Kurdish or Shiite? Iraqi Exiles Must Decide Whom They Support / Feyili Kurds

By Kawa Sheikh Abdullah – niquash – 12.3.2013 – In Saddam Hussein’s day, the Feyli Kurds were the enemy, being both Kurdish and Shiite Muslim. Many were forced out of Iraq. Now that things are different, they’re wondering whether to return.

Sadoun works in a busy part of Tehran, the capital of Iran, as a waiter in a restaurant. Before he came to Iran, Sadoun — who is a Feyli Kurd from Iraq — the 53-year-old was a goldsmith in Baghdad. But he was forced to leave his home in April 1980 after the Iraqi army raided his home. “It was a rainy day and the army put me on a truck with many others,” he recalls bitterly. Along with hundreds of Feyli Kurdish families, Sadoun was forced to leave Iraq that day. “We found ourselves at the border in the Kermanshah province [north western Iran] and we were forced to cross,” Sadoun says.

Back then, being a Feyli Kurd was not a good thing to be. Feyli Kurds are Kurdish by ethnicity and usually Shiite Muslim by religion. Iraq’s ruler Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, didn’t like either of those categories very much and he gave the Feyli Kurds two choices: death or expulsion. Many of the Feyli Kurds were forced to leave on the trumped up charge that they were loyal to Iran, rather than Iraq.

Things have obviously changed a lot since then. The Iraqi Kurdish now run their own semi-autonomous state and the Iraqi government in Baghdad is headed by a mostly Shiite Muslim coalition.And in August 2011, the Iraqi Parliament approved in principal of a resolution that stated that the Feyli Kurds had been subject to genocidal tactics by the former regime. And in early April this year, Iraq’s cabinet discussed the subject again and called for further improvement in conditions for Feyli Kurds. Unfortunately the session was boycotted by politicians from Iraqi Kurdistan who had already returned to the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan in protest at how they saw Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki running the country.

The oppression of the Feyli Kurds really began before Saddam Hussein came to power. “When the Kurdish revolution broke out in Iraq [against the government, for Kurdish independence] in September 1961, Feyli Kurdish businessmen in Baghdad were sympathetic and they supported it,” says Majid Sami, a Feyli Kurd businessman in Baghdad told NIQASH. “So the Iraqi authorities hated the Feyli Kurds even more. When that revolution ended in 1975, the Iraqi state started its first serious campaign against the Feyli Kurds.”

In 1975 Feyli Kurds were deprived of Iraqi nationality; then their oppression reached its peak in 1980. Forced into Iran, the Feyli Kurds were still considered Iraqis by their Iranian hosts. And three generations of Feyli Kurds grew up in exile, not knowing which nation they really belonged to. “We suffered a lot because we didn’t have an identity,” says Muhsen Tayeb, one of the Feyli Kurds deported from Iraq as a teenager. “The Iraqis told us we were Iranians and the Iranians told us we were Iraqis. We didn’t know who we really were.”

These days, the Shiite Muslim-dominated government in Baghdad seems to be putting a lot of effort into helping the Feyli Kurds. Observers say that al-Maliki’s government wants the Feyli Kurds to support it on a sectarian basis — both al-Maliki and the Feyli Kurds are Shiite Muslim – rather than on an ethnic basis.

There have already been many attempts to try and distance the Feyli Kurds from the Iraqi Kurdish authorities, said Sadoun al-Fili, who is responsible for Iraqi-Kurdish relations for the political party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, in Baghdad. Al-Maliki’s government wants the Feyli Kurds to think that they are the only ones who can guarantee their safety, al-Fili suggested.

At the moment, al-Fili thinks that the Feyli Kurds don’t feel like anybody cares for them, let alone the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan. The answer, suggests the man who has much to do with Feyli Kurdish activities in Baghdad, would be to create a ministry for Feyli Kurds living in exile — just as the Palestinians have done.

Al-Fili says the Feyli Kurds want their old positions in Baghdad back, they wish to return to do business in Baghdad in the same way they used to, but that they’ve been unable to do this because of the security situation in Baghdad. Most of the wealthier Feyli Kurds, of which there are a fair few, have invested in Europe or in the Gulf States where life is more stable and secure.

As for Sadoun, the man working as a waiter in Tehran, what does he want? He says he doesn’t want to return to Iraq, the nation that kicked him out. “Why should we return?” he asks. “We lost everything and it’s not easy to get that back. Anyway I don’t think Iraq is a good place for the Feyli Kurds. We were uprooted and it’s very hard to come back after that kind of thing,” he concludes.