The rally, which drew some 500 protesters carrying Kurdish flags and banners demanding a “free Kurdistan”, follows similar protests by Kurdish emigres in Denmark and Sweden and Kurds in the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Photo courtesy of Nawzad Hawrami
NEW YORK – Kurdish-Americans protested in Nashville, Tennessee, on Friday for an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, the latest in a string of rallies across Europe, North America and the Middle East in recent weeks.
Kurdish independence efforts have gained momentum since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) won much of Iraq’s Sunni center during a speedy advance in June that further threatened an already-fragmented country.
“We simply ask for our God-given right to self-determination and call on our local and national government to support the Kurdish cause,” said Tabeer Taabur, an organiser of the protest, which was held outside of government offices. “The time has come to separate us from Iraq.”
The rally, which drew some 500 protesters carrying Kurdish flags and banners demanding a “free Kurdistan”, follows similar protests by Kurdish emigres in Denmark and Sweden and Kurds in the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
The advance of Sunni militiamen across Iraq has forced more than half a million Iraqis to seek refuge in Kurdish zones, and comes amid disputes between Erbil and Baghdad over oil sales, the national budget and the legal status of Peshmerga forces.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed Kurdish calls for independence, but the US and the UN warn against Iraq fragmenting and say Kurds, Sunnis, Shias and other groups should work together in a unified nation.
“We feel what the Kurds are going through and the problems they are having with Iraq's government in Baghdad,” said protester Nawzad Hawrami, 43, an engineer who settled in Nashville, Tennessee, in the mid-1990s.
“Everyone here is talking about the problems in Iraq and what is happening back in Kurdistan. We are very concerned by what we see in the news about ISIS and the violent actions they are taking against Christians and other civilians.”
Nashville houses a large and active Kurdish community with an estimated 13,000 members. Many reached the US in successive waves of immigration during the 1970s-1990s, often fleeing persecution under former president Saddam Hussein.