Shawket Barwary

It is dead near impossible for me to understand what has recently transpired in Syria. I've been fixated on my television screen as I watch horrors unfold before my very eyes. As a Kurd, born in Northern Iraq, fleeing for my life as Saddam Hussein tried to eliminate my family and village, I understand what plight and fear feels like. As I watched video footage of people screaming and fleeing in genuine fear, I was taken back to my youth. I can't believe this is happening.

The Kurds are America's greatest ally in the Middle East. As a refugee, I worked with many Americans as a native translator. I came to love the United States and saw it as a nation of unmatched potential and ideals that were seemingly only achievable in dreams. When I came as a refugee to the U.S. and settled down in St. Louis, I basked in all the opportunities that I never dreamed possible back in Kurdistan.

I obtained a degree. I got a good job. I met wonderful people and became part of an inclusive environment that respected my culture. Everyone treated me with the utmost respect and care, and I am fully indebted to this kindness – which makes it that much more painful seeing the U.S. pull out of Syria.

Kurdish settlements extend from Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. They are benevolent people, who have fought centuries for a chance to be free. They have worked closely with the U.S. to take out ISIL in Mosul and eradicate them wherever they occupied. We lost hundreds of thousands of lives to a group that terrorized the world. We needed strong allies to assist us. The U.S. was there to help and protect us.

Now, with the pull out, it is clear what is going to happen. Turkey – which often sees us as second-class citizen, if that – wants us gone. They won't just brush us aside, they'll try to eliminate us by ethnic cleansing, as Saddam tried to do in Iraq. By taking us out, forcing us to flee and die trying to protect our land, Turkey will send imprisoned ISIL members free, as many of them have, and ISIL will only strengthen, gather forces, and continue their assailing.  

Growing up, I often felt that the very fact that I was born Kurdish was in itself a crime. Iraq didn't like us. Iran didn't like us. Turkey. Syria. Anyone and everyone didn't like us. We were being killed in all those countries, and the only ally we had was the U.S. I wrote a book about the Kurds detailing how the U.S. played such an important part to our survival, our attack against Islamic extremists, and how we could survive independently knowing that the U.S. helped us and showed us what an open, safe, democratic country looked like. I really felt that we were advancing rapidly towards such a reality.

Now, however, I am gasping and numb with terror at what is happening. I don't understand it. I feel utterly betrayed, as every Kurd should. Why has the U.S. offered us protection and asked us to risk our lives fighting people that terrorize them only for them to leave us when they no longer feel they need us, allowing regional powers to do what they will regardless of human rights violations or respect for who we are? I am left perplexed.

I love the U.S. I live here with pride, knowing how lucky and blessed I am to live in a place and age where my children can get a good education, have a chance to come home every day in peace, go play with friends that don't disrespect them but appreciate their diversity, and gain a good job in the future.

I respect my country, my president and my people in what they do, but I want what is best for the Kurds, too, especially because we offer so much hope and so much good for the people in the Middle East. We are friends, military supporters and fellow countrymen, and we have done so much together to provide peace in the region. I hope that we can continue on that path and there will be a stop to this reescalation and bloodshed. What is happening is madness. Everything we all worked hard to prevent is slowly becoming undone.

Shawket Barwary is the author of “Voices over the Mountains: The Story of a Kurdish Refugee” and “Land of the Rising Sun: the Way of the Kurd.”

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