Kurdish Rugs Break Ankles

5/19/2018 5:32:16 PM

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Jil Swani
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When I was younger every room in our house was carpeted with Kurdish rugs, which had beautifully intricate little details and showed off the magnificent heritage and workmanship of the culture I was to be raised in. But at that age, I didn’t and couldn’t acknowledge that: I was just a kid.

However, I did appreciate the design for another reason: the lines and embroidered designs were perfectly architected to serve as a map for my little toy cars. I “vroomed” up and down the pretend streets on the pretend map, sometimes spending hours at a time creating storylines and dialogue between the persons in the cars and quite often they ended in a dramatic collision where one of the drivers would deliver a heartfelt speech as he inhaled his last breaths. I had a very vivid imagination for a six-year old.

For the majority of my young life that was the extent of my appreciation for those rugs, but as I entered my prepubescent years and I dropped the toy cars for a football that was kicked about in the house when my parents weren’t home and I found the true purpose of Kurdish rugs.

One cold January afternoon when the city was covered in rainy clouds and blown from side to side by strong winds, I was playing with my older brother and, per usual, with older siblings he had made all the rules and decided all the decisions. This meant I was the goalkeeper, keeping the makeshift goal in the living room, and he was the penalty taker.

The game was going well, I kept a few shots out and conceded a few goals; we were having fun. When the last shot of the day was taken I extended my fist out to punch away the ball and it deflected off my knuckles and hit and broke a decorative glass plate that was hanging on the wall. Now normally we would have cleaned up and thrown it out, hoping that our parents wouldn’t notice, but the sound of a car engine outside gave us no time to clean up properly. So, we panicked. Thinking on his feet, my brother grabbed a broom, and then he peeled up one corner of the rug, swept the smaller shards underneath, and handed me the two large ones to throw into the trash can in our bedroom.

I came back to the living room to see him already sitting on the couch watching TV and acting like everything was okay, and, in all honesty, it did look like everything was okay. The plate was gone, the football was gone, and the little shards were underneath the rug where no one could see them.

That day I realized the true usage of Kurdish rugs: you sweep your problems under them and voila: they’re gone.


I only remembered that story last week when I saw our nation, once more, sweeping shards under the rug.

The KRG elections are coming up in a few months, which means candidates from all parties are vying to win votes and get into their preferred offices and, much like any other democratic entity during election time, foul play is regularly practiced. We have to accept that in politics, we will never fight fairly.

That I have accepted, but what I can’t accept is when the target of foul play is the gender of the politician.

A few days ago, pornographic images of a certain female politician were leaked to the public and, with those images alone, her campaign was killed and most likely her career too. Again, foul play is to be expected in politics.

The issue here wasn’t the foul play, but why the foul play worked so well.

It seems that as a nation, we have accepted the bullying, brutish, backward-minded treatment of our female population, but we still run our mouths about how democratic and progressive our region is compared to the rest of the Middle East. But are we all that much better?

For the nationalist Kurds out there who will inevitably call me out on this statement, let me extend an olive branch: in Kurdistan women are relatively more free than in our neighboring countries. For instance, not wearing a hijab carries little stigma when compared to the communities around us, but still I fail to see how this should be enough. There has been little progress on women’s rights and women’s treatment in the past two decades and a very easy proof of this is the fact that female genital mutilation, child brides, and honor killings still exist in Kurdistan. And once more: it is less prevalent in our society than in our neighbors’, but we all know they still exist, we all know they are commonly practiced, and we all know, pushing a person to act against her will, pushing her to marry, or mutilating her body is wrong, and always will be wrong. Yet, I seldom see that urgently needed conversation being discussed in our media, our classes, or our tea shops.

All these issues have been swept under the rug.

Let’s, for the sake of argument, say those issues are small and thus don’t attract the attention they deserve.

What about rape?

Rape is by no means small, insignificant, or nonexistent in our society.

The Yazidis, with whom we share land, culture, history, language, and to a small degree a common identity, were systematically enslaved, killed, and raped by ISIS and no one is having that very important conversation. What’s worse is that there’s been a much better coverage of the Yazidi victims of ISIS by foreign media than by our own Kurdish media. If anything, what happened to the Yazidi women should have served as a platform for dialogue about the ill-treatment of women in Kurdistan and, by extension, in the Middle East in general, but nothing significant came out of it. We have ignored the screams and cries of thousands of women, some of which are still held captive by the surviving pockets of ISIS.

If I’m being honest all of this is baffling to me: as Kurds, we love to honor our culture and history. So then why aren’t we honoring our tradition of the spirit of having men and women work and live shoulder to shoulder? Equality has been practiced on the battlefield, as with YPG/YPJ, and in the work force, where we have a large female percentage in the KRG parliament (all of whom who would have their careers shattered if the wrong picture falls into the wrong hands).

What is it that’s made us either immune or petrified of coming within touching distance of some kind of social reform? Or at least why aren’t we talking about it?

I understand that due to the majority religion, Islam, certain conversations are taboo, but it’s not like we want to have a conversation about legalizing prostitution. We’re talking about basic human rights and basic human decency here. Perhaps the issue is that the liberation of women, in its own twisted way, would be seen as a gateway process to westernizing Kurdistan and by extension bringing forth western norms.

I know for a fact, from talking with Kurds who aren’t westernized, that anything women do which deviates from the normal Kurdish standard will immediately label them as loose. I have heard it thousands of times and not just from the older generations; the younger generations have no qualms about viewing women that way either. In an effort to keep their own wives, sisters, mothers, aunts, and cousins standardly Kurdish, they oppress them and denounce any movement that aims to give a strong voice to Kurdish women.

So, maybe the issue isn’t as simple as bringing about a movement that gives a voice to women, but, rather, that the issue is so deeply rooted in our culture at this point that the only way we can serve our women is by understanding ourselves better and working from there. It’s agonizingly late; it’s desperately needed; it’s hugely important that we roll the rug back and see everything we’ve swept under there, because they’re now starting to form lumps and, if we’re not careful, we’ll break our ankles walking on lumpy rugs.


Jil Swani is young Kurdish author based in Denmark. He writes predominantly about Kurdish culture and the Kurdish communities. He is currently writing his debut novel: a story about a young man forced to join the fight against ISIS to protect his family. More of Jil Swani’s works can be found on his website jilswani.wordpress.com.