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Interview with Zeki Taha

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Kurdish Oral History Project
Interview with: Zeki Taha
Interviewed by: Erdem Ilter
Transcriber: Marwan Tawfiq
Date of interview: 22 February 2013
Interview Setting: Binghamton University
(Start of Interview)

EI: Yes, start with your name and surname, it is Zeki?

ZT: Zeki Taha.

EI: Yeah, when you born?

ZT: 1978.

EI: 1978.

ZT: Yes. July 1st, (19)78.

EI: Ok, you are Kurd and Muslim Sunni?

ZT: Muslim, yes.

EI: Sunni Kurd, ok. Marital status?

ZT: Married, three kids.

EI: Oh! Maşallah. Married with three kids. Ok, so how about your siblings and brothers, siblings?

ZT: Four to four, four brothers and four sisters.

EI: You are the-

ZT: The oldest one.

EI: Oldest one, and you are totally eight, nine?

ZT: I think ten because I have parents because four and four, yes.

EI: Okay, and what is your education level?

ZT: Associate degree with Marketing Management Sale.

EI: Great, where did you get it?

ZT: Broome Community College.

EI: Ah okay, so you were here.

ZT: Yes.

EI: How many years you are here?

ZT: I have been here since (19)97 so it is like fifteen, sixteen years right now since (19)96 we are out, the end of (19)96.

EI: When did you come here?

ZT: I think I came to the States in (19)97.

EI: 1997. Okay, great. You were in high school that time, or no?

ZT: I think I was in high school but I did not finish it because I was still seventeen years old; sixteen or seventeen years old when I came to this country.

EI: Actually let us start with your childhood, maybe we will come to that part later… How old the childhood before the school and do you remember anything about that? First thing the family and the small city or village, you were from Duhok right?

ZT: Duhok yes.

EI: Village of Duhok or the city?

ZT: The city-

EI: City of Dohuk. So how was the life, do you remember the childhood?

ZT: For us to be honest for the us it was normal because our parents did not tell us exactly how they were living, what kind of life they were living, the did not tell us exactly how bad it was , because when you are a kid you do not know exactly-

EI: They did not show you if they had a bad… Okay.

ZT: They did not show you the bad, you know the image, but when you grow up a little bit, little by little, day by day or year by year, now you learn more about life over there, because you do not have that kind of freedom, like the freedom you want to have because I think, I remember-

EI: What do you mean by freedom?

ZT: Freedom because Saddam Hussein knew you were Kurd and you know you got to be number two in that country.

EI: I mean you personally faced with it or?

ZT: What happened right now when you are a kid because you do not travel a lot you have to go with your parents and our parents you know they did not talk about it that much because they knew inside they were burning but they were scared to say something and somebody heard something from them because I am a kid I do not know exactly what is right and what is wrong, so if I tell somebody oh my parents does not like this government and you know it will happen to my parents they are going to be killed.

EI: I think it is a general problem because the other interviews they also said that if they told you something your family and you go to school and tell your teacher it will create problem you do not know what to happen-

ZT: Yes. See even right now like for example son is going to say something he does not know exactly if he is going to take me as a hard way or bad way so he is a kid he is a clean-minded, so he is going to say it, that is why our parents-

EI: You were aware that something was going on, or something is wrong but-

ZT: Yeah, when we got older and things like not when you travel, we see all these checkpoints and you say to yourself am I Iraqi citizen so why I have to be checked before I go out of the city?

EI: Aha, were you travelling a lot or your family?

ZT: No what happened because for example if you go for a trip or if you go for example for a school trip, like they take you from here to Syracuse.

EI: Okay.

ZT: So, if you go from Duhok and Duhok probably has one, two, two main gates; one coming from the city of Mosul, Nineveh and the other coming from Zawita, you go outside of Duhok. So, this is the main door, what happened right now if you go outside of these gates they have checkpoints and that checkpoints in the cities, they have like undercover people you know checking before there was no, what they call it, it is not like here it is not volunteering you going to enjoy the military, so they were asking from this age to that age has to join the military, if you not going to go and tomorrow if they see you, you have to had a good reason why you are not in the military otherwise they will take you may be killed or you may be in jail for the rest of your life.

EI: Saddam like he accepted the Kurdish army, right? I mean got the Kurds to the army, even if was.

ZT: Yes because what happened, they were asking for the age, and you had to go and fight, they did not care if you were Kurd or no but you just go fight, because he wanted to be in power you know and they do not want you to be you know to become like fight with Peshmerga, you know the Kurdish army that time and what happened right now because the people was so frustrated so many people become Peshmerga because I know if-

EI: Were there any Peshmerga within your life or extended family or in the region or what was the Peshmerga I mean?

ZT: Me personally I did not see Peshmerga until like late because we were young, and Peshmerga usually did not come to the cities and even my father knew some of them or my uncle or my cousin, they were scared to tell the United States because we were young like I told you, you had to be very careful what you are saying because there are fresh memory they going to say it.

EI: I mean you knew that there are Peshmergas but they were not in the cities?

ZT: Yes, we knew like when we got older like I do not say I do not exactly remember what age was it we knew there was a Peshmerga we know there was like they fight in the mountains like outside of the cities because what happened right now in this area was better for them to come to the cities because cities you know is dangerous because there is no places for you to hide so in a mountain there is no many people live over there so if you like a fifty or thousand whatever how many there, as soon as do your mission after that you going to be, each of you guys going to go separate way that way is going to be hiding, that was going to be harder for the military to go find those people but if you go to the city and face to face to fight, we knew it and they knew it because they only have like a small weapons like AK 47 or these weapons they are not going to defense yourself against tanks or with a plane that is why they were doing this and they were very strong minded like they were fighting for something they knew something is going to happen as today like the freedom that is why our leaders and everybody saying thank you to those Peshmerga sacrificed their lives; whoever got died, whoever got injured, whoever living still right now we are thanking them because we are seeing the best of Kurdistan so far because now I can talk I can talk to you, you can come to my place, I can go to your place nobody is forcing you to become anybody you do not want to be… like there are colleges open right now, you can attend any college you want, you can go to any major you want, you can be whoever you want; business man, you going to go to the military, this is your choice right now, before you did not have these kind of choices…

EI: Like a normal country you mean-

ZT: Exactly, right when we go right now to me this is why I said to you that day we were happy and I am proud to say I am a Kurd because our people are doing good, imagine if they were doing bad you know like the reputation is not that good in nationwide you know they talk about the, you say oh! I am sorry I am going to be embarrassed if I say I am this part or this place and I’m with guy because now you are proud because if you look at some of these Kurds like if you are American or if you Turkish or you are this, if your culture is doing good, you are proud to say I am this-

EI: You mean do not good like if they suppressed your people or there was no freedom.

ZT: No because these is no freedom like if you look at it right now, if you look at some of these countries like they have dictators, they are embarrassed to say I am from this country, not because of people they are embarrassed, if I say the people going to look at me in different eyes, oh! you are with this kind of group even if the people have nothing to do with it.

EI: I mean you are happy to say that you are I am Kurd.

ZT: I am Kurd you know I live in this place yes.

EI: So, how the childhood, do you have any special memories about childhood with your family I mean it will be about religious day, or Eid or I mean doing Ramadhan how was-

ZT: The best thing to be honest like even right now we miss those days.

EI: Maybe bad memories… or good memories that affected t you or you remember always from your childhood.

ZT: Yes, what happened right now because in Iraq the time even if you make money you are scared to do anything and parents are so afraid to say or do something because they know somebody is watching them or somebody is going to do something, So I think it was not I do not know.

EI: These are the nineteen eighties right you are talking about?

ZT: Yes probably eighties, eighty eight, eighty nine, I am not saying eighties because I was born like (19)78, (19)79 so imagine probably I am like ten or eleven years old, so one day I was telling my parents like my mum specially do not wake me up because I do not have shoes to go to Eid like to go celebrate, what happened right now because that time my father was working hard but the thing is right now.

EI: What was his job?

ZT: His job was like construction, you know they taking tanks, those trucks you know they taking like dirt from this place to that place or taking some of the stuff they working for construction if they build the roads.

EI: Building?

ZT: No, the roads, you know right now you do not have other choices so you have to do this and that time was the construction was even dangerous than military because sometime you are facing close to your enemy because when you build, when you are trying build the roads, or bridge or something it is not safe.

EI: I mean what was the authority there Saddam or was there any Kurdish rule?

ZT: No, that time until 1991 the big explosion.

EI: It was the Iraqi Road.

ZT: Yes, the Iraqi road.

EI: I mean when they get their salary it was from Iraq.

ZT: Yes, everything was Iraq, no Iraq was until wherever the year Iraq was established until 1991 none of the Kurd controlled anything or everything was under the control of Saddam Hussein and he was running the whole country. And your liked or do not like it you had to follow that law. So that is why I am saying right now….

EI: I mean it is reality for now maybe it is weird but for that time it is reality you had to survive.

ZT: I tell everybody right now I do not argue; sometimes say why these people they do not do this because you do not know exactly what situation these people are in.

EI: Yeah exactly.

ZT: because you do not know exactly if they are living a good life or bad life, they live in a dangerous life or safe life so you cannot judge a person just looking at them an say why this guy not doing this, he should speak up for himself.

EI: Exactly

ZT: because we saw these things and we saw so many Kurds speaking up and they got killed and that was not just easy like I said to you our leader was saying we thought, the only friend of the United States is the mountains because everybody having these things because their head, because Peshmerga when they were fighting.

EI: It is so common among all Kurds I think.

ZT: Yes exactly if you talk to anybody they were afraid for their life even if you become part of their military or somebody, you are afraid because if one day even by mistake or I do not like you and go to that place wherever the cop was, whatever the type was if I go to them and say this guy doing this even if you are not doing it just because I do not like you, you would disappear, they going to beat you, your family; one of my cousin he was educated, really knowledgeable and working because he had no other choice you have to be in the military, so one day, because he was on vacation he was trying to go home with his family and may be one person they did not like him because maybe his friend for example you are from this part I am from that part, Like Arab and Kurd for example say that person he know, this guy is a knowledgeable person and he knows, he is really good and he is said something to his boss “oh these guys doing something bad what he is doing, he is making IDs and Passport and taking the Kurds outside the Iraq and sending them to other country” say for example Europe or going to Iran and from Iran they are travelling to Europe and this guy trying to come to home with his family and what happened right now a couple hour later they went to his house in Baghdad and taking a shower and leave to come to Duhok and they too they say your general or your boss or this person want to see you, and he said why because I saw him probably a couple of hours ago, so he went that minute and disappeared like for a year, his mum and dad and hour family none of them like our parents nobody knew what exactly where he was, if he is alive, in a prison.

EI: Even you did not know about him?

ZT: Nobody until they say probably like way-way back, I do not know nine months, eleven months, almost a year they got a letter saying if you want to see your son, he is in that prison, Abu-Ghraib in Baghdad or Basra, whatever the place was.

EI: It is so famous Abu-Ghraib.

ZT: One of the worst probably prison in the world and he did not know exactly what was going on and his family does not know what was going on and they were trying to go and see him and talk to him and he could not say anything that minute, but right now he said you see the worst beating in your life, whatever you imagine in your head like whatever you are going to be having dream about is reality in there, the worst like life you ever have like they torture you, they did not give you right food and the room was like probably eight by eleven or smaller room you can ever have for four, five people, if couple of them sit I do not think the other person can be sitting or he cannot lay your feet to make them comfortable and you have to go to the bathroom right over there so you would see all the worst thing in that room because you have to pee or like whatever happen is in that small room it is not like you have to be comfortable, or is going to be a separate bathroom or this or food is going to be one of these food you going to enjoy it, so the life was miserable he said that. He said that is why when they think after a couple of years and Saddam Hussein was you know letting some people you know go out because they had nothing on their names as soon as he got out from the prison and he ran, he went to Iran and I believe he went to Europe and he said I am not going to come to Iraq until this government is gone from the power because he saw so many torturing… Like the torture you even cannot imagine what kind of torturing like in your life because he said I saw everything. That is why I say right now and our parents knew this like my father knew it because he was part of our family too but he did not tell the United States, he did not say anything to young people because they knew if they going to say something the whole public village, the whole people going to be dying.

EI: So, you are telling about the memory or the story of Eid, you said-

ZT: Yes, so I told my mum do not wake me up because I do not have shoes and if you do not have new shoes.

EI: Was it because you were the financial problem or-

ZT: What happened, finance problem because they do not give you, even they give you some money like Iraq the rich, imagine Iraq was so rich nobody knew how much money Iraq can make would only deeds not just gas or oil and these things Iraq was so rich but the thing is Saddam Hussein knows one day Kurds is going to be running by their own government, he knew it that is why until like 1998 or 1999 the Iraqi part like Kurdistan did not have an airport, they did not have any infrastructure like a good road, like anything, why because Saddam Hussein knew one day this place or these cities are going to be out of his hands, he knew it because majority were Kurds that is why he was doing what they call it invasion, like Ta’reeb [Arabization] like what happened right now, this is why he was moving Kurds from north, he was taking them to the south and imagine you live in a mountain in a snow area like beautiful weather, you are not used to live in a desert, so they took a lot of, even I think a couple our families they went from because there was no choice, so they moved them from the northern.

EI: You mean displacement?

ZT: Yes, because he wanted to change the demographic of the whole country.

EI: What was the reason?

ZT: Because he did not want majority of a place to be Kurds, because what he was doing.

EI: What was the demographic situation of Duhok?

ZT: Duhok what happened right now there were Kurd like Muslim, Christian, Jewish, you mentioned they have all these ethnics and religion.

EI: But the majority were Kurd?

ZT: Majority was Kurd, even some of them like our friends were like Christians or other ethnics, me personally I thought they might be Muslim, why because they speak the same language, they were-

EI: All were Arabs right?

ZT: They were Kurds. No, they were speaking Kurdish but they had nothing in Kurdi lie you cannot speak or I have any paper like in office, if you need something has to be done with Arabic.

EI: With your family your language was Kurdish.

ZT: Kurdish.

EI: In street it was Kurdish but in school or state institution was Arabic.

ZT: School majority was Arabic like you had to, I think I remember I think was only one class of Kurdish and that Kurdish was not even like a right thing sometimes have some letters you know, word in Arabic so basically if you have like six classes, four of them is going to be Arabic like in fifth grade we had one class of English and we had one class probably Kurdish or not, sometimes in some classes like some like I think in elementary school there was not even one class in Kurdish. So, everything was Arabic. So we had to learn no matter if you like it or do not like it.

EI: So It was Education language, all state institution… were there any school that teach Kurdish or Kurdish school.

ZT: No. From one end to another end in Iraq everything was, if you were under the territory of government, because if you look at village of here it is under the Peshmerga, this not counted but the majority of Iraq was under control of Saddam Hussein, so everything had to be like Arabic school, because one of the interviewee said he got his education in Kurdish school, it was in Erbil I think. That is you said it was under Peshmerga control.

ZT: Yes-yes.

EI: So that is why but the majority was Arabic.

ZT: Arabic yes. Even couple of our cousin they got their education, they got their really good degrees but because they were Kurd, they were not allowed to go to their major, because they considered us as a second like in Iraq, if you … like in the United States right now nobody knows who is number one who is number two, we all think we are American and we have right to do whatever we want.

EI: So, you said there were Christian, Jewish and Arabs as well. So, what was your relation with them? I mean were there any differences or did you know which one is Arab or is Christian?

ZT: Most of them were Christian.

EI: I mean they have to be in any problem but-

ZT: No Christians even until now I think one of the best place for all ethnic to live is Kurdistan, because until now I have not heard any, sometimes you see like you know when we have four-five million or ten million people, when you have five families or ten family, one family is going to be bad, and one family is going to be good, if you have like five brothers, not all five brothers going to like have master degree on for example like become engineer, maybe one of them be engineer, maybe one of them be a doctor, maybe one of them be a teacher, so in family we have this. So imagine if you have like a four five million people, you going to have like one bad person, can I consider that as a whole nation is bad, so what happened right now as a Kurd to be honest with you we have like neighbors like Christians the Ramadhan time when we were fasting, they even do not eat, they were eating, a couple of times like my father told them like our neighbor, said why you guys do not respect to your month of Ramadhan, and we say wow loot at right now, they respecting not eating in front of the United States because of Ramadhan, so they were so noise we were like going to their home like knowing was there celebration like any celebration, was like a Muslim celebration, Christian whatever we go congratulate them, make them comfortable whatever is going to be, a birthday party or Eid or I mean Christmas, whatever was it Muslim people go check with their neighbor when was a different celebration for Muslims they were coming to the United States and saying happy or this or that. So what happened right now is joyful like you would not even sometimes like I told you a couple of my friends honestly I did not know exactly if they were Christian or Muslim because I am not saying because if you pray that is between you and you God, so you go to that room, but like when we were playing soccer or playing any games, nobody say oh! you are from this part of from this ethnic or from this religion, you have to go with… No, we all play, we all having fun because especially the kids what you have in your mind, having fun is the only thing you have.

EI: What about the teachers? Were they all Arabs?

ZT: Teachers, no most of them I think like to me probably majority of them were Kurd but they were speaking Arabic too because most of the classes, like they were talking like I talk to you right now I can say start like in Kurdish, but when you go to the subjects it had to be Arabic because history, geography you know math.

EI: You mean out of class you talk Kurdish.

ZT: Sometimes we like couple of my cousins and friends we spoke.

EI: What about teachers?

ZT: Teachers sometimes they speak Kurdish but like I told you if they go to subject was Arabic…

EI: Where they afraid or something?

ZT: See that is why I am saying right now, probably, and that is why they could not say anything.

EI: I mean what about in Education in history, did they ever about the Kurds in class I mean were there the name of the Kurd in the book or something?

ZT: No, Nothing. That is why we say right now the history sometimes like I told everybody do not listen to the history, because history for example I am going to right history I am going to talk about only Kurd, so they were doing history about Iraq, how they did this, they did that.

EI: The national history.

ZT: Pretty much yes. There was no a single name about the Kurds, how they lived, where they were, how many are there-

EI: You know that there are but in the book.

ZT: Yes because like I said when sometimes I go see my grandfather or like this, in front of the United States they are happy, you know they were smiling you know, I knew he like I am saying to myself right now I can say it right now inside probably they were burning because they would not speak up, they would not say something that never said it before but that time was what happened right now because if they say something and we were kids we could have probably go to see my friends I come to you and I say something to you and you went to say something to the other kids you know and from there they going to come in and my family will probably be in trouble, even because I said it I am saying I am ten years old, and imagine right now I am ten years old you are not supposed to be listening sometimes to ten years old what he saying or she saying.

EI: Okay so in 1988, (19)86 you were going to school, right?

ZT: Yes.

EI: Okay. So actually, it was the bad time for the Kurds as I know, yeah.

ZT: Yes.

EI: So, I mean there were political instability and how were you affected in school I mean were you aware of that? What about for example if there was a bombing or something, were you talking about it in school or you teacher?

ZT: No, because like I told you parents did not speak or did not mention anything in front of their kids, like I told you they were afraid to say, like I said to you right now I can say my father, my grandfather, my uncles probably they were burning that day, because they heard so many things and they could not speak up, even to you or to me, for example. What happened right now like I said to myself they have right because when you have this kind of government if a kid says something and you destroy the whole family, then they were right that time not to say anything, they did not speak or did not talk, why? Because what if I said something, because maybe I am a kid you know, I do not know there is going to be hurting me or making me go to bed, what if I told my friend oh! my father yesterday he was saying you know what Peshmerga or this or was in this mountain or they were doing this, and what the other kids say, oh! you know this guy was talking about this thing yesterday about his father. So from there, you may be put your family in danger.

EI: What about your teachers, I mean did they imposed the Saddam?

ZT: No.

EI: They did not talk.

ZT: No. Because like I said even if I was a teacher.

EI: I mean they did not say Saddam is great or something.

ZT: Oh! yes-yes. What happened right now.

EI: They do not have to criticize it but I mean for example.

ZT: My friend if you had no picture of Saddam Hussein in your house and they come in and they do not see a picture of Saddam Hussein in your house, I mean you do not like him, so my friend for example what do you mean I do not like him. Say for example I am living in this country I am living under the rule of law but if you do not have his picture in the wall in your home, and you do not know exactly when they going to be walking to your house and just having some excuses oh I am looking for this, but probably they heard something yes they want some excuses, they come in, oh! I do not see any pictures, why? Oh! now what type of excuse you going to have, because now you got to be really scared, because if you do not have a picture of him, so look at it right now, you are living in the country, do you have any president of the United States picture on your wall or on your phone? No.

EI: If you want.

ZT: If you wanted you can put it, if you do not want it you do not have to say I like this guy or I want this guy, so in Iraq was so bad like if you do not have a picture of him on the wall in your home, you have no right…So, this is your probably you can do whatever you want, guess what! No, still the government warns you. So, you have to follow, listen do whatever they want you to do. That is how bad it was. So imagine why the teachers going to be speaking because they know their life is in danger too, I am not saying most of teachers probably were so much hurting like burning inside, they wanted to speak, but the thing is right now they have like families, brothers, sisters you know they do not want to like I say why I am going to speak because if I said something, it is not like in this country like in the United States if you do something bad, if you are eighteen or above, they going to take you, you have to defend yourself like they are not going to take your father, your mother, your sister, oh this guy did something, we going to punish you. So, if say over there if you did something even if you ran away, they are not going to say, or we going to wait for that person we going to look for that person because he did something bad not his family, if you did something and you run away, your father, your mother, your sister, your brother probably your village is in trouble. That is why we were saying do not do it. And so many time people did it anyway. But because what happened right now when you fighting a government size of Saddam Hussein like they say you have so many undercovers and so many bodyguards you will not even believe it and right now sometimes if you see it they have doubled, his son has doubled, he has doubled and when you have these things you do not know exactly if you have the right person if they are the right Saddam Hussein or if they are number two Saddam Hussein. So, if you attack even if you say injure him, no he is injured but he is not the right injured because the right one is over their sitting. So, you going to come in and destroy, that is why what happened right now in some of the cities in Halabja like even in south right now like they got martyrs in the street nobody can speak, why? Because of oh- They did something, they were against the government. So this is what happened right now in northern Iraq right now they know is bad teachers knew this is not right but each person was trying to save him or her life from something happen to their life or their family’s life.

EI: Okay. So how many years did you get education in Duhok?

ZT: I finished elementary school.

EI: How long it took?

ZT: what happened right now the system was different, six years. Because we had six classes from one you had to go to all the way to, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade you had to go sixth and you graduate you going to go to middle school, then the high school.

EI: So, you finished high school.

ZT: I finished high school, because I think it was the last year for my high school or middle school.

EI: You finished six years and then three years middle school.

ZT: No I was of my last year of middle school.

EI: Okay, how long it took to middle school? Three years?

ZT: Middle school took three years, but the thing is right now why we did not finish it because twice we had to run for our life. Like you know.

EI: Yeah, we will come to that.

ZT: So, what happened right now because when you go you miss that year, you have to come back, the system, is not like over here, if you go to class right now, and if you have classes if you fail one of them, they are not going to say okay you have to sit over here.

EI: But normally in three years you can finish it.

ZT: Yes.

EI: Okay I got it. Were there a national day for-

ZT: Iraq yes but for Kurds no.

EI: No, yeah, of course. During the national days like they had a break I think, it was a holiday, national holiday or something, so what did you do in that day like in school were there any program or celebration or something?

ZT: In school pretty much I do not think there was any program in school, the reason honestly we do not know exactly why because they had no money may be they were scared, may be they did not know exactly what kind of program they going to have, like because majority of them were Kurd and like I told you there was a number two under the Arabs in Iraq, that is why our leader are saying right now we do not want to be number two in our own country, so I am not saying we have to be number one and they have to be number two, no. there have to be equality. Like however you want to for yourself, you have to accept it for me too. The way you want it, I want it too. SO I have to respect you, you have to respect me. The way you want to be respected, if you do not respect me, I am not going to respect you. So this is what I am saying right now, so it was national holidays pretty much you say I do not know, it was nothing like any activities or anything like this.

JT: In Saddam’s birthday I remember we were going on a march we liked him, they said okay on his birthday we had to do something special for him.

EI: For his birthday?

JT: His birthday.

ZT: It was like a holiday because Saddam Hussein anything related to the government was a holiday.

EI: Not establishment of Iraq, or something but his birthday of Saddam. Okay.

ZT: Because when you do a demonstration, when you go right now, if you become against say your high school, your school like BU, there is something you have like fifty students and you going to have some posters you going to demonstrate over there this is your own choice and the other kids choice or people choice or your friends or whoever with you this is their choice nobody force them to do something, in Iraq everything was forced, school, if they have like a demonstration going on, every school in the city had to take their students and say we like this government we love this person, we love this president, we love this, we love everything. Like when I remember like in 1991 when there was a war.

EI: Were there any slogans from that demonstrations?

ZT: Se what happened right now we were kids, like I was in middle school or elementary school, honestly we even afraid if I for example I try to hide somewhere and run, I say what if somebody sees me in the demonstration and you know what, and none you knew them no way.

EI: But all demonstrations were to support Saddam?

ZT: To support Saddam yeah.

EI: Were there any demonstration against him?

ZT: No-no. I do not think even in a dram we had a demonstration against Saddam Hussein. Even sometimes like I said our people suffered so much like Kurdish people especially, the Kurdish people suffered so much not just from these things or that things, from everything, right now you saying I hope the government give each person a million dollar make their life so much easier because I know, I am not saying the government give everybody but for million, forty million, twenty million whatever is there, but I am saying right now this is our government is doing so many things right now for the people, because they suffered so much mentally, physically, emotionally, economically we cannot even speak about that, because there was no economic, because if you were a businessman you could not have certain level of your business, you could not be rich, you have this level, you could not cross that level with that step, why? Because if you become richer than them, that government going to be scared, say oh! I am sorry. You have to stop or they going to come in… because why? There was no capitalism, so what happened right now you have no right, you make your money for example, you going to go have your business and, but you know you are not safe, let us put it this way, you know you are not safe, that is why everything was under the, what they call, the bubble, so you have like this, you cannot cross that, you like, sometimes we say, you live in a jail, it is a little bit open but is bigger than a jail, but it is a jail. You have to do this, you have to say this.

EI: For now, you are talking?

ZT: No I am talking about Saddam Hussein’s time. For right now, look at right now, you can free market, you can do whatever want, you can go to any school you want, you can be who you want. It is open, what can of education you going to have.

JT: I want to mention one of your questions about you asked Kak Zeki, about you said you guys did anything daily at school; we had class usually, when the teacher was coming to class you had to stand up and say God bless Saddam Hussein, and many of us said my soul is free for his party. We always had to do this.

EI: The slogan was “My soul-

JT: “My soul is free for his party and he use it.”

EI: Do you remember it in Arabic?

JT: Yeah.

EI: Can you say it?

JT: When you stand up you say (Long Live Saddam Hussein) يعيش صدام حسين and when you sit you say … I do not know exactly because I forgot, when I was…… and the other thing every book they give it to government they had the front of the first page of the book it was Saddam’s picture.

EI: Okay.

JT: Yeah, I mean when you start the history, you have to start about who is Saddam and after that you go to all the detail of Arab, where the Arab came from. When you start the Geography you have to start with Iraq and neighboring Kurdistan and go down to all Arab countries.

EI: Was there any name of Kurdistan?

JT: No, at all. They called it north of Iraq, they called it shimal.

EI: Shimal?

JT: It is an Arabic word, shimal is an Arabic word.

EI: Does it mean north?

JT: It means north, I mean any word about Kurdish history.

EI: Okay. So, you during the 198s, 1988, 1989 and 1990 you were in Duhok right?

ZT: Yes.

EI: It was the worst time I think because of the Halabja.

ZT: What happened in 1988-

EI: Do you remember anything about that?

ZT: Because what happened like I said we just, what happened right now in (19)88 was the worst time because for the Kurdish people in general, because now they know they destroy a Kurd in general not because of their religion, not because of their different mentality, is because they are Kurd, that is why they were doing this, they were doing every aspect of things to make sure not for these people not to become successful, the Kurds, as a Kurd. So what happened right now I remember I think it was in 87 when my grandmother and her kids like my aunts and these they were living, because my uncles, couple of them they were living in I am not saying like they were living with the Peshmerga, they were living outside of the cities like it is not of the control of Saddam Hussein, they were living in a village and they do not like this system and my uncle was a Peshmerga and these things so what happened right now they came in and they took my other uncle said your brother is with Peshmerga they put him in jail and my grandmother any her kids, my aunts, they took them to outside the city, they drop them of like some places outside and said go from here.

EI: Okay.

ZT: And because my grandmother was living in that area, she knew and they had to walk I do not know how many miles because to be honest we do not know but it is probably an hour, and a half to walk from there to get the destination just to be a little bit free and not to be scared, so my uncle was in jail for like a year and plus because of one thing, he had not done anything, he was ins school, he was the top student in his school until now we say if he was not become like that, like Saddam Hussein did not take him, probably he would like become a doctor or an engineer, he was the best student, my father still saying right now, says we went to school one day to check on him you know how he is doing, the teacher said why you guys are here? Did we ask you guys to come here? We do not need you guys be here for him. That is how good he was, like he was the top of his class in school. But because what happened right now they put him in jail for one year and he had nothing to do with his brother over there. That is why I am saying the government was so bad, so what happened right now my father, I visited him a couple of times in jail-

EI: Your uncle?

ZT: My uncle-

EI: You visited him?

ZT: Yes. I visited him a couple of time in jail I mean guess what, the guard was so strong.

EI: Where was the jail, Baghdad?

ZT: No, it was outside Duhok probably 20 minutes from Duhok was called Simel. Soo, it was one of… what happened right now because he had not done anything wrong or he had not anything to harm the government, so they put him in a jail, one jail they say we not going to mention or not going to put him in jail for his life, they did not put any sentence on him and they said we going to put in jail.

EI: Was there any court, like they just put, take and put to jail, like there was no judgement or something or even-

ZT: No, there is no judge, even with the judge, the judge for example what a judge is going to do. He is guilty, permanent jail for his life.

EI: Okay.

ZT: So, there was nothing, so my uncle what happened right now.

EI: I mean there was no defense, right?

ZT: No, there was nothing, and even right now you know it you have not done do for example what happened right now they told my grandfather if you bring your other son back, they going to let him be free, so he has to stay in jail, and everybody told my grandfather go bring, and you know he was his father, my uncle, his father like in the village in Peshmerga, so they said go bring your other son home that way this son can be free, my grandfather said, are you guys crazy, if I go bring my other son back.

EI: Peshmerga guy… Okay.

ZT: And I guarantee you guys he will be next to him or they both going to be die.

EI: Okay.

ZT: So, I can lose one of my sons, I do not want to lose both of them. So, this is how my grandfather knew it. And he was not educated like have a master degree in politics but he saw and he was one of the smartest probably in our village, like we had a village probably three –four –five thousand people, they call it… He was really smart, and knowledgeable person and a lot of people went to say why did not you go and bring son just bring him, they want you to bring your son home, so they can let this guy go. Go be free. And my grandfather said, what you guys thinking, you really think I am going to bring my son and they going to let both of the go, I guarantee you if I bring him back they going to put him with him, both going to be die, and until a year and plus and one old lady Saddam Hussein came to Duhok and one old lady dancing in front of Saddam Hussein and she had something to tell him and she said you know what my son I do not know if he is still alive or not but my son is like age of that, like in prison, so with your power and your willing and your …. Mentioning all these beautiful names to Saddam Hussein, if you let my son go, I will be happy. And they said people over there this is Saddam Hussein’s word saying “If your son is alive, he will be free but if he is dead like they killed him, sorry for your loss” This is how is-

EI: Who was that woman?

ZT: I do not know she was an old lady that time living in Duhok and she was… you know-

EI: Kurd?

ZT: Kurd yeah, all Kurdish.

EI: Always came to visit Duhok?

ZT: What happened, Saddam Hussein sometimes came to cities just to go and cross that and go some places, have fun you know on vacation and she when he came in, sometimes you know he would stop in some places for five or ten minutes and that time she was doing that-

EI: She got a chance-

ZT: She got a chance you know and she said this is my son’s situation, so you let my son be free. And Saddam Hussein, the people was all there they were saying this was Saddam Hussein’s word: If he is still alive, he will be free, if the guard had killed him, sorry for your loss. So I do not know what happened if the son was free or he had got killed but among those people they say if there is nothing under your name like if you have not harmed the government, if you did not do, if you did not say anything about the government or the president or anything to do with the government we going to let them be freed, all these people in jail. So my uncle was one of them, and I think like kind of a week or so my father said do not stay in the city any more, go next to your brother, go see your brother, go and live with them.

EI: Okay, so you mentioned about displacement, like Saddam changed demography or something, did you affected with it, did your family affected by the demographic change, did you run away from the country or from bombing.

ZT: As my family, my father because what happened right now because my father was in the construction company, and construction is not like I mean, your work with like civilian company, you are working the government. So that time because my grandfathers both for them as a father’s side and mother’s side they were both close to the Peshmerga in the villages aside of the Duhok probably taking about an hour something like that driving, so they were under control of the pretty much Peshmerga was on control of the Saddam Hussein, you could come to the Duhok, but you would be scared like my uncle I think he got sick one day, I do not know he had to have a surgery I do not know was like liver or something like, I honestly do not even remember it was his father, it is like an hour from, if he come to Duhok it is like an hour, they took him to Iran because he was scared to come to Duhok, and if they find out where he live, why he is-

EI: As I understand like in that time Iran had good relations with Kurds, right? Because Iran was in conflict with Iraq-

ZT: Yes, what happened right now, the politician is all business, so the Kurd they just want somebody to be-

EI: You said when the Kurds wanted to leave the country they firstly went to Iran, and then to Europe or the United States-

ZT: What happened right now is that Turk, the Turkish border was harder because what happened right now the government controlled better like the Iraqi government because you had few spots and if you want to cross that mountain and this thing is not going to be safer because of a lot of animals, a lot of danger like wild animals going on, so Iran what happened because of the war, they did not like each other a lot and Saddam Hussein and the border was little bit longer than the Turkish borders so it was a little bit easier for people to cross the Iranian border than Turkish, because Turkey they had a couple of gates, pretty much were controlled by Saddam Hussein’s government, so how you going to say I am going to be running away from this country. So, this way was a little easier otherwise Turkey was easier to cross to go to Europe because Iran you had to go over there, they did not know exactly how-

EI: Do remember the Turkish state treatment to the Iraqi Kurds in that time like was it, will they provide you a way to run away from your country-

ZT: Any government they do not want to put themselves in other government’s business, so like I said if I am president of these country and you president of that country you going to say you know what we have to respect each other as a separate, so even Turkey knew right now how Iraq is that but because of the other countries not saying anything, the strongest countries, so right now Iran and Turk help us a lot, they open sometimes border for us to cross and to go over there, it was a good thing to be honest with you because imagine if they did not open their-

EI: Now you are talking about?

ZT: No, I am talking about Saddam Hussein’s time like in 1991 when we, there was upraising happened like million, that is became huge news in the whole world, when the upraising happened-

EI: Do you remember when the upraising happened it was 1991?

ZT: Yes, I remember honestly, we walked I do not know I think for ten, thirteen days we walked like what happened right now.

JT: I want to mention this, Iran was more open with Kurdish people who live in, they are more open to the Kurds because they had a war with Saddam, it was easier to go Iran more than go to Turkey. Turkey that time it was I am not saying very relationship with Iraq, but they had a relationship with business because they never, I am not saying never, but they did not accept Kurdish refugee.

EI: And in that time Turkey like 1990s was the worst time for Turkey as well because like they were fighting against PKK… They had problem with their Kurds as well so.

JT: Iran was more open because if you looking at the fighter, each fighter, I mean the fighter has a party you know, the party and headquarters for all Kurdish parties were in Iran, none was in Turkey. If anybody or anyone wants go to have a medical problem they go to Iran. My father one of them, he was a fighter and he had a little bit small or problem for surgery, he could not drive one hour to go to the city of Duhok, he walk around or he had a horse probably arrive in ten days to Iran.

EI: Okay. You said you walked for twelve days, it was like you were running away from country or?

ZT: Yes, because what happened the city we run-

EI: You left Duhok?

ZT: Duhok.

EI: Why?

ZT: There was a car, because what happened right now in 1991 the war happened between Saddam Hussein and Kuwait and the united Nations, the thirty countries and the United States among them they said we have to do something you know, the government controlled a different country because Kuwait was a different country even they said.

EI: Yes, Saddam attacked the country in international power they tried to stop Saddam, so what the situation of the Kurds in that time?

ZT: The Kurds because what happened right now-

JT: The upraising, after upraising, Saddam coming back-

EI: Saddam attacked Kuwait and Kurds uprised, Kurdish uprising happened or-

ZT: No, when the United Nations included all thirty countries gave Saddam Hussein a deadline, you have to get your troops out of Kuwait or you have to face the consequences, so Saddam Hussein said this my nineteenth city I am not going to leave Kuwait, Kuwait is an Iraqi city, and long story short when the war happened, because Saddam Hussein was fighting with this side so the Kurdish people fighting the other side, so the Kurdish people, the Iraqi government was not strong, the Kurdish military with the people, not only Peshmerga because people stood and upraised that-

EI: I mean the upraising became it was spread to ground like people participated.

ZT: Yes, Peshmerga coming with them, what happened right now.

EI: But they were led by the Peshmerga, they were directed or-

ZT: Peshmerga knew it, like in, I do not know if you watched it president Barzani in 88 in I think was meeting with Peshmerga in one mountain and he said the government of Iraq is getting weaker, so it has to change some of his tone, whether is going to agree with Kurds to make you know the Peshmerga or it has to do something because economically it is getting weak, physically, emotionally like every aspect is getting weak, because when they went to war when he did the chemical in Halabja, the leader knew it and a lot of people said how did he knew, and in 88 if you look it right now in Khwakurg, he is talking to the Peshmerga saying bear with us, be patient you know things are going to change soon. This is what happened in 91. So 91 what happened Saddam Hussein went to Kuwait and the countries were fighting, so the Kurdish people in another side fight and the military did not fight, some of them fought because they knew the Kurdish people upraise and there is going to be a crazy, there is going to be a war if they going to fight, but the Kurdish people even that time; if you give up your weapon and you become like give it up, Kurdish people did not even kill anybody, and that is why we say right now that Kurdish people is one of the probably nation you could not imagine what kind of nation it was because you saw from your own eyes or heard these people are they kill your brother, your sister, your uncle.

EI: So, you are telling about the Peshmerga that they did not kill the Saddam army.

ZT: No, yeah because with the army was like in the city of Duhok and Erbil and Sulaimaniya they had basis.

EI: Okay when Peshmerga started to control back so they did not attack them.

ZT: No, if you give it up, if you fight we going to fight, because you are in our territory, so a lot of them, I am talking majority of them they knew because they were there for example you did not want to be there, just you, because you have to be there just because of the force, like you know they have to say if you do not go we going to kill him, so when they knew these things happening most of them they gave it up, like they put their weapon raised their hands said “Okay.”

EI: The Iraqi soldiers?

ZT: The Iraqi soldiers, and the Kurdish military, the Kurdish government, I am talking about the Peshmerga, if you do not fight most of them really nice way you know they put them somewhere and after probably a while they took them to outside of Duhok you know like it was called Faidhiya, probably like fifteen or twenty minutes away outside of Duhok and they let them go. And some of them said we do not want to go back, some of them said no we want to live over here, if you go back probably you going to get killed. So, what happened right now, with that happened the Kurdish people controlled even Kirkuk, they controlled and I do not know what happened because like I told you politician, things changed so Saddam Hussein was getting weak and, in this side, fighting with Kurds and this side pretty much.

EI: Shiite uprised against at the same time, and what happened right now, I do not know something happened, and I do not know they were scared of Iran or they were scared of any other countries to interfere with Iraq and they said that to be stopped right here, like American militaries and Saddam Hussein okay, they going to stop right here, and then you lift your helicopters so when they did that, the worst thing happened what they call in south, they were killing so many people because the Kurds have mountains and can go to the mountain, the killing is not going to be as bad as like if you are living in desert, you know it is open, so you can do whatever, so what happened right now when they stopped that Saddam Hussein had some power and he brought his troops close to Duhok and these places and they have good troops, still have thousands of thousand troops, the Kurdish people did not have weapon to defend themselves against the tanks and the plane, so what happened right now they said Saddam Hussein is going to come in and control the rest of the cities of Iraq like Duhok, Erbil Sulaimaniya and Kirkuk. So people got scared for their life, even the Peshmerga said do not run we going to be fighting until the last minute, but you going to say you know what we only have AK47, they have plane, they have this, they have that, so the fear is going to get you worse than anything else, so you going to say no I am going to run, so what happened.

EI: So, the migration started then.

ZT: Yes, so the people ran.

EI: Okay, now just to summarize in 1991, when Saddam attacked Kuwait, Kurds uprised, there are Kurdish uprising and then Kurds started to get control of the cities that they are majority in like Duhok, Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Kirkuk, and then Saddam came back after the war, after the gulf war and he said he will again invade Kurdish cities, in that time the Kurds started to migrate to the borders.

ZT: Half of them went to Iran, because wherever they close to-

EI: So, what do you remember about that migration, and-

ZT: Men was in one hand was really good cause it was everybody. We know a lot of knew this is going to be huge for the Kurds because why is going to be, it cannot be going under the media again, is going to be the uprising in the media too because all the media is going to be there because millions of people, it is going to be crossing the borders so they were hopefully want they going to be Kurdish voice going to be going up again. We do not need the mountain our friends, so when we wanted other country to become our friend and to help us, so this is what happened, when those people uprised, went to Turkey, went to Iran, and the United States, France and all the other countries came and helped, you know Turkey, they opened those camps you know like they opened those.

JT: How were the camps, did you have a bathroom, did you have anything? No. there was nothing, talking about your life in the camp.

ZT: What happened right now the life in the camps was not good, like-

EI: You were in Iran-

ZT: Turkey-

JT: If you see, right now Turkey has refugees, they accept the Syrian refugees, you see the camps there, tents and was it the same for you?

ZT: No, what happened right now because like I said our situation was different because that time the Kurdish voice was under the bubbles, like I told you under the one’s roof-

EI: I mean you want to say there was a huge suffering and that sufferings will attracts attention, you were expecting to attract attention.

ZT: Yes because what happened right now, you know few do a good thing, you know if you do a good job and you stand up and you do for days, months, years, one day hopefully for this position you going to get to that position, you know because if you are a good employee and you do right things and you are helping everybody, and you become a really a good group leader or supervisor, one day you know you going to be going upper. So same thing with these things. We knew it is life is not going to easy, and you are running from home, you come in to some mountain live in.

EI: So, when Saddam came back to get control again in Duhok or other cities, where there any attack of him, like did they attack civilians?

ZT: Peshmerga fought-

EI: Was there any conflict on street or?

ZT: Because we ran honestly, we moved I do not know exactly if anything happened any war, but Saddam Hussein was throwing like tanks were believe me were, couple of my friend like in the city where living they heard so many noises, there were bombings, they were doing a lot of stuff. Like because what happened right now if you have AK47 you cannot fight a tank, if a tank see you over there, it is stronger than you, so that is why people running for their life, they knew if anybody get caught is going to die because couple months ago you uprised against me, so now we going to be in control, what I am going to do to you. Do you think I am going to give you guys a cake? This is something going to be, we going to be facing the consequences, we going to kill you.

EI: As I understand people were told that punishment would be bigger because of uprising.

ZT: Because what happened right now when you, if me and you agree in a business and tomorrow you say you know what I am going to go separate way, and you go your separate way and you lost all your money, whatever reason was, and you come in next day say you know what Zeki I am sorry I want to be your partner again, I am going to say okay let us put the money; I do not have it. How I am going to be your partner? So same thing we were saying because we were scared we were Iraq, now we uprised against Saddam Hussein’s government and we become our own independence, safe, part of Iraq and now if they, we know if Saddam Hussein came in and control these things and you get caught, you going to be facing one of the probably worst things in your life whatever is going to be. Killing or prison.

EI: So, you were like how many days did it take to going to Turkish border?

ZT: I think we because whatever different people got there different days, because some people they knew some shortcuts, I think it took us like ten to thirteen, twelve days walk whatever right now.

EI: All family or?

ZT: Most of the family yes because we were-

EI: I mean with family I mean the children, women, girl the elderly?

ZT: Like you see some of the stuff honestly if you have pictures if you record that, you could not even believe it right now. And I know sometimes I say maybe have a dream. I saw those things, like I saw some old ladies or old men they left them behind, like for example your grandfather, father got old and you had to put him on your shoulder, everybody was trying to get to the point faster that they can because they do not exactly somebody behind them they going to get captured. If you get captured, get caught, you going to get killed. So I am not saying right or wrong, you saw so many kids dying, I think it was in they call it Jalee like in border in Turkey when we were staying in our camp I think they opened one graveyard became like thousands of thousands of people dying because of the cold, water, no food. Like I think was a holiday was like a Eid they did not have a bread in our home. So, my father and my uncle they got so mad and these things and they said we going to cross the borders because the government of Turkey they did not let us to go to the cities and because-

EI: They did not allow you to go out?

ZT: Yeah, they did not allow it because imagine if thousands of thousands of refugees, so they going to let me go, they going to let him go, they going to let you go. It is got to be something, they did not want anything happen.

EI: How was the condition?

ZT: The condition was not that good.

EI: The physical condition?

ZT: It was not that good, until the United States came in and they changed some of the-

JT: Sorry Zeki, but the United States did not have anybody’s name to give food; they sent it by aero plane. I mean it was not camp that they somebody respect you-

EI: I mean it was not organized or when you came from Iraq like you left your homeland you came with nothing right?

ZT: Nothing.

EI: So, there was not a place for you to sleep or to get shower or something?

ZT: No.

EI: It was not organized you mean, that right?

ZT: No, it was not organized no.

EI: Just the mountains or?

ZT: Like I am telling you like probably we were like in a hill, probably like a mountain, a hill and it was like because people were everywhere, like I told you a million of people going, crossing the border and after that you know they got, some people got tents, some people they got this, by the plane throwing like-

EI: They threw it from the planes?

ZT: the plane, those big planes food, especially was called dry foods, because you heat it or you can open the back and eat it. Because they did not have this kind of food like rise, chicken oil these things you can cook it, because you have no place, you have nothing, but after a couple of weeks gone you know, they got like some put some tents, brought some doctors, you know they were checking, and what happened right now because you walked so much, the cold so strong, and there was nothing for you to protect and you did not have many clothes to put on, blankets, so this is why so many kids died.

EI: Okay. So after that, you went back to the city.

ZT: Yes. I think it was-

EI: How long did it take the camp life?

ZT: It took a couple of months. What happened right now.

EI: And when you came back to Duhok, to your own home?

ZT: Yes.

EI: Did you lose any one in your family during that process?

ZT: Probably children, maybe I do not know because some of them went to Iran, some of them… but as adult like we say thank God everybody was okay, like nobody got injured, I know like some minor things going over here and there but like big things not happened. This will be thanking god because things happen for a reason, so we thanking God nothing happened.

EI: So. you back to Duhok again, your home and it was 1991 or (19)92?

ZT: It was almost like 1991 like we stayed a couple of months in there so we came back.

EI: Who was the governor of Duhok at that time?

ZT: At that time when we came back the Kurdish people was controlling but the thing is right now even worse, what happened the sanction was on Iraq, there was no food, Iraq could not sell oil, they put a sanction on Iraq, so right now with a Kurd become independent, I am not saying independent, like a separate.

EI: Autonomous.

ZT: Autonomous, like independent from Iraq, the Iraqi government put sanction on the Kurds, so now.

EI: So, the control of Duhok was like the Kurds control in that time?

ZT: Yes, but the thing is right now like people was so suffering, what happened right now the Kurdish government had no resources, where they going to bring the resources, where they going to bring food, you have to bring it from Iran, Turkey, Iraq because everybody closed their doors, their borders because still was sanction on Iraq itself.

EI: Was there any institutional government there, Iraqi government there? Saddam or?

ZT: No, Saddam.

EI: They just left?

ZT: What happened right now they, right now we saying we make Iraq united because what happened right now Saddam Hussein lost his control so he moved all his stuff.

EI: State institutions, the people-

ZT: Everything from northern Iraq.

EI: And left you there whatever you do.

ZT: Kurdish people and our own government and this way was so hard because the Kurdish had no resources, they had no money who is going to give you food, even if you have this, how you going to bring it because they have sanction on Iraq.

EI: How you survived that time?

ZT: It was not easy, let us put it this way. Like a pound and a half of sugar like was thirty-forty dinars that time and we could not even buy a kilo we had no job and Iraqi government pretty much put sanction on the Kurds you know with everything until was in 1995, 96 before we come in there was like some oil for food and then situation got a little better but what happened right now we left.

EI: And then 1992 and 1993 when did you, did you continue school there?

ZT: Yeah we went back, after that because we lost a year and something, we went back the thing is because the situation is not the same, now we do not like to go back to school, you lost almost a year and a half of your life, you going to back to the same class you have been before and couple of my cousin they quit school because of going to work so now things got different because what happened right now everybody happy because they do not have much money, food in the house, so this was the situation a little complicated.

EI: Yeah, you were not under the control of government, Iraqi government or Saddam but you were suffering economically and physical condition was bad, okay. So in school the education was there teacher or Kurdish education or something?

ZT: Yes, right now our government the teachers the principals under those circumstances, after those pressures the teachers never stopped their education.

EI: So, education started to be in Kurdish or?

ZT: No, we still had some classes like some we still have because our government had print you know Kurdish books and these things was not easy, because we did not have any what they call it.

EI: It was a transition process.

ZT: So, what happened right now, now we can be free more, we can talk, we can do stuff better than before but you still have some one or two classes in Kurdish, but majority of them was like Arabic classes. But now the teachers you can speak with you in Kurdish, you did not have to be afraid or you did not have to be afraid to speak.

EI: Okay, yeah so in street or in school it was easier. Okay And then you came to the United States in 1997?

ZT: Yeah left at the end of (19)96, we left I think.

EI: The whole family or?

ZT: Yeah, my mum, my dad and brothers and sisters.

EI: Okay, as a refugee?

ZT: Yes, as asylum. What happened right now because the United States government as those, what happened right now because when Kurdish government took control and I think it was in 95, honestly I do not exactly remember but they put no-fly zone around the Kurdish area, wherever the Kurdish control, they put no-fly zone. So that Saddam Hussein cannot bring any planes and after that a lot of organizations came in some working for government, some working for NGOs, so they came in, they helped, they brought like some medicine, food and these things. So, people was-

EI: From Europe or?

ZT: Yes from Europe and all over, so what happened right now some people they were working with them like become their drivers, because if you come in from the United States to Kurdistan you do not know exactly which city, which villages are, who is what, what they need, what were their needs, some become translators, so then, in the end I am not going to make it long, so Saddam Hussein said whoever worked for the United States or work with them not just, because you not going to be a CIA, by the time you become CIA need a lot of background check, but you were working with them become a translator, drivers. But He said whoever did anything work with the United States is not safe. So what happened right now and because the United States they did not have troops over there, they did not have like a base over there, so they got scared because what happened I think was in Vietnam when the United States was helping them some of them people, the local people was helping them so when they left the other government they controlled and killed all those people, so the United States said they not going to make the same mistake we made in Vietnam couple years ago, twenty years ago, forty years ago. So, they said whoever want write your name we going to take you and your kids any place you guys you want. So, this is how-

EI: The United States gave the opportunity and-

ZT: Yes, because what happened right now a lot of ah it is only you know it is tough, nothing is going to happen for so long they wrote down their names, they gave it to any agency you work for-

EI: They did not expect like this.

ZT: Like honestly, me personally and a lot of people, they do not have in their dream one day they going to come to the United States, because we said what, this is what I am saying right now, so far right now that is why we are saying thanks to the United States because they did something not so many countries did it.

EI: And you came here after that?

ZT: No, we went, because they took us at the end of (19)96, I think it was November or October, they took us to Guam.

EI: Where?

ZT: Guam is an island next to Hawaii.

EI: Ah, Okay.

ZT: It is like seven hours from Hawaii, so we went to Guam, the did our physic stuff, you know like they make us I think with a couple of months we stay over there because they-

EI: As camps?

ZT: It was really nice place; let us put it this way, nice. We were living like in house of the navy’s. The island was navy’s house living. Nice houses like they had AC, the best I am telling you, they give good food.

EI: You said you could not imagine it.

ZT: Now if you go there, I guarantee you, you going to spend a thousand of thousand they just have some fun like we had, I am not saying… because whatever they were doing, they were doing the paper for us, doing physical stuff, you know testing, make sure everything is good, you know all the paper… the health, the issue.

EI: Did you get any education for language there?

ZT: They had some classes you know you go over there, they teach you basic stuff, you know, they brought some Kurdish people they knew English in San Francisco a couple of them become working with the United States, they were teaching us how to live our lives what to do, what not to do, what to say, what not to say over here, they were basically basic stuff they were teaching you.

EI: How long, for six months?

ZT: No, I think it was like few months like three, four, five months, yes probably.

EI: Just for integration process.

ZT: Because what happened right now we came to this country as soon as we landed we went to social service, and we went to social security everything was like set, like social security they sent our social security, green card after a year something like that we got our green card, and then everything.

EI: You had the refugee’s status.

ZT: Yes, yeah.

EI: So, and then Binghamton?

ZT: No, we went to Maryland.

EI: Maryland?

ZT: Yeah like close to Washington D.C., because in Guam they give you choices, if you have a relative, a family live anywhere in the United States, if you had contact with them you know, if you know, if he is going to will to help, we going to take you over there but before because my cousin lived in New Jersey because my father when he came lost his number he said we do not want to bother anybody right now, so just go over there and see what happens, so this is why, if you do not give them any choice like say I want to go over there, they will take you some places they know is going to be good for you.

EI: Okay, so you went to Maryland?

ZT: So, a lot of people went to Tennessee, Nashville, some went to California; some went to I think the majority went to Virginia. So, we went to Maryland.

EI: So, what had changed in your life after that?

ZT: a lot of stuff to be honest with you, we saw so many things like you know, you are human right now before when you were living under Saddam Hussein you thought you know we were like somebody just nothing, just here to live to worship like these government, now we know your life is more important than anything else, and over here they treat you really you can be who you are, they give you a big choice like you want to be doing this, you can do this, you can do this, you want to be a businessman, you going to be an educated person, so they give you opportunities.

EI: So, you got your education in college? Which college?

ZT: Yes. Broome Community College.

EI: And you came to Binghamton?

ZT: No, over there because what happened right now I stayed over there for like only a year because we went to high school but because we tried to go to college they told us college is very expensive, we have a couple, my father knows a couple of people over here and said they got contact you know, they say college over here if you become resident tuition you know plus financial aids and these things is going to be cheaper.

EI: Government helped you financially right in that time?

ZT: Over there?

EI: No, here.

ZT: Over here yes.

EI: You cannot find a job like for the first time when you came. So, they-

ZT: Financially they helped us. No, you cannot say enough about this country you know, I am not saying everything is, like I told you nothing is perfect, like I want to be a millionaire for example, but like you cannot say-

EI: But you could survive.

ZT: You cannot say anything enough about this country, they do everything to make you to become somebody who you are not, like to stand up on your feet and open your eyes, like here is the whole world in front of you, what you want to be. That is what I am saying, no, they give you enough, they give you good tools they give you good education, and it is up to you right now who you want to be.

EI: Great, and then you came to Broome community college; you got your degree there? What was your degree?

ZT: In Marketing Management Sale.

EI: Marketing Management?

ZT: Yeah.

EI: Okay, good.

ZT: I studied two years computer and after that because what happened right now I told them I said I want to do another thing and my advisor told me if you want to take this pretty much same classes some of this classes is some of these classes, so you do not have to take as many as credit you need because now math, they needed for C++, they needed for these class, you not take math for business,

EI: Okay, now what is your job, what is your occupation?

ZT: Right now?

EI: Yeah.

ZT: Group leader, working EAT.

EI: What is EAT?

ZT: EAT is Endicott Interconnect Technology, it is like what they call it IBM before it used to be IBM, now is EAT,

EI: So, it is an American company, right?

ZT: Yes.

EI: You are working there?

ZT: Yes.

EI: And how is the job conditions? You are happy with it?

ZT: Like the way you see me, I go to work like this, sometimes, some of my friends what the hell you are doing over here, you became like a CEO… What happened, our job is not dirty, like dirty I mean like dirt or making this thing or is not happy.

EI: You are not working in a construction or building-

ZT: No.

EI: It is like a company.

ZT: It is not like you have to wear some nice jeans, you know some nice T-Shirt so that you have to love some… No, it is not that heavy, and honestly it is easy and I am not saying easy like anybody but you have to get some training but it is good.

EI: So, you are happy with your education and with your family.

ZT: Yes.

EI: You are living here with your three children-

ZT: Alhamdullila… Yes.

EI: Masha Allah, and your wife is she Kurdish?

ZT: Yes.

EI: She is Kurdish, she was living here?

ZT: No, she was back home she is his sister. She was back home.

EI: Your sister right.

ZT: What happened right now when I went over there.

EI: So, you are relatives?

ZT: Yes, he is my cousin, that is why I say when his father was over there, my other uncle was with us.

EI: Did you have any relatives in Kurdistan right now?

ZT: Lots of them.

EI: Lots. [laughs]

ZT: Everybody is over there, that what we saying right now.

EI: Are you going by accident or visit them?

ZT: I was there like in 2005, I hope soon, that is what was asking, Desko made something happen, they send this people so I can go with them.

EI: When was the last time when for your visit?

ZT: 2005.

EI: 2005, so it is great, I want you to compare when you left the country and how you found the country-

ZT: No man it was different, I am not saying.

EI: What was the, like as a citizen not as an… you do not have to be in any identity… for like ordinary people what changed there?

ZT: The thing… life, because now they… what happened people worry about one thing, their business, before you know everybody was unemployed, sitting you know, come sit next to you for like three hours, you go see him for six hours, when I went over there everybody was busy doing something.

EI: Were you surprised when?

ZT: Honestly, I was shocked, how fast things can be changed? You know from people and the web con you know holding AK47 on their shoulder and become technology, computer you know phone I am not saying because our country they do not deserve it, but because we did not have these things. So now everything become available to the Kurdish, look at it right now and I think I heard this that the United States and Europe saying the first nation we see them from a gun to technology change that fast is the Kurdish people, so imagine when I was over there everybody I am telling you, young people had guns holding.

EI: In 1997?

ZT: In (19)95 and (19)96 yes, they had AK47 on their shoulders, even if you are not in military, because gun was everywhere, when I went over there, they could not even sell, you have to have a license, if you not with military they if see you they going to say okay.

EI: So, everything is organized.

ZT: What happened right now they changed so much.

EI: So how about treatment?

ZT: Treatment was better.

EI: When you back there you firstly went to Istanbul or something?

ZT: No, the first I went to Syria.

JT: He is talking about 2000. You are talking about 2005.

ZT: Oh! 2005, yeah, I went to Istanbul.

EI: First you went in 2000 and then in 2005.

ZT: Yes.

EI: Okay. So, there was significant change between 2000 and 2005 as well?

ZT: Because what happened right now like 2000 few people had good job and they were living, still were happy.

EI: Actually, the Kurdistan Region it was officially accepted in 2003, right?

ZT: Yes. So what happened right now still people had jobs and life was better because have more freedom, they can stand up and do something without any other countries because there was still sanctions on Iraqi government and still on Kurdistan and 2000 was like that, and 2005 I went to Istanbul me and my friend, we went to Istanbul, we landed it was really good because we were like when hour in the JFK, for our plane to take off so we went to Istanbul was amazing, I am telling you the country was good the food was good, so we said we do not have that much time so we cannot go outside of the airport, so we had to go from Istanbul airport is like a local go to Diyarbakir.

EI: And then you went to Diyarbakir with plane again?

ZT: Yes, plane because we could take a bus but its 24 hours so it is like a long ride, so we went to from Istanbul to Diyarbakir we checked our things, where you guys going? Diyarbakir.

EI: How was the treatment in Istanbul?

ZT: I mean personally I did not have any problem, like honestly the did not ask me any questions, and they did not tell me what you doing, just I gave them my passport, American passport, they stamped for me, you are good.

EI: You had American passport and you said you are going to Iraq?

ZT: No in Istanbul they even did not ask as, so we went to Diyarbakir, where you guys going-

EI: You got visa for Turkey, right?

ZT: Yes, Turkey yes. So what happened right now in Diyarbakir when we landed because the airport was small, so we took our packs and there were cabs over there, cab driver you know?

EI: Actually, in Diyarbakir it is not a civil airport as far as I know. Is it army?

ZT: Diyarbakir when we went over there was like tanks pretty much a lot of places you know like militaries because-

EI: Because it is not a civilian airport.

ZT: Still what happened right now they were saying PKK comes and they attacks sometimes but they did not ask us anything because they know we are visitors, I am not going to talk about the Kurdish Turkey to see because what happened right now we were there and a couple of drivers over there and we told them, they said the situation is getting a little better because now some of them they get visa, they can cross borders, they make some money for their families you know before they did not have that either, so it was hard.

EI: So, you went to Diyarbakir and then Kurdistan.

ZT: Diyarbakir and then we get a cab driver, because we asked them who have a visa, because some they do not have a visa, they could not cross the border, because they have to be in Turkish side. So, one of them said okay we can take you guys, so we went to the last one that is still that time between the Kurdish government and the Turkish government was not that strong connection like today in a business and everything.

EI: Yes, today is after 2009 I think it is better.

ZT: The driver told us and we knew, he said they ask you guys where you going, say we going to go to Iraq, but if you guys say Kurdistan and you know sometimes that word is going to interfere you know, they are not going to probably like it, but right now if you go right now; I am going to go to Kurdistan, so it is not going to hurt them that much, so situation is become so different like technology, like I am telling you friendship Turkey right now doing business with the Kurd, Kurd doing business with the Turk you know they doing with Iran, so if you go right now like if you have pictures like in 10 years ago, fifteen years ago as a people and you see have the same picture of that person like right now.

EI: So how do you feel?

ZT: Really great. Like this is why I said I am proud to say I am a Kurd, because like I told you if I live like in a country I am not going to mention any countries because every country people love their own countries but if live in Africa or wherever country you live in, if you have a bad reputation in United Nation like your country as corruption, killings and these things, you going to be like oh! man did I said this, but you will be happy and you will be proud if your country is doing good.

EI: Yeah, when you walking in the street for example in Duhok, what was your feeling because you remember your childhood, you remember bad stories, so memories, what were your feelings?

ZT: The feelings, I was telling my couple of cousins with me like sometimes I think like was one o’clock we were going to… we drove the car, his father’s car-

EI: 1am?

ZT: 1am something like that with his brother, we took his father’s car and I did not how to drive shift I said listen bear with me, so we drove we went like one o’clock, two o’clock I said listen, look right now, ten-fifteen years ago situation was so much different, right now you can go over there, stores.

EI: You can drive during the night.

ZT: A coffee, a cake, one o’clock in the afternoon, and Christian are free, they can do whatever they want, they have their own stores, do you have this, nobody come to you saying why you have this, why driving in this time, they do not have checkpoints like in the cities, I remember like in Saddam Hussein’s time if you travel in the night, there was like so many checkpoints at night; one in this town, one in this area, one in this sport, you could not even believe it, now, but they only have one checkpoint you know in that side because so many, they want to that bad people to come in like terrorist and these things, otherwise there is no checkpoints from here to go all the way to Erbil it is like probably there is another checkpoint. So, it is really great because you feel like you are somebody, you are human; you live in a country they care about you.

EI: So, as I understand you are happy living in the United States and being Kurdistan citizen.

ZT: Yes. See that is why I am saying our country is good, our government, they accept doors to citizenship, some countries they do not accept it.

EI: Yeah, you have dual citizenship?

ZT: Yes. Because we are Kurd, we are from Iraq and you are Turk, I mean you are from the United States so what happened right now we have still-

EI: You have Iraqi passport or Kurdistan?

ZT: No, what I am saying right now the Kurdish people accepted, like for example right now if my friend is from India says as soon as I become US citizen, I have to give up all my things.

EI: In India?

ZT: In India. So, the Kurdish people accepted like you can have the ID, right now something you know when we go over there.

EI: You can have both IDs, right? It is not a problem.

ZT: Yes, no.

EI: Iraqi or Kurdistan.

ZT: No, right now when we go over there.

JT: Both is the same.

ZT: Yeah when we go over there right now something because what happened right now we can, I give them my drier license, sometimes I can give them my Iraqi ID like the Kurdish, they going to look at it, my name, my picture. They are not going to say oh! -

EI: If you back to Kurdistan, you will not have any problem like as a citizen you have all rights?

ZT: No.

EI: Okay. DO you want to go back one day or, do you miss something?

ZT: I hope. I am not saying because I do not like this country honestly, but because we want to help them, you know we want them, we want the country to become somebody like some rest of the countries like you know we can get the visa, if you want to visit like Turkish you know, like Gulf countries, like European, they have their own citizenship, they come in, they visit you know, they visit their relatives, they come for business, for pleasure whatever they come for, two weeks later they go back, so we want our country become like same like this because if you become economically good condition and everything become better hopefully tomorrow the Kurdish citizenship you know Kurdish if you have passport, you can travel anywhere you want.

EI: One day you will go back.

ZT: Hopefully that is what I am saying right now because everything is like t the modern time if you like become models and if you become like stable in business what other countries want? Business, so when you go travel right now anywhere you want, like if you go to Turkey, if Istanbul is probably say number one in Europe tourism like people go to there, why because they treat you like really good, if they treat you like in the airport like in bad reputation they give you attitudes, if you go to this town, if you go to this restaurant they treat you say oh! you are from this, you know this, are you going to go back again?

EI: No.

ZT: No. So that is why my couple of cousins they go over there, they love it, why? Not because they love it because beaches all over there, or the trees or big mountains or big house or tall buildings, no-no. the treatment like the people treat you, they go wo a restaurant, they treat you good, nice, they do not say oh you are from this part, then they going to give you shish kebab, they going to give you this.

EI: So, they are welcome to tourists.

ZT: Yes, that is what I am saying, so Istanbul became so powerful economically. That is why the Kurdish people trying to establish good environment.

EI: Okay. How old is your children?

ZT: Five, I think my daughter is going to be close to three, and my youngest son is like two and a half months.

EI: Two sons and one daughter?

ZT: Yes.

EI: Okay, great. So, they will grow up here.

ZT: They are citizens, this is why I say to them I say now, see this is why I say about this country is great, they could be president tomorrow, for example I am not saying they going to be citizen I mean president but the thing is right now in this country.

EI: They were born in America.

ZT: Yes, what happened right now in this country if you, right now is changed because you have to have so much money fund for this but in other stuff they do not stop you to become somebody like they do not stop you, your education has to be stopped right here or your business cannot be going further or your this has to be stopped, so you have opportunities that is why this country became great because they came all over and they are open, so you open a restaurant…

EI: So, you are like in daily life you do not have any problem, right?

ZT: No.

EI: Right as an American citizen you have all rights.

ZT: You have every right and you can do so many things the other American cannot do it.

EI: I mean because of your identity there is no problem, because you are Muslim identity or Kurdish identity?

ZT: No, see that is why I say this country is-

EI: For example, in your job or something.

ZT: No, that is why I say this country is different because and they know it I am Muslim because I leave Fridays, I told my boss I said I am going to go to my Friday hour… They give you an hour.

EI: So, you still practice your religion and your culture-

ZT: Yes, pray, fasting-

EI: So, yes, I learn about that as well, like your cultural life here. You still have Kurdish community in Binghamton and there are lots of families so you have relation with them, what is your relation and do you have any special day or celebration or visit or something?

ZT: Yes, celebration is there, like Newroz hopefully we going to invite you too, hopefully we going to make Newroz, we are hoping to make Newroz and you know we going to have Halabja and other celebration like Eid we go, I think two years ago, two-three years ago on the Eid we went to a part after-

EI: To picnic or something?

ZT: Picnic, you know what happen after pray, Eid Pray? We say you know each person bring and share… pretty much most of them came, majority of them, I think two-three family one of them they had sick in their family but-

EI: Not just men, the women children.

ZT: Everybody, so we said if each person brings and share desserts and food bring cookies too you know whatever you going to bring and each have tables we went to the Cole Part, and until now everybody says that was the best Eid ever, because everybody saw each other in five minutes…

EI: I mean still have relation and close relation visiting each other.

ZT: Yes, we have everything.

EI: Okay. Great! I mean if someone is sick you know about it or-

ZT: Right now if one of our friend is sick, he would visit him every day, but he stand couple nights with him, my brother stay couple night with him, other people like friends staying couple nights, the other… because what happened right now if he stays every day say a month or twenty day, he is going to be tired, he is going to be emotionally, physically he is going to be waaaaa, he is going to crazy, if he stays only two days, I am going to stay the other two days, things are going to be easier around everybody. So, the Kurdish community is really good for such kind of stuff because they do not say Oh he is from this tribe or he is from this part, he is from there.

EI: Yeah, when you come to the United States you are all Kurds not your local tribes because-

ZT: So, they help each other a lot, they do whatever they can do to make their life easier.

EI: Did all the second generation, did they all get their education, college education or something?

ZT: Not all of them, most of them are getting, some of them are still in colleges, some of them are not… what happened right now that is because before us, because it was like other group was here of Kurdish people, some of them came like in (19)92, (19)93-

EI: Just after the uprising.

ZT: After the uprising, so what happened right now the education level was not that high.

EI: For the first generation?

ZT: For the first generation, what happened right now say for example my father even he did not go to school but education on his head is a top priority over everything, not because you want to be educated so I can.

EI: I mean with education I do not mean the knowledge or culture or something but diploma, I mean for example you got your Diploma and you can study in American company, so I mean that-

ZT: No, some of them are getting it right now, a lot of them are still in Broome community college, they got I think, I do not know how many students we have in Broome Community College, we have quite a few people.

JT: Thirty-five students in BCC and couple people in BU.

EI: Okay, great. Thank you so much.

ZT: Oh, no thank you. I appreciate-

EI: If you want to add something and in general.

ZT: I said everything, hopefully they going to be happy with this. [laughs]

EI: Yeah, it is mostly one hour and forty-five minutes.

ZT: Wow, I thought maybe it is going to be twenty minutes. No, it was good.

EI: [laughs] It was a good conversation, thank you so much.

ZT: Like a couple of my friends saying why we are not going to make the whole thing at once, I said listen because if everybody speak-

EI: It is personal story and the will get the common things.

ZT: No, no, no I said it is for your time too, imagine if have like six more people now, an hour for me.

EI: I think I will then be more tired than… [laughs]. Okay, thank you so much.

ZT: Thank you.

JT: -you your best of luck.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

22 February 2013


Erdem Ilter


Zeki Taha

Biographical Text

Zeki was born in the city of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan and fled to the United States in 1996. He holds an associate’s degree in Marketing from SUNY Broome and he currently resides with his wife and three kids in Binghamton, NY.


103:39 minutes



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Binghamton University

Interview Format


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Kurdistan; Duhok; Refugee; Kurdish Culture; Muslim; Kurdish celebrations; Broome Community College; Binghamton


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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 Zeki Taha,” Digital Collections, accessed June 17, 2024,