Kurdistan Culture Preserved. The Kurdish Library in Brooklyn, N.Y., houses information and rare artifacts. FRIEND TO THE PEOPLE WHO `HAVE NO FRIENDS'
A three-year-old library in Brooklyn seeks to give back to one of the world's oldest, and now disenfranchised, cultures a small portion of its language, literature, and place names - the stuff of which a culture is made. The Kurdish Library is situated on the parlor floor of a privately owned brownstone in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood. It is slowly becoming the repository for rare Kurdish books, costumes, and ancient maps, many of which are illegal in the countries that now claim portions of Kurdistan - a mountainous, river-hewn land that has all but vanished from most modern maps.Skip to next paragraph
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Today the name Kurdistan is given only to a province within the borders of Iran, according to the Kurdish Times, a periodical published by the Kurdish Program. The program is a privately supported effort to publicize the plight of the Kurds.
Yet for centuries the Kurds have occupied a vast area stretching from the rolling uplands of southeastern Turkey through the dun-colored mountains of northern Iraq and into western Iran, including small pockets of Syria and the Soviet Union.
``My native tongue is Kurdish, but I never saw a Kurdish book until I came to this country,'' said Samande Siaband, an Iranian program associate at the Kurdish Library. ``We are losing our identity as a people. That is why it is so important to have this library.''
The Kurdish Library, according to its director, Vera Beaudin Saeedpour, is the only library in the Western Hemisphere that is devoted to the Kurdish people.
The Kurds were nomadic herdsmen who have a distinctive history, language, and culture. Warred over since the 7th century, Kurdistan's boundaries were abolished in the aftermath of World War I, when it was divided by the newly created nation states of the Middle East.
The Kurds, who number between 15 million and 20 million and are the fourth-most-numerous people of the Middle East, have been rising in uncoordinated revolts since 1925. They have been suppressed by the Iranians, the Turks, and most recently, the Iraqis.
Thousands of Iraqi Kurds lost homes and lands to a government that last year razed hundreds of their villages and forced them into Turkey. Ironically, the Turkish government has imprisoned Kurds for speaking or writing in their own language, Mr. Siaband says. The Iranian government has largely crushed the Kurdish movement for autonomy.
The Kurdish motto, ``We have no friends,'' takes on added poignancy for Kurdish immigrants in the United States, most of whom have settled in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, and California. Many Kurds here repress their ethnicity out of fear of government retaliation against family members back home, and fear of being denied permission to return to their native country.
``In a sense, the Kurds here remain prisoners of their country of origin,'' says Mrs. Saeedpour.
The Kurdish population in New York, which unofficial estimates put at 1,500, is so hidden that on several occasions Saeedpour has answered her doorbell to find a Kurdish book in a brown paper wrapper, and the donor nowhere in sight.