Nashville’s Kurdish Community Fears For Family As Civil War Breaks Out In Iraq

The Kurdish region in northeast Iraq is drawing refugees from the northwest, where a militant group has conquered several cities. Credit: Winkpolve / Wikimedia Commons

The Kurdish region in northeast Iraq, shown is green, is drawing refugees from the northwest, where a militant group has conquered several cities. Credit: Winkpolve / Wikimedia Commons

Iraq may be thousands of miles away, but for Nashville’s Kurdish population, the violence there hits close to home.

Remziya Suleyman came to the U.S. as a Kurdish refugee in 1991 during the Gulf War. But much of her family is still there, and her uncles are in the Kurdish military.

Suleyman calls the region in northeast Iraq a “safehaven” for refugees displaced by the militant group ISIS. ISIS recently conquered a northern Iraqi city not far from Kurdistan.

“I’m glued to my phone, I’m glued to the news,” she says. “Every time I hear there’s some sort of fighting, especially when they mention Kurdish forces are being attacked, we’re automatically trying to find out — is that one of my uncles? Is that one of my cousins?”

There are nearly 15,000 Kurds in the Nashville area, and Suleyman says she doesn’t know anyone who’s not affected.

But she says, for them, there may also be a silver lining. The instability could present an opportunity for the already-autonomous Kurdish government to become completely independent from Iraq.

“[Prime minister Nouri al-] Maliki’s government has made it clear that they are unable to protect and defend parts of Iraq,” she says. “The Kurdish forces are the only forces, really, that are protecting the areas.”

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