Well-done but dispiriting memoir of growing up in Iraq during the 1960s and ’70s, when Kurdish aspirations for independence were increasingly suppressed.
Now a filmmaker living in Paris, Saleem memorably depicts the close family ties and the comfort of Kurdish culture. His story also grimly reminds us of the Kurds’ long-time persecution by Turks, Iranians, and, most recently, Saddam Hussein. Perhaps understandably, considering how badly they have been treated, the Kurds too have contemplated violent solutions to their problem. Saleem’s father, who kept a rifle on hand, supported General Barzani, a Kurdish military leader who led a group of armed guerrillas into the mountains in hopes of establishing an independent state. His older brother, 18-year-old Dilovan, joined them, and later, when the Baathist party took over Iraq and bombed their village, adolescent Saleem also wanted to work for the cause of independence. At one point the family fled to the mountains to fight with Kurdish troops, but the resistance was forcibly quashed. After a dreary spell in a refugee camp, they decided to return to their native village of Aqra. Under Saddam’s leadership in the late 1970s, Iraqis increased their efforts to eliminate the Kurds. In measured prose, Saleem recalls soldiers arriving in their village and setting up barracks, where they were rumored to torture Kurds. Baathist teachers took over the schools, and Iraqi doctors would not help his sick niece, who eventually died. His education was cut short: instruction at school was only in Arabic, a language he did not know, and opportunities for further study were denied to Kurds. Saleem knew there was no way he could go to film school. Increasingly he began to accept that exile might be his only option, though even that would not be easy, since Kurds were denied passports.
Timely—and most depressing.