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Iraq: Kurdish Culture Begins To Flourish In Kurdistan Region

Kurdish writer Ahmad Ghazi (RFE/RL) Iraq's Kurdistan region has achieved a degree of self-rule that Kurds in neighboring states like Turkey and Iran can only dream about. That is making Irbil a magnet for Kurdish writers and intellectuals from around the world. They come here to meet, publish books and, some say, get inspired to press for similar freedoms at home.

Irbil, 10 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- There is an orchestra on the stage playing a traditional Kurdish anthem as writers from the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iran and the Kurdish diaspora meet in Irbil.

The occasion is to award a medal to Kurdish novelist Mehmed Uzun, who currently lives in Sweden.
"The Iranian Kurds are [becoming] more courageous. They come to the streets. There is a big movement among the Kurds for having some federation, some federal system in Iran."

But just as importantly, the event offers the Kurdish intellectuals the chance to enjoy a freedom of national expression unheard of in other parts of the region.

Here and across Kurdish-administered northern Iraq, the government actively supports Kurdish writers by subsidizing the publication of their books. That makes Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region the center of a cultural resurgence that could have significant repercussions in Kurdish areas of neighboring states.

Ahmad Ghazi is a Kurdish writer in Iran. He says Kurds there are closely watching what is happening in Iraq's Kurdistan region.

"What is happening here in Iraqi Kurdistan has a great effect on all sides of our lives in other parts of Kurdish regions -- in Iran, Turkey, Syria, and elsewhere, especially from the point of view of culture," he said. "Really, the Kurdish people in Iran are mostly looking at this side of the world, not at that side. I mean, we are mostly dependent on Iraqi Kurdistan, not on Tehran."

More Books, More Newspapers

Writers say the number of books and newspapers published in Kurdish-administered northern Iraq has burgeoned since the region fell out of Baghdad's direct control in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. The books not only find readers among Kurds in Iraq but also move with travelers across the borders of Turkey, Iran, and Syria.

Now, following the U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraqi Kurds are determined to maintain their current degree of autonomy within a new federal Iraq. That autonomy -- which some here describe as semi-independence -- is marked not only by self-government but also by five state universities teaching in the Kurdish language.

All that is in contrast to the much more tightly controlled situation of Kurds in Turkey and Iran.

Ghazi says the Iraqi Kurds' success is now encouraging Iranian Kurds to press for changes: "The Iranian Kurds are [becoming] more courageous. They come to the streets. There is a big movement among the Kurds for having some federation, some federal system in Iran. The latest news that I can give you is that a front of all the [Iranian] Kurds is coming into being. The parliamentarians, the intellectuals, the poets, the writers are coming together little by little to make a big front."

Hundreds of Iranian Kurdish students demonstrated at the University of Tehran on 4 December, shouting slogans supporting the "right to self-determination for Kurdistan."

Tehran permits Kurdish-language publishing, but cracks down on journals it considers as "upsetting public opinion or spreading separatist ideas."

In Turkey, the use of the Kurdish language in publishing and broadcasting had been banned until recently, when parliament passed constitutional reforms to enhance freedom of expression.

But rights groups such as the PEN American Center say writing in Kurdish or about Kurdish subjects remains a sensitive activity in Turkey and can lead to arrest if the writing is considered separatist.

Ankara battled with the secessionist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the 1980s and 1990s, during which more than 30,000 people died.

Cultural Beacon

Tosine Rashid, a Kurd from Armenia who now lives in Australia, agrees that many Kurdish intellectuals now view the Kurdistan region of Iraq as a new cultural beacon: "Here we get support from the government to publish our books. That's the reason for us that it is much easier to publish here. You know, this center for Kurdish culture is a good example for all Kurdish people to follow -- you know, the political system, the cultural development. They are all a good example for us."

He notes that Kurdish writers in Armenia enjoy the freedom to publish in their language but lack a sufficient audience to distribute their work to. In recent years, he has made repeated trips to publish his work in Irbil instead.

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