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Interview with Nirgiz Taha

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Kurdish Oral History Project
Interview with: Nirgiz Taha
Interviewed by: Aynur de Rouen
Transcriber: Marwan Tawfiq
Date of interview: 15 April 2013
Interview Setting: Binghamton University

(Start of Interview)

AD: Okay, so Nirgiz just give me your full name, and then let us just start like that.

NT: Okay. My name is Nirgiz Taha.

AD: Okay. And so- You were born in Kurdistan? Which town, like-

NT: As much as I know I was born in the city of Duhok, Kurdistan, Northern Iraq.

AD: And when was that?

NT: 1990, March 1990.

AD: Okay, and then, when did you move here?

NT: We moved here, we left Kurdistan in 1996. We made our way as previously stated we went to Slopeia. From there on we went to Batman, from Batman-

AD: You went to Turkey?

NT: Yes, we did not stay long. It was just through the whole process until we got here it was like a couple day trip on our way.

AD: Okay, okay. So, I mean- why did you leave, why did your family make that decision?

NT: There is just a lot of turmoil. You know the Kurds did not, even to this date they do not have a lot of voices especially back in those days in 1996. There is a lot of turmoil and chaos and my dad just felt like he needed to get his family to a better place to give them a better opportunity. So he took that opportunity to bring us to America.

AD: Okay, so how many siblings do you have?

NT: I have four brothers, all older than me and I have four sisters and I am in the middle of them.

AD: And so, are they all here?

NT: They are all here.

AD: So, you came as a family?

NT: Well, we were, there were nine of us, I mean eight of us brothers and sisters with my parents the ten of us came to America together. However, my youngest sister was born here in America in 2000.

AD: Oh! So, did you go to school in Kurdistan or Iraq, or let us say Duhok? Did you go to school, did you start school over there?

NT: From what my mother tells me I did go to school. I mean to be honest with you I do not remember at all, but she did tell me that I did go to school for like about three months or so. I started and they just took me out prior to coming here.

AD: Okay, so, you only spoke Kurdish at home over there?

NT: Yes.

AD: So, did your parents also know Arabic?

NT: My dad does. He speaks a little bit of Arabic, I mean he speaks Arabic, he understands Arabic. However, my mom does not. And my dad has never spoke to us in Arabic either, it was all Kurdish all the time.

AD: Okay, so the Iraqi government did not push you guys to speak Arabic. I mean you were okay obviously you were allowed to speak Kurdish?

NT: I, that question is kind of difficult for me to answer because I mean I do not remember what the restrictions were back then, and I told- to be honest with you to this date I have not spoken to either of my parents. I mean it is now a good idea to go back and ask them that question, but I never asked them whether there were any restrictions on their language. I am thinking they had a fear of using it but I do not know if there were any real restrictions on it.

AD: Okay, okay. So, your older siblings, what the age difference between you and like the oldest one?

NT: My oldest sibling is 32, 33 years I believe.

AD: So, you have quite a bit age difference.

NT: About 10, twelve- about 10 or 11 years between us, yes.

AD: So, he did go to school over there?

NT: He did. They had to learn some Arabic. I think They had learnt some Arabic but because they were young, because they were young as well I mean going to school was so inconsistent there as well, so my oldest brothers they kept some of the Arabic language that they learnt in school, they know how to write in Kurdish I mean all of that but because we were so young none of that stayed with us.

AD: Yeah, obviously. So the oldest brother was in high school or something when you guys moved here?

NT: Yes.

AD: About, right?

NT: Yes

AD: So how did your father make a living I assume your mother was a housewife to take care of nine kids. So what did he do, what was his job?

NT: My father I mean I still I have no idea what he did. I had no idea I mean I knew he worked in a US government agency because we were asylum, not refugees-

AD: Really, you were not refugees?

NT: We were not refugees we were basically we were asylum because of my dad’s, umm-

AD: So, he worked for a US government?

NT: Yeah, but I do not know what exactly, I have no idea what he did.

AD: So, he spoke English?

NT: No, no I think it was through his- I mean I just do not know but he worked he was not home a lot that is all I know from my mother. He used to- his work made it so that he was away from home all the time and had my mom taking care of us.

AD: Some kind of secret agency?

NT: No, not really. I just have no idea-

AD: He just had to travel?

NT: Yeah, a lot of travelling.

AD: So, but what did he do when he came here?

NT: That is the thing when we came here because of his language barrier and all of that he had to become a- he started working at the NYSEG as a labor worker because of the language he did go to school for a little bit but because of the big family he had to provide for his family so he just took on the job and has maintained that job for- until now.

AD: I see, I see. So, what is your parents’ education in Kurdistan? Were they able to go to school that is what I mean?

NT: Unfortunately, not. I mean because they were married at such a young age because of I mean- my mother’s story says that even that they had to get marry at such a young age and you know start a family and provide for the kids. They were not able to go to school. My mom did mention that she did go to some type of school for about six months or so, I do not know what exactly what type of school that was and if she you know if it was of any benefit but that was the maximum at seventeen years old.

AD: So as six years old do you remember anything like about- Do you remember your house for example in Kurdistan? Do you remember anything like were you lived?

NT: I remember bits and pieces.

AD: What do you remember?

NT: Like for instance I remember a couple of trips. You know being the young age I was remember a couple of trips that we as a family took together to our village in Gundi. Like, I remember those little things. I remember walking in the garden with my uncle sometime. I remember the night before actually we came here and how everybody was so upset, crying you know and I just felt like I was I mean I had no idea what was going on but you knew there was a lot of distress in the household, a lot of crying they are just bits and pieces. I do remember school, like me going to school and all my friends being there, being in uniform because we had to were uniform, like it is just bits and pieces it is not consistent.

AD: Yeah, so have you ever went back since you came here?

NT: I did, I have gone back only once in almost the twenty years that I have been here. I went back in 2009 and I totally did not know anything or anywhere in Duhok and you know things have completely changed even though I was so young, I even do not know what has changed but you know through my dad and my mom and their trips back in 2000 and their stories from when we lived there you can tell that it has come a long way from where it was.

AD: So, I cannot say what you missed about in Kurdistan because you do not remember so well but does your family talk about Kurdistan? Like how life was over there?

NT: Absolutely, absolutely-

AD: I mean, do they tell your stories about it and stuff?

NT: Yeah, a lot of the time we sit together as a family and you will see I mean all of a sudden you will hear my mom and dad start telling their stories and reminiscing about the past and all of these things that they went through all of the things that their parents went through, their siblings went through or even close friends that went through and so they do talk about a little a lot. it shows that they miss the home town they miss their family, because all they have here is us, their kids. They do not have any siblings here they do not have any parents here, they do not have aby aunts or uncles of any of that sort here. Neither do we outside of our parents, but they do talk about a little a lot.

AD: But there is Kurdish community here-

NT: - is a gift.

AD: But, the- so- but your status is different you were not a refugee, but you still had close contacts with them.

NT: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

AD: So, why did you come here? Did your father tell you or did you ask them, why here because there are other areas.

NT: Yeah, absolutely, when we basically left Kurdistan and you know went through different places, we went to Guam. It is an Island territory of the United States and we went there, we lived there for about nine months until they could find a place for us and we finally settled in Maryland. So, we were there for about good seven to nine months I believe, I forgot exactly what time, but we were there for a good time we thought that it would be our home in Maryland because there was a god, not a huge, but a good Kurdish population as well-

AD: Where in Maryland? Area-

NT: Rockwell-

AD: Okay.

NT: I believe it might be Rockwell, but I am not 100 percent sure.

AD: Okay, that is okay.

NT: So they had us even settled with a one of those volunteers who helps settle the family and she was able to help us out and never honestly thought, I mean we honestly we were trying to make it our home but my father had a friend here, a friend, very close friend who had known all his life back home in Duhok and his friend basically, he convinced him, convinced my father to move to Binghamton New York because you know there was a growing Kurdish population here and they were here, and because we did not know anybody closely in Maryland my dad figured it would be a good idea to move so in 1998; I believe we officially and we have been here ever since.

AD: So, it took you two years to settle basically?

NT: Basically, yeah.

AD: Yeah.

NT: Being their young is kind of hard to know exactly what, how we transitioned into Binghamton and all of that but you just taking the stories and you learn from that.

AD: Oh, yeah. So did your other siblings continued with their education?

NT: Yeah, they all continued with their education. I mean it was kind of difficult for them especially for easy it was easy to pick up on English, you know being young kids and all your mind is open. For them it was a little bit difficult but we still all are fluent in English right now, so I mean- it did not have a huge toll on us, you know the whole moving, they did go to school, some were able to finish, some are still continuing like me and some others. So-

AD: I see, I see. So how do you like your—So this is actually your life. This is what you learn right? This is what you are accustomed to, so do you have close ties with Kurdish friends or do you have other friends? How is it?

NT: It is kind of for me is a different story than a lot of the other Kurdish—

AD: Okay, will we hear your story?

NT: Yeah, absolutely, that is what I am saying like for me in middle school and high school I always saw that the Kurdish girls who were always very close to each other, like we were very close to each other because we felt like that we had only each other to lean on we knew each other’s language, so you know, at the core, we were very close, but I always wanted be like either on my own or just I was too focused on my school I just did not want anything take away my focus on that so, as we got a little bit older, the ties that some of the Kurdish girls had together I did not have those ties with. I do have Kurdish friends and I do have you know friends from other nationalities and ethnicities but I just, I was not as close to them as they were to each other, and even to this date like a lot of my close friends are American, but I do speak a lot of them, a lot of the Kurdish girls still we keep in touch.

AD: Of course, yeah. Because, so you arrived in 1996, and then in 2001 the 9/11 took place and there was the hatred towards Islam started to grow and stuff. Did you suffer from that? Because clearly you are Muslim right?

NT: Yeah, I mean there were some time, even that I was not very young but even during that tragic event there were some time people were giving us hard time call as Arabs, you know tell us to go back to our country, but I felt like unlike a lot of people, I will swear, me personally I was lucky because I had a good group of friends they were not very judgmental, you know, they were the outsiders, not the outsiders, you know people I did not speak to, students I never spoke to, I did not know of, who would tell me tell us Kurdish or the one especially with the hijab because a lot of my friends did not were the hijab, they did not get a lot of the remarks that we did because they were not wearing the hijab. But I felt like I was lucky even to this date through middle school, through high school I just felt like I had good friends that were not very judgmental.

AD: Because I do not think anyone really knows what Kurd is in this area right?

NT: No.

AD: I mean, so that there is like no problem there. Right?

NT: Well, yeah-

AD: There is no problem there like you do not have to worry about it but then there this sentiment towards, I mean for guys because you can tell right? But for girls this is harder so that is why I want to ask you because when Ridwan and Jotiyar were talking and they were like we do not know what women are going through but obviously, that is why I want to ask you this question.

NT: I mean, sometime it is easier than other time being only twenty-three years old you have seen something you always feel like people who do not know you are looking at you differently and are judging you. You go places and because of the media have you been everything, you know everything that is being happening you just feel like the eyes are on you. You just tell yourself how is this will ever change, is this ever going to change? Will people realize that somebody is innocent looking could be. So it is difficult. Sometime being at the university with other educated students there are not many looks that what you go elsewhere you feel like all eyes are on you. So situations are different, places you go are different, being a women especially wearing hijab a lot of, a lot of the time people take the hijab to mean in totally different thing.

AD: Yeah, this is my curiosity. That is my personal like where I was working this on collection, or you know being from Turkey, I know a little bit about Kurdish culture I do not see much difference really, to be honest with you, and it is like you know everything is like. All when I look it the craft is so colorful so lively, but I notice something you guys all wear black. Why is that? Tell me, explain that to me. I am just so curious. I almost ask your mother, but the time was running out so why is that?

NT: I mean, from my personal-

AD: You can tell what color I like, my taste is black, but is that just you Nergiz, everyone I see is wearing black, and I do not see any red for example, or yellow I do not see anything colorful and I know it is in the culture because I look at the crafts. Forget about anything, SO why you guys were all black, I not that, I love it but I am curious, is there a reason?
NT: Not from me, no, but I love black because I feel like it goes even if you add a little bit of color to it goes with everything, black goes with everything, everything goes with black that is why I were it. No, I love color.

AD: There is no reason?

NT: No, but you never notice your other friends all wearing black?

AD: I will be probably noticing that now, but I do not think there is anything behind it I just feel like-

NT: Like your mother that day she was all black.

AD: She was that day, and she usually is, but at that time even now, back then, back even a couple of years ago for funeral all they wearing was black and, they were black a lot of the time to show respect to the sadness and all of that, but now they to bring less sadness upon the family-

AD: But not the men, I am talking about women.

NT: I do not think there is anything behind it I just think they love the color.

AD: I love black, you can tell, 95 percent of my wardrobe is black. I mean I hardly wear any other color I think is the noble color, I love it I just noticed because I know it is really lively, really vivid colors, and then I am like why I do not I see those colors in this community, so it is just a coincidence.

NT: Yeah, I should ask. For me I just like a lot.

AD: So, how do you guys live? You live at home with your family?

NT: We do live at home yeah.

AD: How it your family setting, your mother continues, your parents I should say, continues to live like they are caring the housel like in Kurdistan, like Kurdish up-bringing in Kurdish culture, rules tradition whatever. So you are in America but living like you are in Kurdistan. How is life in your house?

NT: I mean it is, we do live in America but we are very keen on our culture as well we do not like to forget especially my mom and dad their intention when they brought us here was to for us not to forget our language and unfortunately even though I do not know how to right in Kurdish or Arabic, I still I speak Kurdish fluently as well as I do in English. At the beginning the first couple of years when we went to school and we speak English a lot, our Kurdish kind of faded away but my mom and dad made sure that that was not going to happen so they speak to us all the time in Kurdish not even a second. We speak to each other in English, but you know-

AD: The siblings? Really-

NT: Yeah, we do because it is easier, even though we all fluent in both languages it is kind of just like a flow with English it is flow, with Kurdish I think we kind of have to think about it- a little bit of what we are saying, whether what are thinking is coming out exactly-

AD: Or may be sometime you mixed, I do that.

NT: Yeah, exactly.

AD: You do that right? Mixing English and Kurdish.

NT: Yeah, a lot, but the dressing, my parents were never strict on us on our dress code. I do not wear pants or sweats a lot like when I am on the move and I have a lot of errands to do, I usually, I would rather be comfortable but 95 percent of the time I am wearing either dresses or skirts. My sisters that have a different taste, you know. We each have our different taste but two of us are skirt and dresses all the time, the others pants and dresses whatever their taste is but my parents just never wanted us to forget our language. They also did not want u to forget our Kurdish identity. They talk to their families all the time and you know, even though we have been back a couple of us have only been back once, they want us to maintain those family ties not to forget our uncles and aunts and grandparents. So, it is important, you know the food is Kurdish, the language is Kurdish-

AD: So, what about breakfast for example, my experience like when I go to Turkey eat Turkish breakfast but here, some people do not eat breakfast, I am one of them, but when I am in Turkey, and I love it. What is the breakfast. Do you eat American way? Do you eat cereal for example for breakfast?

NT: We do, I mean I do if were in a rush, and you know-

AD: What is a Kurdish breakfast?

NT: Kurdish breakfast is, there is a traditional yogurt, plain yogurt that is home-made. My mom, my parents would not bring anything else into the house They do not like processed yogurt, they have to make it at home. But you have that their Kurdish style vegetable sautéed vegetables where there is eggplant or-

AD: For breakfast?

NT: Sometimes yeah-

AD: You eat eggplant for breakfast?

NT: They sauté eggplant and if ever-

AD: So, with tomato sauce or something-

NT: Just fry up or sauté onion and then your eggplant and just let them really Sautee and you cook it down to simmer them. But usually I do not do the cooking,

AD: But you do the eating-

NT: I do the eating but I mean I love cooking.

AD: So, for yogurt some vegetables sautéed—

NT: Tahini, there is some jam and-

AD: Do you also have this [I think what is it] molasses?

NT: Yeah, yeah.

AD: How do you call that in Kurdish? I will tell you how we call it in Turkish, pekmez, you do not use it?

NT: Dushav, they call it dushav.

AD: So, you mix that molasses with tahini, that is the way we do it.

NT: Yeah, they love that.

AD: And then you dip it with your pitta bread,

NT: Yeah pita bread, my mom cooks and my mom still bakes. Bakes bread Kurdish bread yeah. My- both ways, the one that the whole wheats the-

AD: Yeah, yeah- she cooks-

AD: Have you seen that?

AD: Where does she cook that?

NT: She brought hers. A friend of her sent her-

AD: Tell your mother I am coming for breakfast-

NT: Come, definitely! Oh my God, come.

AD: Oh, my God, that is difficult.

NT: When they do it they make a lot because you know it takes a lot, very time consuming, like at least five hours to like get through it. But she also makes other type of white bread. It is also a Kurdish style, but she does that with just a regular oven, you know a lot of kneading and you know there are like. But she has been known for her bread.

AD: Really? So does she do it alone or you guys help her or does she get friends to help her?

NT: No, never friends, she used to be able to do it by herself but now my sister in-laws usually help her, if they are not there I will help her, but you know-

AD: But I think is more funny if you do it in a group right?

NT: Yeah, she does not have the kick to her life, even though she is young, she is fifty-one.

AD: She is not old at all.

NT: Because she just have been taking care of all of us, a lot of the stories she told she has been through a lot with us back home and was basically not saying this with any intention but she single-handedly raised us because my dad’s job you know, working away from home a lot. So with her, sometimes, sisters were helping her out but you know she single handedly raised all of us. She just fell like that took a toll on her-

AD: That is why she is strong, you know what I mean, that makes people strong, definitely. We can always go back and then once I figure out what she talked about you help me with that. Okay, and what I want to do is like read the script and then come up with new questions to get her full story out, because she likes to talk and that is great, and that also happen, you do not end with one interview if people want to continue like if you have more questions you ask the permission and they say sure I want and that is no problem and you go back and then ask more details, questions and stuff, definitely we can do that.

NT: Breakfast and lunch are Kurdish and of we are on the go, we are in hurry, we do have our cereals, sandwiches, salads but even if there is like leftovers like dolma, other Kurdish food like bryani and all of that stuff if there is leftover from that they will be our half lunch.
AD: Exactly, so how about like celebrations like Eid and some other like Newroz, is there any other particular celebration for Kurdish culture? I mean Eid is religious, Newroz is cultural, totally Kurdish. Is there anything else? Like community to get together.

NT: May be because I am here we do not but you know, I mean this is also another religious thing but the Kurds are also begging on it but birthday of our prophet Muhammed. It is also a religious thing but the Kurds are also big in it, but the um the birthday of our prophet Muhammed.

AD: I think we call it kandil in Turkish, I do not know how to say it in obviously there is no word for it in English- So in Islam there are especially like Berat- What is it?

NT: I do not know, I know what you are saying but I do not know.

AD: So, the birth of Muhammed is one of those right? What is the name for that? They are all Arabic names obviously. There are so many names. In Turkey we call it simit like little circled pastries you sell those or you make helva for those days.

NT: There is a lot of treats. This year especially my mom made baklava I mean, they make baklava, and they also bought a lot of treats and my mom made bread we took that around for different families but you know but usually they just go and by a lot of store-bought goodies and make bread and they will give it around the different fan- different families-

AD: Yeah, yeah.

NT: But you know, but usually, usually they just go and buy a lot of, you know, store-bought goodies, or, you know, make bread, and they will give it around the difference-

AD: Okay. Oh, I know one thing a- but I do not know- [door knocking] Yes, come on in. come on in. I told Leslie to come.

NT: Yeah, yeah.

AD: Good timing, because we are just talking about the food

Leslie: Oh, I love food. I love food.

AD: Have a seat. So, um, do you know aşure, are you familiar with that name? It is kind of oatmeal but it like barley all these things—I know or may be that is Alevi tradition in Turkey. Because it is a Turkish tradition but it is also. Okay, so I was just trying to pull out more Kurdish because, and also, I think the geographic region affects the culture probably you celebrate something based on Iraqi tradition like versus Kurdish population, those things. You know what I am talking about?

NT: I understand yeah-

AD: I think region also affects-

NT: Probably does, I would not I mean I cannot speak on Kurdistan, you know themselves but you know just being here and seeing how things are celebrated or how things are run here that where I am getting these things from but I do not know, maybe they have different traditions. They even make a bigger deal out of it than we do here but I do not know what the differences might be.

AD: So basically, you celebrate Newroz and then Eids. Those are the main celebrations?

NT: Those are the main celebrations-

AD: How about weddings? That is big right?

NT: Yeah, those are big. We have not had, I mean usually because this is not a huge community like Nashville or San Diego, Texas, there are not that many couples getting married everyday—

AD: We will maybe we will come and dance, right? During your wedding. [laugh]

NT: But they are big celebration like the whole community, it is one of those times that the whole community actually gets together from those two nights, you know for the henna—

AD: Oh, you do it?

NT: Yeah. [laughs]

AD: She likes that. Please let us know so she can put her make up on. Yeah, also you do that a night before the wedding?

NT: The night before the wedding. The next day is the ceremony. The whole—

AD: Henna night is separate right?

NT: It is separate—

AD: Just for girls?

NT: Actually, now it is not, now it is almost combined.

AD: But generally, it was, right?

NT: Yeah it was just for the girls and even now back in my family back home they usually do that. They have the ladies in one room, then they go take care of the guy all in one room. But here because there is not, you know, I do not know whether it is difficult to get a place or difficult timing-wise to get everybody together. They just set it so that everybody just meets for night. And the ceremony in the next day.

AD: I have been in a henna night for Kurdish community in Germany. They do it together. They do not separate. So the bride- what color does the bright wear?

NT: She chooses the color of her choice now.

AD: Not red?

NT: No, I mean like it was used to be like whatever color, but now just they choose the color of their choice for their henna night, we call it Shev Khena. And then the next day it is just a regular modern white dress.

AD: Oh my God, so it is westernized!

NT: Very much. But you know for the henna---

AD: How about in Kurdistan, is it that westernized?

NT: Yeah, it is. The dress like for instance for me you know the guests, the girls will wear their Kurdish clothes absolutely, we usually frowned upon anybody who comes in without Kurdish clothes, we are like this is a wedding, what are you doing, where are Kurdish clothes. No matter what they wear outside, we, like, for everybody to wear their Kurdish clothes to represent you know, to just that one day and night for them to wear, but the bride, you know, Shev Khena she does wear the Kurdish clothes but for the wedding she wears her white gown.

AD: Wow, that is interesting, it is interesting. So, weddings are the big event, the biggest, right?

NT: They are. I mean they are, hopefully we are trying to make it so that either Eid or Newroz is the biggest event of the year but, you know, they used to be, everybody used to look forward to just going to the weddings because that is where, that is the only celebration, you know the big celebration that they have for that year, for the month or whatever.

AD: So, do you guys marry other people, or you just marry with among each other? What I mean is like the Kurds marry Kurds, or do you guys marry American?

NT: I mean I have heard of a couple of people married outside their Kurdish ethnicity and, you know both couple they have not worked out, I mean, I am not saying I know everybody, but you know, the ones I have heard have not worked out but we usually, especially my family is very, very big on Kurds marrying Kurds, and especially somebody within the village and a lot of the people I know hear the Kurds who have been married they have known. [only Kurds]

AD: Let us say Erdem, I wish you will see him, let us say Erdem likes one of the girls in this Kurdish community. Is he welcome? I mean he is Kurdish. He is not from Kurdistan, he is Kurdish.

NT: Well a lot of the things that are going, a lot of the time now with through all the social media and all of that stuff, a lot of the times, it is not parents who get the say. Of course, absolutely it is important that they are okay with it, but you know they have given more openness or-

AD: Yeah, they are more open-minded—

NT: open-minded maybe- [No, no pictures no, I look awful, I look awful, I should not trust them] But it really depends on the family. It really depends on where exactly they are from and what their beliefs are. Some of them more strict than others. So he can be welcomed in some places but he might not be welcomed in others, so it just depends.

AD: The batteries low- so you are lucky.

NT: I will come back next time just for photos.

AD: No, we took some photos, with Adam’s. Actually, I am using your mom’s photo for something- And a little section of her interview. Tell her she will be happy. Yeah, so, how are we doing time-wise. It is almost a little after noon. You are still good?

NT: Yeah.

AD: How much more time?

NT: Twenty minutes or so.

AD: Okay. Alright, good. Let us see, what else. So we talked about marriage and all that. So let me ask you a little bit about political questions. Are you following politics, what is going on for the Kurds?

NT: I usually do not because, the reason behind that is, I mean, a lot of political news that I can take here, look up here, I am able to understand, I am able to do my own research and understand the English language and I understand what is going on, but you know, you go on to google or you go on to Kurdish site it is all Kurdish. I do not know how to read it, I do not understand it, and although I know my Badini language fluently, the news from Erbil to Duhok is too different [Dialects], completely different but they speak formally on the news and I do not follow it. So I have a hard time.

AD: So, what is the formal Kurdish dialect? Is it Sorani?

NT: No, no. That I am completely not able to understand, but for Erbil they use how like Jotiyar and them call it ‘Asli. It is Kurdish without any Arabic influence, like you know-

AD: Asli, I understand.

NT: Yeah.

AD: Purified.

NT: Yeah, purified Kurdish. I mean, surprisingly I do not understand it all. My dad, Jotiyar, my brothers, Zeki they understand it. My mother understand it. They know what they are saying, but I just even you know speaking Kurdish I have a hard time following this purified Kurdish versus western influence Kurdish.

AD: Maybe we can say, high Kurdish, is that right? Would that work? More formal-

NT: I just, yeah it is like more formal. The Kurdish we speak I feel like is a more everyday language.

AD: Exactly because I know what you are saying my native language but I am capable of reading and writing, I can read anything, I mean it is my first language. I did not come here at the age of six, I came here with a college degree. So exactly, but like my daughter she speaks Turkish, she is learning, she is improving but I do not think she will ever have that kind of Turkish. You know what I mean. She can communicate, but she is not going to be able to sit down, read or follow the news. I mean she can follow the news here at this age, but she cannot follow it over there. Yeah, I understand.

NT: I mean it has become a lot better, a couple of years ago some of the things even my mom and dad would say, you know I would be flattered, and I would say what they are talking about, but now I have that sense every time I hear a word I do not know I actually ask, and I actually I am like what is this, you know they explain to me what she mean. So that hass become easier. It does tend to get easier over time with the language but still I will not be able to tell you if I were to look at the news and you tell me to translate I will never be able to tell you that.

AD: Also, I am curious Nergiz what is your position. You know it is like, that the following the world’s politic and stuff, but what is happening the Kurds in Turkey, Kurds in Kurdistan and Syria. You know what I mean, this biggest minority group in the world and they have been put down by so many countries for so long, like a lot of this happening in Turkey and stuff, so do you follow all that? Do you guys talk about it?

NT: I do not, I am like I know bits and pieces of the politics right know, you know I mean I knew, reading up on the Kurdish – Turkish relationship I knew that it was not very good and it is still unstable like getting better of course but it is unstable. I just did not know it to what extent you know, the relationship was like until I read about it. I hear different stories about what happened between them and between Syria and Kurdistan, the Kurds in Iran and the Kurds and the Arabs, you know the Iraqis themselves, but to say that I follow the politics I honestly do not. I try to be open-minded I know a lot of the times people tell me you know what, why, you know the older generation, it might be the older generation, it might not be, it depend on who you talk to, whether they are educated or they are open-minded or they are not open-minded and they will ask you are you doing that why are so open-minded of that, be scared of this and be scared of that and I just feel like I tell them if we continue this hatred or if we continue this tension it will never go away. It has to stop somewhere; it has to start to with people like us trying it different. But you know there are close-minded people still, there are still a lot of tensions, and you can definitely see it, I just try to stay away from it.

AD: But you are a member of the local Kurdish community and the organization. You are aware of your culture and your history obviously, right? So but I mean nobody is, and this whole oral history project is not political. We just want to record everyone’s story. You know your story is different than obviously your mother’s story because she has a different experience although she is your mother, you know, so it is just, that is the beauty of it and then teaching others for this culture. So that was our main goals. I think that is really it Nergiz, I cannot think of anything else. Do you have anything?

Leslie: No.

AD: Do you have anything else?

NT: I mean not I feel like I have covered everything as well but it is just good to know, I have even looking back I think we could have done a better a job, you know, as Kurds could do a better job and you know bringing our name to light and more making ourselves known more but I feel like we are taking one step at a time and hopefully it all go in the right direction.

AD: I think so, and I think nothing can happen right away. This is how I feel. Things take time and I think I am like really impressed with the local organization. I think they are really doing a great job and you I think did a great job here at the university. These are all baby steps and that was what we do. This is a baby step too, but it is like we are just, it is growing slowly and surely, that is the best thing to do. But thank you so much for coming here and we will be more than happy to talk to your other siblings. [laugh] no I mean seriously, your mother is like- what is your oldest brother doing? Is he very busy?

NT: Oh, Zeki?

AD: Zeki is your brother?

NT: Yeah, Zeki is my oldest.

AD: I told you.

NT: Zeki is my oldest.

AD: You are kidding me?

NT: No, he is my oldest brother.

AD: Oh, we already talked to Zeki. Yeah, okay, never mind. So you guys did great as a family.

NT: Thank you.

AD: Oh, Zeki is your oldest brother? I did not know.

NT: Yeah.

AD: He told me and I was like no, I do not think so. I am like he is one of the community members

Leslie: I should be second guessing myself, so I was just like, okay.

AD: Oh my God, but you do not look like- I did not even think about it.

NT: Oh yeah, he is my oldest and Avras- he is older than me but he is my younger brother.

AD: Wait a minute, Avras is your brother?

Leslie: I told her that too.

AD: And I have been denying. I think you and Avras look so much- a lot, more than Zeki.

NT: Yeah, the girl- my sister, did you see my sister the other one next to me? That is his twin.

Leslie: Really?

NT: Yeah.

AD: Really?

NT: Yeah.

AD: But look, you look like Avras, she looks like Zeki right?

NT: Everybody says that.

AD: Listen! Oh my God. I did not know, so your whole family is adapted the entire organization.

NT: [laughs] Yeah, well- we with Karwan, you know-

AD: Do not tell me Karwan is your brother—

NT: No, no, no, we just, we feel it is so important for us to get these Kurdish clothes out, as we said before we are trying to get more people come join our force, our little force but you know, for people to come in join our group, but it takes them a little more time to. So I figure the more we can do the more we can show that, may be they will start opening up more.

AD: Do you know what Nergiz all the, I am so grateful to your entire family but that would be perfect to talk to your father. I bet his story would be like very, very interesting.

NT: My dad is in Kurdistan until June 6th or so.

AD: That is okay.

NT: He is there visiting his father but—

AD: Yeah, when he comes back because he was travelling probably exposed to so many other things. I think his story will be just so wonderful, you know very interesting. So may be when he comes back, Erdem is planning to be here this summer, we will see.

NT: Okay.

AD: So, in Kurdish. Even if Erdem, see the only bad thing is I can do it with your help but when he is saying something I am not going to be able understand, and what I am going to ask a question he already talked about. That is the only thing.
NT: I mean I figured my mom understood Erdem when she was speaking to him and I feel like my dad will be able to understand him.

AD: As long as you are in the room I think Erdem can ask you if he has difficulty, asking the questions or something like that-

Leslie: I mean I can even help too.

AD: That is right, that is wonderful, the whole family.

NT: We are trying to do our part I think it is important-

AD: I think you guys are doing it, I mean doing great, really. That is really, really good.

NT: Yeah, I should have talked about- there is some things.

AD: What is it?

NT: No I was just saying because a lot of my friends like I can ask a lot of my friends to do this, they are just so busy, I mean not busy because I feel like if I am busy then, you know I will text them and I will see you are either taking me with Lesley, sometime but I just do not know why—

AD: But really more than your generation it is your mother’s and your father’s generation- I do not want to call them all because they are my generation obviously but it is like, because they have the experience or someone like Jotiyar, Ridwan because you’re so young you do not remember anything. I mean we still want to talk to young people like you, because then what I ask about your experience here, you know growing up as a Kurd in America. That is another part of our—so if you can ask you friends that will be great.

NT: Okay, yeah, I mean, I understand your point too, but I feel like all of our stories or I can talk on behalf of all of my friends, the experiences have been the same, coming to America, going to school you know and growing up—

AD: But you said your point was like being successful like school, everybody have different experience going on—

NT: My dad emphasizes, he was telling us every day and every day that your main focus is school (X3), like he would emphasize that a lot and that is why I feel like a lot of us have been Al-Hamdulillah a lot of us have been successful with school and have that mentality, you know have the school mentality. I can say the same thing for a lot of the people, not that they have not been successful but it was just school was not huge deal, you know their mentality was different so maybe they have a little bit experience and that way they are probably a little different that how I ‘ve been raised and grown up but other than that it is probably same same.

AD: Yeah, definitely. So are you the smartest in your family?

NT: Oh, I do not want to say that I am. I mean Avras is, they are just the boys are smart, they just do not like to imply-

AD: Avras is like a naughty boy. Was he naughty? He look like, his eyes I can say like mischievous, was he mischievous when he was little-

NT: Probably.

AD: He looks like he is the little mischievous, he still holds that look on his face.

NT: No, he the boys Zeki, Avras, and you have not met the other two but they are smart just the boys in Kurdish culture they do not like to imply themselves, they do not like to, as smart as they are, they do not like to imply that—

AD: In general, I think girls are different, they are like more focused. Seriously. So, Shiman is your other sister?

NT: Zhiman? Zhiyan-

AD: Zhiyan sitting next to you?

NT: Next to me yeah.

AD: She told me she is a teacher.

NT: She teaches right now, she teaches at future faces, I do not know if you are familiar with. It is called oh my God, they care for kindergartens, preschoolers, kindergarteners. So I think, I mean she teaches that level. He wants to continue but that was her, that was what she went to school for to teach and she wants to be able to teach English if ever go overseas or back home in Kurdistan.

AD: Does she want to go back to Kurdistan?

NT: She wants to- sometime and other times she is questioning—

AD: She is not sure- She is younger than you?

NT: No, she is older.

AD: She is older, than you!

NT: Then me and then I have two younger sisters.

AD: So, one is really young, the youngest is about Angelique’s age.

NT: Yeah, she is twelve.

AD: Angelique is ten, my daughter is ten. She is in middle school. And then the other one?

NT: She is coming to Binghamton University in the Fall.

AD: Really, what is she going to study?

NT: I have no idea. She wants to do something like me with medicals, pre-med or whatever but I tell her not to put pressure on herself until actually you see it, because I have put a lot of pressure on myself and my whole life. My whole life- I have put so much pressure on myself and I have taken on so many expectations like high standard of myself and all of that so I just with all that pressure I just tell her all the time I say do not put a lot of pressure on yourself, like live- because everybody tells me all the time you at way older than your age and I am just like I wish I did not do that—

AD: But you know what I was always like that, and I do not see that is a bad thing.

NT: No, it is not, neither, but you miss your childhood, I mean like you miss-

AD: But it is better than becoming looser-

NT: Yeah. [laugh]

AD: So, I think you are on the right direction-

NT: But I just tell her not to put a lot of pressure on herself and do what her heart-

AD: Yeah enjoy a little bit- Now I guess I think your time is up, I mean not my time, your time. Are you late?

NT: No.

AD: Okay, alright.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

15 April 2013


Aynur de Rouen


Nirgiz Taha

Biographical Text

Nirgiz was born in Dohuk. At the age of 6, Nirgiz and her family escaped from the cruelty of Saddam Hussein and came to the U.S. Nirgiz obtained her bachelor's degree and professional degree from Binghamton University.


66:16 minutes



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Binghamton University

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Kurdistan; Kurdish culture; Kurdish language; Kurdish Wedding; Eid; Religion; Saddam Hussein; Iraq; Turkey; United States; Binghamton University; 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 Nirgiz Taha,” Digital Collections, accessed July 25, 2024,