In Kurdistan, empathy for Jews and Israel

If there is no place for Jews in the Middle East, there is not likely to be a place for Kurds, either. The message is widely understood in Kurdistan, finds Clifford May, writing in the Dedham Transcript. Not mentioned in his piece is that Israel aided Barazani’s fighters against Saddam, and Kurdish smugglers helped Iraqi Jews escape:

Six months after the collapse of Saddam’s regime, the Kurds erected a memorial on the edge of Halabja. It includes haunting photos; those of mothers clutching babies to their breasts as they died in the streets are perhaps the most heart-wrenching. A sign, in fractured English, gets its point across nonetheless: “Live and victory for all nations. Death for all kinds of racism.”

The result of this experience: Kurds see Americans as allies and also have empathy for Israelis and Jews. It makes sense when you think about it: Like Kurds, Jews are an ancient Middle Eastern people. Like Kurds, Jews have been targeted for genocide. Like Kurds, Israelis face an uncertain future among neighbors who range from merely hostile to openly exterminationist.

Students meeting with our delegation express admiration for Israelis’ courage – somewhat to the chagrin of their American professor. A Kurdish driver tells me there are two countries he’d like to visit: America and Israel. Why Israel? Because Israelis, like Kurds, have been persecuted yet have managed to survive, achieve and prosper. “We have no problems with Israel,” explains Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of Kurdistan’s Department of Foreign Relations. “They have not harmed us. We can’t be hating them because Arabs hate them.” He notes that Israel is one of the few democracies in the region and that Kurds, too, are attempting to build durable democratic institutions. Kurdistan, Bakir adds, is sometimes called “the second Israel.”

Jews settled in this area as early as the eighth century B.C. Of course, Jews once lived throughout the broader Middle East, from Morocco to Afghanistan. However, after World War II and the founding of the state of Israel, Arab governments turned on their Jewish minorities. As recently as the 1940s, Jews constituted as much as a third of Baghdad’s population. By the early 1950s, almost all had been expelled. The Iraqi government forced Kurdish Jews into exile as well.

Kurds today appear to grasp this equation: If there is no place for Jews in the Middle East, there is not likely to be a place for Kurds either. The ongoing religious and ethnic cleansing of the “Muslim world” may be the biggest story journalists are not telling, political leaders are not highlighting and human right activists are not protesting.

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  • I agree with you wholeheartedly and support any people fighting for autonomy in the Middle East – but look at the poor leadership we have – they would not say boo to a goose. When Christians are blown up in Baghdad, where was the Pope? He made some mealy-mouthed vague statement about peace. We need to call the enemy by his proper name.

  • My dear freinds Jews, you have suffered in the hands of Germans some seventy years ago. Us Assyrians have suffered in the hands of Kurds, Turks, Arabs, and many more. I do not see any difference between us. But I do not know how can the Kurds be so freinds with Israel just because the Jews from Iraq came from the north. Assyrians and Jews share same history, culture and most important the language of Aramaic. Lets not forget, even us Assyrians can be freinds with Israel just the same as the Kurds are today. So to the Kurds today are just kissing the rear end of anyone who comes to their help. Believe me I would kiss anyones rear end if anyone today came to help us and create our own autonomous area. Everyone is looking for their own benefits. So are we Assyrians. But I tryly believe the Assyrians, Kurds and Israel can dominate the Middle East easily. We have Jews, Christiana and Muslims hand in hand. Let us build that highway that God had promised.

  • Hello ! It is very good if the Kurds support the Nation of Israel and the Jewish people. And well they should also because they are the apple of Gods eye and he said to Abraham , I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee. So we should support them. And God has given us his word , the Holy Bible and the Messiah , the Lord Jesus Christ who died for all our sins and rose from the dead the third day , and went back up to heaven. and Sincerely ; George

  • The Haaretz newspaper carried several years ago a long article on the Assyrians, including the communities now living in the USA, and the injustices and cruelties inflicted on them in recent generations. The current assaults of the last twenty years have also been reported in the US press to some extent. Educated Israelis have no justification for being ignorant about contemporary Assyrian history. We are also aware that the Kurds have mistreated (and much worse) Armenians and other Christian and non-Moslem minorities, and sometimes continue to do so today. And we remember that when Abu Nidal attacked the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Turkey in 1986 killing many worshippers there, it was Kurdish collaborators who provided logistical and material support to the killers.

  • Shlama uses the term in Aramaic:

    שתא דסייפא

    meaning year of the sword as the name for their persecution and expulsion.

    It fits in with the Aramaic that we know.

  • Shlama, since history is a very politically sensitive subject, since the past, or at least the way it is perceived, has the power to shape the future, powerful persons interested in shaping policy deliberately distort the teaching of history. I was generally aware of the massacre of Assyrians during/simulataneous with the Armenian genocide. But pro-Arab, pro-Muslim apologists in the academic world –Edward Said was one of the most of these– deliberately overlook historical episodes that don't fit the narrative.

    We should thank the Assyrian troops who defended the British air base of Habbaniyah against the Iraqi army in 1941. How did Britain reward them?

    Here are some links:

  • One would expect some empathy, but it doesn't seem to be there.

    Shlama, given the strong record of Jewish empathy with the Romani and Armenians, I think what you are observing is ignorance, not indifference.

    In fact, the world in general is ignorant; you need a Werfel to write the "Forty Days of Urmia".

  • The Assyrian commentator is correct that the genocide of the Assyrians is virtually unknown. I knew about it already from Assyrian friends. In fact, I learned about it from an Assyrian woman married to the son of Holocaust survivors!). But most people do not know the story. Today, many people know about the genocide of the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks but do not know the narrative of the Assyrians. I can understand Assyrian anger, just as I understand the anger of Jews from Arab countries whose ethnic cleansing is virtually unknown (or, worse, deliberately ignored by the Western media) vis-a-vis widespread knowledge of the European Holocaust.

  • Of course you are right, Zindiq, it is tragic what is happening to the Assyrians who form a substantial propertion of all refugees from Iraq – and let's not forget the sorry plight of Yazidis and Mandaeans. The media just don't seem to care about minorities.
    You are right that Jews from northern Iraq speak Aramaic – so do Jews from northern Iran.
    Of course all Jews speak Aramaic at some time or other – there are passages recited at Passover in Aramaic, and the Kaddish for the dead is in Aramaic.

  • The ethnic cleansing of Assyrian Christians is still going on in Iraq today, and not just by Arab Sunni and Shia islamic terrorists, but also in northern Iraq. The Kurdish authorities are trying to turn the whole area into a Kurdish one making us into dhimmi minorities. When Saddam bombed the Kurds and gassed them killing thousands, hundreds and hundreds of Assyrian villages were also destroyed at the same time and countless Assyrians killed. People know about Halabja but very little about how destructive the Anfal campaign was to Assyrians as well. By the way, most Jews from northern Iraq speak Aramaic like us, and not only Kurdish

  • Hello Anonymous Assyrian

    We Jews cannot but empathise with the Assyrians, who have so suffered so much (the first people to be massacred in indepdendent Iraq were 600 Assyrians in 1932) and, having been promised their own state after the First World War, were so cruelly let down.

    One should not idealise Kurdish-Jewish relations either, under Ottoman rule, and there are plenty of instances of harsh treatment by Kurds, who are Sunni Muslims, of the dhimmi Jews and Christians in their midst.

    But as non-Arab peoples, Jews, Assyrian Christians, and Kurds, right now we share a common interest in fighting Arab hegemony, and it is in this light that the 'empathy between Kurds and Jews/ Israel' should be seen.

    Given our particular history, Jews should support self-determination or autonomy for all indigenous non-Muslim/ non-Arab peoples in the region, where we were the original inhabitants.

  • Calling Northern Iraq and the region of the Nineweh (Nineveh) plains "Kurdistan" is insulting, offensive and historically wrong to me as an Assyrian Christian from Iraq. My people lived through hundrteds of years pf persecution, massacres and forced deportations form our ancient homeland at the hands of the invading Arab, Turkish AND Kurdish Muslims. My great-grand parents and grandparents experienced the cruelty and barbarism of the Ottoman Turks and their Kurdish subjects firsthand around the same time as the Armenian genocide. Their villages were destoryed, the ppl murdered, women raped, properties looted, even the dead bodies would be searched for gold, jewelery and gold teeth were pulled out from them. Those who didn't died right away were forced to march for days with no food or water and countless Assyrians died on these death marches, in the heat of the day and freezing cold of the night, and havE Kurdish soldiers AND villagers recruited by the Ottomans to attack them. Not many ppl know about the attempted genocide of the Assyrians, where 2/3 of our population was wiped out. You have your Holocaust, which was one of the most tragic episodes in history, and we have our Sheta D'Seyfa or "Year of the Sword". The Kurds gradually came to occupy our lands which were ETHNICALLY CLEANSED of their indigenous ppl, the Assyrian nation and we became a minority in our OWN HOMELAND somehow through magic it somehow became "Kurdistan" !! How do you feel when ppl constantly call Israel, your homeland, "Arab Palestine." One would expect some empathy, but it doesn't seem to be there. Amazing how revisionism can work, don't you think?


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