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The Hyphenated Nostalgia—When a Person Becomes a Nation

9/21/2018 3:19:08 PM

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Kovan H. Saado
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Last week, Kurds in the city of Sulaimani, the Cultural Capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), gathered in a public place to unveil an equestrian statue of Ibrahim Pasha the founder of the city and the last “Pasha” king of the Baban dynasty who ruled the Kurdish principality (semi-independent entity) during 1649-1850.

The statue is considered to be the masterpiece of the city born sculptor Kamaran Omar (40 years). It is made of bronze and 32 feet high. It is depicting the Pasha on his horse with one front leg up. It is argued that the memorialization of a historical figure is an appreciation for the historical turning points or a series of events lead by the commemorated person such as the Pasha’s long term aspiration and efforts to build a city for his own people.

Commemorating historic events and figures means praising one’s past, a time we have the desire to return to. Commemoration and national ceremonies are moments in which collective memories can be manifested and collective emotions are provoked. Hence these occasions make people feel more proud and patriotic. Accordingly the collective identity, full of pride and excitement, is strengthened.

The inauguration of the equestrian statue of Ibrahim Pasha in the heart of the city’s central park was aired live on local TV channels, the speakers including the great-great-grandson of Ibrahim Pasha were talking using deictic linguistic forms such as first-person plural expressions and other indications of ‘imagine communities’ in Benedict Anderson sense of the word. It is hard to describe the scene which was overwhelmed by instances of intense collective emotions that cannot be categorized under one single label.

There was inexplicable collective emotional manifestation; I would say a collective nostalgic emotion which there is no expression to epitomize it. It was hard for me to put these incommensurable collective emotions laden with mixed feelings into a single word or expression to describe. It was a time of witnessing some sort of contradictive or juxtaposing feelings such as pride / distress, achievement / loss and triumph / failure.

Several years ago during my MA study in the UK, I once asked one of my British friends about why there isn’t an English equivalent for the Dutch word schadenfreude. ”That’s because we (British) don’t have such feelings” he replied ironically.

Some feelings are universal, schadenfraude could be one of them but without taking sociocultural differences into account one can’t understand what does it mean or how does it like to have such feeling.

There are emotions and feelings specific to people who went through various historic sociopolitical metamorphoses; feelings you may never know what is like if you haven’t been in their position for once.

Similar to other stateless nations such as Quebec, Catalonia, Scotland, and Palestine, Kurds have been struggling to build their own nation-state because they were and still are marginalized with the existing ones. All hopes for the future have been pinned on the nation-state. Last year’s fiasco referendum for independence which was held on September 25th 2017, had formed new types of group belongingness (affiliation) emerging from the state of feeling being marginalized locally and neglected globally.

In the ceremony of revealing Ibrahim Pasha’s statue, people were looking at the statue of ‘the man‘ who built a city, but it seemed like deep inside they were and continue to look for long time for ‘a man’ who will build a state for them, that’s to say “we had Ibrahim Pasha who established a city but never had one to establish a state, we are commemorating our past, but more concerns are for the future”. This unique collective nostalgia can hardly be noticed in other nations. On that day there was a sense of engouement (if I may borrow from French) amongst the gathering crowed. For now Kurdish people are celebrating their ancestor’s triumph of bulling a quasi-classical city-state but disappointed of not-being able to build a nation-state.

In its temporal and spatial implications, nostalgia reproduces a desire to reenact a “real” place (city/ nation /country/) in an absolute time, a sort of emotion that glorifies the past, despises of the present. That day the people in the middle of Sulaimani city had a nostalgic sentiment loaded with yearning for the same place but in the past time. It is a sense of nostalgia in Boym’s word which spontaneously put emphasis on both Nosto and Algia, it dwells in longing and loss, and simultaneously proposes to rebuild the (state) home, in other words it is both restorative and reflective nostalgia.

This article was first published by Ekurd.net. The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent the views of NRT, Ekurd.net, or their editors.