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Interview with Zhiman Zebari

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Kurdish Oral History Project
Interview with: Zhiman Zebari
Interviewed by: Aynur de Rouen
Transcriber: Marwan Tawfiq
Date of interview: 25 May 2013
Interview Setting: Interviewee’s home, Endicott, NY

(Start of Interview)

AD: Okay, all right. Zhiman, why do not you just, let us take your full name.

ZZ: Zhiman Ni’ma Zebari.

AD: Okay, so just tell us: Where were you born, and we will go from there.

ZZ: I was born in Duhok Kurdistan in 1985.

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

ZZ: My mom originally had fourteen kids. Two of them passed away. So, I only have twelve now. But I am one of eight girls and we had six brothers but now there is five.

AD: Okay, so the two died. Why have they died?

ZZ: What happened the little girl at the age of one and a half in 1991 she died during the gulf war when the Kurds escaped, when a lot of the Kurds escaped their villages to go the mountains because of the Baath party. Saddam’s Baath party came and invaded the cities, and it was cold and raining and the child did not make it through.

AD: I see. And the other?

ZZ: The other one he was old; he was 28 years old. This was a lot after we had been in America, he wanted to go back to Iraq to be a translator during the 2003-2004 war in Iraq. He was a translator there when him and fellow American colleagues killed during combat.

AD: Oh, wow, so he died in Iraq?

ZZ: He died in Fallouja Iraq. This was 2004.

AD: Oh my God, 2004.

ZZ: He was the oldest sibling.

AD: The oldest one. How unfortunate! So, you were born in Duhok and how long did you live there.

ZZ: I lived there till the age of eleven. But that was in 1996 and then we moved here. After Saddam Hussein found out about the organization that my dad was working with, which was a non-profit organization that was basically trying to renovate the destructed cities in Kurdistan after the gulf war ended. When Saddam Hussein found out about these organizations, he immediately said he is going to eliminate all these people and their families. Somehow the directory got out to him, and we were no longer safe. And since we were part of the non-government organization, we had to escape and go to the western countries which was the United States of America. So, we had to leave our country as a result.

AD: So, is your father still alive?

ZZ: Yes.

AD: He is here?

ZZ: Yes.

AD: So, let me ask you this. You lived in Duhok the whole time, in the city?

ZZ: In the city.

AD: So, you were not like in the outskirts of the city?

ZZ: I mean my parents grew up in outskirts, but I grew up in the Duhok city.

AD: How is your living? Did you have a house? Apartment?

ZZ: We had a house-

AD: A garden and everything?

ZZ: Pretty much, a house with multiple rooms and a little garden we had fruit trees in there. It was not the biggest house, but it was decent for us where we could all live in the same place.

AD: I see. So obviously your mother did not work, taking care of fourteen kids. Right?

ZZ: No, she did not.

AD: So, you guys when to school?

ZZ: We did yeah. When we left, I was still in middle school- elementary/middle school. So, I was very less educated than my other siblings.

AD: I see, so all of your other siblings when you look at them, did they all get education while in Duhok?

ZZ: Absolutely. My parents made sure that no matter what the circumstances were the kids will not leave school and go to work, because it was hard having family, big family when my dad was the only source of income, but they made sure that none of the kids dropout of school to go and work. They made sure that we were stayed in school and did what was important to us.

AD: So, what language did you guys speak.

ZZ: I was learning up I was, the stage that I was in it was all in Arabic and a little bit of Kurdish.

AD: So, your first language was Arabic.

ZZ: Well, I mean I did not know what I was starting the alphabet, I was only in fifth grade. I was starting to pick it up but throughout the years like from first grade we were always taught the names of Arabic like door. But we also we would have taught in Kurdish but it was not allowed, we had to learn it in Arabic too. My sister who is a year and a half younger than me, their class was Kurdish. They were learning in Kurdish. While I was still in the phase of it was mainly taught in Arabic.

AD: I see. So, how about your parents. Do they speak Arabic?

ZZ: My dad speaks Arabic yeah.

AD: Fluent?

ZZ: Very fluent. But my mom does not she only speaks Kurdish.

AD: Because she did not work and-

ZZ: She did not go to school.

AD: Oh, she did not go to school? But how about your father?

ZZ: He dropped out of school like at the six grade I think, he was, he had to take care of family matters. He had to work. I mean circumstances were different for him. He did not have a choice. He either had to quit school or go help his dad out with the other business they had at that time, and school was not an option for him at that time.

AD: So, tell me about Duhok, like what do you remember?

ZZ: I remember stores, I remember schools I remember like a lot of streets with houses. Very little trees very, a lot of destructive areas underserved areas, I remember some garden, some places where people who rented a place they would go and make little gardens, my childhood was basically spent on street playing with rocks, you know very little toys. You know we went wild with our imaginations, like water hoses and stuff like that.

AD: Oh yeah. So, where you lived where there like Arabs, Iraqis?

ZZ: No, there were not.

AD: Just Kurdish people lived?

ZZ: Just Kurdish people lived. I know near by the neighborhood, I know some Kurdish family that were from Iraq regions like Mosul but knew Arabic, preferred Arabic language because they grew up with that language whereas we mainly did not associate with them as much because we could not communicate together. So, I remember having difficulty with these kids, like they were the outsiders, and we were the cool kids.

AD: I see. So, that is interesting because like you did not have to, growing up you did not have any Arab friends.

ZZ: No, not really.

AD: But at school?

ZZ: But at school we were taught in Arabic.

AD: No, the school you went, were there other Arab kids?

ZZ: No, not really.

AD: No? it was just for Kurdish kids?

ZZ: Kurdish kids yeah.

AD: Hmm. So, it is like heavily populated Kurdish population.

ZZ: And mainly Badini Kurds, Behdini.

AD: What is that?

ZZ: There is Sorani, there is Badini-kirmanji, it was mainly Badinis. So, we all know the same dialect of Kurdish.

AD: So, you speak Badini, not kirmanji.

ZZ: Not Kirmanji.

AD: Really? I though you speak in Kirmanji?

ZZ: No, I speak Badini.

AD: Oh, Erdem only knows Kirmanji.

ZZ: That is okay my sister will translate.

AD: Oh my God, I wish then I would interview with your mother. Okay that is alright. We are killing two birds with one stone. I did not know that. Karwan never told me I thought Karwan spoke Kirmanji.

ZZ: He may know words and stuff like that.

AD: Like you know Marwan? Marwan worked with me. So, his first language is not Kirmanji, what is it?

ZZ: Badini?

AD: No.

ZZ: Sorani.

AD: Sorani. And then his wife’s first language is Kirmanji but Snur you know her?

ZZ: I do know Snur.

AD: Yeah, so that is interesting. Oh, I did not know.

ZZ: There are multiple Kurdish dialects, but I know four.

AD: I think Kirmanji is like widely spoken dialect. And I know in Turkey there is like Zazai Kurdish. I think Zazas only live in Turkey. I do not think they live in anywhere else.

ZZ: You know honestly the four major dialects of Kurdish like Sorani, Kirmanji, Zazaki and Badini, they are very similar they have just, it is like you know people in northers US talk differently than people in the south.

AD: It is that much different.

ZZ: It is a lot more different, but it is understandable.

AD: Grammar is the same, like the sentence structure.

ZZ: There are different words, the lettering is pretty much the same. Like the alphabet, but there are different names for different things. But it is not hard to know them all.

AD: But like grammatically, is the same?

ZZ: Pretty much.

AD: I understand maybe you use different word to describe sky than Kirmanji people. That happens in Turkey. Northern people have different words to describe different things, okay I see. So, do you remember any of the like commotions or upheavals? Or poor man tortures going on?

ZZ: I do. I remember there were night we would just hear gunfire in a distant all night, and we would go to the ceiling just to see, the sky would be lit with gunfire and noises and stuff like that, and we would just watch from a distant from our home, and you know there was war there was fighting going on from a distant. When we would hear this constantly, we would here explosions. A lot of time during school time we would the alarm goes off. The whole city was basically on attack mode. We would get under our desks. We would be put into basement, or we would have to be sent home mainly, because the risk of explosions and attacks was very high. That is the commotions that I do remember. I remember many times when we were at home during the night times when you would here the fighting, we would be ready in our coats and stuff and packed and just run away. Any minute now we did not know when we were safe, or we had to run away or when it was a good time? There was a lot of that. I remember a lot of our nights were scary. The nights were very scary.

AD: Did you have to leave your home and go somewhere else because of the danger?

ZZ: Yes. I had relatives in a little nearby village where, village where sometimes a lot safer than the city because a lot of time the attacks were done in cities. So, we had distant relatives in a village we would go sometimes for a month or forty days or something just until we know that the city is clear again to come back or safe again.

AD: Wow. So, and did you experience any like any lose, like a relative, or someone in your family dies over an attack or something?

ZZ: Not my immediate family but I know distant family members there were instances where they would just disappear, and we never know what happened to them. lot of times in our neighborhood someone’s spouse never come back from work or people would just disappear.

AD: Leslie, jump in if you have any questions, okay? So, some other interviews told us like they literally spent a lot of time in mountains. Did you have that too?

ZZ: The one time that I spent a lot of time in mountain was the war of Gulf war in 1990. When we actually left our homes in Early spring and did not come back until later in June where we spent a lot of winter months, actually it was late winter or early spring or summer where we spent a lot of time in mountains, it was raining a lot. It was cold.

AD: So, where did you live in mountains?

ZZ: I am not sure about the area I was only five years old.

AD: No, what do you remember? What was the setting right?

ZZ: There were times, there were like just hills and hills of tents. I do remember walking when we were trying to leave that there were dead bodies all of over the ground, the mud was, because there was so many people walking in the mud, the whole ground it was not like concrete, anything and it became muddy, and people were getting stuck in the mud. And I remember each step took all the effort in you to go to the next step. People where hungry, they were starving, they were thirsty, they were sick. There was cold, they were dead, the cold was wet there was no protection. There was no safety. I do remember people just slumping over and that was it, they were dead, and people were just, some men would just drag them to the side of the road or something. And I do remember this one specific bridge which crossed over a river, and it was very steep like only one or two people at a time that could go on the bridge. And there were lines and lines of people waiting to cross that bridge. It was very scary and I remember being, at a point on this time I got lost from my family and I got stuck in the mud, and I saw one of my distant relatives currently my brother-in-law’s mom, she was screaming behind me, she was stuck in the mud and she just laugh all out screaming and I was a five year old with a backpack on my back and I am trying to help her. That is one of the things that I had a nightmare about a lot. And I do remember just looking around and just seeing masses of people just dead around us. I remember people screaming, crying, my mom like screaming because she thought she lost her kid. I remember her on Kurdish clothes the two lawindis, she had tied her two of her kids with her lawindis and she had a fifteen-day old baby she was holding. She had just my sister Bizhyan. And I remember my dad carrying my grandma on his back because she was crippled. It was just, there was no safety, it was just completely chaos. It was each person on their own, baby or older or young. It was like no one was safe.

AD: So, you were hungry a lot.

ZZ: The thing is my mom and my dad had so many kids, at that time we were all so young I was only five years old at that time, and there was at least four younger ones younger than me, the youngest being fifteen days old. And there were probably six or more older than me, this was probably like fourteen at that time. So my parents had all these young kids plus my grandma who was crippled and every time we caught up to other relatives who had less kids who were more independent, they had already cooked something quick at a rest area, like a little quick area they would stop rest and cook something, by the time we caught up to them, it was already we had to go again. So, we never really had time to stop have our parents cook something for us or change our cloths we were always just keep going just keep going. And I think for like ten or fifteen days we were always just going always just going in the rain and the cold and starving all the time, hungry cold and just tired.

AD: Yeah, so but when you reached the tent area did you guys have any food.

ZZ: That is when the aid came. Basically, I think it was UN, they came, and they dropped, they would drop heavy loads of food and a lot of time people would rush to these to catch them and they were huge, and they would fall on people. They would probably be as big as this room, and they would fall on people and crush them and kill them. It was just so bad. Ye and then people would just fight over these, it was whatever it was that they were providing with us basically, like bags of stuff that you could have, and my uncle, my dad, my uncles other relatives they would go, the men mainly they would go and they would try and bring stuff for us. And that is when my mom and grandma they would cook stuff for us, and we would have a little tent which basically inside the tent was all mud anyways, and we would just be lying and sleeping and sitting in these muddy tents. And I do remember at this time I know one late afternoon it was around the time that the sun would go down, my mom had just placed my one and a half year old sister down for, she was getting close to death, she was dying, she had just laid her down to go to sleep and I was sitting outside the tent my mom left to go and prepare something or get some stuff ready, when she came back to check on my sister that is when she screamed because the baby had died.

AD: Oh, wow! Yeah, that is so sad. You know it is just so hard to imagine. So, this happened during the gulf war?

ZZ: Uh-huh

AD: Did you also, I remember Ridwan and Jotiyar mentioned like camps in Turkey, did you end up going to?

ZZ: No, we did not to camps of tents in Turkey.

AD: Or in Iran like after the war he said some people walked for days-

ZZ: A lot of people went to Turkey; a lot of people went to Iran. I do not know specifically where they went.

AD: So, you did not go there?

ZZ: I think we went to one of the borders in Turkey, but we never crossed over to the actual Turkey.

AD: Like a refugee camp or something?

ZZ: We did end up going there. There is more safety there, there is medical health there, there was, we stayed, I think that was like the best time of that whole year, there was water, there was not as cold and rainy anymore, it was starting to dry, the air was dry. People were starting to gather their families more. I do remember a period like that it is very rare how much I remember about that time, because it was not as horrific as the days before but I do remember some safety there, I know there was water, I remember drinking a cup of water and just realizing the thirst that I had for so long.

AD: Oh yeah. So of course, I am not even asking hygiene.

ZZ: No, there was no such a thing.

AD: There was no hygiene, right?

ZZ: We did have water I remember like vague memories of us playing with a hot water hose and just like watering ourselves down just for fun. I was the only hygiene I can think of.

AD: You can think of, yeah. So, after that, after the Gulf war then you went back to your home in Duhok?

ZZ: Yes.

AD: So, how was life after that?

ZZ: It was, if I have to compare it to a historical even, based on what I have learned about in the history of America, is that the Great Depression of America, the nineties twenties and nineties thirties. People’s homes were all destroyed. There were holes. Like gun holes or bullet holes, there were people’s house were robed. Everything was gone. We were robbed of a livelihood of anything we had. Everything was just gone. There were like, like I just said there were bullet holes in walls and the schools were all in complete chaos the people were just they did not know. They did not know what this meant. there was no food, there was no work, nobody had any money left, it was just nothing and then started to pick up the pieces one day at a time, one step at a time and that is, it took people a long time to find jobs to find money again to find source of livelihood. Ways of feeding the family became impossible. Like people started selling things they had no intention of selling. They would sell their houses so they could their babies. I know my sister’s only fifteen days old which probably would have been a two- or three-month’s old baby now, my parents had to sell everything they had just to provide like a sixteen-ounce bottle powder milk. That like a bottle of powder milk was costing hundred and fifty dollars for them which they did not have. So, each child was, I mean you had to literally, they started… kids starving to death. A lot of people did not make it or mentally, after that.

AD: You lived there a couple of years.

ZZ: Yes, we lived there until 1996 and then we moved.

AD: This is like really said I cannot even imagine it is just really-

ZZ: it is unimaginable.

AD: It is, but like probably after the Gulf War when went back to Duhok. I mean probably you will remember better, so how was like life. Like everyday life? You know like everyday life, you were getting up in the morning, you know get ready for school. Something like that, how was it?

ZZ: It was starting to get like your normal routine life. It was a little people were slowly to pick the pieces. The trauma that they had experienced it made it harder for them to move on. Like I said they was nothing left in the city. There were no resources coming in. If they were, everyone was fighting for this little bit of source.

AD: But was not that, UN was still helping right?

ZZ: It was still helping yes, but it was not enough, people were in that fear of a I must hold it and they will have that time again where my kids are going to starve to death, so there was a lot of hoarding around, and what little you had, sometimes we would go without dinner, we would just starving and they would put us to bed because there was nothing to feed us. You have to cry yourself to sleep.

AD: Oh my God.

ZZ: There were moments like that were we just, your parents looked at you and there is nothing to feed you. And they will put you in bed and like probably tomorrow would be a different story. You know we will have food tomorrow. Or whatever the food that we did eat was so blend there was no taste of them. People got sick of eating the same blend diet.

AD: What you were eating the most?

ZZ: I do not know if you what Savar is, it is like cuscus. Little dark grain, there was a lot of that I remember, there was, people who had flour or could purchase flour they would make bread like home-made bread. There was mainly that and like.

AD: So probably that have some protein-

ZZ: It did, yes it did.

AD: So then bread and that…

ZZ: meats and chicken and others they were just rare. Very little may be once a year like a Eids holiday or something like that. Even then it was like you had to spend most of your family’s fortune to buy a meal like that.

AD: wow, so were you still like celebrating like Eids?

ZZ: Yeah, I do not remember those specific days because they were just like very not as much as fun as they were before, there was more of a, because we were so young.

AD: but it was better before the Gulf War?

ZZ: Yes, absolutely it was. Before we would be doing the Eid, the kids would get candy, they would have nuuql, they would have-

AD: You had that going on before-

ZZ: Yeah, after this, there were no money to buy nuuqles, there were no money to buy candy, we had nothing that we used to have before.

AD: So, the war made things like really worse for you to continue.

ZZ: Absolutely.

AD: Okay. So, after the war did you have more like fighting or things going on?

ZZ: I do remember the adult fighting a lot, arguing a lot.

AD: but not like war, it was not never like a war zone again.

ZZ: No, I mean there were, there were unsafe because the Baath party was still around. People were very scared of who could they trust from now on. It was like, each person to their own at this point on. Each person was just barely hanging on. People became very mistrust; I mean they could not trust each other anymore. Families fell apart. Neighbors fell apart. But, yeah it, people started to move on slowly, but the progress took a long time, I would say at least the first three to four years even up to the point where nineteen ninety six when we left, we were so poor, we were still eating that blend diet, we sometimes may not had dinner. There was just blend and the cuscus, savar.

AD: So how about the people around you? What were they thinking, you know like they wished that war never took place?

ZZ: I do not know about that I was too young to go onto politics at that time. I did not know,

AD: Not politics, like for the conditions,

ZZ: I still do not remember.

AD: What do you think today? Do you think that was better for Kurds?

ZZ: No, that war took everything from them. They had worked so hard and to get where they were and all the sudden it was like the foundation was just taken off underneath them.

AD: Really? Oh wow

AD: Oh, maybe I should ask some question to your mom, but that is okay, alright but we are not done yet, we are still in Kurdistan. Yeah, we have not even made it to United States [laughs]

Someone: Do you want me to get Erdem here?

AD: Uh, Yeah, he can come if he wants. So, but, oh my God, so that is what you think, but today now you have now more freedom in Kurdistan.

ZZ: Today is fine, yeah there is like-

AD: [crosstalk] go through that torment and torture.

ZZ: The whole world did not lead the Kurds to where who they are today. It was fall of Saddam Hussein that led they Kurds to where they are today. It was after he was gone that the Kurds.

AD: After the second Gulf war basically.

ZZ: After the second Gulf war yeah. It was 2003 when the fall of Saddam Hussein that the Kurds finally, the Kurds of Iraq at least that got their freedom back and they got to explore opportunities and become more educated. Food was not a big thing on their mind anymore basically. They basic necessities were not the first priorities anymore.

AD: So, then you told us why you guys you came to United States. So, let us see how things started to change, like where did you arrive?

LC: I have a question for her.

AD: Okay go ahead.

LC: So, the job that your dad had caused you to come to the United States? Did he have that before the first Gulf war?

ZZ: No, he did not.

LC: When he got that job?

ZZ: He got that I think two years, three years after the Gulf war.

LC: What he was doing prior to Gulf war?

ZZ: I do not know. [getting the answer from her mother in Kurdish]. He was a truck driver at some place called Ashghal.

AD: Okay, so he was working as a truck driver and the war happened. So, I am going to ask some. I do not know what you have asked but maybe we can ask your mother about- I know I hate to bring you back to those days.

ZZ: No, it is fine.

AD: Okay. So, could your ask your mother like how she felt about like during the gulf war when you guys went up to mountains or like the border city in Turkey, what was her experience like what she remembers about that?

ZZ: [translating the question to her mother] She says she was telling him.

AD: All right, good. But I am going to ask something that I ask you. How did she think her life before the gulf war?

ZZ: [translating the question to her mother.] She says it was good, life was good we were in the Duhok city. [Speaking Kurdish] She said everything was fine before then till we had to run away.

AD: So, same feelings you had.

ZZ: Pretty much.

AD: Yeah. Okay let us go back to where did you arrive in the United States?

ZZ: We had to stay- after we left Duhok, we had to go to the Turkey border for one night. We were supposed to stay for one night and fly out. However, she was pregnant, she ended up going to labor that night.

AD: Wow. Who was born?

ZZ: My youngest brother who is sixteen years old today. He was born on the border of Turkey in the city of Botan I guess, because we named him Botan.

EI: Botan

ZZ: Jazira u Botan.

Halima Zebari: We named him after the city’s name [in Kurdish]

AD: Shernak.

Halima Zebari: Botan was born in Serbinye. [in Kurdish].

ZZ: Yes, Serbinye I guess.

AD: Serbine?

Halima Zebari: Yes Serbinye. [in Kurdish].

AD: That is the name of the town?

EI: What was the name Xatin [madam]? [asking Halima Zebari in Kurdish.]

Halima Zebari: Botan.

EI: In Serbin?

Halima Zebari: What does he say?

ZZ: Where is Serbiney? Asking her mother in Kurdish.

Halima Zebari: Serbine is the first Jazeera [island- not actual island, just name], after that the Slopey city comes, then the Jazera then Serbine. [in Kurdish]

ZZ: I guess there is Slopey, there is Jazeera Botan and then there is Serbin.

AD: I see. It is like a smaller town probably, but I guess it is closer to Şırnak, everybody knows Şırnak.

ZZ: It is not far from the border between Turkey and Kurdistan.

AD: I see.

ZZ: But that is when what happened. So, then we had to stay another night. Because she was in the hospital.

AD: So, she was in the hospital where were you guys?

ZZ: We stayed in a very muddy campsite with tents that was setup for us.

AD: I see.

ZZ: Like again it felt like we were back in the whole Gulf war. It was muddy. They were just throwing food at us, and this is us trying leave for safety. Anyways, that night left the following day they came picked my family. My mom was in the hospital we had no idea what happened. They just took her. We stayed in this tent overnight. In the morning they came – they usually would come bring buses and take people, take them to the airport. They took us to the city of Turkey where we stayed in a hotel for one more night, so she was safe to go. So, we stayed in Turkey, one more night and then the following day we got in an airplane, and we landed in Guam.

AD: So, you went to Guam first?

ZZ: Yes. We had to be cleared before we could come to the states. They put us in a military base, mainly for whatever did they needed the bases. So, we had to stay there for four months until they could find someone that could sponsor us here in the states. Until they could find residency for us. Until we could get immunizations and clearance and our paperwork is set.

AD: How was Guam?

ZZ: It was amazing, it was a heaven on Earth.

AD: You did not have to starve anymore?

ZZ: So much food that was so much luxury. It was luxury. We were on vacation for four months. But we were all looking forward to going to America. We did not thing Guam was America yet, and then we somehow everything came together we ended up moving to Binghamton here for the guy that sponsored us we ended up moving here.

AD: Just a second, this is such a delicious thing, what is in there? Clover? You have clover in it?

ZZ: No, it is cinnamon.

AD: Oh okay, well I think Uruguay has glover in it, I think so, but it is really good.

ZZ: It is different things mixed together. Yeah, and then we came here and moved on from there.

AD: Okay, so from Guam to where?

ZZ: To here, Binghamton.
AD: Oh, directly to Binghamton. So, you knew some people in Binghamton?

ZZ: We did not know them but the guy that sponsored us knew somebody that we know. It is like my dad knew somebody that knew this guy, and then–

AD: Who is this guy?

ZZ: He does not live here anymore.

AD: But he came here before?

ZZ: They were here five years before us.

AD: How did they come five years before you?

ZZ: They were the ones that went to camps in Turkey after the Gulf war. They stayed in those camps for five years and they were rescued over… were brought over as refugees.

AD: They lived in those camps for five years.

ZZ: Yes.

AD: Where can we find this guy, he might—

ZZ: He lives in Nashville now.

AD: Okay, so that is our next step.

ZZ: But there are still relatives live here, some of his, um-

AD: Really?

ZZ: Yeah.

AD: How can we reach them?

ZZ: You can reach them easily.

AD: Really?

ZZ: Yeah

AD: There you go. I think that will be interesting because they were here five years prior to you, so they may have some-

ZZ: They could tell you a lot more about the camp life because we went back to our homes or back to our cities and they lived in camps.

AD: Yeah, they lived in the camps. So, uh, then you guys came here and where did you live. You did not buy a house.

ZZ: No-no, we were put in apartments in downtown Binghamton around that area.

AD: Okay.

ZZ: The apartments were so bad, there were cockroaches and bugs and stuff all over, like it was the most disgusting apartment ever. We lived in those apartments – because my family were so big, we lived in two apartments: one in the second floor one on the third floor. And you know through the charities and churches they provided us with some beds and furniture and stuff for the kitchen. And we were given some money from the social services and places like that. So, and they were paying for our rent, then after two three months our family it just was not right, we ended up renting a house so we could all stay in there. The house was eventually too small for us, and we were far from a distant from the school that we were attending to, or we were getting ESL lessons because English is our second language. And my dad was driving us, we only had one car for such a big family. It was not working out for us. Eventually we ended up moving to housing complexes in Binghamton, east side of Binghamton where we stayed for 10 years. It was much- and this is where we all learned English, we all went to school, we got education and life was good.

AD: So, your father like how did he get an income? Like you were on government air?

ZZ: The government was giving us; it was helping us a lot.

AD: Then your father started the business?

ZZ: No, he did not. He did not work. You had to either work or take classes, like English classes. He would took English classes because we could not find him a job that was decent, because he did not know the language. After a while, when some of my older siblings got out, they started working. We just took away everything that we were associated with the government, and we became independent on our own. We supported ourselves. But that took a long time.

AD: Obviously, yeah. So, all of you guys went to school here?

ZZ: Yeah, we all went.

AD: And all of you finished college?

ZZ: Alhamdulillah [In Arabic: ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّٰهِ, al-Ḥamdu lillāh, praise be to God]. Yes. I mean right now she is in her second- or third-year college.

AD: Yeah, and she is over?

ZZ: And she is only two to three years when we came here.

AD: Where are you going to school?

Aryan: BU [Binghamton University].

AD: What do you study?

Aryan: I am going to studying English, to be a teacher.

AD: Oh, that is nice. So now one of your sister’s is Ridwan’s wife. I know she is a doctor.

ZZ: She is a radiation therapist.

AD: She is not a medical doctor?

ZZ: No, I have a sister in medical school in Long Island. Dezheen.

AD: Okay, did I meet her?

ZZ: You have never met her.

AD: Was she at the event?

ZZ: No, she has been off for two years. She only came back like one weekend at a time.

AD: Okay. So, I know Karwan is an engineer.

ZZ: Karwan is an engineer he works with KRG. I will tell you from the top to the bottom.

AD: Tell me from the top to the bottom.

ZZ: Ismael was the oldest one. He was the one he got civil engineering from Utica University. He could not find a job when he needed to help my dad with the family. So, he got that translation job over in Fallujah and then he died three –four months later. Next it is Shivan. Shivan has master’s in Software and Engineering from Binghamton University. He works at the BAE locally. He is now the head of the household, because in our culture the oldest son is the head of the household, our father hands it over basically.

AD Okay.

ZZ: So that is Shivan. Older than Shivan is my sister Zhyan, she went to BCC and then she went to Binghamton University for accounting. She could not finish because she got married, she got kid and she is still in the process of finishing, she has several years.

AD: So, she does not live here?

ZZ: She lives in Binghamton just not with us.

AD: Okay, she is not in this house.

ZZ: She is not in this house. She lives separately with her husband. And then it is my sister Berivan. She works at Wilson Hospital as a Histologist. She got her degree from Broome Community College. Then it is my sister, Havrist. She is a Radiation Therapist. She sent to Syracuse University. And she is currently working on her master’s in Management, Medical Management or something.

AD: So, you guys all either in engineering or medical except you. [laughs]

Aryan: Except me [laughs]

ZZ: Then it was Karwan. And he got his degree from university, and he continued here and got his master from Electrical Engineering, and he went to DC. He works with the KRG now. He went to politics. And then it is my brother Hariwan. He lives in Kurdistan currently.

AD: He does?

ZZ: Yes. He got master’s in Architecture from North Carolina, and he is a teaching as a professor in Kurdistan right now. He always liked to live there.

AD: Okay, in Erbil?

ZZ: No, Duhok.

AD: In Duhok, okay.

ZZ: And then it is me. I got my master’s in Nurse Practitioner. I do not have a job yet. And then it is. Dezheen.

AD: I am sure you will.

ZZ: I am sure, I hope so, InshAllah [God willing]. And then it is my sister Dezheen. She is in medical school in Long Island. Then it is my brother Renjbar. He is in Colorado in Pharmacy School.

AD: Oh my God. Good Job. Maşallah [what God has willed]!!

ZZ: Then it is my sister Bizhyan, she just graduated from Broome Community College with her degree in Education. And then it is Aryan, she is doing English at Binghamton University and Stereen and Botan are still in High school. Stereen is going to nursing school at BCC in the Fall.

AD: How about Botan?

ZZ: He is too young. We do not know yet.

AD: The boys go to Engineering.

EI: No-no. Make him political science.

AD: [laughs] Why?

Aryan: Lawyer.

ZZ: My dad does not like lawyers [laughs]
[Speaking Kurdish in the background]

ZZ: He wants to be a Neurosurgeon.

AD: And I want my daughter to be a neurologist.

ZZ: There you go, they could work together.

AD: They can work together. They can pass the call to each other. How is that. He is sixteen, she is ten. So perfect. That will be good. Yeah, so, you and your mother ask her as well do you miss home?

ZZ: [speaking Kurdish] She goes every year.

AD: Oh, she does?

ZZ: She goes every year. We were there last year, last summer she were there for three and a half months.

AD: Her siblings?

ZZ: Yes, she has three siblings there; one sister and two brothers. Her parents are still alive and well. Alhamdulillah.

AD: Her parents are still- Wonderful.

ZZ: It is her brother’s wedding actually this summer and it is Bezhyan’s wedding there as well. So, they are going to go and have the weddings there this summer.

AD: Her brother getting married?

ZZ: Yeah, her brother is my age. Her father only had, his first wife. He has two wives. In his first wife he had my mom and my aunt. And my grandma, her mom told my grandfather, her dad that he should he get remarried and have- because in our culture like having boys in the family to carry on the name is very important. And he only had two daughters. He did not really care, but my mom’s mom said you have to get remarried then have more kid. So, he ended up having- getting married and then he had two boys. This was late on his life. The oldest son is my age and the other…he ended up getting two boys.

AD: I see.

Zh - One is in my age, and one is twenty-five years old.

AD: Wow.

ZZ: And this is his wedding this summer.

AD: Okay, so you kid extended family?

ZZ: Yeah.

AD: That is very typical in Turkey as well, but in the city that is like disappearing but Erdem pretty much right Erdem? Like you have the extended family tradition is still continuing but that is not like really just for Kurdish families same thing for (mumbles) it is like rural setting it is still the same way and in some cases some people still continue in the cities and same thing like the male figure.

ZZ: The patriarchy.

AD: Yeah, exactly, exactly. Uh, so, here you guys you still continuing with the Kurdish tradition.

ZZ: Absolutely, yes. Actually, we have basically.

AD: So, like—

ZZ: you have something in your hand that is culture right now.

AD: Well, that is same thing in my culture, that is how we drink tea. Like when I go to visit him, he has to give me the tea in his glass he is like do you have to have a mug. I am like no. I do not want to have a mug. That is the way you drink the tea. So still cooking everything?

ZZ: Everything is Kurdish. I mean there is some, you know different stuff added on but there is still daily Kurdish rice and soups and meats and stuff like that which our basic foundation or daily intake and stuff.

AD: Yeah, like when you get up in the morning you still have the Kurdish breakfast.

ZZ: Absolutely, yogurts. [crosstalk]

AD: because this is not just… yeah. How is the breakfast?

ZZ: Breakfast is mainly consisting of yogurt, home-made yogurt, Tahini which like made from sesame seeds-

AD: I know, I put molasses in it.

ZZ: Absolutely, molasses and like baked potatoes broccolis and stuff like that just different varieties. The yogurts the tahini and the molasses these are the top three.

AD: Are the main things-

ZZ: And there is home-made bread.

AD: Homemade bread!

ZZ: homemade is always like the main thing.

AD: So, you do not have any cheese?

ZZ: Yeah, cheese too. Which is not big on, my family is not big on cheese.

50: 20
AD: But it is part of the breakfast?

ZZ: It is part of breakfast.

AD: Okay, so then you celebrate the Eid, so those are the main—

ZZ: Yes, there is two holidays: the two Eids, one after Ramadhan and the one. The Haj Eid which is like two and a half months later. But yeah, those are the two big holidays. And we do have like basically traditional ways, we all gowned up in our Kurdish dresses.

AD: Which one is that? [mumbles]

ZZ: We dressed up in our gowns true cultural gowns we go to the mosque for the Morning Prayer, we come home, people visit us we visit other people. Kids get money and gifts and candies and stuff like that.

AD: And you have festivity.

ZZ: And then we have a big family dinner or lunch.

AD: Okay, so how about Newroz?

ZZ: Yeah! Luckily, we have not had Newroz for a long time. Recently just because they way that the families around here sometime have difficulty communicating, getting together for things like that but with the help of AKC we are starting to bring back things that would have neglected for a long time. Last year was the first time we like in 10 or 11 years that had some sort of Newroz. This year I mean.

AD: I see. So, what is it? Can you describe it?

ZZ: Newroz?

AD: I mean can you describe-

ZZ: It is like a metaphorical story. It is like a metaphorical Kurdish story where there is a city being oppressed by this major king and he has this disease were the only way to cure it is he has to take the blood of young men and supposedly their blood cures his problem or at least on a daily basis. And supposedly this king kills Kurdish young men on a daily basis and this guy named Kawa decided that instead of providing this king and his servant with two male head or two young male he is going to give one male and then one sheep in replace. And the each day he was going to take this young man and put him, hide him away and then eventually he says like the community of these young men grew up strong and he trained them and they become fighters and then they rebel against this king and they killed the king and when they won they lit a fire at the top of the king’s castle to let the people know that their freedom has started. This is like a metaphorical Kurdish story just to help the Kurds know that they will come out strong one day that they can fight this oppressive king. It is like because of the history we had it always gave us the hope that this day Newroz, March 21st is the day that we celebrate our freedom.

AD: Does it also represent the change of season?

ZZ: It does, it represents change of season; basically, initially is the beginning of the New Year. Pretty much.

AD: Yeah. So, you celebrate. I know like outside you build a fire to represent-

ZZ: Yeah, fire is one of the main attributes to this event because like I said when this guy Kawa when he killed the king he lit the fire, he lit a torch to let the people know of the city it has ended, oppression has ended. So, the fire for us is still, to this day we still light fires and we light torches in celebration that day like this fire represents freedom from that oppressive king.

AD: I see, I see. So, there is that. At home what do you do?

ZZ: Not much really.

AD: No?

ZZ: No, not much. People in Kurdistan they go all cultural, they gowned up, they go to picnic, they go to outside with their families, but here is winter, we are not going to do it here.

AD: Yeah, like what picnic? Double pneumonia? [laughter]

ZZ: But anyway, back home it is full bloom spring at that time. All families get together, they go and picnic. They have dancing parties; I mean it is like the full shebang.

AD: Oh yeah. so, but also weddings are big part two. Right? Big celebrations?

ZZ: Absolutely.

AD: So, when are you getting married?

ZZ: I do not know yet, InshAllah soon.

AD: So, we will come to your wedding.

ZZ: You can actually come to Karwan’s wedding it is on July 4th and 5th. It will be here locally.

AD: Oh my God, he even did not tell me.

ZZ: He just got the invitations I do not think anybody got them.

AD: I will get on his case. So, he is getting … well we are going to weddings. I go to... No, this summer July 5th, my mother- my sister is married to a Kurdish, Turkish-Kurdish, whatever But the whole thing moved to Germany like, they are not really continuing with a lot of things, but for weddings and stuff then you see.

ZZ: Even with us too, at home I think my family and a couple of families here wear more Kurdish traditional at home than some the other Kurdish here. They are more prone to more westernized-

AD: Well, I mean cooking and stuff you see it but like here when I come here, I feel more you know like traditional than when I visit his families, his relatives, but the weddings is like Zurna, it is the same way in Kurdish. Am I right?

ZZ: Yeah, pretty much.

AD: And then the drum and the whole dance and thing. So, they had this henna night.

ZZ: Yeah, we are going to dance on July forth is the henna night, and July fifth is the wedding.

AD: In German community like the Kurds living in German, the way they do it is like usually I think in Turkey the way they do it like women celebrate by themselves, then crowed In Germany it is like a mini wedding. So, the henna night was like three hundred people, I am not kidding you, and on the wedding was one thousand people that big. And so, when we entered the henna night the music started, my daughter started dancing and then the music stopped she sat down. Same thing, she loves dancing [laughs], and then everybody was oh God she is just little Kurdish girl – no hesitation, she just dancing and separate people.

Aryan: You are going to do that for my brother’s wedding.

ZZ: We are going to have a similar wedding here. On July 4th, the night-

AD: Okay, mark the calendar.

ZZ: July 4th is the henna night. It is going to be in the Days Inn, and it is one of the big houses. There is going to be dancing [crosstalk] And then on July 5th, wedding day also the same thing. [crosstalk]

AD: Then, we will do your wedding. Speaking of that, because I asked this question to Nirgiz, I will ask you the same question. Will you marry someone other than Kurdish?

ZZ: Personally no.

AD: No?

ZZ: I am like I am who I am. I do not want to ever give up who I am. I think my history and my roots are still engraved in me, I will never, I mean fate, God will lead you to whatever He want, If I have to personally choose I would much rather with someone understandable, like have the same root, that has the same thing as me. I am not saying that the other people would not understand, but I would much rather culturally I would rather be with someone that I can relate.

AD: Would you think, with you go with someone, let us say someone from Turkey, Kurdish.

ZZ: Yeah.

AD: But not-

ZZ: That is fine, yeah.

AD: As long as ethnicity is Kurdish-

ZZ: As long as they are Muslim, they are like Kurdish, but going outside my culture is not really what I want.

AD: But what if they are not Kurdish but they are Muslim and they accept you the way you are?

ZZ: I have had a lot of Pakistani Muslims at the hospital and other like Iraqi and Arab that are doctors. I am just, I cannot get that communication with them.

AD: But it is going to kind of hard to find your Kurdish doctor.

ZZ: No, it is not bad there is a lot of Kurdish out there

AD: Okay, so may be when we do oral history in Nashville and New York city I will keep my eyes on.

ZZ: I did not even make you a match maker now.

AD: We will make the recommendation-


ZZ: Thank you.

AD: Yeah, because here I think your family and Nirgiz’s family are like, Nirgiz is also well educated like her sisters as well, so big families. Yeah. So let me see what else. You do not know so much to talk about?

ZZ: I ask my questions a lot, my parents, they do remind us, like I cannot neglect my history

AD: but it is like what you remember is really bitter memories, trauma you know.

ZZ: because as a young child that is why you remember like the traumatic experiences where there really happy moments. You do not remember the day left in between.

AD: you only remember like is bitter memories – trauma.

ZZ: And that was mainly daily living for was a lot of traumas, it was a lot of crazy stuff going on.

1:01: 40
AD: But do you remember any like visit, like extended family and stuff over there?

ZZ: Yeah, there has always been a thing like extended families are always coming, they always visit if there is a sickness in the family or death in the family, an event in the family, a wedding or anything like that that was always visitation.

AD: I see. So, how about like here. I see here your mother’s family is still over there.

ZZ: I am not sure what you are asking?

AD: Here, do you have other relatives, other than your immediate?

ZZ: No, I do not.

AD: So, all your aunts, uncles

ZZ: All are back home.

AD: And do you go visit?

ZZ: I went ones. I went last year.

AD: Just ones?

ZZ: Just once.

AD: And what did you think?

ZZ: I did not like it.

AD: You did not?

ZZ: the climate was different for me. The people’s mindsets were different for me. I liked some of them, but it was stressful time for me because I was planning my brother’s wedding. It was a lot of like I was crying for time, I had to leave my job it was a very stressful time getting the time, the whole package the whole time together was tough on me, the experience was not as peasant as I was wanted to be. After the wedding was over, it was a little more pleasant because then I can relax a little bit but up to the end and as soon as the wedding was over, I basically had to leave.

AD: I see.

ZZ: So, Like the whole planning, organizing and stuff like that I was just like my time was spent on organizing stuff, and I had just left a very stressful semester, I was like one thing after another. So, I mean if I had to rate the country based on resorts and travel and stuff like that, I think it was very nice. I loved it. I loved the time that we took to just go explore the villages and like the Erbil city.

AD: How did the city look like? Better than-

ZZ: Oh my God, everywhere there was construction, there was like houses and buildings popping up everywhere.

AD: Do you see still like effect of war? Like the areas

ZZ: Not so much, because every other house is under construction, and if it is not renovating the house because the house in the middle of already fixed. So everywhere is renovated everywhere is different. You will not find a place that worthwhile.

AD: I see.

ZZ: Because there is, the city has expanded so much, the people have you know taken care of it. There is still into plant trees, there is businesses there is schools, there is new schools, there is, everything is renovated now. If not done, it is halfway there. It is all different now.

AD: Okay, well I think Zhiman that is pretty much wrapped up. I am just going to turn this off.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

25 May 2013


Aynur de Rouen


Zhiman Zebari

Biographical Text

Zhiman was born and raised in the city of Duhok along with 13 of her siblings. Unfortunately, her family lost two children, one during the 1991 Gulf War and another during the 2003 Iraqi war. At the age of 11, Zhiman fled Iraqi Kurdistan for the United States with her family. She currently resides in Syracuse, NY with her family and holds a master's degree in Nursing.


65:31 minutes



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Binghamton University

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Kurdistan; Gulf War; Turkey; Guam; Refugee; Kurdish Culture; Muslim; Kurdish celebrations;


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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 Zhiman Zebari,” Digital Collections, accessed May 28, 2024,