Kurds- Missing Our Boat on the Mountain… Again
The Kurds, or at least a subset of them, have been playing a pivotal role in world affairs and receiving unprecedented coverage (from June through December, the LATimes had 34 Kurdish related articles, briefs, editorial, or letters). Not since Salah ed-Din, the Crusaders’ Saladin, himself a Kurd, has there been such a Kurdish presence on the world stage. Most importantly, they are building, for the first time in human history, a viable Kurdish state in what is legalistically known as “Northern Iraq.”
With lots of perseverance and some luck, part of Kurdistan is now actually carrying that name. Of course this makes the neighbors uneasy. Primarily Turkey, then Iran and Syria, in decreasing order of Kurkish population, worry that their “citizens” will want to achieve the same status, or better, a unified Kurdistan.
Add to this the U.S. machinations and activities in the region and you have a very interesting situation. The Kurds within the borders of “Iraq” are not only sitting atop vast oil reserves, they’re also the U.S. darlings. Theirs is the only somewhat stable part of the country Shrub’s invasion has pushed into civil war. They even have glimmers of democratic functioning. Clearly, the U.S. doesn’t want to ruin this.
On the other hand, Barzani– head of the Kurdish Regional Government and Talabani– Iraq’s president have lots of experience with the U.S. and Iran. They are the leaders of the two main Iraqi Kurdish parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, respectively. Remember that in 1975, the Kurds of Iraq were being supported by the U.S., quietly Israel, and Iran– the immediate supplier– in their uprising against Saddam. They were dumped, if memory serves me on the details, after the Shah extracted from Iraq certain border concessions. The elder Barzani, now deceased, was at the head of that effort. The Kurds have not forgotten this lesson. It just re-enforced the verity of their adage “The Kurds have no friends.”
In his own right, Saddam armed used the Kurds in Iran for his ends. In the immediate aftermath of Iran’s revolution, its Kurdish areas became the scene of much fighting, largely unreported in the Western media, as the Islamic forces consolidated their hold over the country.
More recently, the Kurds in Iraq have also had to find a modus-vivendi with the worst enemy the Kurds ANYWHERE have EVER had. That would be Turkey, the butcher of 1.5 million Kurds in the 1920s and 1930s and the displacer of hundreds of thousands more from Kurdish villages for dam projects and to “root out terrorists.” Since the U.S.’ first Iraq incursion in 1991 and the Kurds’ subsequent effective autonomy, most of the area’s trade has been with and through Turkey. Simultaneously, the PKK– Partia Karkaran-e Kurdistan or Kurdish Workers Party, Turkey’s nemesis, has operated from and established bases in the mountain redoubts of the area, especially after Syria was threatened and pressured by Turkey to expel the PKK from its territory. Iraqi Kurdish forces have even fought the PKK to keep Turkey at bay. But they have become increasingly reluctant to do so. This position has been bolstered by the role they played supporting U.S. efforts in Iraq as a means to the end of their own liberation while, in contrast, Turkey denied U.S. access in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.
Now it’s a balancing act. Have no doubt that in their heart-of-hearts, Iraqi Kurdish leaders have no desire to quell the PKK’s efforts, nor those of their brethren in Iran and Syria. But, they will not sacrifice the very real possibility of a real Kurdish state emerging for the first time ever (I discount as unviable the short-lived, Soviet sponsored statelet within Iran’s borders that had a barely yearlong life span in the aftermath of WWII). This possibility in turn serves to inspire all Kurds. To me, through their positions, Talabani and Barzani seem to be playing a good-cop/bad-cop game with the Americans and Turks regarding the PKK. All this coupled with the extensive voter support Turkey’s current majority parliamentary party give Kurdish freedom fighters wiggle room.
Here’s where we come. At various points in history, mostly over the course of the last century-and-a-quarter, there have been efforts on our part to work with and/or organize the Kurds. While our primary focus has been the Kurds under Turkish occupation, given the recent evolution in Kurdish reality, that distinction may be starting to lose its relevance. As time passes and Kurdish statehood is consolidated in the south, other Kurdish areas will naturally gravitate to that model. Remember that part of those areas includes much of Turkish Occupied Western Armenia.
Clearly there is a nexus of interests between Armenia’s and Kurds. We still have more of an organized Diasporan presence and formal international status that they lack, i.e. the Republic of Armenia. They are also our potentially most friendly neighbors, along with Iran. Past infighting among different Kurdish factions and tribes (not just the rivalries caused by the current international borders that divide the Kurdish nation) has rendered cooperation with them more challenging. Though I’ve always felt this was more of an opportunity– we could have been the broker that mediated among the factions– than an obstacle, our policies have not been oriented in this way. I hope the existing and emerging think tanks of Armenian foreign policy are addressing the Kurdish factor more extensively and with an eye to cooperation. I can only hope for the day when various Turkish writers’ hallucinatory accusations of Armenia’supporting Kurdish rebels become a reality.
Kurds live on our lands. We have been neighbors since the time of the Medes from whom the Kurds are said to be descended. As I’ve written before, huge numbers of Kurds are descendants of forcibly Islamicized Armenia’s. The Kurds, as we, are progressing along an indefinable, unpredictable trajectory of statehood. They do and will own vast petroleum reserves, which, even after humans stop foolishly burning fossil fuels for power, will continue to have value for the materials that can be made from oil.
Everything mitigates in the direction of our increased interaction with the Kurds. We must get over our hang-ups from the days of the Genocide when Kurdish tribes were indeed used by the Turkish government to help eradicate us. Many Kurds are not only cognizant of the error of those actions, but also apologize for it. Both state-level (Armenia) and other (Diasporan, organizational, and especially college-campus-level) contacts between our two historically oppressed nations must be cultivated. Get to it. Do your share. Advocate this kind of policy to your favored Armenian political entity. And, start it all off with a lunch, tea, or coffee with a new-found Kurdish friend, you’ll see how surprisingly comfortable it feels.
Life, Profit, Death
Once again, through an individual Armenians tragedy we’re confronted with the reality of how integrated we are with the systems of our host countries. The absurdity of the self-imposed shroud of isolation behind which many in the Diaspora, especially the Americas and Europe, choose to live is lain bare.
Of course the example is Nataline Sarkissian’s death. Many community members had given of themselves, literally, I among them, having given platelets. There’s something haunting about that. I still feel a chill when I remember giving blood in Artzakh for one of our military in 1993, only to have him die minutes later. This stark connection might serve to rouse to healthcare-reform-action all those among us who are so linked.
Meanwhile, I should point out that this is not the first time one of our families was impacted by a virtually criminal HMO. Less than four years ago, Kaiser settled a case after being doggedly pursued by a cancer victim’s son who became a lawyer to pursue the deceased’s case. I can only hope that attorney Mark Geragos is more successful in litigating this travesty than he’s been in some of his other recent high-profile cases. Maybe he’ll consult with the young attorney I referenced. Here’s wishing the Sarkissians manage to ream Cigna a new one;
But more important is our community getting properly motivated by this tragedy to add its voice to the rising chorus demanding a better system of health provision. Even the presidential candidates are addressing this issue. Remember Michael Moore’s film, SiCKO. If you haven’t seen it, rent it. We can’t afford to have our energies, our very lives, sapped by the money grubbing monsters that are the health insurance companies and HMOs.
I understood insurance to mean that when something goes wrong, I am protected. But, this can’t happen if the money we put in goes to overpay executives and keep greedy stock market speculators happy. I thought the “M” in HMO stood for maintenance and maintenance means “keeping at the same level,” in this case, keeping people hale and hearty. But again, when money grubbing is a factor, it’s not rational to expect human, decent treatment. It compromises the whole medical profession. It creates the incentive, very rational, to allow patients to die off by playing around the margins of qualification for high-tech, cutting-edge, hence expensive, medical procedures. The example I cited above revolved about a requirement that a certain test yield a 55% result; the patient had 53%; other medical institutions required only 50%.
You see? As long as the private sector and profit motive are the leading funders of healthcare, it’s insane to expect anything different. They’re in it for the money, not altruism. The much-maligned Medicare system is actually more efficient than the private sector. It should be obvious why. No one is skimming money off the top. It’s just the administrative costs (present in the non-government sector too), not the bloated CEO pay, legal wrangling costs, and public relations that private entities engage in. We all pay for that.
I wish someone would explain to me how we expect good care when there are so many obstacles to it. The rest of the modern world has discovered this reality and has government provided health-care, or a “single payer” system as the jargon goes. And in the U.S. there are constant efforts at “reform,” all ultimately fruitless because they run up against the hard wall of the logic and imperatives of making money.
I don’t want my life and fate in the calculating hands of a profit monger who decides the company’s better off with me dead. What do you want? Call your legislators and let them know.
Cooped, Clubbed, Centered
Whether it was something more fit for chickens our meetings were cooped up in long ago; or whether the meeting place was named a political club– agoomp; or if it’s the more recent incarnation of an Armenian center, a gathering place has been a crucial component of Diasporan organization. Sometimes the church was the first structure built, though this is an inefficient approach since the sanctuary is inappropriate for other uses whereas four walls can house a once-a-week church service.
The newest such site will be located adjacent to Glendale’s Soorp Asdvadzadzeen (St. Mary’s) Church. Called a youth center, this place is long overdue. You may in fact have been surprised that of all places, Glendale, our ghetto-of-ghettos lacked such a facility when you read the news of its groundbreaking ceremony. But it is one of our community’s grand ironies. But Glendale is not alone. The San Fernando Valley community has long sought to create such a venue, but has yet to succeed, instead using the Ferrahian school’s facilities as a stopgap. Burbank is in the same boat. It seems the larger, denser, and probably most importantly NEWER communities are having a lot of trouble building-buying-renting-creating such facilities.
Certainly, more specialized facilities, for Homenetmen, or our schools, exist. They often do double duty; gyms become banquet halls and classrooms, meeting rooms. But a focus for the community remains lacking. This is true of other circles as much as those in the ARF’s orbit.
Many, harking back to their childhoods, tout the idea of having a hole-in-the-wall with a pinball machine-cum-video game with someplace to shoot hoops. This is probably pass? and at least insufficient to the task of serving as enough of a draw to become a hangout for young Armenia’s. After school programs and anything else that is available elsewhere must be a part of the offerings of our new centers. It is no longer the case that just having a place is better than the dearth of things to do that surrounded humans up until three or four decades ago. Now, there are intense and very alluring attractions, beside which what we as a community offer pales.
So what are we to do? Most of it is so obvious, it’s trite to recite. But, getting the next generation involved in these places is fundamental to the task. Whether 13-year-olds are dragged in for planning meetings or college students’ desires and needs are made to trump those of the 59-year-old-dad-fleeing-the-wife-and-kids-to-hang-with-his-cohort-over-coffee-and-backgammon, it’s crucial to integrate the younger class through involvement and providing what they need and crave. If someone is hooked, they’ll feel a bond for life, in the same way that those yearning for the old-time holes-in-wall feel nostalgia. The New York Armenian Center still tugs at my heart, almost a quarter century later. I helped clean up the phone company’s rotting directories that were dumped in our parking lot. The work was done partially in the dark while in fear of putting our hands in front of some rat’s teeth. Then we hauled some incredibly heavy steel gates that hand fallen and were useless. Then put up a chain link fence. It was fun. I’m still hooked. Whatever it is that creates this kind of connection, we’ve got to encourage.
Let’s create more gathering places, and perhaps, intentionally, change, move or rebuild them once a generation as another way of keeping our progeny linked to our community and cause.