“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” This is my favorite sentence from The Catcher in the Rye.
Kurds are a nation who have been attacked physically, culturally, and psychologically. We have been bombed, targeted by firing squads, imprisoned, and tortured, regardless of which country we are bound to. Even our lifeless bodies are dragged through the streets and cursed.
But it is not only our bodies and our lands that have been the subjects of annihilation and exploitation. Our culture and history have also been humiliated, denied and appropriated. Our language and identity are often banned and criminalized, even today.
Struggling to survive under the boots of oppression, we each have defined different positions as victims. Relying on what I have observed and read of victim psychology, I have come up with these various victim positions.
The list is merely suggestive and not comprehensive. Additionally, most of us shift between these three positions throughout different stages of our lives.
Victims Who Deny their Victimhood and Identify with the Oppressor
This group of victim steps on others while trying to climb societies’ ladder. They are the ones who detach themselves from suffering, make their way up to the oppressors’ boots, and kiss them. These people spend a tremendous amount of energy pretending to be someone else, making up histories and stories to belong to the dominant group.
They are also forced to downplay subtle or even explicit humiliation and distrust in the eyes and smirks of their newfound friends, and hang onto the boot tips, living with the constant danger of falling off into oblivion.
At best, they will live a life without dignity and steeped in denial; in return they are contented with their higher status and the opportunity to escape persecution to some degree.
Relying on the privileges they have gained at the price of their roots and dignity, this group happily sing along with the oppressor in belittling the oppressed. For them, they "made it. So it can’t be too bad. Those who haven’t made it are not as smart as I am.”
Crucially, they deny the subjugation and blame the victims. You may also hear them make statements such as “My country isn’t as bad with the Kurds as the others,” or “Kurds need to adapt.”
To make this position clearer, I will quote a musician I recently approached to interview. He knew I was a journalist and wanted to interview him for a Kurdish media outlet and yet he told me, without any sense of shame or irony that he only plays for Turks and Persians, and that Kurds do not understand his music and are lazy, poor, uneducated, and so on.
Dismayed by his remarks, I asked how he could say such a thing when only recently a group of humble Kurds had worked hard to provide him the opportunity to perform before an international audience. “Oh, those educated Kurds are different!” he replied.
Victims Whose Only Identity is Their Victimhood
This second group, at the opposite end of the spectrum from group one, have numerous stories (all facts, some exaggerated) to prove how they are one of the most betrayed nations in the world and have had the most tragic history on the planet.
These people are overrun by self-pity and can easily burst into tears every time a new incident triggers their pain: the body of Alan Kurdi washed ashore or the bombing of a group of dancing Kurds in Ankara, for example.
Being submerged in agony, they lose sight of the fact that power structure has millions of victims in every continent such as Apartheid in South Africa, Slavery in America, Genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Cambodia, the plight of First Nation’s in North America and Australia, and so on.
This group of victims take their sad history personally and are consumed with anger and hate for the ethnic groups who are directly responsible for Kurds’ suffering.
Sweeping every single member of the neighbouring ethnicities with generalization, a member of the second group slams any member of his nation who would refuse to share his hateful sentiments.
He may even appeal to exaggerations, make-up history to prove the superiority of his nation and belittles the neighbors. For example, if they are educated or have lived in the West, they may start sentences with: “I am not a racist, but…” and anyone who does not agree with me is a betrayer just like those in group one.
People Soaring above the Victim Role
This group does not use their energy in denying realities as in group one, nor do they let the tragedies take full control of them.
The focus their energy on creativity, education or activism to help their nation without hate or denial but instead with compassion and understanding.
These people see flaws in their people but know that this is the result of years of oppression. They mingle with individuals from the oppressing countries but neither look up to them nor look down upon them.
Kurdish community is blessed with individuals like these who humbly help their nation. They may be as well-known as Leyla Zana, the woman who proved that Kurdish women, despite double oppression, can become leaders. Or they could be lesser-known individuals.
In a speech given at the World Kurdish Congress in 2011 in the Netherlands, Leyla Zana stated that she often wonders what it would be like to be part of a group of people for whom the right to live is a given and not something to that must be fought for.
However, if she had to choose between being part of the oppressor or the oppressed, she would choose the latter because she thinks it would be much more difficult to live with crimes your nation has committed than to live with brutalities they have endured. Though I have paraphrased her idea, I will never forget her message.
It is likely that most of us go through different stages of victimhood, a desperate first attempt to belong to the dominant group, a sorrow-filled stage when we learn about our history, and then a final stage of helping oneself and one’s people through awareness, resistance, art and culture, or other means.
If you are trying to make sense of Kurdish situation and are not sure how to deal with a tragic past and an uncertain future, just know that you are not alone in this world and continue to live humbly for your cause.