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MEMO in conversation with Dana Nawzar

Our interview with UK-based Kurdish writer Dana Nawzar

October 7, 2020 at 1:00 pm

MEMO’s interview with UK-based Kurdish writer Dana Nawzar about Kurdish statehood, the current status of Kurdish autonomy in the Middle East and militant Kurdish groups.

Dana Nawzar holds degrees from the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani, University Putra in Malaysia, and Durham University in the UK, and has written extensively on the Kurdish issue and other topics concerning the Middle East for a variety of outlets.

UK-based Kurdish writer Dana Nawzar initially touched on the historical plight of the Kurds following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent lack of their own nation-state. At that time, he recounts: “Suddenly the entire Middle East is being redesigned by colonialist powers. Everyone is given a nation-state because you had the rise of nationalism and the collapse of the Ottoman power. But overnight, Kurds are waking up to a new reality which is entirely different, where being Kurdish is actually a burden.”

Nawzar pinpoints the concept of the modern nation-state as being at the forefront of the Kurds’ woes: “It is antithetical, it is entirely against the idea of a Middle East as one civilisational unit with many cultures and many ethnic groups which has a set of values that everyone agrees on.” Instead, Nawzar explains: “You have a new reality today where people are fighting over fake national identities.”

When asked about the Kurdish militant groups throughout the region, present in Syria and reportedly tied to the designated terror group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), he responds: “They are not actually the carriers of the Kurdish nationalist cause right now. They are overwhelmingly Kurds, but they do not have a Kurdish state agenda.”

As for the PKK itself, he clarifies his stance by stressing: “They do not consider any other Kurdish entity that’s not entirely tied to their own idea of what a Kurdish entity would look like.” Nawzar makes clear that the militant group’s priorities are not Kurdish: “They are first and foremost an ideological group with a very totalitarian structure, with a very totalitarian mindset.”

Nawzar also addresses the issue of foreign attempts to strengthen diplomatic ties with the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, primarily to fulfil their own national interests before abandoning the Kurds. Their acceptance of such relations, he believes, was due to a need for dependency on foreign powers and because “the century-long denial of the Kurdish rights” meant that “anyone who has says anything nice about Kurds will be welcome.”

He gave the example of: “A child who’s been abused and treated very badly, then when he grows up he’s looking for some validation, some love from even any stranger. That’s the situation we are in.”

Nawzar also acknowledges that the image of Kurds in the eyes of much of the Western public is a distorted one, indicating that their two main perceptions of “the Kurdish guy as a fierce fighter, and the Kurds as one monolithic homogenous entity” is based on “200 years of Orientalist culture and literature”. This also counts for the idea of: “These great cute secular Kurds against the entire barbaric, Islamist, genocidal Middle East – it’s a rubbish notion.”

Nawzar expresses that his vision for a Kurdish future is based on one similar to their status in Ottoman times: a recognised people with regional autonomy and coexistence with neighbours belonging to other ethnicities. Possibly in the form of a regional union like the European Union, he describes it as creating: “Regional mechanisms for alliance, friendship, autonomy and administration where we allow each other to coexist in peace, and a democratic union based on certain values. That’s my dream.”