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Middle East Kavitha Dispatch

Welcomed into the Folds of a Kurdish Village
April 22,2000

A Kurdish Village in Iran

The Team visits a Kurdish village in Iran right in time for a wedding celebration

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The sun was shining, we were driving through the beautiful, green mountains of Kordestan in western Iran, our bus was filled with fresh produce and bread and even a live chicken; we were ready for the perfect picnic. Our new friends Atah and Atah (yup, they both have the same name!) had invited us to their village, all the way near the Iran-Iraq border to see what traditional Kurdish life is like.

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As you may remember, the Kurds are the largest minority in Turkey, and they also make up a significant portion of Iran's population. The Kurds are traditionally a nomadic people, and even though they have inhabited this region longer than any other ethnic group (since the second millennium BCE), they have never enjoyed the privilege of nationhood. Thus, you will find Kurds spread throughout Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Here in Iran there are over 4.5 million Kurds, mostly in Western Iran, in the province of Kordestan and the neighboring provinces.

Vocabulary

cloaked - wearing a loose outer garment
gracious - kind or courteous
picturesque - visually charming or quaint

Although we were able to meet a number of Kurds in Turkey, most of the ones we met had moved to the cities, so we were very excited about this opportunity to finally see what a traditional Kurdish village was like. As we drove in to the town of Saghghez, we quickly noticed that we had entered in to a new culture. The men were wearing the baggy, comfortable pants traditional of Kurds, with patterned cumberbuns around their waists. The women were not cloaked in black capes as in the rest of Iran, they dressed in bright and colorful clothes. We met Atah and Atah in Saghghez, took a quick trip to the market to stock up on all kinds of fresh fruits, veggies, and other goodies for lunch, and started our drive west.

We made our way up the side of beautiful green mountains, which were just coming to life after a winter in hibernation. The air was crisp and clean, and the rivers were rushing from the snowmelt off the mountain tops. The land was beautiful. Every half hour or so we would pass a girl herding a flock of sheep, or an old man tending to a newly planted plot of wheat or barley. The villages we passed were small and seemed to be a natural part of the landscape, built directly into the side of the mountain.

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The farther we traveled and higher we climbed, the cooler and cleaner the air became. After a few hours, we were stopped by a police checkpoint. Police checkpoints on the road are very common in Iran, so we didn't think anything of it. Our driver, Samat, and our guide, Hadi, got out of the car and spoke with the officers like they always do, explaining that we are tourists visiting Iran. But this time, they didn't get back in the car right away, as usual. This time, they came back to the car to retrieve Atah and Atah to come and speak with the officers. After about 15 minutes, they all got back in the car, and Samat started to turn the bus around.

"What's going on?" we asked.

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It seems the police didn't want to allow the foreigners to travel so close to the Iraqi border, "for our own safety" they said! Atah and Atah felt very bad. Our kind friends had arranged for a beautiful afternoon in their homes. Their families were preparing special foods for us, and the whole village was eagerly awaiting our arrival, and now we would never arrive. We couldn't even call them and let them know that we weren't coming since there were no phones in the small village.

Talajar Homes

The homes in Talajar as in all the villages we passed in Kordeston are multi-level, built so that the roofs of one level of homes are the ground level for the next level of homes. Inside, the homes are surprisingly cool and comfortable. The kitchens all have pits in the center of the floor were a fire is lit, and flat bread is made by sticking it to the sides of the pit. This pit also helps in heating the room during the harsh winter months. The bottom level of most homes includes a stable for the sheep and goats. Whether you enter a house from above via the roof, or from below, you will surely be surprised to find how roomy the houses are inside. All of the houses in Talajar had electricity, but we didn't see any television sets or refrigerators, only lights and radios. The village also has running water, but most houses have taps outside the homes, near the outhouses.

So we started driving down hill again, upset about our misfortune. But hey, we still had a bus full of good food and good folk and we were still driving through some beautiful scenery, so why not make the most of it? We all agreed that instead of just returning to the city we should stop and have a picnic somewhere. The chicken might be a little difficult to cook, but we had a lot of other great stuff to keep our tummies happy.

Atah and Atah were still a bit sad though. They really wanted to share their culture with us, and we really wanted to learn about traditional Kurdish life too. It was a major bummer, but we had to make the most of it.

As we continued downhill, looking for the perfect picnic spot, we passed a small village on our right, and Atah asked Samat to stop the bus. He got out and started talking to a man who was walking by, and the next thing we knew, we were unpacking the bus. We had been invited to have lunch in the village!

Talajar, like all the other villages we had passed along the way, was built on the side of the mountain overlooking the river below. The houses were made of mud and wood and had dirt roofs that looked like the ground. Within minutes, little faces of boys and girls were popping up over the rooftops, as everyone gathered to see who the strange visitors were that had just arrived.

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who are these strange visitors?
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The guard that Atah originally spoke with walked us through the village towards his home, the village was beautiful, but what caught our attention the most was the beautiful clothing of the Kurdish women. The shimmery, glittery, fabrics and colorful patterns were such a contrast to the normal dark attire of Iranian women. Kurdish women still "cover up" in accordance with Iranian law, but they do it their own way ...in bright scarves and flashy clothes!

Everywhere we walked we would see streaks of bright colors whiz past as shy girls, ran here and there sneaking a peak at the Americans who had arrived. All the villagers were curious, but shy, so we would see smiling faces watching us from rooftops and through windows. That's when I realized, that we were probably the first foreigners who had ever visited this village, what a strange sight we must have been!

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When we arrived at our new friend's home, he immediately took us on a tour through his house and introduced us to his daughter and wife. Could you imagine, going about your normal daily chores, and all of a sudden a huge group of foreigners come walking in to your home? Needless to say we must have taken them by surprise, but they were so kind and welcoming, and immediately started preparing the food we had brought for our lunch. We sat in a living room lined with Persian carpets, and enjoyed the break from the bright sun outside. Different men from the village came to visit and meet us, and within no time at all our hosts were laying out a beautiful lunch. We feasted on chicken, tomatoes, greens, and flat bread, and had fresh grapes and apples for dessert. I didn't eat the chicken, it was the poor squawking traveling companion that had accompanied us on our long bus ride up to the village, but I heard it was delicious. Unfortunately, the cooks didn't join us, only the men sat and ate.

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After lunch we walked through the village a little bit more, but this time people were starting to feel a bit more comfortable with us. Kids ran up and asked us to take pictures with them. Other families invited us in to see their homes and have tea. People were so friendly, even though we were complete strangers. As we made our way back up to our bus parked on the road, the men of the village asked us if we wanted to see a traditional Kurdish dance. The next thing we knew, the men were lined up arm in arm in a semi-circle on the street, stomping their feet in rhythm, while two others sang a beautiful melody. As all the children of the village gathered round, the women peeked out from behind their homes and on their rooftops to watch from afar. It was such an energetic and beautiful performance. A car came along driving to the next village, they didn't get upset that we were blocking the road with the dance, they merely stopped their car and watched too.
Seeking Refuge

Unlike their brothers and sisters in Turkey and Iraq, the Kurds in Iran are relatively free from persecution and oppression. Thus many more Kurds have flocked to Iran in the past years to escape the brutality they face in the neighboring countries. Like the Kurds, many other ethnicities have sought refuge in Iran making Iran the biggest host of refugees in the entire world. Kurds, Lors, and other ethnic minorities escaped from Iraq during the brutal Iran-Iraq war. Armenians and Azerbaijanis have fled the civil strife in their own nations, while over 1.4 million Afghan refugees have come to Iran to escape the persistent civil war in Afghanistan.

Providing a home to these millions of refugees puts a big strain on a nation's economy, but Iran has only recently begun requesting international aid to help cope with this.

Finally after saying thank you and goodbye over and over again to our incredibly gracious hosts, we loaded up our bus and started to drive away. Our sweet new Kurdish friends, even the ones that had been shy all along, ran up to the bus and waved goodbye as we pulled away. I wondered to myself, what this little village would have done with their afternoon if we hadn't come along. We had such a wonderful day with our new friends at Talajar. Life there seemed simple and beautiful. Although the Kurds of Talajar don't have all the creature comforts we're used to back home, they have a picturesque home, clean air, and a strong village bond that I could only dream of having!

Kavitha

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...kavitharao@bigfoot.com
 

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