Kurds in US struggle with distance amid Syria crisis abroad

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Members of the Kurdish community and supporters pack clothing donations in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP/Jonathan Mattise)
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Beizar Aradini, left, and Delaston Ahmet pack clothing donations in Nashville, Tennessee Members of the Kurdish community and supporters collected the items to send to a camp in Iraq where many Kurds have fled from Syria. (AP/Jonathan Mattise)
Updated 22 November 2019

Kurds in US struggle with distance amid Syria crisis abroad

  • Feeling betrayed by the US abroad is nothing new for the Kurds, one of the largest groups of people without a state, estimated at 25 million to 35 million worldwide
  • the US contingent, estimated at 40,000 — 15,000 in Nashville — has been shaken to see its homeland attacked by Turkey and its people pushed out of Syria

NASHVILLE, Tennessee, United States: When President Donald Trump abruptly announced plans to withdraw American troops from northern Syria last month, Nashville’s city hall and a bridge below the downtown skyline lit up in the green, yellow and red of the Kurdish flag.
In the largest Kurdish community in the US, outraged protesters near Nashville’s federal courthouse draped themselves in the same colors and decried the deadly Turkish attacks that ensued in Syria. Chants of “I believe in Kurdistan” rang through the stands of a minor league soccer game
Feeling betrayed by the US abroad is nothing new for the Kurds, one of the largest groups of people without a state, estimated at 25 million to 35 million worldwide. But the US contingent, estimated at 40,000 — 15,000 in Nashville — has been shaken to see its homeland attacked by Turkey and its people pushed out of Syria.
Kurds have protested and prodded politicians, spurring some Trump-aligned officials to criticize the president’s decision. But many have felt largely helpless to aid their homeland as images of death and despair invade their social media feeds.
Yearning to do something constructive, Silav Ibrahim and other Nashville Kurds started collecting donations for Kurds who fled Syria to a camp in Iraq. Their initial efforts, coupled with donations from Kurds in Dallas, have yielded hundreds of boxes of clothes, medical supplies and more.
“We can’t do much,” Ibrahim said. “We can keep protesting and we will continue to do that. We will continue to write letters to our congressmen and women. But we wanted to really be able to at least collect something, do something where we can help those who are fleeing their homes.”
With their land divided among Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, the first wave of Kurds arrived in Nashville in the 1970s after the collapse of a Kurdish uprising in Iraq, according to the Tennessee Kurdish Community Council. More followed as refugees after the first Gulf War and the war in Iraq; others have since relocated because of conflict in Syria.
Abroad, Kurds have been US allies against the Daesh group for several years, losing 11,000 fighters in those efforts in Syria. Syrian Kurdish forces supported by about 1,000 American troops had held about a fourth of Syria’s territory.
Trump initially ordered all troops out of Syria last month. Three days later, Turkey launched its offensive with heavy bombardment along the frontier. The Trump administration then decided to keep a force in place, which Trump said was to protect oil infrastructure.
Sekvan Benjamin Mohammed said he served as an interpreter and adviser to US special forces during the Iraq War, among other deployments in the 2000s. He said Kurds deserve assurances that the US has their backs in return.
“(Trump’s) allowing a group of innocent people being killed and gassed over an oil field,” said Mohammed, a 42-year-old who has multiple Nashville-area businesses. “What kind of humanity is that?”
A mosque, markets and restaurants make up the shopping center at the heart of Nashville’s Little Kurdistan. It’s usually packed for Friday services at the Salahadeen Center.
At the mosque, barbershop owner Adnan Abdulkader said he felt backstabbed by Trump’s pull-out decision and subsequent declaration that Kurds are “no angels” who have “a lot of sand to play with.”
“It’s still like entertainment for him. It’s like he still thinks he’s running a TV show,” Abdulkader said. “You’re messing with people’s lives.”
Though Nashville tilts progressive, the state is firmly Republican. And Tennessee’s political leaders have had tumultuous relationships with immigrant communities, particularly in the Trump era.
Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn has supported Trump’s immigration policies but broke ranks to criticize the troop pull-back. She has asked the administration to investigate whether the Turks violated a cease-fire and wants tough economic sanctions if they did.
Meanwhile, Tennessee’s Republican-led Legislature has so far failed in its challenge of the federal refugee resettlement program, which brought many Kurds to Nashville. The Trump administration has cut the number of refugees to 18,000 nationally next year.
About 500 refugees were resettled in Tennessee last year under the program, down from a high of about 2,000 in 2016 and an annual average of less than 1,000, according to court testimony.
Some Kurds have been deported under Trump’s immigration policies, said Zaid Brifkani, a Nashville doctor who heads the Kurdish Professionals network.
“When you are part of an administration that is taking active measures against immigration, and when we are a majority population of immigrants, then there is going to be some disconnect between us as a community and the politicians that represent us because we feel like they won’t be able to adequately address our concerns,” Brifkani said.
Help isn’t just coming from within the Kurdish community.
At the Nashville donation drive, Lee Lohnes, an Army veteran who served in Iraq alongside Kurdish translators in the 2000s, boxed clothes to ship to displaced Kurds overseas. He wondered aloud how the US will recover in the Middle East.
“It’s just the greatest act of betrayal,” said Lohnes, an IT manager. “I can’t think of much worse. I’m doing my part, at least, to try to help them in any way I can.”


Indian woman who alleged gang rape dies after burn attack

Updated 48 min 29 sec ago

Indian woman who alleged gang rape dies after burn attack

  • The woman was attacked in the state of Uttar Pradesh by a group of men that included two of the five she had accused of gang rape last year
  • The 23-year-old woman suffered extensive injuries and was airlifted Thursday from Uttar Pradesh to Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi, where she died late Friday of cardiac arrest

NEW DELHI: An alleged rape victim in northern India who was set on fire while heading to a court hearing in the case has died in a New Delhi hospital, officials said Saturday.
The woman was attacked in the state of Uttar Pradesh by a group of men that included two of the five she had accused of gang rape last year, police said. The two were out of custody on bail.
Five men were arrested in connection with the burn attack, police said.
The 23-year-old woman suffered extensive injuries and was airlifted Thursday from Uttar Pradesh to Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi, where she died late Friday of cardiac arrest, said Dr. Shalab Kumar, head of the hospital’s burn unit.
Yogi Adityanath, the state’s chief minister, said that the case would be heard in a fast track court and that the “strictest of punishment will be given to the culprits.”
Priyanka Gandhi, general secretary of the opposition Congress party, faulted the Uttar Pradesh government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, for failing to provide the woman with security, even after a similar case in the state in which a woman who accused a BJP lawmaker of rape was severely injured in a vehicle hit-and-run incident.
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, is known for its poor record regarding crimes against women. According to the most recent available official crime records, police registered more than 4,200 cases of rape in the state in 2017 — the most in India.
Government figures for 2017 also show that police registered 33,658 cases of rape in the country. But the real figure is believed to be far higher as many women in India don’t report cases to police due to fear.
Indian courts also seem to be struggling to deal with these cases. Data shows that more than 90% of cases of crimes against women are pending in city courts.
The burn victim’s death came on the same day police in the southern state of Telangana fatally shot four men being held on suspicion of raping and killing a 27-year-old veterinarian after investigators took them to the crime scene. Their deaths drew both praise and condemnation in a case that has sparked protests across the country.
The woman’s burned corpse was found last week by a passer-by near the city of Hyderabad, India’s tech hub, after she went missing the previous night.
Police took the four suspects, who had not been charged with any crime, to the scene to help them locate the victim’s phone and other items, officials said. They said the men grabbed police firearms and began shooting, and were killed when police returned fire.
The Telangana High Court ordered authorities to preserve the bodies of the suspects and submit a video of the autopsies ahead of a court hearing set for Monday.
Separately, the National Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous body within India’s Parliament, sent a fact-finding mission to the crime scene and mortuary where the suspects’ bodies were held on Saturday amid questions from opposition lawmakers about the circumstances of the suspects’ deaths.