Kurdish-Iraqi tensions escalate as conflict continues


Theo Yoder

Senior Lawan Rasul (left) and junior Sadeeq Saffo (right) face each other with the Kurdish and Iraqi flags painted respectively on their faces.

It was two years ago when junior Sadeeq Saffo first immigrated to the United States. Saffo came from the Iraqi city of Baghdad, where he lived during the heat of the Iraq War as a young boy.

“Everything was going bad back then… I actually didn’t go to school for two years because it was too dangerous for me. For our safety, my parents didn’t want me to go to school; there were a lot of bombs and people were dying every day,” Saffo said.

This was in 2003 when Saffo experienced these events. Though tensions have consistently been a part of Iraq since the war, violence has sparked up recently with the Iraqi-controlled portion of Kurdistan.

The territory of Kurdistan is split between multiple countries, including Syria, Iran, Turkey, Armenia, Russia and the area that has been the scene of recent violence, Iraq. For many years, the many attempts that Kurdistan has made to become an independent nation have been set back. Within the weeks of late September and early October, many threats passed from Iraq to Kurdistan to end their push for independence, and violence broke out Oct. 16. Senior Lawan Rasul is from Kurdistan and has followed the news of his homeland very closely.

“Right now, the Iraqi portion of Kurdistan is trying to separate and the Iraqi government isn’t having any of it. On that border line is a specific city, Kirkuk, and there is a huge problem going on right now where Iraqi troops have entered the city, pulled up all Kurdistan flags… trying to regain control of that city,” Rasul said.

Though many miles from the violence, Kurdish and Iraqi students within the walls of HHS are still seeing the effects of the tension. Rasul is one of those students who experienced backlash on Twitter.

“Somebody tweeted out something about ‘It’s not Kurdistan, it’s Iraq,’ and a couple of Kurdish people took it personally because we do have our own culture, we have our own language, we have our own traditions that’s completely separate from theirs, and it’s very distinguishable,” Rasul said. “That’s the thing about Kurds. I feel like we’re very patriotic and we take pride in what we are and who we are, so we basically don’t stand up to that, so we decided to talk back.”

Despite the short-lived tensions that went on through social media, the hostility between those students has not gone much further. Junior Sadeeq Saffo is an Iraqi student at HHS who first came to the United States three years ago from Baghdad. Being so far away from the violence, Saffo is worried about his country as well as Kurdistan, though has talked things out with his fellow Kurdish friends.

“We don’t worry about that. When we talk we say, ‘It’s government and it’s between them,’ we’re still friends,” Saffo said.

The big question for many may be why there is so much violence over Kurdistan’s independence, and according to both Rasul and Saffo, that reason is oil.

“There is a huge oil reserve in Kurdistan which I think is probably one of the main keys as to why it has become such a big issue. [Iraq doesn’t] want to get rid of all that money that is possibly there,” Rasul said.

Junior Sama Sindi is also from Kurdistan and has paid close attention to what has been going on. Both Sindi and her family took the news very close to heart.

“I am just really, really Kurdish, and my family is there, my dad, friends and family. It really hurt me and my mom and everyone because we’ve all been born for this day and when we saw it crushed like that in the news, we were up all night and we couldn’t focus on anything else,” Sindi said.

Even though he is on the other side of the debate, Saffo has had reactions towards the recent news.

“When I see the news I get upset, but now it’s getting better so I don’t worry about it. Even when I see the pictures,” Saffo said.

Though she has seen some tensions at HHS, Sindi acknowledges that they are not as high as areas closer to the Middle East.

“I think it hasn’t been that bad [at HHS] because it’s not as strong here, but I do feel like sometimes there are dirty looks and things like that,” Sindi said.

According to Sindi, it is not just the recent news that has brought out tensions among students, but it is something that has gone on for a long time due to the history of the two cultures.

“It’s always been like this, from when we were born it’s always been us against them, wanting our independence and them being against us,” Sindi said. “There’s always that hatred between us but we try not to let it show.”

Despite the events that have been shown on the news, Saffo understands why the Kurdish students and Kurdish people in that area want to become their own country.

“[The Kurds] actually built the cities and they make it good for when people visit… They want to be an independent country because they don’t want to be called Iraqis,” Saffo said.

Though he wishes for a different outcome, Rasul has low hopes of Kurdistan becoming an independent country in the near future.

“Kurdistan has its own government that is separate from Iraq, Syria and [all of those countries], but it’s just like, how are the neighboring nations going to say yes to this? It’s not going to happen,” Rasul said. “The big problem is, let’s say the Iraqi portion does separate, the other territories in Kurdistan are also going to want to be their own separate countries and then they’re going to have to do the same issue with their respective countries, and it’s going to be hectic.”

Throughout his culture’s history, Rasul has noted the many instances where they have been put down, and he is hopeful that becoming independent will change that.

“Kurds honestly feel like we’ve been prosecuted for so long. We’ve been a country, then we got dismantled, then we became a country again and then we got dismantled again, and I just feel like it’s time, like what’s the reason not to have our own country? I just can’t personally process that but that might just be the bias,” Rasul said.

When it comes to resolving the tensions in their countries, the Iraqi and Kurdish students interviewed all have a view in common despite how they wish to see the outcome: whatever happens, they wish to see peace come with it.

“I want to see them be one hand, like one country; that they don’t fight each other. That makes me happy,” Saffo said.

“I honestly just don’t want war because my family is there and it’s my country, I don’t want anything to happen there, but I do want Kurdistan to gain its independence, that’s what I’m living for right now,” Sindi said. “I just want peace.”