The Gift of the Diaspora

I grew up in the diaspora with a hole in my heart. I often feel a part of my identity is lost because of the distance from my birthplace, from the mountains that gave me my first breath. How about a shift from this perspective? I propose that even though we have been ripped from our homes, we can view the diaspora community as a gift. Even though gifts do not usually arise from dire circumstances, our gift is unity. Borders do not imprison us. We do not have the sharp forces of four countries physically oppressing difference into our heads. In all the torment of being robbed from our homes, we have also been given a true chance to unite. In Kurdistan, the construction of borders separates us from learning from and about each other. But in the diaspora community, the only borders that exist are the ones we allow in our minds. We have held onto each other through our common need to hold onto our cultural identity. Of course, there are those communities that have a large enough population that they don’t feel the need to mingle with people outside of their region. My personal take on that is, why not go past the borders of your mind? We aren’t bound by arbitrary borders!

Take my small community in Vancouver, for instance. We have had to rely on each other to keep our culture alive. Vancouver is a home away from home for many of us. It has provided us with a sanctuary when our homes were no longer safe. For those who don’t know, Vancouver stands on the unceded, traditional territory of the Coast Salish Aboriginal peoples. Canada has its own history of colonization. It would be unjust if I discussed my settlement onto other people’s territories without acknowledging this history. With that, I encourage Kurds in the diaspora to remember their footprints. We have suffered in the hand of oppressors and it is important not to partake in any injustices that may occur in our local communities.

In Vancouver, unlike Kurdistan, with its criss-crossing borders, Kurds from Bakur, Başur, Rojava and Rojhelat all live within the same vicinity. Can you see the potential beauty in these circumstances?  It is most obvious at our Kurdish parties. It really does not matter what type of music is played and which dance it is. We learn from each other and participate in each other’s local traditional dances.

When the devastations started to accumulate with the war in Syria, our hearts ached and we wanted to contribute in any way we could. I would like to share with you a story of how one small idea grew into a work of art due to the unity of the Kurdish diaspora. About a year ago, a group of students from all regions of Kurdistan united to create a support network for the Kurdish youth of Vancouver. Kurds on Campus set out to empower our youth through education.

One cold afternoon in November, we attended a community meeting where a local doctor, Dr. Saren Azer, had just returned from the refugee camp just outside Duhok. He shared his story with us. We were a world away while our hearts were with the victims forced into refugee camps. Dr. Azer had previously worked with Health Partners International of Canada (HPIC) to obtain the medication needed to aid the sick. HPIC is an organization that has the power to turn each dollar donated to at least $10 worth of medicine. Of course our minds started to race. Could we call on our community to unite and hold a fundraiser?

We decided to hold an event that would celebrate life. Throughout our history, Kurdish music and dance has preserved our identity and helped us through times of struggle. Our culture has kept us alive. Thus we decided to fundraise by holding a night of halparke. Our budget was basically non-existent, but with the help of contributions and the aid of the community we persevered in hosting the event. The entertainers volunteered their time and the food and drinks were donated for the cause.

Babak Nikaraftar, a co-member of Kurds on Campus has the following to say about the initiation of the project: “With only 5 weeks to plan and implement the event, we canvassed the entire Kurdish community for involvement.  For the first time in this city’s history, we personally phoned, emailed, texted, even utilized social media to get our message across.  Our window to plan was very short, not to mention we were coming up to the Christmas holiday season.  Despite the obstacles, our community rose to the occasion.”  

In all honesty, we were shocked at the turnout to the event. Our community came out in droves. So many people showed up that our hall was actually too small to accommodate everyone. Because of how crowded it was, those of the younger generation would give up their seats to arriving elders and proceeded to find an unoccupied area. There was a feeling of true unity in the air. Kurds from Bakur, Başur, Rojava and Rojhelat all were present at this event. Constructed borders did not separate us. We were a family working towards the same cause. We had projected to fundraise approximately $2000. With the cover charge, food sales, and generous donations, we collected $6076. The success of this event proves that when we stop considering ourselves as four different types of Kurds, we can accomplish tremendous things. Because of HPIC, the funds we raised were converted to over $60,000 worth of medicine.

Unity is the gift of the diaspora. I often feel robbed of my homeland, but I am grateful to be a part of this community. The artificial borders that leave Kurdistan under the occupied regions of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran do not confine me. I have the privilege of learning from my neighbors without fear. I do not have to travel past a border that is lined by my oppressor to learn about my brothers and sisters. Our neighbors are in our backyards, yet there are so many that do not take advantage of this gift. If we do not take advantage of this, our oppressors win. They robbed us from our homes; do not allow them to rob us of the gift of unity.


[author image=”” ]Nissy Koye, a teacher in Canada, has passion in bringing justice to marginalized groups by educating through multiple perspectives while creating relevance and making connections to current events. – “The fire that I breathe is to hide the pain that exerts from being robbed; from being ripped away from my home; the home I call Kurdistan”[/author]