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Voice of Kurdish-American Radio for Democracy, Peace and Freedom
Dr. Kajal Rahmani; VOKRadio interview چاپ ارسال به دوست
VOKRadio, Los Angeles, California, USA   

Dr. Kajal Rahmani; VOKRadio interview

Interviews with Kurdish Writers Series

 

kajal_rahmani_032018.jpg
March 9, 2018
Exclusive; VOKRadio, Los Angeles

In observance and honor of International Women's Day/Month, Voice of Kurdish American Radio for Democracy, Peace, and Freedom, from the U.S, in collaboration with the organization World Women for Life (WWFL), conducted interviews with women identified writers from Kurdish decent. In this series, we learn about the lives and work of these talented writers, as they share with us the inspiration behind their work and contribute their insightful wisdom on working as Kurdish writers in today's world. In these interviews, we learn about the writer's backgrounds, interests, their role models, motivations, the role of mother tongue and relationship to other languages, as well as their take on feminism in their writing, experiences of gender-based discrimination, and misogyny.

These writers work in diverse fields and span different genres of writing. Some are accomplished authors of novels, while others work in journalism, poetry, and non-fiction.

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Please introduce yourself the way you would like to be introduced to our audience but with a specific focus on your interests in writing.

My name is Kajal, born and grew up in Roj-halat Kurdistan Province. I began my early education in primary and high school in my hometown. There was no college in town so, I married and moved out of Kurdistan. I continued my education in Ahwaz at the time when I had two small children. Later, I continued my education in the US and received my Ph.D. in 1986.

I am a social-cultural anthropologist with the specialty in Mesopotamia including Kurdistan. I have been teacher and lecturer at the US-colleges and universities for most of my life. The last decade I have been with Anthropology Department at Boston University and Harvard University as faculty --a senior research fellow at Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, and now I am retired. I am a mother, a grandmother of five and live in Boston.

Also, I am director of Kurdistan Justice and peace Academy established in 1998. The KJPA/I mission is to provide modern education to Kurdistan. Since 2012 KJPA has helped with health and welfare of Kurdish refugees from Syria. KJPA has organized campaigns for US-based humanitarian groups to come to Kurdistan Bashour. Among the charity groups -the LDS Charity has helped with education -offering free courses in English, Economy, marketing, training physicians for laser surgery at Duhok Hospital and they have contributed to building a chicken farm for Ezdis in Sinjar etc. Overall, they have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars of medicine, clothing, and other life necessities to refugees in various projects in camps in Duhok, Sinjar, and Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.

Our Mottos at KJPA are;

No Kurds should be left without education.
Education in mother tongue is a Human Right.
Peace cannot be accomplished without Justice.
Justice cannot be accomplished in Kurdistan without freedom and self-determination
Freedom and pursuit of happiness is a human right

Furthermore, I am activist and a lecturer and have delivered many conscious raising talks to publicize the Kurdish cause. I have traveled to Kurdistan on several occasions since 2005. My purpose was just to reorient myself to my identity. Professionally, I have found all parts of Kurdistan very fascinating and as one of my colleagues at Harvard anthropology department said, "Kurdistan is a gold mine for archaeological research." So, I fell in love with my motherland. I continue to work on a few projects to this day.

Please introduce your book/books or any published work that you may have. What are they about, whose voices do you center in your work? Who are the heroes of your books, and how do these related to your personal life?

My book chronicles my life as a woman from Kurdistan province of Iran who grew up in a Sunni community. In this journey, I was caught up in controversies involving Sunni vs. Shiite, Kurds, and non- Kurds. My primary focus is on gender, ethnicity, religion, education, and politics in Kurdistan and how they shaped my identity.

Although my life has not been as painful as the lives of millions of my fellow Kurds, I believe it gives insight into the life of a Kurd in a multi-state nation within a third- world colonial framework. I have discussed the interrelationship of the above factors and their implications in the day-to-day life of Kurdish people. I have included my experience from my trips to Kurdistan and I could say my book is an

Ethnography of Kurds-it is "A Journey to Identity as a Kurd". It covers all aspects of life -social, cultural and psychology and women in Kurdistan. It is an authentic research on Kurds and their Identity.

Regarding books and articles, I believe evaluating Kurdish women based on their writing women is not the right approach and it does not apply to me. On women's day or month, rather you should look for women's accomplishments throughout their life not just their writing. I have seen great women who have served their people the best but, have written any books. You do not see many books published by accomplished women leaders.


Also, I believe I am not a writer based on standard understanding. I am a scholar, and, in my profession, we must go through months and years of fieldwork and experience to be able to write and publish. I have written and published many articles both as an academician and as a Kurd. Among them are few that are related to Kurds-- Kurdish question and their rights to independence, 2oo5, and a demographic study of Kurds in Iran and Turkey, published 2011.

kajal_rahmani_leyla_zana.jpgWho are your role models? Who motivated you? Who has supported you while you were writing and continue to write your book(s)?

Through my life and travels in Kurdistan, I have met many great women, who have proven they are strong, sincere, determined and as capable as any of their peers, male or female. But, the most honorable moment in my life was the day I met the legendary Leyla Zana, I choked and cried -I was baffled how this docile, beautiful woman coming from a small village was so strong, and so bravely stood up against the Turkish authorities. I could not even imagine how this delicate, fragile woman had survived the tortures and prison for so long. She sacrificed more than a decade of her life just to claim her national identity. During her years in prison, Leyla gained respect and admiration from prominent people around the globe. To me, Leyla is an Iconic representative of perseverance, dignity, honor integrity for Kurds. Sadly, we have not paid her the respect and admiration she deserves.

And who motivated me? Maxim Gorky the noted Russian writer once remarked that he was a graduate of the People's University. I, too have learned more about Kurds, women, and their oppressors from my people than any school or book. I have learned from the uneducated mothers who try to cope with all calamities that have happened to Kurds every day. From the very beginning of my life, my mother-- a woman with no education taught me more than any school of isms. She was aware of the importance of education. And her motto was "Qalame lash xenjare tezh tera " "A pen is mightier than a sword". My mother was keen to see her children educated--a privilege she never had.

Her married life had started at the time she was barely thirteen, deprived of basic education -there was no school around in her town even schooling and education was not priority for women those days, forced to work under mother in-law's harsh discipline, lost her husband when she was in the late thirties and raising seven children as a single mother. Although she became the breadwinner for the family by hard-working, Sharia law did not allow her to have access to her deceased husband's wealth. So, at a very young age, I learned that my mother and millions of women like my mother are the victims of a tradition that encourages bride- child marriage, a Sharia law that is gender biased -and a chauvinistic policy that makes Kurds a second-class citizen.

As you see, we do not have to wait until we grow up and find a role model. We learn Justice from injustice in society. And we do not have to go around the world to find a hero. The role model evolves from within our society. Sadly, this is what most Kurds do -they look outside to find a hero to worship while they ignore their own. It is like the Centrifugal force in physics, which moves you away from the center of attention. The idea that our idols come from outside stems from the low self-esteem complex that is the result of a long term forced assimilation to our occupiers' culture.

kajal_rahmani_in_kurdish_dress.jpgHow familiar are you with your mother tongue? How has this helped and/or hindered your ability to express your thoughts?

 

I believe talking about my experience of the first day of school can explain my love for my mother's tongue. The day that I became aware of my identity as an "other." The first day of school was my first experience in learning about my identity as a Kurd. The school was challenging for me because I did not have the luxury of tiny classes with individual attention. More than fifty students, ranging in age from four to thirteen, shared a small room. I was shocked to find everything taught in Farsi. Nothing was discussed and used based on what I had learned at home, so my mother's language was not relevant at school. If that were not enough, the teachers were foul-mouthed, racist, and truly frightening. As I grew up and looked back at my primary school teachers, I realized that their behavior represented a typically condescending attitude towards Kurds. Our teachers were arrogant and hurled insults at us such as Kurde vahshi, "savage Kurds." They wanted us to appreciate the fact that non-Kurds had sacrificed their lives to teach 'Savage Kurds'. The first day when I returned home I asked my mother "Why are we Kurd?", and "Can we become Fars?" My poor mother cried.

Since my childhood, I began questioning why we were not allowed to speak my mother tongue and determined to learn. So, I resisted assimilation and determined to be a Kurd and speak Kurdish. And even more, I strived to excel academically and professionally just to prove that I am not lesser than others
Speaking the Kurdish language has helped me to be able to talk to forty million Kurds -from the nomads to Kurdish refugees from Syria. Knowing the language has helped me learn authentic Kurdish societies' history, culture-poetry, music and their psychology of life. I love it and enjoy it very much. To use a quote from Ayshe Shan a famous Kurdish singer from Bakour, "Zmane Kurdi Shirin u Khoshah ", "Zmane Kurdi habue maye".

Here is a story of one of my visits to Syrian Refugee camp in Dumiz. It explains how knowing Kurdish language has helped me to learn my identity.


In December 2012, I went to Dumiz camp in Duhok to distribute water filters, I visited several tents. When I entered the first tent, I expected hearing moaning and crying. Instead, I was mesmerized by the resiliency of these refugees, especially the women. The tent was a living space to seven people, and all rooms--bedrooms, the family room, and kitchen--had morphed into one. The tent was clean and organized-there were even photos of their loved one on the wall. The lady of the house dressed impeccably clean, and above all, she wore a beautiful smile. She was full of hope and had high spirits. When I spoke to her in Kurdish she was elated. She kept asking me to stay and have a cup of tea, as all Kurds do when they have a guest. I was quite amazed; here we were two women, one from the very eastern part of Kurdish land and the other was from the very western part, more than nine hundred kilometers apart. Despite the two political boundaries and three artificial countries between us, we could communicate and talk as though we were longtime friends. She immediately called me Khoshkah Kajal "Sister Kajal."

And yet, Kurdish language has hindered me from expressing my thought the way I like. Obviously, every language has its own microcosm and cultural specificity-that makes it challenging to translate your thoughts into other languages.

   

How does your Kurdish background appear in your writing? Are the labels of being Kurdish helpful or obstacles?

  As I am committed to promote Kurdish awareness and fulfill my promises to Kurds and especially, women like my mother-- all my writings, lectures, activities are about Kurds. Of course, it has helped me, but it has been an obstacle in certain circumstances too.

 

As a female identified writer, what kinds of gender-based problem/issues/obstacle have you faced?

 I have faced age biased and gender-based problem more from my fellow Kurds and among some Middle Eastern community. They do not take women seriously. No, Kurdish media except for your radio has asked me to say something on women's day or even on other subjects!! Isn't it odd?

How much has feminism impacted your writing? Do you consider yourself a writer for women/about women?

I find it hard to answer this question. All my life I have been concerned about women's problem even before I knew anything about feminism. Honestly, I do not feel comfortable to pigeonhole myself in any ism. We do not want to exclude men from cooperating with us for the liberation of women. In our mission for equal rights for women, we should apply a holistic approach to society to change the culture of bias and abuse. We should bring men in to help us for changing traditional laws and regulations that are hindering women's progress. 

 

As a Kurdish woman writer, what kinds of minority-based problem, issues, or obstacle have you faced?

I have learned that biases mostly evolve from men who come from people or cultures who have low self- esteem of their own family or men who are insecure and intimidated by strong women. On the contrary, I have seen in a civilized world there are men who respect women for their knowledge and sincerity regardless of their race and ethnicity.

Have you faced misogyny, racism from American institutions or society, or any other community you belong to?

Of course, it comes with the territory. Age bias, gender bias, name calling all are part of the game if our men are not culturally educated. I have experienced all of them. When a woman steps into a so- called "man's world" she will face different treatment form some groups. But, I cannot blame American Institution for it. I have seen less bias and prejudice living in the US than when I was living in Iran and among Persians.

What are your futures plans for your writing? and what message do you have for young people with similar backgrounds who want to become writers? 

 
My plan is to finish my projects on Ezdis, and history of archaeology in Kurdistan. Other topics are Women, the study of the old civilization of Mittani (more than 3000 years civilization) and Nuzi's culture in the Yourgan-Tepe region of Kirkuk. Unfortunately, the Kirkuk project has stopped now due to the political turmoil in the area.

My message for young people is to start writing your journal and be the eye and ear of your society and learn from it. Everything you need to write about is within your reach. The word of advice for Kurdish women is-women are the pillar of the culture, keep the Kurdish language and culture alive and be part of a better society for Kurds.

 

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