Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lessons From a Kurdish Poet

Kurdishaspect.com - By Ardalan Hardi

Psychiatrists agree that the first few years of our lives are by far the most important. These years determine what kind of life we will lead in the future and our outlook towards the world.
Recalling on my childhood experiences, I have many cherished memories of my father and how he; educated, cared and taught us many lessons about life. Many of those lessons guide my simple life to this day. Today marks two years since he departed from this world . On the second anniversry of his passing, I can’t help but think of him and the stories he told . He had a great gift of storytelling and an uncanny memory for exceptional tales. Some stories he had read and some he had made up.

My Dad, Ahmed Hardi, was a very well respected Kurdish poet from Sulaymania Sothern Kurdistan (northern Iraq). Dedicated to the Kurdish cause he decided to leave the city and he joined the Kurdish uprising lead by Mala Mustafa Barzani in the late 1960’s.

We settled in a village called Awakurte that was under the control of the Kurdish Peshmarga forces at the time. My dad rented a room from one of the Village farmers we came to know as Mam Ali. Awakurte was on the border of Eastern Kurdistan north east of Sulaymania, before Saddam leveled it to the ground during his Anfal campaign. The village was nestled in the stunning colorful Zagros Mountains overlooking the clear cold gushing Qamishli River that defines the Iran-Iraq border . The landscapes were deemed the acme of beauty. With its stunning, unmatched, breathtaking views this little village seemed millions of miles away from the rest of civilization. The inhabitants in this simple yet devoted Kurdish village were mostly small farmers.

On summer nights everyone would sleep under the moonlight. As a kid I would lay in bed looking at the bright sparkling stars pondering many thoughts. I often wondered if people from the other side of the world saw the same stars as I did. I wondered if there was a ceiling to the sky that could be touched by man and what lies beyond that ceiling? Filled with curiosity, my childhood imagination would take me to distant places of a utopian world of what could be. The sound of crickets, the howling of the distant dogs, the soothing echoes of mountain streams and the whispering leaves of the walnut trees as they were ruffled by the cool breeze in the tranquil moonlight created a poetic melody that could have only been musical tones from God. I would gradually fall asleep to these sounds only to visit another world, the untroubled kingdom of dreams.

Many times at dawn we would wake up to the roaring engines of Iraqi planes bombing Kurdish villages. In panic, my mom would rush us all down to a dug up underground cellar for protection. For a few brief moments those dreams and imaginations of the previous night would be cracked.
Winters in Kurdistan were long and harsh. Fluffy white snow would dress Awakurte like a beautiful bride waiting for spring to begin a new life all over again. From a distance the only sign of life in Awakurte was the streams of smoke that rose from the chimneys. On those cold winter nights our only contact with the outside world was dad’s shortwave, battery-operated radio that he used to listen to the BBC or Radio Europe. Every night there was a battle between dad and the radio antennas. Dad was fighting for better reception and the antennas refused to surrender. Frequently the stubborn antennas would get the best of Dad and in frustration he would set the Radio aside near his pillow where his cotton filled mattress lay. This was also where he slept. He would get up and start pacing the little room only to try again a few minutes later, then the combat would start all over again. The struggle against the antennas would go on until the news hour had passed.

We all lived and slept in one room that was built out of mud. The walls were 3 ft wide. The single metal black door was covered with blankets, hung like curtains to keep the cold out. The door was leading to the balcony that led to 4 steps which took you to the outhouse another 20 feet away. As a kid who came from the city that had plumbing and electricity, this was difficult to get used to.

But there was one thing we all looked forward to in those bitter winter nights and that was Dad’s stories. After dinner, we all huddled ourselves around the wood burning stove that was in the middle of the room that Mom kept going to keep us warm while we eagerly waited for Dad to tell us one of his stories.

One of the stories that has wedged in my mind since child hood was the story of “This too shall pass. The story went like this: A long time ago there lived a King who had a Minister that he firmly relied on and trusted with confidence. One day The King started to question his own judgment of his most trusted Minister so he decided to test the Minister’s loyalty.

To test the Minster’s devotion the King took the Minster and granted him even more power to command and control where he could have easily removed the King from power. But the Minister stayed devoted at all times to the King and the idea of taking the throne never crossed his mind. Then the King took him from all of that prominence and power and accused him of treason, ridiculed him in public and locked the Minister up in prison. The King then planted spies in the minister's cell to see what he had to say, but the minister never once uttered an unfavorable word about the King.

The King finally called for his trusted adviser the minster and said “I gave you all the powers of a King where you could have easily taken over the throne, but you did not. Then I punished you for no reason, ridiculed and imprisoned you, but you remained loyal”. I want to know how this is possible, asked the king?

“Well my King” said the Minister. When I was a teenager my dad sent for me while lying on his death bed and wanted to talk to me about his will. At first, I thought to myself, "my Dad has nothing", We were very poor what could he offer me? But then I thought he is my father no matter what and I went to see him. He said “Son I have nothing to leave for you except this ring”. He pulled this ring off his finger and handed it to me. Inside the gold ring a statement was engraved that read “this too shall pass”. Then my dad looked at me and said “if you ever come to point in your life were you feel alone, disheartened and nothing goes right for you and you think of taking your own life just remember never to give up because “This too shall pass”. He continued, “if you ever succeed and make it to the top where you have all the powers that this world has to offer remember never ever forget where you came from and those you have left behind because,"this too shall pass”. So you see sir, no matter what you gave me or did to me all I had to do is look at the ring that my father has left me to overcome my personal ambitions and depressions. All I had to do is to look at the ring and realize “this too shall pass”.

Every night was a different message from my Dad. Whether it was the story about courageous escape under difficult conditions by of Mustafa Barzani after the collapse of Mahabad Republic, where he and 500 of the Peshmarga fought the armies of Iran, Iraq and Turkey until they reached the former Soviet Union where they became refugees or the story of the bravery of Kaway Asngar were Zahak's rule lasts for a thousand years during which two young men are sacrificed daily to provide their brains to the serpents to alleviate the pain that Zahak felt. Until one day, Kawa, an iron worker whom the king had sacrificed all his twelve sons for the Gods walked up to the Kings palace with his ax and freed the people from the unjust and tyranny. And the story of Abraham Lincoln, a self educated man from a poor family born in a log cabin in the slave state of Kentucky became the President of the United States and abolished slavery ,or the story of a friend and half that taught us what true friendship is all about.

We did not know it at the time but all those late night stories in Awakurte taught us children lessons for the rest of our lives. Whether it was Kurdish history through Mala Mustafa’s bravery, respecting others rights through Lincoln’s "all men are created equal", bravery through Kaway Asngar or patience through "this too shall pass" or conquering and facing ones fear through Uncle Chwanar a children story told of a man that was afraid of darkness. They all were teachings from a great man preparing us for life with all of its ups and downs, brilliant and radiant beauty and sometimes atrocious cruelty.

As a child, I loved my Dad for the stories he told us kids, now that I am much older I love him even more for his profound wisdom and the lessons he taught me through the significances of those stories on how to lead my life as a decent human being.

Today, I live happily in one of the greatest countries in the world, America, with all the gadgets that world has to offer at my finger tips but none of these toys are equal to one of those nights in Awakurte and Dad’s stories.

I am sure he is up there in heaven surrounded by angels telling stories of Kurdish misfortunes, building a case for Kurdish independence.

I wonder if he has persuaded God yet, that Kurds too deserve a state of their own.
Not a day goes by when I do not think of you.