I moved here a year ago and thought, yup, this was all you needed to know about Dallas -- well, this too. And maybe this. But they're just misleading myths and faded memories. Even an outsider like me, who arrived here from New York City, can see it. I can hear it too, every single day -- there's nothing like the sound of corridos blasting from a car stereo to drown out ancient ghost stories and make you appreciate how rich, vibrant and textured is the big city of big everything.
And yet, Dallas and the surrounding suburbs contain their fair share of mysteries. I can’t say I ever expected to find a community of Iraqi Kurds here, but there it is -- up in Richardson, not far from the throngs of Chinese and Indian immigrants living just off North Central Expressway. A few months ago, I was working on a story about Army recruiting in Latino areas and happened to meet a Kurdish Army translator and recruiter named Adnan Kirkuki. Soon, I was interviewing a group of Iraqi Kurds at a Middle Eastern café in Richardson, and watching patrons from Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Syria munch sweets and smoke hookahs.
There are some 63,000 Arabs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, and a recent DFW International Community Alliance demographic breakdown shows 5,000 Kurds and 1,000 Iraqis living here in 2005. And like Kirkuki, who has lived in the U.S. for 10 years, many of them use satellite television to keep constant tabs on their home towns.
To them, stories like the one on the front page of The Dallas Morning News yesterday -- the piece headlined, "Kurdish refugees stuck in squalor at stadium in Iraq" -- aren't just sad stories from faraway places to be read and forgotten over morning coffee. They're dispatches from home, stories that resonate with just as much force as the latest Trinity River toll road headline or Dallas Cowboys box score. As the stories pour forth about escalating tensions between Turkey and Iraq, Kirkuki keeps a watchful eye. He can't help it: They're unfolding in what is more or less his own backyard.
“I’m tracking the situation right now,” says Kirkuki, whose parents, siblings and other relatives still live in Northern Iraq. “It isn’t good.”
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Last week, front-page headlines around the world spoke of the thousands of Kurds protesting Turkey’s threat to invade Northern Iraq. Thousands poured into the streets of Erbil, the northern city where Kirkuki lived before he fled the country, resettled in Texas and began working for the U.S. Army. Tension and anger have escalated due to two recent votes: one in the U.S. Congress condemning as genocide Turkey’s Armenian massacre, and another in the Turkish Parliament authorizing military action against Kurdish rebels in Iraq who have launched attacks in Turkey.
Like the Kurdish protestors in Erbil, Kirkuki’s opinion of Turkey isn’t high. He thinks the government’s threat of military action against Kurdish rebels in Iraq is actually a pretext for something more sinister. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds in northern Iraq have rebuilt cities atrophied by years of repression and war, developed bustling commercial centers and installed their first escalator in a shopping mall. They’re afraid that Turkey, which has long repressed the independent longings of its own Kurds, wants to ruin their progress.
“We tried for years to get freedom," Kirkuki says, "and now Turkey is trying to destroy it."
These are the sorts of things Kirkuki and his Kurdish friends talk about when they go out to dinner or gather for birthdays or other celebrations --right here, right in our backyards. Most of them are eagerly awaiting their American citizenship and consider themselves Americans. But they’ll always be Kurds too, and they’re keenly aware that the actions of their adopted country will have a significant impact on the fate of their homeland that never seems far away. --Megan Feldman