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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

A Kurdish view of the troubled Middle East

From the rooftop of Mother Trib's parking garage you could see the glare of exploding rockets off in the distance at Channelside, followed a second or so later by the distant booming of the city's Fourth of July fireworks show.

Leaning against the wall, the gangly, dark figure of Birusk Tugan turned to look at another fireworks show even farther away — to the south, over the city's Interbay neighborhoods. I could tell he was a little disappointed.

He admitted he had seen better, although I didn't ask him if they were fireworks displays or the real thing.

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Tugan was an intern in our newsroom in the summer of 2002. I was never quite clear how he ended up in Tampa. Born in a mountain village in southern Turkey, he had grown up in a political family. His brother was in prison, and Tugan himself had been jailed and beaten in the struggles for Kurdish independence.

But he managed to make it to America, fell in love with the country and while interning with us managed to gain his American citizenship.

I was there at the convention hall when he raised his hand in 2002. Afterward he said, knowing I was writing about him: “I pray and I wish you would say this ... that Americans do not let what happened Sept. 11 (only a few months earlier) affect any of those freedoms we fought for. We can't let the terrorists force us to change.''

That fall Tugan left, looking for full-time employment and something that might help him eventually get back to supporting independence for the Kurds.

I lost touch with him until he contacted me this year from Paris. He now is married with a 4-year-old daughter and works as a translator, still looking for that opportunity to do something.

I asked him what he thought of the current crisis with this new group called ISIS rolling out of his old homeland. Here's part of his response:

“We have relatives in south Kurdistan, but they are safe in the areas controlled by the Kurdish government. The Kurdish strategy of wait-and-see has worked (that we would be with Iraq) as long as the constitution is implemented and Iraq is a federal democratic country. But Iraq was never a real country and never will be. The Shiites and Sunnis are after settling scores going back centuries. The world is seeing the true nature of this fight which is plainly barbaric. ... It is like Mesopotamia is revisited by the shadows from the Middle Ages.

“To protect the Kurdish people the peshmerga (the word means 'those who face death') have taken over ... almost every inch of Kurdish land that the Baathists and every other Arab government tried to Arabize through ethnic cleansing ... all funded by oil taken from Kurdish land. The southern borders of Kurdistan are being secured by the peshmerga. The peshmerga have no plans to take on the ISIS if not attacked as it would be a fight against a barbaric terrorist organization.

“... Washington still hopes there will be a political settlement.

“... But I believe things are going to go from bad to worse. Iraq and Syria are dead. ... The U.S. should instead help Kurds against Iran and the Sunni countries in the region. One could speculate that when all is done the Shiite parts of Iraq could be a part of Iran. Unless (President) Obama does not want Iran to have all of Iraq he should focus on the parts that could be saved.”

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Tugan goes on to suggest that al-Qaida likely will create a state somewhere in the area, while Iran expands at the same time it is developing nuclear weapons. He concludes saying these aren't just his thoughts but what he believes to be the Kurdish understanding of the way things are — not a pleasant thing to consider.

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