US Nashville Has the Most Kurds Outside of Kurdistan. And They’re Angry.
Fearing US abandonment, Kurds kept back channels wide open
When Syria's Kurdish fighters, America's longtime battlefield allies against the Islamic State, announced over the weekend that they were switching sides and joining up with Damascus and Moscow, it seemed like a moment of geopolitical whiplash. But in fact, the move had been in the works for more than a year. But in fact, the move had been in the works for more than a year. Fearing U.S. abandonment, the Kurds opened a back channel to the Syrian government and the Russians in 2018, and those talks ramped up significantly in recent weeks, American, Kurdish and Russian officials told The Associated Press.
To hear the mellow twang in the voice of Nashville resident Shirzad Tayyar, you might assume he was born in Music City. Like many of his fellow Kurds, however, Tayyar came to Middle Tennessee from the Middle East as a child, and over the years of public school and community involvement, he has become as much a Nashvillian as anyone.
Or even more so, in his case, because the 29-year-old is so outgoing. He throws gatherings just to meet his neighbors, and led the firstof the south Nashville area known as . The city’s population of Kurds, estimated at 15,000 to 20,000, is the largest outside of Kurdistan itself, which stretches across Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Because of that, Nashville is a center of anxiety about President Trump’s on October 6 to withdraw U.S. troops from the area, which many believe has allowed Turkey to begin a campaign of against the Kurds there. After widespread condemnation Trump has amended his decision somewhat, but the Kurdish community in Nashville remains worried.
Erdogan Walks Back Refusal to Meet Pence for Syria Talks
The Turkish president initially said he would talk only with President Donald Trump.In a statement tweeted by his communications director, Erdogan confirmed he plans to meet with Pence when the vice president arrives in Turkey on Wednesday afternoon with a high-level delegation, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and special envoy for the conflict James Jeffrey. The trip follows an announcement that the Trump administration intends to levy harsh sanctions against Turkey in response for its invasion into Syria.
“This whole debacle threw everyone for a curveball,” Tayyar told CityLab this week. “This kind of sideswiped everybody.” On October 11, less than a week after Trump’s announcement, Kurds staged aoutside a federal office building in Nashville, the Tennessee state capital, with participants including the city’s Democratic Congressman, Jim Cooper. Joining Kurds and other supporters were members of the local Jewish community, who have made supporting refugees a priority in recent years. “My hope is that we will be planning things with them, moving forward,” Deborah Oleshansky, community relations director for the Jewish Federation of Nashville, said of her Kurdish neighbors.
Trump says US troops 'largely out' of Syria region
President Donald Trump says U.S. troops are "largely out" of a region of Syria where Turkish forces are attacking Kurdish fighters. Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish fighters allied with the U.S. after Trump pulled troops from the region this month. As he met Wednesday with Italy's president, Trump said: "If Syria wants to fight to take back their land, that's up to them and Turkey.
Three days later, the scenic Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridgein the green, yellow and red colors of the Kurdish flag, as was the Metro Courthouse. Even area Republican congressman Mark Green joined the majority the military pullout in an Oct. 16 House vote, and Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, a staunch Trump supporter, the move as well.
And while Nashville is a majority Democratic city within a majority Republican state, members of the Kurdish community say that people of every stripe have been showing them support. “We’ve received lots of sympathy and love. It was really overwhelming,” said Tabeer Taabur, who spends his days volunteering at the. “People are asking, what can we do? We tell everyone, reach out to your representatives.”
Pence meets with Erdogan, seeking Syria border cease-fire
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A senior U.S. delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence pursued an uphill mission Thursday to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to call for a cease-fire in his fight with Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Armored SUVs carrying Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien entered the vast Turkish presidency complex in Ankara. Photos released by the TurkishArmored SUVs carrying Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien entered the vast Turkish presidency complex in Ankara.
Taabur attended Glencliff High School, one of Tennessee’s most diverse high schools, as well as local colleges, obtaining a master’s degree in criminal justice from Middle Tennessee State University. He is married with four children, and says there’s nowhere else he’d rather live. Nashville is home. But the feeling of Kurdish peoplehood is strong, and his voice rises as he describes what is happening 6,500 miles away. His own father was killed by chemical weaponry during the reign of Saddam Hussein, he says. “We need help now. People are getting killed now. They’re using phosphorus weapons now. Things are escalating. Things are changing every hour.”
“When is it going to end?” Taabur asked, referring to a repeating cycle of alliance with the Kurdish military, then betrayal. “Where is human rights? Why can’t we be free like all the other countries? We are afraid of another genocide.”
“Not too long ago, we defeated ISIS on behalf of the world,” he said, but now the world doesn’t care. “Unfortunately, this has been the story of the Kurds. We have this phrase, ‘no friends but the mountains.’”
Trump hails Syria cease-fire after playing role in crisis
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — President Donald Trump framed the U.S.-brokered cease-fire deal with Turkey as "a great day for civilization" but its effect was largely to mitigate a foreign policy crisis widely seen to be of his own making. After hours of negotiation in Ankara, the two nations on Thursday agreed to a five-day cease-fire in the Turks' deadly attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. The Kurds were U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group but came under assault after Trump ordered U.S. troops to leave the area earlier this month.
Trump’s turnabout is generating new conversations among local Kurds, who are known to align with both Republicans and Democrats. Tayyar says that after President Trump took office, life remained stable for Kurds in Nashville. In this city of 670,000, one in six residents is foreign-born. Just last month, thewas elected to the Metro Council. But now, those who voted for Trump are feeling some heat. Tayyar mentions a Kurdish relative, as well as a close friend who is not Kurdish, whom he’s needled in recent days.
“I think it was a low blow to the Kurdish Republicans,” said Tayyar, who served on the board of the. “It was kind of like a stab in the back, even for him,” he said of his relative. “It didn’t have a good look for us as a group.”
In addition to Nashville, other U.S. centers of the Kurdish diaspora include Dallas; San Diego; Moorhead, Minnesota; Harrisonburg, Virginia; New York, and Washington, DC. Although local Kurds say the Middle Tennessee climate and landscape are reminiscent of Kurdistan, and they enjoy Titans football, Predators hockey, andas much as anyone, these attractions are not why they first arrived in Nashville.
'We paid $2,000': Syrian refugees charged to cross Iraq border
Refugees fleeing Turkish forces are being charged hundreds of US dollars each to cross from Syria into Iraq, according to Sky sources.People desperate to leave the country and claim refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan have resorted to smugglers to sneak them across another section of the border at night to get to a refugee camp 150km (93 miles) away, where more than 7,100 displaced Syrian Kurds have arrived in the past week, the UN said.
According to Holly Johnson, state coordinator of the, there is an accidental quality to where foreign asylees and refugees are resettled: it has to do with what locations have the ability and capacity to help them. But once a particular national or ethnic group becomes associated with a place, the population tends to grow, like the sizable Somali population in Minneapolis. “They go where they have friends and family, good jobs, affordable housing,” Johnson said.
According to the Kurdish Community Council, the first wave of Kurdish migrants arrived in Nashville “in the 1970s, after the collapse of a Kurdish uprising in Iraq. Countless others arrived after the first Gulf War as refugees. Recently, yet even more have fled Iraq after the War in Iraq.” In recent years, the largest groups of refugees in Tennessee have come from Congo, Bhutan and Myanmar, Johnson said. Trump has proposed that the U.S. admit a total of 18,000 refugees for the federal fiscal year, which began October 1, but that has not been finalized.
As for Trump’s supporters in Nashville, Tayyar says many whom he knows are struggling in light of what they see as the abandonment of the Kurds in Syria: “They’re torn between, do I still support this guy? —and also feeling really bad that everything turned out the way it did.”
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