, economy was bad,

AD: Everybody wants to see Istanbul.

JT: And I was not allowed to have a passport that time economy was bad, and I was not allowed to pass the border.

EI: I know for example in Kurdish region now people are learning Turkish, am I wrong? The young generation-

AD: You know Marwan?

RZ: Yeah.

JT: Yeah.

AD: Marwan worked with me, so I am friend with him. So, Marwan even is watching Turkish Show and he was telling me that how hot topic like, he was where he here, he one time he went back home visiting he said I am going to expecting people are going to like ask me questions and talk to me, and all of a sudden everybody left, he like I am standing all alone, they said we cannot talk to you right now, the show started, we will get back to you. So, he was telling me how crazy people are watching these Turkish series.

RZ: It is different right now in the globalization; people love to learn all languages, myself I want to learn Turkish.

AD: But yeah, same here.

RZ: I mean any language, any more language you learn it is like a different culture, like a different human.

AD: Exactly-

EI: So, do you still want to go to Istanbul?

JT: Not anymore, because I am coming from New York.

RZ: Even from New York City some people going to Istanbul-

JT: No, I am joking, Istanbul always, it is a very nice city, I want to go, why not. Brothers, friends and cousins they always go there, the go visit and send me pictures and I am jealous.

RZ: It is easier right now, people go there; many people.

JT: No, no I was joking, Istanbul is nice.

RZ: And it is cheap.

EI: Were there flights between Istanbul and Erbil?

RZ: Yeah, there are some companies, they moved to Erbil, even by bus.

AD: Again, I am going to bring up Marwan. Marwan told me before he had no desire to go to Turkey, but last time when he was flying to Kurdistan so he changed his plane in Istanbul; even like the experience at the airport, think about it, he said it is like my home town that I really want to go visit, he is like there was like this little masjid at the airport-

JT: We have been there too.

AD: Yeah, he said there was a police- Turkish police with me praying, I felt like home. I want to go back.

JT: They ask about-

AD: I think the culture is similar whoever live in that region, whatever the ethnic, could be Kurdish, Armenian whatever Greek, Jewish it is like the culture is so similar and common, and people understand each other, I think.

EI: So, most of the childhood memories there is bad as I understand because of the conflict, so do you miss anything about your childhood?

JT: Do I miss?

EI: Yeah, like anything good, do you want to be child again?

JT: I mean something you are doing good you miss it, something at that time was bad for you, for your future you miss it you know.

RZ: When I went to school the first time, I think I was like ten years old, I was older not of a typical school age. But I started from the first grade, and before I went to school I said okay; how you think the school is going to be, all these kids they sit in the same classroom and the teacher will stand there; and I was afraid too much from school at that time but when I got used to it I got very good degrees actually.

JT: I do not know from, I grew up in city when you be a friend of some young kids you have to be very worried and I was not worry, I was hiding too much not going to school, missing the classes and we were going to smoke some door- yeah many things- to play soccer without shoes-

RZ: I think there is a relation between your memories and the place that built that memories. For me in here I cannot even think about my childhood, but when I move to the place I was there when I was a child, I will remember many stuff. I think I will cry in that time.

JT: And many time for Newroz we were taking a big tire and moving the tire, just pushing and pushing to that mountain for one day you moving and then burning the tires-

EI: So, you moved them to the mountain?

JT: Yes, we wanted to people see them, yeah, many thing, and the river is coming out it is not clean water and swimming, catching small fish-

AD: When you swim in the lake, I bet-

EI: No, because one river in villages so it was the same-

AD: Okay.

JT: We left many memories but right now the kids grow up over there, they do not have that life.

AD: Are you teaching, do you have kids by the way?

RZ: I have one on.

JT: I have three.

AD: How old?

RZ: He will be three years by March 2nd.

JT: I have a three, four and a half and a seven-month sons.

AD: Wow you are fast ha?

JT: Seven left- We need ten.

AD: You need ten?

JT: Yeah, seven left.

AD: Are you going to reach up to your family tradition?

RZ: No, I am not going to do that mistake.

AD: He is good at it-

JT: I want to always be a leader. I cannot lead anybody in the United States-

RZ: I think you will be a soccer team, you and your wife and ten kids, it will be a typical soccer team.

AD: So, are you going to talk about your memories, not just nostalgic memories like good all days you know, playing and the river or whatever, the memories of conflict; are you going to talk about that, are you going to tell your kids like what you went through and like are you planning to do that?

JT: I think exactly.

RZ: I think they are not going to be interested in that kind of stories. I mean we are going to happen after maybe twenty years.

JT: If I tell my son I did not have electric for ten years, he will not believe me. He will say why you did not have electricity.

RZ: Where is that technology brings them to-

EI: They cannot imagine.

RZ: I think they are not going to like that kind of stories. They even do not understand what we are talking about.

AD: She is ten years old and like when I tell her stories, I mean fortunately I do not have memories like you, but every memory I talk about home, and she is interested in learning and she was telling me that she is different because of me, because she is not all the way American, she is like this different flavor is her, so she is very interested in listening whatever I tell her..

RZ: You said she is ten?

AD: Ten. But I mean I did not just start, I have been telling her, because this not the only culture I want her to get it, you know what I mean, I just not that I am so crazy. I also go to Turkey every summer.

RZ: I have a story of a friend of us Jum’a Barany. He said he played a Muhammad Shekho’s song who is his favorite singer, He is our singer Muhammad Shekho, and he said he played that song and his son two three years, said “Please Baba, turn that off, it is too nosy for me.” And he told his son “This is my favorite song;) the boy said, “No turn that off please it is too nosy for me.” So, I think our kids they will not be interested in our stories.

AD: But you have a community, so that is another thing.

JT: I want to they know my culture, my religion but I want to have this mind, their mind, but culture and religion to be mine.

EI: Okay.

JT: You know what I am saying?

EI: Yes, I know.

AD: Yeah, I mean I think when you are gone and your memory can live through, and then maybe one day they will talk to them, and they say oh, so your father came here-

JT: You know right now I am still close to my parent you know. I talk to them on Facebook, skype I show to my mother, she knows my son. They love each other, and I told my son, “Okay we are going to Duhok, we are going to ride the horse, we go to swim.” You know, maybe I am not doing all that, but this is what I have gone through, what I have seen. You have fun or they think is fun. Yea but I am sure if he goes to Duhok, he cannot find any horse. But I will still tell them everything true, but I told him what I saw.

EI: Do you want to visit?

JT: Yeah, I visited in 2011 and if I have money-

EI: With family or a lone?

JT: My wife and my son they visited in July 2009 because my green card was going to be expired and I visited in 2011, I went by myself, but if I have money, I want to go every year.

RZ: I just came back two months ago.

JT: And it has become very easy, you go to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Erbil. Or you go to Diyarbakır.

EI: There is no direct flight?

JT: Not yet...

RZ: There will be I think soon, there will be from JFK to Erbil, they are working on that.

EI: Because they are stablishing a huge airport in Erbil.

RZ: They have the airport yeah, they expand it almost every year, and they expand the airport.

AD: So, do you work?

JT: Yes.

AD: Where do you work?

JT: I am working in Endicott Interconnect Technologies.

AD: Okay, so and your wives are Americans. Are they working?

JT: My wife, she used to work in the hospital but after the child was born, she stopped working. I have a problem with my son, with my kids when they are born, they have a little problem. She takes care of my kids. That is why she could not work anymore. She takes care of the child.

AD: How about your wife?

RZ: Yeah, my wife is working. She is oncologist in Wilson Hospital.

AD: In Binghamton Oncology?

RZ: At Wilson Hospital.

AD: Wilson Hospital? Wait, what is, she works in the…

RZ: Radiation Center.

AD: Radiation! Do you know what, this is a very small world; my friend just died. If you tell your wife-

RZ: What is her name?

AD: Cheryl. She just died.

RZ: I am sorry about that.

AD: Me too. Very-very dear...

RZ: Probably she gave her treatment.

AD: She did. So, what happened was, she got hospitalized at the end of, like 30th of December and so, she stayed in Wilson and the cancer created these tumors on her spine that is the kind of cancer she had and then she was getting the treatment where your wife is, and then, but anyway that was just the beginning because it spread everywhere, but then, she was still doing well when she had 10 treatments, like two weeks treatment and she met your wife and then she told your wife about me, and I told her I said well do you know what make sure to get her name so I want to interview with her.

RZ: Yeah, she is my wife yeah.

AD: Yeah, that is your wife. Yeah, tell her maybe she knows, I do not know.

RZ: Probably if she gave her the treatment, she will remember.

AD: She did, yeah beginning of January; two weeks she had ten sessions.

RZ: I will let her know. And it is okay if you want to interview her, I could bring her, or you could come over

AD: Yeah, we would love to right. I mean we can get her end because she grew up here obviously.

RZ: She came here I think she was 12 or 13 years old. She finished high school and college here.

JT: She started high school here, I think.

AD: But that is okay, she had the childhood memories, just like you.

JT: I mean I want to bring my wife too but she is older than me two years, but I think I have a lot of memories than her, I said when did you come here, she said, she told a wrong date. Before eight, I think. I mean for example I was four in 1988, I had some like dream but in 1991 when we went to the Turkey, refugee, Jalee I mean I remember every day.

EI: You went to Turkey as well?

JT: Yeah in 1991 we become refuges. Some Kurds went to Iran

RZ: I went to Iran actually.

RZ: I went to Turkey.

EI: Yeah, how was it.

RZ: It is another tragedy.

AD: Yeah, how was that-that is very interesting.

RZ: In 1991, after you know they call it the uprising happened in the Kurdistan. Kurds upraised against the regime, and they kicked the regime out from the cities and after that the regime like came back, recovering and then they came to the cities to the villages, they, what do you call? They shot many people; they killed many people. People started to run away from them. What they did, they got closer to the border with Turkey and Iran. Many people moved to Iran. Many people, some of them-

EI: So, how was the treatment in Iran, in Turkey? The refugee camps? You have your own story?

RZ: For me in Iran it was not that bad actually. It was not good. We suffered when moved, on the way until we got there. But when we got there, it was better. I mean many international organizations came to us, they gave support to us, and even Iranian regime was not that bad. The dealt with us in a good way.

EI: How long did you stay there?

RZ: I stayed there for about, I think for nine months. And then they-

AD: Wow, what did you do? How was, that is just another topic. Seriously, can you just give us a little bit, how was-

RZ: Yeah, we suffered a lot from the way when we went there. We walked for 12 days, and I was 10 years old. I walked all the way from Kurdistan to Iran.

EI: How many days?

RZ: Twelve days, yeah, and even younger child, they walked. It was snowing. It was March. It was March but it was snowing. … It was an exceptional, it was snowing, and it was March. You know.

AD: Yes, because the war was in February I remember so vividly.

EI: Halabja happened at 16 of that year?

RZ: No that was not Halabja. That was 1991. But Halabja was March 16th, 1988.

EI: So, the migration was 1991?

RZ: Yeah, I mean between 1988 and 1991 we had two major tragedy events.

JT: Did you saw the Anfal too?

RZ: Yeah.

JT: In two- three years we saw two.

RZ: Yeah, two of them. The second one, in 1991 it was like people immigrating to Turkey and Iran. For me I went to Iran.

AD: So, you walked twelve days, no washing, nothing-

RZ: No-no I did not have even food.

JT: No, even shoes, not even water.

RZ: I mean we had small amount of food; I mean we were eating a little bit, a bite each day.

AD: So how was the life in camps when you arrived.

RZ: It was better, when we got to the camps, I mean they gave us tents. We stayed in tents.

EI: were people dying?

RZ: Many people died, many old people and kids died. And they got sickness like diarrhea, and this kind of diseases

AD: Not hygiene.

RZ: Yeah, they died, but when we got there it was better.

AD: So, the camps, so you lived in tents. Were you able to take bath, shower, whatever.

RZ: It was not easy actually. Some people they made their own bathroom. They had public bathrooms actually not for taking shower just bathroom. They had them like group of, they built like temporary group of bathrooms. But for shower they had public shower, I mean for us is not easy for us to go to public shower because our culture will not allow us to do that, I mean for family to go to the public bath or shower…

AD: So how did you bathe, I mean-

RZ: They did. Some people made small out of cardboard or kind of stuff; I mean beside their tents they did. And some people got more than one tent and they made one a bathroom and the other room for living-

AD: Because we are talking about nine months here, you got to clean yourself.

RZ: Yeah, it was not easy, but it is not like you do shower every day or not even in ten days. May be once a month.

AD: Really?

RZ: Yeah, because you were not looking for a good life, you are just looking for some place to live in.

AD: How about food? Did you have enough food in the camps?

RZ: Food was good, because as I said many international organizations like Red Cross and WFP many other international organizations came and gave us food and instant food, even Iranian regime was good.

EI: How was in Turkey? I remember Turkey first refused to accept the refugees.

JT: Yeah, I mean right now when I see the Syrian Refugee in Turkey and they are very lucky.

AD: Really?

JT: Very lucky as they went there to Turkey and Turkey accepted them this way. We started to leave the city for some like 12 days, rain, snow it was cold.

AD: It took 12 days to get to Turkey? Turkey is not closer?

JT: So, they changed the way because they said Iraqi regime is coming. PEOPLE did not go the easy way because it happened in 19…

EI: So, you were escaping still it was not like they did not allow you let in-

RZ: Exactly because the government-

EI: They were still bombing or something, attacking the refugees.

JT: Yeah, they did not let us.

RZ: They tried to close the border by some, I mean you do not go from the border point, no you go from another way-

JT: You go through the mountain-

AD: Because of the fear of explosives probably.

RZ: Yeah, mines, this kind of stuff

JT: We passed when we walked for 12 days or more, when it became nighttime any place become dark you.… be there. If it is dark, or water or the road you have to stay with your family, and that time I was six years, something like that and I walked almost four days with one shoes, I mean in one leg I had a shoe one feet and the other out because it stuck in mud, and I always saw my mother and she was crying because of my, I had a cold and no food no anything I had a long blanket on my back we were walking. And when we went to Turkey, there were not any tents, no any bathrooms, no anything. And yeah, as I said the Syrian people right now are very lucky. The government of Turkey and the soldiers were not good with us. Not only the government and the soldiers, even the Kurdish people lived in that place, they told us where you guys come from, why you guys not being nice with Saddam? You know all they said do you guys you have a home? Do you guys have a house? Do you guys live in the trees or you guys live in the mountains? They thought Kurdish live like this way. The Kurdish told us. And you go over there, my family was big and my uncles family we had nothing to go in to be safe and protect us from rain and we found a little cave and it was raining and my father I remember he went to find us some food because he couldn’t buy it because all the armies around you, anyways he found us some little bread which was wet. We made a little fire heated it up, it became warm and nice we ate it. And after that the coalition forces came gave us food by airplane, they send it by a parachute. After that people got food this way.

EI: The government?

JT: No.

RZ: Organizations, it is like public … coalitions… Hulafa-

JT: Alliance, they sent food from airplanes, people go to get it and fight each other, and they hit each other for the food-

EI: They did not allow you to go into the cities?

JT: It was not a city. The place we went called Jalee, it was one small village on the Turkey’s border any fifteen house of the Kurdish.

1:38: 10
EI: Hakkari or Şırnak.

JT: No-no, they called Jalee.

AD: Do you know where it is?

EI: No…
JT: I do not know what part is-

RZ: I think it is close to Şırnak.

JT: I am not sure, close to…

AD: May be that is the name of the village.

JT: Yes, of the village.

RZ: Yes, it is a town.

JT: Yes, it is a town. The village, anyway I mean after that the Red Cross built a small hospital by plastic, Nylon; no medicine no IV no anything. It was a very tragic life. I mean people you see, no bathroom that people if you come in the bathroom, they will sit next to you and he go to bathroom. You will see the people that dying in front of you. I mean it is the worst, after a couple months, the organizations came, and UN but I do not want to say that the government did not allowed them to see the people.

EI: What?

JT: The government, the army.

AD: So, you ever got the tent? Nothing.

JT: Nothing, see after two days we sat on that cave, my father went to the food when they dropped food by parachutes or like a balloon, he got that and he asked for some tents, we went to sleep I do not know twenty people, fifteen people we slept in a small tent.

AD: Oh my God, so you lived in these conditions for nine months.

JT: No, actually we went back after I do not know it was five or seven months. We go March until June, July-

RZ: After the weather got colder people tried to find some other place. Some people came back and some other people they went to Europe, to America-

JT: Some country they accepted-

RZ: Yeah, some country accepted some people, yeah as a refugee-

EI: How was the local people’s treatment with you?

RZ: We did not have direct contact with local people because you know when immigrate to another country as a refugee, it is like a camp.

EI: But in your condition there was a camp, and there was tent-

AD: But he did not have a camp.

RZ: but even though the government-

AD: You were talking to locals, was it like Turkish-

JT: No, we were not allowed because of Jan Derma. There was a border.

RZ: It was like a camp.

JT: Many people wanted to go for example when they were bringing one truck of bread in the middle of that people, the people fight for the bread and the Jan Derma they wanted the people make a line and they hit many people.

RZ: In my case in Iran actually they made a regulation for camps. They made a board of administration of the camp. They had a manger and staff regulating camps.

JT: When we heard this about Iran, we said wow they are lucky because they are talking about… For example, when they say potatoes, and we say wow they have potatoes.

RZ: When somebody wanted to go to outside the camp to the city or to visit somebody, because many people have relatives over there who have settled in Iran in 1975-

AD: But I do not get it why they did not set up a camp like they did in Iran, that is interesting.

RZ: I do not know why, it depends on the government actually, Iran was doing that, they were kind of better and dealing in a good way with us. And they made a nice camp actually, stand but it was regulated in blocks and lines, and they built streets, when somebody wanted to go out of the camp, they give permit for several hours, for ten hours, seven hours, then you had to come back during the same day. But if somebody is really sick, they will send him out to other cities and they had a hospital, it was a big tent but it was a good hospital and they had doctors from WHO, they came from Japan, from Europe, the doctors-

AD: Yeah, that is what I am like how come no international health was available in Turkey, but it was available in Iran.

RZ: You know it depends on the country itself, I mean the government.

JT: Iran did that because they were not friendly with Saddam but may be Turkey.

AD: I do not know if Turkey was friend with Saddam at that time, were they friends?

JT: I mean if you look at political, Sunni and Sunni governments will be friends.

RZ: It had something to do with politics actually-

AD: 1990-

RZ: Yeah actually. It had something to do with politics, I mean Turkish government they did not allow to—

AD: Kuridsh?

JT: With the other president I think they are friend with the… but military they had more power that time …the government.

EI: Turkey had good relations with Iraq at that time-

JT: And still army in Turkey is more power

EI: The United States also supported Saddam like during the Iran war, I do not know why, I do not remember.

AD: Yes, yeah.

JT: I mean the friendly country helped us I think was French. France was a very good friend with us.

AD: I mean this is not our subject but US did not go to Iraq because they were so worried about Weapons of Massive Destruction or something like that, and they went there for oil. It was not to help Kurdish people or some civilians; I mean that was the excuse they came up with. That was not the thing. It was never to help you guys out, seriously. So that is how I feel, but-

RZ: But we do not mind if somebodies’ interest I mean contact with ours, I mean it is okay.

AD: No, no that is okay, but I mean look at the situation that is what I am talking about-

EI: During that nine months or seven month you lived just in mountains.

JT: Yeah. I mean we had a small tent for seven months.

AD: I mean is international humanitarian aid needed to arrive there.

JT: See, they came okay but I mean not like what Ridwan said.

RZ: In that time even, the humanitarian activities was not like now today, because some country they say this is internal affairs, you do not have to interfere with my-

AD: But with refugees-

JT: Even though-

AD: Internal-

RZ: I know but still it depends on the government, if the government will not allow international organizations they cannot go there. If I know that I am not able to do my job in this country, I wouldn’t go there. And who knows maybe the Turkish government told them that our immigration are in the good situation and we have taken care of everything-

JT: They did not allow any reporter to come and see our situations.

EI: How was the population, do you remember?

RZ: And even in Iran they did not allow some organizations to go there by the way.

JT: Almost a million.

RZ: they did not let some media to go there to cover the situation, But even then-

AD: What is surprising to me because when that happened, the events in 1991 I was here in the United States and like I was watching the war, all these happening on TV to me I was like amazing, I am watching what is happening on the TV, and then Özal he was giving speeches because Turkey always was pleasing America, it is like that was American act and Turkey was supporting with America and the talk was like oh we are helping out in any way but in reality look what was happening.

JT: Yeah, we knew that.

RZ: I mean you are from Turkey; you may know better than us.

AD: No, I was here actually at that time.

RZ: I know but you know politician they always have their-

JT: I mean see, if you looking right now if the Syrian people they go to become refugee in Iran, what will happen, what will be. It became like the refugees like in Turkey or like in Iran? Which one will be better for Syrian?

EI: Turkey.

JT: Yeah, is the true they are refugee in Iran, but you know what will they will be like over there.

AD: Yeah. So sad. What are you looking at?

EI: Jalee.

AD: What is it? Did you find it?

EI: Close to Hakkari.

RZ: It may be a small town that is why not famous.

JT: But if you check on YouTube-

RZ: Maybe it has a Turkish name probably.

AD: So, do we have any other questions?

EI: No, we will ask when you migrate to another country your identities has changed in Iraq you are Sunni or Shiite so but for the United States you are Muslim, so what is your experience with it?

RZ: For me actually maybe it is a personal issue, but for me whoever asks me who are you or who am I, I will always I am Kurdish, I never said I am Muslim actually and I always I am proud that I am Muslim

EI: For example, like when you, for an American in Kurdish is like nothing, they do not know about the Kurds.

RZ: We are trying to make it something.

EI: Or Arabs or like being Muslim is an identity.

JT: -see when I said when they accepted me they did not look who I am.

EI: Yeah, as a Muslim do you have any problem or discrimination or-

JT: For my self.

EI: In coming to the port, or in city or in hospital-

RZ: I have not experienced something like that never-

AD: Especially your dark-complected, you are probably okay-

JT: … If I do not speak them probably I am Italian or-

RZ: Many people tell me you are Italian actually-

AD: Yeah, it could be Italian or like because there is a thing especially males, not women so much, especially after nine eleven, Middle Eastern, you know.

JT: I mean I do not have, but my wife she was wearing a scarf when she was talking about her life when she was going to high school, she saw a lot of bad things. When they get in a bus and at college and still when she is with me, I am more respect of religion, but I do not want to do anything that people says Muslims are bad. When I am by myself I have more freedom, you know why, because when she is with me I do not want to do anything bad; I always do not want to do anything bad, but for example talk, or getting angry with somebody, I do not want to people see my wife with me because she is wearing a scarf and say ok all Muslims are like this. When she is not with me, I am having more freedom because they always they look at her scarf. And was she-

EI: It will be better to talk with this issue-

RZ: Yeah, I am thinking about females they have more experience than male. Yes, it is clear that is obvious she is Muslim, but for me for myself I never experienced anything like that.

EI: For example, you have a mosque here in Binghamton-

JT: People told me you are Muslim … the school always they talk about the Islamic way in … some time talking about history always negative, but if you look at the US history, this time is coming and going. If you look at Germany, they talk about Germany when, that time is gone. They talk on Russia they gone. When I guess African American the time is coming and go. I mean my time will be short for Muslim people they will go but the people-

EI: In General, you said there is no difficulty with your Muslim identity.

AD: Because probably people even do not even know you are Muslim right?

RZ: But even if you say I am Muslim, I have not seen anything that makes people feel bad or makes people take some precautions because I am Muslim, no.

AD: And you do not have that also the radical look… You know what I mean like fundamentalist look?

RZ: No not like that-

JT: People who was here, any Muslim people in 2001, maybe they had more bad situation or experience. I know a lot of Kurdish women after that they had taken their scarf off. They said we scare when they went to work, they said, you know something’s bad, my wife said when I was in high school at that time when this happened, I think it was college, but she said people were coming and say get out of this country, it is not your country, go to your country-

RZ: It is like a phenomenon it is just some cases-

JT: Yes, some cases. I am not saying they are bad because if anything happen to my country…. She said they taken off my scarf and walking-

RZ: Even not for us as Muslims even for American between themselves they have some kind-

JT: Yeah, I said, you know I told you that the United States … like this time you know.

EI: It was a special case, 9/11 actually.

JT: One time I was in the Donkin Donuts, we stand by the door were talking, one guy came close to me said, and his girlfriend who was with him went inside, he said came in front of us and said: Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar Jihad, and I told my friend what is going on, what is he saying? He said Oh, he is crazy. He told me, ah get out of my country, my friend being killed, I said, I do not care and one of the African American was close to me said do not worry my friend I passed this time too. [laughs]

RZ: It is always individual.

JT: Yeah, they accept you first, you know that you have rights; I am not seeing this issue.

EI: For example, institutions like when you go to any institution, school?

RZ: No, I haven’t seen anything like that. That is a good point here. I think that is what keeps us here, American live here, the justice-

EI: If you want to you grow up your children in a place, it is actually …best … you are more sensitive than yourself like to take care of your children better than yourself, so

RZ: That point make American special.

JT: In the beginning I said-

RZ: If they do not deal us equally like other American people, I think we are not ready to stay here, not even one day.

AD: But America also thinks about it is a very big country and things are not the same way in the Deep South. I lived there for ten years, people are not that understanding toward other culture, I was not there after 9/11 but I can just imagine but they are like, you know very prejudice.

RZ: I think you are right because is a big country they have almost everything, do not interact with other people that much, like Europe or other continent they are close to each other, but in America is like a separate

AD: Various Areas.

RZ: They have everything of their own, they have their game, they have their culture, I mean everything they say we are okay, we are enough for us, we do not need any other people, so maybe that is why.

AD: And also, this area, northern side is better-

JT: Yes, it is better-

AD: This morning just on TV they told me about this old man from Iowa this woman, white woman adopted a colored boy, they boy is mixed not really black, African American, very light completion, the 18 month old child on the plane, of course he is going to cry, so this man not only call the child the N word a couple of times and slapped the boy, because he was crying and now there is still some people can be like really.

JT: Yeah, American people they live in New York, sometimes they say okay I have a friend she goes to North Carolina, she said they do not accept us because we are New Yorker.

AD: Yeah, correct, correct, you know it is different.

JT – You know it is not right. This country have a-

AD: Okay well we can, it is, that is fine, no-no, that okay, well we talked; two of you

RDZ – It is interesting conversation.

AD – Yeah-yeah, thank you so much. So, we did exactly too uh-

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

18 February 2013


Aynur de Rouen and Erdem Ilter


Jotiyar Taha and Ridwan Zebari

Biographical Text

Jotiyar Taha: Jotiyar Taha, born in Iraqi Kurdistan to a large Kuridsh family, has eight brothers and three sisters. In 1991, he and thousands of other Kurds fled Iraq, on foot, to seek refuge from the violence of Saddam’s regime. He and his family lived in a makeshift tent in a remote mountainous area in a Turkish refugee camp. Jotiyar lives with his wife and kids in Southern Tier NY.

Ridwan Zebari: Being part of the Zebari tribe, Ridwan Zebari has eight sisters and seven brothers. Ridwan fled to an Iranian refugee camp in 1991, also on foot. He came to the United States after marrying a Kurdish refugee who arrived in 1996. Ridwan earned a Law degree in Kurdistan and received his Master's degree in Law from Syracuse University. He is an active member of the Kurdish community.





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Binghamton University

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Kurdistan; Kurdish; Kurdish culture; Saddam; Iraq; Iran; Turkey; Refugee; Anfal; Jalee; Islam; Religion; United States; Binghamton; Iraqi War; Refugee camps



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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 Jotiyar Taha and Ridwan Zebari,” Digital Collections, accessed May 28, 2024,