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Interview with Avras Taha

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Kurdish Oral History Project
Interview with: Avras Taha
Interviewed by: Aynur de Rouen
Transcriber: Marwan Tawfiq
Date of interview: 1 November 2014
Interview Setting: Binghamton University

(Start of Interview)

AD: Okay, today is November 1, 2013 and I am interviewing with Avras Taha at Binghamton University. So, I gave your name, so Avras please tell me where and when you were born.

AT: March 8, 1998 in a village in Duhok in Kurdistan.

AD: Okay, are you married?

AT: No.

AD: Okay, and so, please tell me what you remember about Iraqi Kurdistan. Like, what is your first memory about your childhood?

AT: I remember um dirt roads, brick houses that was where the city, that was where I was born at and raised and we used to have a big house where four or five families would live in this big house. Each would have their separate room. Um, I remember there was a school right a block away from us, all the local kids would go to school and get educated. There was a four-five-hour shift, I believe for boys and after that would be girls’ time. And the girls would go ahead after the boys. We never went together. I remember playing soccer with my friends a lot on the dirt roads, there was no grass field but we played on dirt roads with a soccer ball if we had one. I remember those groceries, my dad used to own a grocery store I used to go up there to see what he had for fruit, maybe take a banana or apple, eat it, fill out the other markets were there as well. That is my memories of me being a child I guess.

AD: Okay, I think that is great. You said you lived in a big brick house. So, can you describe me that house, like how many stories the house was for example.

AT: There was actually one story, one floor story. There are six rooms, five or six rooms and a bathroom. Like I said there was four families I believe it was us with two-three of my uncles living in the same house, we each had a room. We had floors and back yard and our roofs were not, our roofs were flat like all around the house, as there is now a day they are flat, so a lot of time during the summer we go up there and sleep because it was a beautiful night out on top of the roof, but here with just one a big house with four-five, five or six rooms I cannot remember but we were four or five families sleep in one house, in each room.

AD: Okay, so how, there was one kitchen?

AT: One kitchen.

AD: So, where you guys cooking collectively? Everybody was cooking at the same time or sharing the meal? How did it work? I am trying to picture the life.

AT: Imagine the house is just another big house where each room is considered a house to a person or each room is considered a house for a family member and we would, I remember they cooked separately, they cooked separately for each, their own family, and whenever say there was a special event or a holiday then we all cooked together and have a big meal altogether, but it was mostly individual, separate meals and each would cook for themselves. So, that was pretty much– It was a big kitchen but it was separately kitchen where we all cooked for ourselves.

AD: I see, how about bathroom? How many bathrooms?

AT: There was one bathroom as well, it was one small bathroom where is you just go and do your business pretty much but it was one bathroom for all of us.

AD: So, the bathing; where were you guys bathing? In that bathroom?

AT: The toilet and the bath they are two separate, they were separated by the wall, somebody could have gone to the toilet where nobody would, and somebody with the bath at the same time. But then the bath was a big room where say my mom would wash a bunch of kids together, our family; three or four kid go and wash together but it was a big bath with a shower, no bath but a shower because it was all ground floor, so no tiles not of that, all solid ground.

AD: Did you guys share the days, I am trying to get the concept like Mondays was it your family’s bathing day for example or–

AT: Maybe, honestly, I do not remember–

AD: –I should talk to your mom about this. Okay.

AT: But when you going to go get yourself ready for prayer then you go there it is a quick wash yourself and then come back out, as far as bathing I do not, maybe one day somebody will may in another family. I honestly do not know.

AD: Okay, so were all the houses like that? In the area in your neighborhood?

AT: Mostly yes because Kurdish people just have a family tie they want to be together all the time and but if there is a house big enough where there is two or three families that can fit in to it and they would, and they would just make a separate, they would make a room use it as a house for a person, so yeah, I mean most– when I went back, when I went back I saw that was still like that. But now it is changing where, changing nowadays, back then it was like that. Where not many houses were built, we did not Kurds did not have any equipment, houses were shared on family members.

AD: I see. So, how long you lived in Duhok before you left? I am not going to ask now like where did you get when you left, but–

AT: Nine years.

AD: Nine years? So, you went to school?

AT: I did.

AD: And you said it was separated, the girls and boys?

AT: It was yes. They had in the morning from, we would leave from eight to twelve or nine to one it was we would go. It was Quran classes, Arabic classes and gym and math classes and all of that, but it was separate times all guys, all boys. I remember playing and then after we get done it was a five-hour shift there is no lunch break none of that, so we just go home and the girls would go after us.

AD: Why was it separated?

AT: So, boys and girls do not get conformable with each other. This is all Kurdistan, twenty years–
AD: It is not like that now?
AT: No, it is not like that now. It has changed, but back then, this was under Saddam Hussein and Muslim, Islam was still very, very powerful influence on Kurdistan. In the Middle East it is very hard, parents they do not like it when their kids, boys and girls go to school together, and they think that something might happen, they think they might influence each other even in that young age. Stop at a young age.

AD: But it is not like that anymore?

AT: No, it has changed a lot.

AD: Okay, so, when did you leave? Like you lived there all the time? I am trying to catch the events now.

AT: The house?

AD: No, you lived in that house for nine years?

AT: No, my, two of my uncles lived in a village on a mountain where our original village where our original village. My mom side lived in the city; my dad side lived in a village. So, and between summers when there was no school, after; there is holidays we mostly when it is warm we go to the village and visit my dad’s parents is up there. They had their own big place; they had their own house, and they had a big forest or mosque so we go up there for all the summer. And that was a lot of time we go up there and we had like, Kurdistan people they all family, we had like cousins, I just go one night and go stay with my cousins, stay over there for night, stay all day, so I mean I was in a house I remember the house but we did not stay in the house all day because too many family members then; it might get something happens or you just go somewhere else.

AD: I see. So, you spent the summers in the village?

AT: Mostly yes.

AD: What was your father’s job?

AT: He was army man, he was a Peshmerga.

AD: He was a Peshmerga? So, he was not around very much, was he?

AT: He was not no. That was what mom said he was not around because he was fighting a war especially back in those days–

AD: So, your mother raised you?

AT: Pretty much yeah. And that was the best part about having multiple families in one house where my mom’s sister could take care of us when mom is not home or my uncle could take care of us when they are not home, so those one thing like we had babysitters in the house take care of us just in case. But–

AD: But mostly female members because men were out.

AT: Working.

AD: How about grandfather,

AT: I did.

AD: Did you have a grandfather or mother in the house living in the same house?

AT: In the house, yes, my mom’s. My dad’s grandparents were in the village and my mom’s parent in the house where we living that is what we talking about, they had their own house too and it was right in the middle too and my dad, my grandpa would never, he was not he was just there pretty much, because he was old, he could not work, he was just there in the house, watching TV and watching kids and–

AD: So, who was bringing the bread to the house?

AT: My dad, I mean the government pays Peshmergas because they know what they– And my dad had actually a grocery store as well on a side when, because you do weekly basis, you do not every single day, you work say, you work ten days and then you have like five or six days off, and you work ten days and then you have, so on my father’s six days, I had two other brothers; Zeki and Zikri, so my dad opened up a grocery store up a block it was and he went to get to market brought fruits and vegetables and he set it up and fix it, he taught my brothers how run the store when he is not there so just in case anything happens. So, the government I believe they paid, they fund families money because it was hard mostly every men I mean every man I know them was a Peshmerga.

AD: They were leaving, they were absent. So, your older brothers would take care of the business while he was away. Okay so the money was coming in for food or other expenses but it was your mother who was taking care of everything, right?

AT: Yeah, pretty much.

AD: Was she a strict mom?

AT: No, not she would, not at all, she was a loving mother honestly. she biggest heart I know, and if she had a sick kid, she would walk her to the hospital like hold her and grab her on her shoulder and take her to the hospital, or walk her to the hospital like a mile away, but not she will take all, she would take care of us and she would enjoy life and she still does but in the meantime influence us about life; what is right and wrong at the same time.

AD: Okay. But when you guys misbehaved–

AT: That was where my aunts came in. [laughs]

AD: Not your mother?

AT: No, that wa s where my aunts came in. Actually, my aunts mostly because mom was never around. But my aunts I still remember some of the beatings they gave me.

AD: Really?

AT: Yeah, and my mom always jokes around me with like whenever go back to Kurdistan you could be treat as kid up to now. [laughs]

AD: I see, how about your father, is he strict?

AT: He is more of a family, religious man. Um, say you do something wrong, or you make a mistake, he sit you down and it could be along speech like, it will be a two hour speech about the same thing over and over and then just embeds in your head like it just craves in your head and like okay I am not doing this again because if I do this again you know and he just, he believes that everything happens for a reason honestly he believe that everything in God’s hand and whatever happens it happens, so he was not strict so much he liked a lot all the boys go to school all of us go to college study for whatever you wanted, he was like okay you want to be engineer, you want to a doctor, or you going to be you know he was just like do whatever you want to do. That was how he was.

AD: So, is that typical, no?

AT: No. Most parents tell the kids what they going to be, most parents like you are going to be home by 10 o’clock, or if you going to college be a doctor or this and that but my parents were so much as do what makes you happy, you know I do not want to force anything upon you and later in life you did not enjoy it and okay it is my fault you know, I do not want that. So.

AD: So, was your father involved in politics? I mean he was Peshmerga, but do you remember him like talking about it or doing um–

AT: Not when he was home, I would never anything about that, maybe to my uncle, maybe in a separate room, or separate whenever alone but not in the household, so.

AD: But now you are grown, do you know about his political views?

AT: He loves Kurdistan, he loves Duhok and he goes back every chance he can, but he as far as politics he just like every other Kurd he loves Masood Barzani, he loves what yeah so but umm not so much political view. I know he is, he watches news see what happens but not really into it, you know.

AD: Okay. Umm. So, you said you played soccer with the other kids so was there other like for the bayram, for the eid or Newroz or some other celebrations, you know like fun time, festivals big gatherings, weddings um, like what kind of, because you were a child, so your memory is different than your mother’s like what were you guys doing? Like what do you remember like one of the weddings or something?

AT: We, like during weddings especially basically, we just dancing and we were not kids, but we were in the middle looking at the people while they dancing or just jumping around, and around. We were in the streets but um other celebrations, honestly very vague memory about weddings and Newroz but I do not believe we did Newroz but I do not have any memories of Newroz we did there, I know one wedding when my uncle where, we drove and I was in a pickup truck we drove to his bride’s house picked her up and like we all dancing outside the window in the pickup truck dancing with a flag up with paper, no cloth and stuff like that just screaming and whistling doing all of that, and then they came back to the house and they danced around the house, and we in the middle just watching, moving around and around, running around that was pretty much, as far as other celebration, like I know Eid I loved Eid, I would go to every family or every cousin or every uncle to knock congratulate Eid and then they would come and there is pretty much, there was a candy like, and they would give me a dollar or they would give me some money and they would give me some kisses so I was looking forward to that because I would be rich that day.

AD: So, is there anything like an area they would set up for kids like have fun, activity during eids, like swings or you know like–

AT: We did have a playground but as far as Eid, Kurdish people, especially because on Eid I was like with my mom we go to Mosque, come back from mosque have our best of lunch and then everybody go out to their way and our young age, my older sister would take us to eids, Jihan, she took me and my twin Zhiyan, to Eid one time. You know funny story she was her and her two friends, they walked, it was me, it was two of her friends, me and Zhiyan, we were like six seven years old and I walking behind them as they go alright they stopped, stopping across road, busy cross road, they would go, we stop, Zhiyan like do not go, the car is coming, so we stopped they go, they have got all about us so we are staying right there crying on Eid some police officer came picked up us and took us to a station and called on a radio station like two kids are missing, I mean I remember this and I am in a booth, I am in the office crying and Zhiyan is like here is candy here is candy do not cry, we will be okay. I am like no, I want my mommy. They put us in the news and my uncle came picked us up but no one, there is, it is an oldest person mostly take the kids to Eid to door to door and knock on peoples door as we do nowadays to do, it is you go door to door to somebody older and you always wonder around and as far as Kurdistan being safe but still need the older parents you know just in case get lost.

AD: Yeah, but where were you spending the money? The money you collect.

AT: We go to a grocery store get soda, some candy some more candy.

AD: More candy. [laughs]

AT: Get a cake. It was nice.

AD: Um, was like during summer was it different, like activities you did in the village than you did in Duhok?

AT: Um, our village. Um, I know there is a pond in the village where I used to go swim a lot, I did not know how to swim but jump on and learn to teach myself to swim, a lot of kids would do that, there is a lot of apple tries and there is a lot of fruit tries and I climb a lot and fell one time, on a big tree like here and my mom almost panicked I broke an arm but no it is I mean it was different setting of life because you loved there was no limit to what you would do, you could play in a street or go play tag with friends, where in the village was more open and you could go on a forest going true fun, go to pond, be outside all day or all night like my memory very dim or very no much in the village because I usually spend few or may be a month or two in there.

AD: I see. In your house though I am going to go back to your house in Duhok, was, you guys all lived in one room?

AT: The family?

AD: The whole family?

AT: Yeah, it was a pretty big room when I say like twenty by twenty-five or twenty by something like that, it was a big room and we put a not carpet but four disdashas you know what I am talking about and then we would all fix our place and sleep, so yeah we would all sleep, and we all like eat and watch TV at the same room it was pretty much a house in one–

AD: You had TV?

AT: In the same room yeah.

AD: Okay. So and how many siblings you got?

AT: At that time, it was eight.

AD: At that time, and then the ninth one.

AT: Came in here.

AD: Came in here. But who is the oldest sibling, is it–

AT: Zeki.

AD: Zeki. Was he married at that time?

AT: No. We got all married once we came here.

AD: He came and got married here. Okay. So, you told me the schools. And everybody was Kurdish in Duhok like were you had like some Arabic- Arabs?

AT: There was Arabs in the village not so much in the city.

AD: In the village?

AT: In the village yeah, there are Arabs.

AD: How was the relationship?

AT: It was family, it was mutual, they understood that okay we both living in here, we both have, if they have a problem we solve it with each other you know–

AD: But it was not something like lovey-dovey “Oh I love you so much ̶”

AT: No.

AD: So, it was like mutual understanding, right?

AT: Yeah, it was a friendship but at the same time mutual.

AD: Like would you share like anything together?

AT: Yeah, you go over and give dish or mast (yogurt) or some bread as a khair and you would go they do the same thing, they probably, they could have, they once they kill animal or may be a sheep or a cow and they would bring some meet over to share with you, so it was like a neighborhood, it was a neighbor to neighbor type of friendship.

AD: But it was not so much reciprocal, like it was not like you go and they come, you spend a lot of time together?

AT: No, no, it was mutual.

AD: It was just a mutual respect to each other. Okay. So what language would you guys speak with Arab neighbors?

AT: Arabic most because we would go and our teacher teaches us Arabic and that is because Saddam Hussein and Arabic is the main language in the Middle East in general but in school they teach us how to read Quran, how to pray and how to speak Arabic as well–

AD: How is your Arabic?

AT: –I was the second grade when I left so, it is okay. I know basic words that is it. That was because I taught myself over here, I did not learn anything over there.

AD: Can you read?

AT: I could read Arabic.

AD: Yeah? Okay. Um, let me see. Okay, we talked about the house and, but the main language is Kurdish–

AT: Yes.

AD: Which dialect you speak?

AT: Badini.

AD: Badini? Is that the main dialect in Duhok area?

AT: In Duhok area yes, in Sulaymaniyah it is Sorani, in Hawler Sorani but in Duhok is mostly Badini.

AD: And in Turkey I think the most common one is Kurmanji right?

AT: Yeah.

AD: So, what is the difference between Kurmanji and Badini?

AT: It is just like the difference between Mandarin and the other Chinese language, I do not know.

AD: I see. But do you understand Kurmanji?

AT: Very little, there is. It is the same thing but different dialects, it is like, I want to say in English terms but everything the same, it is, there is words it is like in Arabic and phrases you understand but it is not so much everything else, you got to teach yourself.

AD: Yeah, because everybody so many people, so many countries speaks Arabic but I know there are like differences, like in Egypt, like the Arabic, they speak in Egypt is different than in Iraq, yeah, the dialect difference. So, but you had electricity in the house and running water–

AT: No, at that time it was very limited, we probably got hour, two maybe four hours a day for electricity and same with water, it depends, if you were lucky you would get it all day, but never the case, but you would get it time to time, whenever you got it you got lucky [chuckles] but it was we had water, it was it, it was not bad.

AD: But in the village there is no electricity or running water? Was it? There was?

AT: Electricity was very, like maybe an hour a day and night actually, but there is more water in the village than water in the city because village they have ponds and oceans, they got mountain ponds and rivers and all that they could generate water to the village.

AD: So, the village let me understand this, you said it is in the mountain?

AT: Yeah.

AD: So, what like, how people did, made a living in the village, like was it through animals, or farming like–

AT: Yeah farming,

AD: Farming? So, there was land to farm?

AT: There was a lot of land yeah. It was acres and acres of land and I do not know if you have seen a lot of movies where kid would take the sheep going go–

AD: Yeah like shepherd boys–

AT: Yeah same as that. They had a mast, they had pool, like I said they had ponds, they had their own gardens, fruits and vegetables–

AD: So, both men and women worked in the farms or it was mostly women’s job?

AT: No, it was men actually did most of the job, but women helped as well, but it was mostly men, my dad. I do not know if you have been with these old guys but they all love to garden. They all love to, we have back yard, we have flat, my house, we have flat pretty much back yard, my dad took the far corner and he had took a big space and put vegetables; cucumbers, tomatoes and put peach trees in there, apple trees, they love gardening, these guys, it is their passion as much because it is their roots, it comes from their roots, but females help us, they go and pick grapes and pick apple and pick those.

AD: How is the setting in village? Is it like women mostly stay home and like is there a like coffee house or something, men get together?

AT: No, you would go over somebody’s house and you maybe have tea but the ladies mostly stay home they make bread, make lunch, make breakfast, take care of the kids, clean the house and do all the chore making, make cheese, or–

AD: Yogurt?

AT: Yeah, make yogurt, mast.

AD: Okay. How about your family’s attitude toward other ethnic groups? What I mean where there any Turkmens in your area?
AT: No.

AD: No? just Arabs? But there are some Turkmen in Iraq I know.

AT: It is like I said my memory is vague but I remember especially in the city where we in urban area, where we lived were mostly Kurdish people I know–

AD: So, how was your family’s attitude toward the other minorities, not minorities, in that case they are majority but maybe in your village they are minority right, toward Arabs?

AT: My dad was a fighter and he fought against Iraq and Saddam and fought against Turkey to help, so his mindset pretty much hates them you know, but and we as kids they never really told us about anything else, so we pretty much learnt from everything, we learned to like okay Arab that Saddam Hussein did this to us, we hate him for that reason. Turkey did this to us and that is the reason they hate us, and we hate them as well, but they, you learn as you grow up, they never really bring that up towards you, so but minorities like, somebody like Arab want to come to Kurdistan we will not treat them as bad person or somebody else, make and be, want to change himself, so he is allowed you know, so Kurdistan since Saddam Hussein or before that is one of the safest place in Middle East and crime is very low so it always been like that and they kept it like that.

AD: But how about the school curriculum? How was it?

AT: What do you mean?

AD: Like did you guy study history for example or–

AT: All I remember is for a second grade they, maybe third and fourth, fifth they did, but they taught us how to pray, they taught us Quran, they taught us Arabic, and they taught as math and there was a gym class.

AD: Okay, so there was like no social studies?

AT: No, not that I remember, maybe later.

AD: Like there was no preaching about how great Iraqi land is or anything like that?

AT: No, I do not remember that. I remember Arabic and Quran classes.

AD: Okay, so how was the town of Duhok at that time? What kind like of businesses I mean like–

AT: It was local business, there was a bread factory, there was a few grocery stores, there was a few market were sodas and candies all that stuff but it was very poor, it did have a school, it did not have a mosque but the environment in general was very poor like the roads and the environment was very dirty and you cannot really go, I mean you did not see cars come and go at all especially where we lived. So, I mean there were markets and all of that I mean the living condition was not that good.

AD: So, it looked poor?

AT: Yeah.

AD: Yeah, and not money people had cars?

AT: No. I mean you had to be rich to get a car or you had to own a business for reasons to have a car but everything else was local, you could walk to the hospital, or you could walk to the mosque, you could walk to the school.

AD: Were there any like rich people, rich neighborhood?

AT: They neighborhood we were living not so much but there was a neighborhood farther from us they were rich maybe because they were in government or something like that, but they were rich people but settled the city though.

AD: They were Kurdish?

AT: Yeah.
D: Where were they getting the money?

AT: I have no idea.

AD: You do not know?

AT: No.

AD: And you do not know what kind of business they were doing, so they were wealthy?

AT: I do not know.

AD: Okay. See that your father would answer this question, right? So how important was religion in your family when you were growing up?

AT: Now it is still important, very important, like number one, number two in the most important things at the family. My dad is a family man, he loves family but my mom is religious woman and she loves, she is very, very religious woman and together you just become that person, so every time there is a prayer time, every time is time to prayer she will ask you prayed yet even at this age, have you read Quran yet, so it is very, very important. Do not do this, do not do that. This is bad, this is haram, this is– it is very, very important keep up with your prayers, keep up with Quran and do not lose your faith and so, it is important, still is.

AD: So, very strict religious, um–

AT: Strict, not so much, not like they will not, they will tell us the basics of Islam and they will tell us okay drinking bear is haram, do not ever do that you know, do not ever smoke weeds it is haram do not do that but like as far as strictness, it was not they are strict it was too much what is right and what is wrong and what is good to be?

AD: Do you smoke?

AT: No.

AD: Drink?

AT: No.

AD: Okay, you do not do anything against the Islamic religion, so you follow the rules, even today, right?
AT: Yup.

AD: Okay. And do you pray five times a day?
AT: I do.
AD: You do?
AT: Yeah.

AD: How do you manage it, like–

AT: I wake up five, six thirty everyday no matter what, I mean I do not even stay up long, I wake up in general in I am a morning person and then afternoon is mostly if I am in school or at my work and my co-workers and my teacher would understand what my tradition is and I make time, but I just mostly make in time and having understanding when time is praying making available time for that five or ten minutes going doing your prayer, but it is simple enough, it is very. I mean there is time we could, you have something important going on or you travelling or something like that where prayer you might miss, you could make it up with another prayer, or make it up later that is understandable.

AD: So, everybody follows the rule in the family, everybody prays?

AT: Yes.

AD: Even the youngest one?

AT: No, not yet. She is learning. She was born here she has a pass.

AD: So, she is Americanized?

AT: Yeah. [laughs]

AD: Uh, so now I am going to ask you about other events taking place when you were growing up. Did you have any interruptions either when you were living in Duhok or when you were in your village? Like due to political events or conflict that you had to leave?

AT: Eight days after I was born Halabja happened, um–

AD: Of course, you do not have a memory of that.

AT: I do not because I was eight days old, I was a newborn but I remember my mom told me the story my uncle put me on his shoulder and we would walk pretty much run away from where we lived and go up, I think we went up to Iran, we went to corner of Iran and stayed there, I am not 100 percent on that what she said. And we escaped Kurdistan, we went to Iran, Iran borders because of Halabja and we understand that Saddam Hussein’s main target was to kill all Kurdish and demolish Kurds from (name of an area) and he was doing that village to village, so we all ran away, I know she said two of my uncles died but she said that I was eight years (days) old then my mom took my sister in back and my uncle took me and pretty much walking for miles and miles to Iran. But um, after that there was still like, other than Saddam Hussein there was no other conflicts I know, I mean Saddam Hussein was the main enemy towards Kurdistan but, I mean we did run away few times, one time actually for that Halabja thing but that is all I remember. And now I was told about that, so.

AD: You were told about that, so you do not remember like any event that you picked up and left?

AT: Not at all, no.

AD: You do not remember? How about during the first Gulf war?

AT: When was that, (19)93? (19)92?

AD: (19)91.

AT: (19)91? I do not remember, we did out of what, three, four. I do not remember.

AD: You do not remember.

AT: I do not,

AD: Okay.

AT: I only remember my last (19)94, (19)95, (19)96 years that was when I was like eight, seven years old so, but before that there is no memory.

AD: There is no memory, so what do you remember that was like before you guys made a decision to move to the United States, so what do you remember then?

AT: The day? What happened?

AD: Yeah.

AT: As I told you before Saddam Hussein’s main thing was killing Kurds but my dad was a Peshmerga so he received a letter as many other did as well saying that if you want to take your family to a better place, America, more land of opportunity, land of safety, take your family from here and live a better life and a lot of Peshmergas turned that down, too much pride securing your homeland you know. And my dad is like I am taking my family and he asked his dad, and he asked his parents, and his parents like do whatever is best for your family you know, he asked his brothers what they thought about it and everybody was like do what is best for your family. And he was like the best thing to take my family to Kurdistan, and that day we all, there is a week before we left and the day before we leave, they are all dancing and all cheering and happy like okay this is something for him for going from Kurdistan, and that time nobody slept, everybody was talking, few hour before we leave everybody started crying so the joys of that day went to a very sad emotional day; we all drove, the whole family drove, it was two trucks I was in an SUV I believe and I slept half way drive to the Turkey, to the camps. It was–

AD: You went to the camps in Turkey? Which– Where did you go?

AT: I do not know what is called.

AD: In the eastern part of Turkey?

AT: Yeah.

AD: Okay.

AT: We drove up there, there, we did some paper work, they put us in tents, we stayed there for a long time, they would, my dad and my mom, usually my dad would go and get soup and bred and food for us, we all stayed in the tents and sleeping, just wait and wait, until they came and like you guys going to get boarded to buses, you guys going to walk buses like few miles away and the buses going to take you to airport with all paper work and you fly out of here. So, we were all pretty much a lot of Kurds, thousands and thousands of Kurds going, and walking to buses and all fill in the buses and most people standing, there is no seats left in the buses and we would go to paper work and go to airport and fly to Guam. So, we went from this cold in the Middle East cold, dirty, living in the tent just waiting to this beautiful island, one of the most beautiful islands I have ever been to, you know so like [all to one eighty in] life. We went to Guam, I do not, I remember that morning I am like sun so beautiful I am not sleeping today, but they put us in a house, it was a two story house, there was another Kurdish family was Sorani family and we both lived in the house for like three months until they moved us to another part of Guam, to another section of Guam it was on the military base because there was a war going one that year I believe because it was mostly military base but they gave us, they moved us to another house it was just a beautiful place, green grass, beautiful sun, beautiful day, every day, was beautiful. The military people were very, very kind, very happy, very positive, they accepted us, we did not understand each other but we like understood were we are what we are doing here. They are very just looking out for us and security and make sure nothing was happening, and they gave us candy, work around with candy in their pocket and kids come by and give candy to kids, there a movie theatre I saw my first movie in theatre in Guam I remember it was Scare Face, I still remember they had, there was circus there as well, they had firework one night, and one time it was Newroz, I think we had Newroz there, yeah we had Newroz in Guam one time and we had a big party and then a lot of military guys were just standing like what is going on and few of us just grabbed their finger pig and started dancing, teach them how to dance, and it was nice. And then after that we just came back to our home, they got– we were just waiting for paper work to get fixed. That was how everybody was family just waiting for families until they get leave and come back to America, so we stayed pretty much in Guam for six months and then came to, I believe it was Los Angeles for one night and then came to Maryland, we stayed in Maryland.

AD: How long did you stay in Maryland?

AT: Six months.

AD: Another six months?

AT: Another six months, then we came up to New York.

AD: Did you pick Binghamton?

AT: No. We picked Maryland.

AD: You picked Maryland?

AT: Yeah, my dad picked Maryland.

AD: What is it?

AT: My dad picked Maryland.

AD: And why couldn’t just to stay in Maryland?

AT: The neighborhood we stayed in and it is a region work for refugees but it was pretty much where there is two other Kurds families, the Sorani families not the Kurdish Badini families as well lived in there. We got to know each other and, but every night there were sirens, every night there were gun-fight, I mean there were gunshots, I mean it was a very bad neighborhood. We did not understand nobody I mean there was no language, like there was language barrier between all of us especially in the school it was all black school and like so it was very, one of the most bad place in Maryland and one of my dad’s best friend in New York like how is your situation, and they were discussing each other’s situation, then Zebari, my dad’s best friend, Karwan’s father, he said yes there is a bunch of families here, life here is good, is very nice, you should move here, and my dad is like alright. So, we just packed up everything and asked the other Kurdish family, they wanted come as well and the other families came as well, we came up here together.

AD: Who are those people? Did I interview with them?

AT: No, [mumbles] they are Sheikh and Zailah, but he is very political I do not think he will go though, because he’s very political, but the lady she went back her brother died, she went back to Kurdistan and so, she went there with my dad, they are still there.

AD: I see. So, I forgot to ask you, I want to go back to Kurdistan, like did you have enough food when you were in Kurdistan or like when you came to The United States did you like abundant of food like it was not like, that was what I want to get, like how was it when you compare?

AT: Kurdistan was breakfast meal, and lunch meal and then dinner, and it was pretty much for the whole family, and over here we make extra stuff, there is leftovers you know, it would be different but over there it was, we all ate enough to get full from the food that my mom made, but over here there is always extra left, always chicken left, there is always rise left, always soup left, they make extra just in case somebody comes over just in case, somebody wants to eat or somebody wants to eat extra.

AD: So, you never went hungry in Kurdistan?

AT: No, never, no.

AD: No? you always had the food.

AT: Yeah, like I said my dad was a family man and his main thing was to take care of his family, his family members–

AD: I see. So, you were a child, you went to live in these places then you ended up here. So, the life continued like in Kurdistan, the routine, you know like the eating, the you know like everything you guys in the house is it still the same way?

AT: It is similar, very very similar, we still on the floor, we still eat on the floor, we still make the same Kurdish dishes but we still sit around and just talk, there is one part in the house where there is disdashas we all sit in the floor instead of couch, the couch is two side but we sit on the floor and just have drink tea and just talk and have seats and all of that, very similarities upon that but there is a big TV, there is a nice furniture, it is warm, AC, so that kind of changes but, I mean there is similarities and differences, we try to remember our roots and who we are and what we are and not change especially when our young ones coming up, then see what we are, you know, so especially, but in the floor we still in the floor I mean other people have tables but we still eat on the floor, we still put it.

AD: Do you have a table?

AT: We do have a table–

AD: But you do not use it–

AT: We do not use it. No.

AD: Like when you study, where do you study? On the floor or on by the–

AT: On the table.

AD: On the table. When you study you use the table, not to eat.

AT: No.

AD: No, I understand that, you know that part of the world, I understand that.

AT: My sisters and my sister-in-law they still wear the Kurdish clothes at home, like they were that long dress as you see Kurdish people back in Kurdistan where they still wear that at home as well just like my mom, just like my sisters-in-law, so they kept that in there as well. So, yeah, I mean there is few similarities where you come to my house like oh this is American house, no you understand the difference.

AD: Definitely. Do you go back to Kurdistan?

AT: I went back (20)09 yeah.

AD: Just one time?

AT: One time yeah, twelve years after–

AD: And what did you think?

AT: It was different, it was a lot different, I mean–

AD: How?

AT: There was a lot of cars on the streets, a lot of taxis, there are big houses, big buildings, more, bigger shops, bigger markets and there was. It was not just staying in the city, you could walk anywhere you want. No, you had tickets, grab a cab go to the shopping, or grab a cab to one of your friend’s house or your relatives because everybody, back in (19)88, back in (19)93, (19)94 everybody was in one local community where you could just walk like I said for Eid you could walk to somebody’s house but no at night you could grab a taxi I mean tell the drive you to some of your cousin’s house because everybody moved little bit farther from each other and grabbed the house and like I told you when I said there was like a house, there was a big house for four, five families who’s one house one family, everybody had their own, like the whole one family had their own house, there was bigger, bigger market, bigger streets, all of that. It was roads improved, soccer field, there is gardening, you just feel the fresh air in the environment where it was different.

AD: So, do you plan to go back?

AT: Visit?

AD: Yeah.

AT: Yeah, I will plan going back visit.

AD: But you do not plan to go back to live?

AT: I do not know.

AD: You do not know?

AT: No, I am not going to go back to live. I mean depends if I marry somebody over there and they want to. But no, I do not think I am staying and living there. No.

AD: How about marrying? Would you marry someone from U.S. or would you–

AT: That is my thing, I am marrying somebody over here. I am not– There is a paperwork you going to through, marrying somebody over there and there is a time frame–

AD: No, no, no. I mean American?

AT: American?

AD: Yeah. I do not mean–

AT: No, you going to talk to my mom about that, I do not think she will allow that. She worries too much and she is, one thing is divorce, you like how do know like they not going to divorce you, every time I am like comment no she can divorce you, and she does not want the kid been her any way so, but no American, that won’t pass my parents.

AD: No?

AT: No. My dad might, but my mom will not.

AD: How about a Kurdish person but not from your town, let us say someone who came from Turkey, a Kurd, would you marry?

AT: Yeah, my mom would accept, like my mom is like she is a Kurdish, a good girl, comes from a good family like any other mother and she behaves well, then yes.

AD: Or let me just exaggerate a little bit, or a girl from Palestine, she is still Muslim and she, herself is a minority too, she is just not Kurdish, would she allow that?

AT: Probably not. I do not know.

AD: So, the person has to be Kurdish, not just Muslim?

AT: Yeah. Someone Kurdish, yeah. Kurdish would be the most important thing honestly. I think so. I mean I would love to marry whoever I want but I do not think my mom will be happy.

AD: So, they make, the family makes the decision?

AT: The family, like I will tell them, I will marry this person, can you, what do you think about that, and they say okay, but there is no arranged marriage, I told them like you are not arranging marriage for me.

AD: Oh, is that still going on?

AT: There is still arranged marriages.

AD: Did Karwan I did not ask that question, it is not arranged. Is it?

AT: No, not arranged. He was introduced her from someone of my friend. They went over for dinner and introduced each other and they got to talk to each other a little bit then few months later they made decision, all right we will ask for in a marriage after they talked and got to know each other better.

AD: Yeah.

AT: So, I mean arranged marriage is very, very little, maybe for girls somewhat, for guys not so much.

AD: But still, the family, your parents would put pressure on you, the person needs to be Kurdish and Muslim right?

AT: Like you have to understand, you know what your mom will approve or will not approve of and your mother’s approval and your parent’s approval is the most important thing, especially in Islam but your parents did not approve somebody then the whole marriage is a shame, where the whole parent marriage is not good–

AD: You need to get a blessing, right?

AT: Blessing, yeah.

AD: So, you live your life at home? Traditional Kurdish family life? Right?

AT: Yeah.

AD: But when you are not home, like if I see you on the street I could not tell?

AT: No.

AD: You continue your life as an American?

AT: Pretty much yeah.

AD: So, you kind of balanced it out.

AT: You have to yeah you have to yeah. Especially living here, you have to balance it. Being home, being Kurdish, eating Kurdish, talking Kurdish, is different than being outside. Yeah, you got to balance it out, you going to be somebody else, you cannot just be the same person you know.

AD: Correct, correct. So, since you were only a child, you cannot really make so much analogy like how it is over there and how it is here because you had very limited memory.

AT: –Might did that for you, yeah. Not so much like I said I was nine years old when I left, so.

AD: Yeah, it is pretty young. So, I think I– and I know your activities, you are pretty active in the community and in the Kurdish Regional Government, how did you decide to take that duty?

AT: Not so much with the K.R.G. (Kurdish Regional Government), but the A.K.C. (American Kurdish Council).

AD: A.K.C. yeah.

AT: They, Karwan and Zeki were, they wanted to do something for the community, they wanted, since we had a bunch of students and bunch of active people, they wanted like let us get an organization, let us get a club for the community, let us do events and spread the word of Kurdish people and they did this (20)06 – (20)07. Back then they added people and they added me and saw me as an active person, they could volunteer and all that stuff and Karwan like, do you like to join, I am like I like to help. And within the past two years I was the most active, Karwan had a position at K.R.G. and he had to step down and we saw me us the most active member of the A.K.C. and he was alright would you because I did most events and I did help a lot of stuff and he was like you would be the most eligible, or you would be the most eligible candidate to run for president just keep this A.K.C., keep going do more events. So, that is where and I like it because I like doing events, I like running things especially this year we have done a bunch of them in Kurdish community in general just keep them connected. We have always back when we first came here there was two location in Binghamton, there was one Carlisle where fifteen to twenty families live in apartments and there was Saratoga Heights like ten or fifteen families lived there and everybody saw each other every day, especially for Eid or any other events, but now families got richer and people are spread out from Apalachin to Vestal, to Binghamton and it is very hard seeing each other, especially work and school so. Our main thing is alright let us get people back together, you know let us keep that bond strong because we used to have a strong bond in community but it is not there anymore especially when new families coming and introducing them as well. So that is our main goal and then our main thing is spreading the word of Kurds and just let the people what Kurdish are because very, very angry about Kurdish people are and where Kurdistan is and understandably, honestly, I mean I do not know where, I am not very geographically smart about the world but it is good to know where Kurdistan is. I have met a lot of classmates, a lot of colleagues, a lot of teammates, I have to tell them about Kurdish people, and I am like let us make it big to an event, and make it a big event, and tell them what Kurdish people are, who they are you know. So A.K.C. is pretty much.

AD: What Kurdish people are and what they went through.

AT: Especially that. There is no way you know how about that it is very very–

AD: No, well I am doing my part.

AT: Yeah, you are doing a good job.

AD: Yeah, I am doing my part. [laughs] I am sure talking about it a lot. So, you said new families, new families are still coming?

AT: Especially this year, there are eight new families.

AD: So, what is, I keep saying sixty-five families, it went up now?

AT: There are sixty-eight families now.

AD: Sixty-eight? So, am I going to be talking to these new families sometime soon?

AT: If you want to, if you want to I could see if they could, but there English is very limited so–

AD: So that is where you guys come in.

AT: Okay, yeah.

AD: Okay, you, Nergiz, Ridwan. I heard Ridwan just had a baby I sent him an email, yeah. I did not even know the wife was pregnant, she was so skinny.

AT: Yeah, she was big when was the last time you saw her?

AD: Halabja.

AT: It is a long time ago. Yes, she had a baby girl on Monday I believe.

AD: Yeah. So, I sent him an email, I did not want to call him, I am sure he is pretty busy now.

AT: Especially two kids.

AD: Yeah, well that is good Avras thank you so much, really now I am happy that we went over, I hope it was not so repetitious for you.

AT: No, last time I came, it was Armanj, he mostly spoke, I was just there with few comments here and there.

AD: Okay Great. This is wonderful, so let us see. Thank you.

AT: You’re welcome.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

1 November 2014


Aynur de Rouen


Avras Taha

Biographical Text

Avras Taha was born in Duhok and lived there with his extended family, while his father was fighting for the Peshmerga. His family fled Kurdistan in 1996 and arrived in the United States via Guam. Avras has a degree in Civil Engineering from SUNY IT. He lives with his wife and a daughter in Syracuse.


60:49 minutes



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Binghamton University

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United States; Kurdish Culture; Kurdish family; Eid celebration; Religion; Refugee; Turkey; Iraq; Guam; Binghamton; Education;


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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 Avras Taha,” Digital Collections, accessed July 25, 2024,