35,000 other friends than the mountains – the book mania about the Kurds

peshmerga_mountains_large

I think not many Kurds know it but there is an explosion of foreign books on Kurdistan, on the Kurds and everything Kurdish from dramatic childhoods to popular songs. This week I counted over 35,000 book titles on Amazon.com – and this is only for English, and part of the French and Turkish book production.

So, the first conclusion must be, that this whole idea of “Kurds have no friends but the mountains” should be thrown on the scrap heap of history. Those Kurds complaining in the time of Saddam Hussein about a lack of attention for their cause compared to the Palestinian cause “that always gets automatic attention”, well, if measured by the number of books alone, the Kurdish cause is doing quite well nowadays. Of course sooner or later there will be competition from other minorities but for the moment the new armed rebellions in India and Yemen have produced only a handful of books.

A second conclusion must be that, in theory, there might be soon as many foreigners as Kurds who possess deep knowledge about everything Kurdish and that very few secrets will remain a secret. Hundreds of writers, some after learning Kurdish from the many books now available to learn Sorani or whatever dialect of the Kurdish language, are visiting Kurdistan, collecting information, interviewing people and publishing their findings. The same is happening with Iraq, which, as a keyword on Amazon.com, together with the keyword “Iraqi”, boosts some 150,000 titels in English alone. I will not check Chinese, Swahili, Arabic and other world languages, but occupation by Americans seems to create an infinite hunger to know about the country under their boots, including how its people cook or study at universities.

The book mania about Kurdistan and Iraq also shows how bad dictatorships are for publishing and the reading culture. I remember times one couldn’t find one recent book on Iraq, let alone on the Kurds. If a country is under heavy censorship and every foreign journalist can be arrested and hanged as a spy, knowledge suffers far beyond the borders of the victims’ homeland.

There is one exception I know of, where Saddam’s Reign of Blunders led to more knowledge. This is the case of the archeologists who were digging in Saddam’s Iraq but left its sands to dig somewhere else after the ominous occupation of Kuwait in 1990. The result of their searches in Syria, Pakistan and Turkey has been that it’s now sure the Babylonians and other early Iraqis were among a host of city-building civilizations, some definitely older than the first ones in Mesopotamia. But this is also good for publishing, at least in Iraq and perhaps the rest of the Arab world, because now the history books need to be rewritten.

The Kurds of course might also take a hit when, for example, a scientist proves that Turkish and Kurdish have a common linguistic origin. Not that this is a probability but foreigners have already dismantled the myth that the Iraqi-Kurdish Suleymania is “the Paris of the North”, so worse will follow.

Such is the price of democracy and progress.

(Originally written for Iraqi readers in 2007)

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