Kurdistan has arrived at a crossroads, and you have been asked to make a choice: demand independence, or continue the uneasy stalemate with Baghdad. You face war, financial crisis, encircled by failed states and almost-failed states. Endless news and arguments are thrown at you about how to vote, or whether you should vote at all. You have been maligned as spoiled, apathetic, and uninterested in your country’s future. Some even call you a “lost generation.”
Yet, your story is remarkable. It is time to acknowledge the resilience and spirit of you, the Kurdish youth.
External powers are threatening retaliation for holding the referendum on Sep. 25, exploiting frictions among Kurdish factions, firing up social media campaigns and fake news, in an attempt to exploit fear and insecurities of our landlocked region. We’ve seen this before, and just like clockwork, the so-called “regional experts” are predicting civil war in Kurdistan.
The last and only civil war was in the mid-1990s. Things have changed, and our people have matured—you will not go to war along party lines. Yes, this is still a nascent democracy and Kurds are still not 100 percent immune to partisanship and fragmentation. But, given our complex history and regional geopolitics, this is not a surprise, and you have already made a positive impact. Many of you have already fought for something much greater than yourselves, playing key roles in the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum, fighting to protect your communities in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), and struggling for civil rights in Turkey and Iran.
When I see you, I see hope. Many of you belong to a generation of Iraqi Kurds born after 1991, who have not seen war or active combat. You do not know the fear and consequence of being punished for being Kurdish or simply speaking Kurdish. Or to be imprisoned, tortured and executed for being caught with a Shivan Perwer cassette, as happened under the rule of Saddam Hussein. For you, it is the most natural thing to learn Kurdish in school, read Kurdish news, and enjoy music and movies in Kurdish.
It is not fair to be called “lazy” or “spoiled” for enjoying these hard-earned freedoms, the spoils of peace and democracy. Generations before you have fought hard despite genocide and embargos precisely to make this possible.
You, millennials of Kurdistan, are simply resilient in a different way than your parents and grandparents’ generation. You are equipped with more knowledge, vigilance, and understanding of the world, armed with more skills than any other Kurdish generation before you.
You have dispatched with the previous generation’s impulsive way of dealing with internal political disputes, substituting a gun with a keyboard. You replaced the bullets with social media savvy, trolling, and posting comments on everything from party politics to the rightful winner of Kurdistan Idol—just like everywhere else in the world.
The only aggression you carry for your fellow countrymen emerges during “El Classico” football matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
At the same time, you are not afraid of sacrifice. Thousands of you volunteered to defend our borders from the Islamic State (IS), many of you sacrificing your lives and health from Kobani to Kirkuk.
Dear Kurdish youngsters, you are the hope of a nation, a people. Your stamina and dedication will determine our survival.
In many cases, the deck has been stacked against you. After 1991, you were promised that if you studied hard, you would have a bright future. You went to university, excelling in all fields, but the job market was not ready for you.
Some were so disenchanted with the fallout from the post-2003 Kurdish miracle that you risked your lives crossing the Mediterranean. We lost many. Some still struggle abroad, some have fulfilled their dreams, and some were lost to the sea, may they rest in peace.
The vast majority stayed home despite the financial embargo from the central government in Baghdad. Despite the insecurity of the Middle East around you. Despite a war with IS, one of the evilest powers the world has witnessed in the 21st century. Weak public institutions, and the corruption that marks nascent oil rich democracies like ours, did not drain you of your love to live.
Those of you who joined the Peshmerga continued to fight, even though sometimes it was unclear if you would have enough bullets or a blanket to warm yourself during the cold winter months at the front lines. Others woke up every morning month after month, despite not having received their public salaries, and went on to their jobs as teachers, public employees, and police.
You could have shut down, you could have started riots, you could have expressed your rightful anger in strikes, but you went on business as usual. Honoring the sacrifices of your previous generations, you persevere day by day with the simmering hope that one day you might have the chance to live and prosper like your peers in places like the United States and the European Union.
Yes, many are sitting in tea shops and restaurants, day after day feeling blue over a game of backgammon with a shisha pipe in hand. Yes, many of you could go out and join the thousands of volunteers in the refugee camps and the frontlines. You could protect the environment, become innovators, or mobilize political discourse representing your communities.
These are some, but not all, and your failures are not unique to your generation or region. You are not the only ones who pollute on picnics, not the only ones who fail to volunteer. Millennials around the world are rightfully fed up with the way politics have lost connection with the polis.
More importantly, you do not practice violence, and you do not spread hatred.
There is nothing similar to the “Hamas Mickey Mouse” programme that plants the poison of racism in the minds of little children, training them to hate their Israeli neighbors. There are no children marching with guns, chanting military slogans, wearing army fatigues, showing off their willingness to sacrifice their lives for Imam Ali, Allah or to burn down “Evil America” —something we just saw happening outside of Kirkuk, just outside our borders, with the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units training child soldiers.
When crisis came, you welcomed 1.8 million refugees and internally displaced people—despite the fact many had persecuted Kurds in the past. You opened your cities and villages to hundreds of thousands of Arab tourists seeking respite from the rest of war-torn Iraq.
You do care about the future, and you rightfully demand something to look forward to. You wouldn’t trade your weekend picnics in nature with your friends and family for the world.
You go out and fearlessly travel. Host countries wouldn’t know that your people, including yourself, have been isolated for decades from other cultures. Nor could they imagine you’ve only been able to secure a passport in recent years, since 2005. This is an Iraqi document and one you may not necessarily identify with. It’s ranked among the most undesirable passports, alongside Afghanistan and Somalia, but you are aware of its privilege, having been stateless for most of your lives.
Then there are the children of exile and diaspora. Many of you returned in thousands to contribute to Kurdistan’s success. Some stayed, and some did not, but that is not a defeat. You are striving all over the world. You are ambassadors of Kurdish adaptability, resilience, and co-existence. You integrate to your host countries without losing your identities. You are proud of being Kurdish, even if half of the time you have to explain the geographic location, ethnicity, and the entire history of our people.
Wherever you’ve been, you’ve succeeded in all disciplines, from sports to academia to entertainment. You climbed the music charts in Germany, play for the national football team in Switzerland, built a yogurt empire in the US, act as political representatives in Mexico, advisers to governments in the EU, excel in high schools, are honored for your movies and acting at renowned film festivals like Cannes and the Venice Biennale. You manage to enter and work at the UN, even though Kurdistan is not represented, graduate from the world’s most prestigious universities, and stand up for LGBT rights and secularism.
In Kurdistan, you make us proud with initiatives like fundraising for Children Cancer Clinics. You are international fashion icons, like Mr. Erbil. You are next generation socio-economic entrepreneurs and leaders, like the Erbil Global Shapers. You sing and dance for life, continuing our proud traditions. Play a Kurdish song in any festival of the world, and you’d be surprised how suddenly a line dance forms, sometimes even if it is only a handful of people. There’s not a World Cup or Champions League game where you won’t spot the Kurdish flag waving in the crowd. You sing to Persian, Arabic, and Turkish songs. You do not hate, you love and cherish the different cultures. You love Beirut, as much as you love Madrid, Istanbul as much as you love New York, and Tel Aviv as much as you love Dubai. You stand up against radical Islam at home and in the streets of Europe. You do not fear those terrorists. Your courage is world-famous by now.
You love, you live, you love life. The will of survival and hope of a new day (Newroz) is in your genetic code.
This is why you will not easily raise a gun toward your brother and sister. You know only united Kurds will be strong and you are disappointed by anyone who sows internal strife.
Kurdistan, you can once again be proud of this new generation.
No generation before you has deserved more to live in a nation state of your own, under one flag. Exercise your privilege to vote, that which was handed to you by the sacrifices of our Peshmergas, mothers, sisters, brothers, poets, writers, artists, and Kurdperwers.
The world is watching, and you will be even more respected to cast your ballot peacefully. You have built much already—now is the time to build your vision of the future.
Peri-Khan belongs to the Kurdish Diaspora, born and raised in Bonn, Germany. She spent the last eight years between Vienna, Austria and the Kurdistan Region consulting on various development projects with the United Nations among other NGOs and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). She was involved in the creation of the KRG’s first Crisis Response and Disaster Management Center (JCC) and holds an undergraduate degree in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Bonn, as well as a Masters in Advanced International Studies at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.