Fire, Snow & Honey: Voices from Kurdistan
Edited by Gina Lennox
Sydney, Australia: Halstead Press, 2004. 678 pp. U.S. $50.
After Arabs, Turks, and Persians, Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group of the Middle East. As events such as the constitutional struggle in Iraq, ethnic riots in Syria and Iran, and arguments over terrorist amnesty in Turkey have shown, Kurdish politics stand front and center in 2004.
Lennox, an Australian radio reporter, seeks to illustrate the Kurds' plight by gathering life stories, poetry, and folk tales from the Kurdish exile community in Australia. Her compilation has four sections. The first offers essays on everything from the origin of the Kurds to their religions, literature, music, cuisine, and politics. The other three sections are defined by the geographical origin of their contributors: northern Iraq; northwest Iran; and all of eastern Turkey, northern Syria, and the Caucasus.
The explanatory essays are detailed and accessible but not always reliable. Hussein Tahiri traces the Kurds back to biblical Noah, and the term "Kurd" to the third century Sassanian Empire. Abdulkader Maronesy asks whether the Yezidis' pre-Islamic Kurdish religions were the first monotheisms. Other authors extend twentieth-century Kurdish nationalism retroactively backward to the dawn of history.
The political essays can be downright wacky. In a rambling introductory essay, Lennox rants against the "ecologically unsustainable and inequitable world" and the "New World Order." She uncritically accepts propaganda of the Kurdish-Turkish PKK terrorist group in asserting that "The Kurds in Turkey have been denied and oppressed more than any other Kurds," a curious statement given Iraq's ethnic cleansing campaign and use of chemical weapons against the Kurds. A Baghdadi Kurd presented only as "Dr. Azad" asserts that Baath Party founder Michel Aflaq was an agent of the Mossad and that Saddam Hussein received CIA and Mossad training prior to the 1968 coup that brought the Baath Party to power. This author also claims that the Pentagon trapped Saddam into invading Kuwait in 1989.
The wooly stuff continues. Eziz Bawermend suggests that Kurds should engage in more terrorism to gain Western support (perhaps providing an unwitting lesson into the failures of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East). "If a Kurdish organization or splinter group resembling Palestinian Hamas should develop, and was ready to commit acts of violence dwarfing the atrocities allegedly committed by PKK, the West would be more likely to consider its position on PKK. Hamas has made the PLO look far more reasonable than the PLO could ever portray itself to be."
Fire, Snow, & Honey will interest social historians anxious to gain insight into the lives of ordinary people. However, its lack of annotation and the weakness of its essays do not do the Kurds justice. A far better introduction to Kurdish life, history, and society is Susan Meiselas's Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, a coffee table book illustrating Kurdish society through historical photos, maps, letters, newspapers, with brief, clear, and professional annotations.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.