"Good Kurds, Bad Kurds" Contrasts U.S. Policies toward Kurds in Iraq and Turkey

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"Good Kurds, Bad Kurds" Contrasts U.S. Policies Toward Kurds in Iraq and Turkey

Pat McDonnell Twair is a free-lance writer based in Los Angeles.

Photojournalist Kevin McKiernan has been working on a documentary, "Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends But the Mountains," for nine years, but he can't get it aired in the United States. He doesn't blame it on government censorship or the bias of assignment editors so much as on the tastes of American viewers.

The media's decision to ignore the plight of Turkey's Kurds is not due to government pressure, McKiernan reckons, so much as the American craving for tabloid journalism. "The culture has changed," he lamented, "Americans are no longer interested in foreigners, they are into celebrity gossip and crime."

At a May 6 screening on the UCLA campus, McKiernan discussed his dangerous roving camera missions along the front lines of the Kurds' forays with Turkish troops.

The title of his documentary is a bitter reference to the distinction the U.S. State Department makes between "good" Kurds in northern Iraq fighting Saddam Hussain and "bad" Kurds inside Turkey seeking autonomy.

McKiernan's involvement in the little-known Kurdish battle for self-determination began in 1991 while he was covering the Iraqi Kurdish uprising against President Saddam Hussain. The intrepid filmmaker followed Kurds as they retreated into safe-havens established by the United States along the mountainous Iraq-Turkey border.

It was here that he discovered that Turkish Kurds rebelling against the Ankara government--an ally of the U.S. and Israel--were regarded by Washington as enemies.

Kurds inside Turkey, he stresses in his documentary, are forbidden to wear their national dress, speak their language, perform their music or even bear Kurdish names. In fact, there have been 29 Kurdish rebellions inside Turkey since 1923.

McKiernan has filmed footage of a few of the 3,000 Kurdish villages inside Turkey which he says have been systematically torched during the 15-year uprising led by Abdullah Ocalan. Since his capture in Africa last year by the Turks, the imprisoned Ocalan has appealed to the Kurdish resistance to cease armed conflict.

More than 37,000 lives have been lost in southeastern Turkey, McKiernan points out in the film, more than all the fatalities in the conflicts in Northern Ireland, the West Bank and Gaza.

McKiernan sheds considerable light on a hidden war as we see him interviewing guerrillas of Ocalan's PKK in the field.

"They claim they survive on tobacco, tea and the kalashnikov," comments McKiernan as the fighters hook up a small satellite dish and cook over a campfire. The survival rate for a PKK guerrilla is 30 months, and many veterans who have lost a limb continue to bear arms.

Many believe that after Palestine is settled, their claim to a homeland will be next on the global agenda.

"I had stumbled on an important story and I figured if I could safely get the video out, I could spark a debate," McKiernan recalled. "It was humbling. I learned that not all urgent stories get an audience. No one was interested in the footage I came back with, I couldn't even give it away."

And that's when he found a Turkish Kurdish family in his hometown of Santa Barbara. Now, the determined photojournalist had an American connection to the tragedy taking place half-way around the world.

The hero of the documentary is Kani Xulan, a young Kurdish immigrant who worked in his parents' appliance store until he transformed himself from a Maytag repairman to a lobbyist. Financed by his family, Kani opened a modest office in Washington, DC, in which he lived, to disseminate facts for the American Kurdish Information Network. …